Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 3

    Staring down the barrel of a gun isn’t a particularly fun experience, even if it can’t actually kill you. As a dream lord I’m not immune to bullets but the death of a dream body means I can’t use that identity anymore.If I got shot, I could always set up another identity but it would be time consuming and more difficult to “sell” to the world. Reality would be a bit too stretched if there were too many people who came out of nowhere and had the interest in playing amateur detective for the same missing persons case. Also, I liked ‘The Amazing Jin’. I’d paid special attention in dreaming up that identity, even studying the basics of stage magic so that the dream magic would have a solid frame to build on. As a result, being a stage magician was more fun than I’d expected. If the man holding the gun on us decided to ruin that I’d be all sorts of unhappy with him.

    “We didn’t break in.” I said. “The door was already broken when we got here. We just came inside to see what had happened.”

    The cop reached to his side and flicked the switch for the single bulb that hung over the center of the room. I blinked at the illumination but the poor bulb didn’t make the room much brighter than the streetlights had managed so it wasn’t much of a transition. The added light did give me a better view of the cop though.

    He was older, which wasn’t surprising, and Chinese-American, which was. His uniform had the rumpled wear of someone who’d been working for too many hours. Despite that, his aim was steady and solid and he didn’t appear sleepy in the slightest.

    “Strange thing for a pair of young ladies such as yourselves to be troubling yourself with. Especially since none of the other lights in the building are on either.”

    “It’s easier not to be noticed when the lights are off.” Way said.

    “And why would you not want to be noticed, I have to wonder?” the cop asked.

    I considered the possibilities that we were faced with. A police uniform and gun proved nothing. He could as easily be Shurman’s killer as a beat cop who happened to stumble on us. Him being the killer would make a lot more sense really. It would explain how he’s happened to just stumble on us like he did. Something told me he wasn’t our gunman though.

    One of the other perks of being a dream lord is a special sort of awareness that you develope. It’s like getting to read the stage directions and glance at the cast list of the play of “Life”. It’s not full blown omniscience or even precognition, but it gives a dream lord access to a lot of information they wouldn’t normally be able to possess. I had mine clamped down almost completely due to the fragility of Earth-Glass but little bits could still sneak out. Or in other words, I didn’t know who this cop was, but I my guess that he wasn’t the killer had better than even odds of being right. So I took a gamble.

    “Because Mr. Shurman was working for me and someone killed him less than an hour ago at the Chimera Club.” I said. That got the cops attention the same way a mallet blow to the forehead would.

    “Rick’s dead?” the cop asked, his gun lowering under the weight of the news.

    “I’m afraid so, and I’m pretty sure it’s because of what I asked him to look into.” I admitted.

    “What do you mean?” the cop asked.

    “He was supposed to meet us at the Club tonight if he found anything. We were performing there for the new talent night. In the middle of our act, someone dropped him from the rafters after shooting him in the head.” I explained.

    “What was he looking into?” steel returned to the cop’s voice when he asked the question.

    “Information concerning the disappearance of Guy Mcintyre.” I said.

    “And you’re saying someone killed him for that?”

    “Unless he had a jealous ex with an incredible knack for coincidental timing.” I said.

    “Why did you have him looking into the Mcintyre case?” the cop was angry, and it was coloring how he saw us. He was talking though so there was still hope of bringing him around to our side.

    “Mr. Mcintyre holds the loan for a community development project my city is doing. One of our repayments didn’t go through because of a bad wire transfers and the bank that represents him changed their collection terms. We only have until the end of the month to pay the loan off or they’re going to declare we’re in default and take the collateral that was put up.” I said.

    That was true, in a sense. There was a town, Windy Springs, that had received a generous development loan from Mcintyre. They’d missed a payment due to a snafu at their Western Union office and the First National Bank of San Francisco was eager to take ownership of the collateral. I was even, nominally, the representative of the town, though that was only because I’d been the one to volunteer at the town meeting. Everyone else was convinced it was a lost cause, but I’d pleaded for a chance to locate Mcintyre and have him tell the bank that he didn’t want to exercise the penalty against “us”. The mayor and the rest of the town were already making plans to move though since no one believed I’d find Mcintyre. And even if I did, they argued, he might be unwilling or unable to change the bank’s mind.

    It was a solid background. Anyone who checked out the story would find plenty of support for it. It just had nothing to do with why Way and I were really involved in this case.

    “What’s the collateral?” the cop asked.

    “The town. Or the land the town is on to be more specific.” I said. Land that was much more valuable than it had originally been due to the railroad’s interest in it, which was why the bank was so eager to claim it.

    “And Stone’s involved in that too?”

    “He shouldn’t be but we don’t know. That’s part of what Mr. Shurman was looking into.” Way said.

    The cop put his gun back in its holster and sighed.

    “I need to take you down to the station. Have you say all this on the record. Then I can get some police protection for you.”

    “Thank you, Officer…” I prompted, since he still hadn’t told us his name.

    “Smith, and yes, I know it’s an unusual name for a guy like me.” he held out his badge and showed us the back. His name, “Frank Smith”, and official number were recorded there. I blinked in a surprise at the name. Smith was an uncommon name for a Chinese-American. It was also my last name.

    In my case it was because my Great-Great-Grandmother had been something of rebel. She’d married an outsider, named Smith, and had a whole bushel of kids with him. My Great-Grandfather had reconciled with his mother’s family and married a “nice Chinese girl”, but he’d been close with his father and had kept his name. Most of that branch of my family was ethnic Chinese but succeeding generations held onto the Smith name.

    I had the suspicion that Officer Frank Smith’s story might be rather close to my family history. With Earth-Glass lagging about a century behind my world, you could find echoes of the past in it. As a dream lord I tended to draw weirdness to me, so in a sense running into Officer Frank Smith wasn’t so much a coincidence as a natural by-product of who I was.

    “Before we go though, let us help you look around here. I think whoever killed Mr. Shurman was the one who did this.” I pointed to the ransacked office.

    “I can’t do that. This is a crime scene. I can’t let you disturb anything.” Officer Smith said.

    “I just need to know what Mr. Shurman recorded about our meeting. He had to have at least written down the Chimera Club somewhere or the killer wouldn’t have known to find him there. If he wrote down our names then the killer may be looking for us too.” I said.

    “We’ll find that out. Don’t you worry.” Smith said.

    “His log book is there.” Way said pointing across the room to a small lap stand, behind which was lodged a notepad with it’s pages sprawled open. While I’d been talking with Smith, she’d been searching the room by sight.

    “We’ll leave that there till the Detectives get here.” Smith said.

    “You knew Mr. Shurman? Didn’t you?” I asked.

    “Yeah, Rick’s the one who got me on the force.” Smith said.

    “Then we need to see what’s inside that notebook. He might have mentioned who the killer was.” I said.

    Smith wrestled with that for a few seconds before temptation and his own need to know got the better of him. He strode over to the lamp stand and picked up the notebook smoothing out its pages. I saw him start flipping through it and moved to read over his shoulder.

    The last page had three entries on it; “Talk to the Money at his office, 8:00am”, “Lunch with the Mrs. at the Blue Gala, noon” and “Talk with the skirt at the Chimera, 9:00pm”.

    “Was he married?” I asked.

    “Yeah, twice. First one hated him enough to move to Europe. Second one left him for a doctor on the east coast.” Smith said.

    “So who was meeting at the Blue Gala then?” I asked.

    “Nobody you need to worry about. This is police business. We’ll look into it.” Smith said.

    I sensed danger a moment before the glass of the street side window shattered. I dropped to the floor on reflex, only catching as I fell that I’d been standing in front of the window in clear sight of the buildings outside.

    The crack of a rifle seemed to come at the same time as I saw blood spray from Officer Smith. I was out of the line of fire, but by ducking out of the window I’d left Smith a wide open target. Way, grabbed him as he fell too and pulled him down with her, taking them both out of the line of fire. No more shots rang out, probably because there was no one left to shoot at.

    I shimmied over to Way and Smith and looked for where he’d been hit. There was blood everywhere in the few seconds it took me to reach them, which wasn’t a good sign. When I looked him over I saw that the bullet, and several glass fragments had hit him in the head and neck. I couldn’t tell how bad the damage was but I knew any head wound would bleed like crazy.

    Breathing out slowly I let my imagination spin out a tale as I tore a strip of cloth from my dress to use as a makeshift bandage. Bullets that hit bone can do all sorts of things. Sometimes they make great big holes in the bone and scramble tissue anywhere near the impact sight. Other times, they can glance off the bone doing only superficial damage. This was going to be one of the latter occasions.

    I couldn’t change the fact that Officer Smith had been shot with dream magic. At least not without fracturing the world. What I could change was how badly he’d been injured. Since it was perfectly possible for a bullet to behave in the manner I’d suggested, a glancing blow that left a nasty bleeding gash without damaging anything vital, it only took a small spark of dream magic to make sure my story was the ‘real’ one.

    “How much were you able to heal him?” Way asked. After working together for four years, she knew me well enough to guess when I was cheating with unobservable dream magic.

    “He’ll live. He’s going to have a concussion though.” I said.

    “I’m going after the shooter.” Way said. She wasn’t any more bulletproof than I was but given that there was a good chance the killer was coming over to finish us off in person, going on the offensive was possibly one of the safest things she could do.

    “Be careful. I don’t want to have to do the rest of this without you.” I told her, grabbing her sleeve.

    “I know.” she replied. Her frown echoed my own. “I’ll be careful.” she promised and laid her hand over mine and gave it a squeeze of reassurance. It was nice to feel her warmth, even though the thought of her leaving left me with a cold pit where my stomach was supposed to be.

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 2

    There are a lot of different reactions people can have to seeing a dead body. From screams, fainting, and vomiting to silent, wide-eyed shock. Then there’s the sort of reaction the jaded and the unimaginative will show.

    “Want I should go get a mop?” Frank, one of the stagehands, asked staring at the widening puddle of red-stained water under the body that was sprawled on the stage.

    “Better leave it for the police to clean up.” I suggested.

    “I don’t think Boss Stone’s gonna want the cops crawling around his club.” Herman, another of the stagehands, said.

    “I don’t think he’s going to want to explain why he hid a dead body he had nothing to do with.” I replied.

    “What makes you think he ain’t the one who capped this schmuck?” Frank asked.

    I rolled my eyes. I knew Frank wasn’t the brightest bulb out there, but I’d assumed anyone who worked for Boss “Eddie” Stone would know when to keep his mouth shut.

    “Frank, even if your Boss were ever to find himself at odds with the law, which we know would never be the case for a fine upstanding man like him, what possible reason would he have to screw up a show and bring the heat down on his own place?” I asked.

    “Oh yeah. He’d just dump the body off a pier.” Frank said, smiling and nodding. He was happy to have kept up with part of what I said, even though he’d missed one of the more important points I was making. I sighed. Frank was a nice guy. He’d been good to work with when we’d been setting up our water tank escape trick, so I didn’t want to see him get hurt. Keeping him out of trouble though wasn’t looking too promising though. Not that I was doing a great job of protecting anyone on Earth-Glass. The dead guy was sort of evidence of that.

    Rick Shurman P.I., had been an ex-cop who’d gone into private practice after a shoot out had left him with a bum leg, bad memories and a bit too much fondness for Kentucky bourbon. Way and I were playing amateur detective, which meant information gathering mostly. Neither of us were phenomenally wealth but we had enough to afford to hire outside help to do some of the legwork for us. That had seemed like a great idea at the time. Someone apparently disagreed though.

    “I don’t think the show’s going to be able to continue.” Way said.

    “Not if the cops lock the joint down.” Herman agreed.

    “Stone’s gonna be steamed about that.” Frank said.

    “You girls should beat it before he gets here.” Herman suggested.

    “Won’t the police want to talk to us?” I asked.

    “Yeah, that’s why he’s not gonna want you here.” Herman said.

    “We don’t want to get in trouble with the law.” Way said. The slight quaver of fear in her voice was another demonstration of her acting prowess.

    “We’ll tell ‘em you went all weepy and had to leave for a constitutional.” Herman said with a wave of his hand to cover our concerns.

    “Thanks. Let Mister Stone know that we’re still interested in auditioning though ok?” I said, the eagerness in my voice was only partially an act. I didn’t particularly care about the audition, but it was a nice routine we’d worked out and a part of me wanted the chance to finish it up. Plus we still had a lot of digging to do and it would be easier if we didn’t have to break-in after hours to find everything we were looking for.

    By the time Way and I slipped out the backdoor of the Chimera Club, the other acts that were set to follow us had gotten word of what had happened and were making their way out of the club too. In the press of performers that were exiting the building, it was easy to merge into the crowds passing by on the street. Way caught my sleeve and glanced up to the roof of the building across the street. I nodded and we crossed the street to head down an alley that we’d scouted before the show. The only remarkable thing about the alley was a fire escape that was out of view from the street. Using that we got to the top of the building which put us far enough from the people below that we could talk freely. It also placed us at a vantage point to watch the audience of the Chimera Club exiting the building.

    “Did you see anyone in the rafters?” I asked as we settled in to observe the people leaving the scene of the crime.

    “No, I was paying too much attention to the audience. What do you think happened?” Way said.

    “Shurman was supposed to meet me after the show if he discovered anything. Looks like he found something.”

    “And then someone found him.”

    “Yeah. Someone professional. Did you see how much blood there was?” I said.

    “Yes, too little for a head wound like that. He was dead before he fell.”

    “And we didn’t hear a shot during our performance so he was shot somewhere else too.”

    “Carrying a dead body up into the rafters would have been difficult, Shurman wasn’t a small man.”

    “And people would have noticed.” I agreed.

    “Maybe not Frank, but you’re right, with all the people backstage someone would have seen something.” Way said.

    “Unless the murder happened on the roof and the killer only had to bring the body down to the rafters from there.” I suggested.

    “That fits. What would Shurman have been doing on the roof though?” Way asked.

    “Lured up there somehow? With his leg, there’s no reason for him to go to the roof on his own, but if he thought I wanted to meet him there for privacy I could see him climbing up and being taken unawares.” I said.

    “Someone would still have heard the shot though wouldn’t they?”

    “Maybe, but it would be distant enough they could write it off as a car backfiring. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of people who “remember” hearing something when the police ask, but I’ll be amazed if any of them can provide any useful info on when it happened or where it came from.”

    “That leaves us with the questions of why they killed him and why they dropped the body on the stage.” Way said.

    “I don’t think we have enough info to work out why they killed him yet, but there’s only one reason to drop his body like that. The killer wanted to send a message.” I said.

    “To who?”

    “Whoever hired him. Meaning me. A little warning that we shouldn’t be looking into this. I’d bet the killer doesn’t know who we are though. If they did, they’d have shot us too, or followed us when we left the building.” I glanced around to make sure there weren’t any gunmen lurking in the shadows of the rooftop.

    “Why drop him on the stage if they didn’t know you’d hired him?” Way asked, still puzzled. I saw an idea flash to life in her eyes. “The killer knew to lure Shurman to the roof because he knew Shurman intended to meet his employer at the Club. He expected the employer to be in the audience. How would the killer know that though?” Way said.

    “I think we need to get to Shurman’s office. Now, before the police lock it down. I’m betting we’re going to find that someone’s been there before us.” I said.

    “What about his home?” Way asked.

    “Might be something there too.” I said, frowning.

    “So do we split up and each take one?” Way asked.

    “I’d rather not.” I admitted.

    “Me either.” she agreed.

    Unspoken concerns filled the passing seconds before we shook off the worries we held about problems that had no place on Earth-Glass. Tomorrow’s problems would have to wait in line behind the more serious and immediate issues at stake.

    “Let’s hit his office first. It’s closer and the cops will probably lock that down first.” I said.

    Way nodded her agreement and I saw Boss Eddie Stone’s tank of a luxury car glide up to the entrance of the Chimera Club. For a “tough guy” Eddie Stone wasn’t actually that big. At average height and average build, he appeared on the tiny side compared to the goon that got out of the car with him. The slab of muscle that walked beside the crime boss wasn’t belligerent but he didn’t need to be to part the crowd. He just walked and people cleared a path the same way they would for a locomotive. I’d seen bigger guys, much bigger guys, but not on Earth-Glass.

    As Boss Stone followed his henchman to get into his club, I saw him run into Madelaine Deckard. She was Guy Mcintyre’s secretary and principal assistant. Also one of my number one suspects in his disappearance and possible murder. I was too far to hear anything they said over the buzz of the street traffic but even from a rooftop away it was clear that neither Stone nor Deckard were happy to see each other. Their brief exchange left Stone shaking his head and Deckard clenching her fists. I lost sight of Stone a moment later when he passed into the Chimera Club. Madelaine, on the other hand, was easy to see stomping down the street. Anger radiated out of her posture and every movement as I watched her quicken her pace and turn down a side road towards one of the nearby parking lots.

    “That was interesting.” I said.

    “Think we should follow her?” Way asked.

    “No. We’d need an ‘in’ to talk to her and right now would be a bad time to make one. She’s going to be too on guard at the moment.” I said.

    “Let’s get to Shurman’s office then.” Way suggested.

    A quick climb back down the fire escape and one taxi ride later, we pulled up in front of a diner near Shurman’s office. I tipped the cabbie enough to make sure that if he remembered us, he’d also remember that the diner was right next to a bus stop that would take us back to our flat on Fairbanks Island. No one would be surprised that two up and coming theater girls would be living in the low rent district that Fairbanks Island had become and nobody would wonder why we hadn’t paid for a cab ride the whole way there. Apart from the distance, cabbies levied an automatic surcharge for the “bridge toll” on any ride to Fairbanks. The “bridge toll” was really more an “I don’t want to get robbed again so don’t make me go there” fee and for the most part the people who had an interest in going to Fairbanks weren’t the type who could afford any extra fees in their lives.

    Time was precious so rather than ordering something in the diner for the sake of appearances we headed straight to Shurman’s office. It wasn’t terribly late at night but anything after sundown meant the offices in the city were largely closed up. We didn’t bother to check front door of the building. It was too visible from the street. The side door however did not have the problem. It was locked as well but a nail file, a bobby pin and ten seconds of lockpicking remedied that problem handily.

    One of the benefits of being a stage magician was that “The Amazing Jin” had all sorts of useful talents, like lock picking, to draw on. I kept the nail file and bobby pin handy to use on the door to Shurman’s office but, as I’d expected, they weren’t needed. The door was closed, but from the shattered wood around the handle it had clearly been forced. A light push was all it took to send it creaking open.

   The blinds hadn’t been lowered in Shurman’s office, so the glare of the street lights showed us the disarray the office had been cast into. It looked like a hurricane or a small bomb had hit the furniture and scattered the contents of his files everywhere. Even the padded mat on the cheap bed frame that rested in the far corner of the office had been torn to shreds.

    “You were right. Someone’s been here.” Way said.

    “And it looks like there’s someone still here. Two someone’s in fact.” a voice from behind us said.

    I whirled around to find a man in a police officer’s uniform standing behind us in the hallway. He had his service revolver out and pointing directly at me.

    “Now why don’t you ‘someones’ start explaining why you broke into what is clearly a crime scene?” he said.

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 1

    The main issue with sawing a girl in half is the question of trust. To the audience it looks as though the trust is between the magician and her assistant. In reality though, there are two sorts of trust at work, and both are critical for a “magical” performance.

    On one level there’s the trust the audience places in their senses. They see the lovely assistant led to the box. They see the box spun around, presumably to assure them that it’s just a normal box. They see the girl being locked securely in the box and they know there’s no way she can get free. Then the magician takes out her giant saw and proceeds to make the impossible happen.

    That’s the other level of trust. The audience wants to believe their eyes, but they’re trusting that the magician is going to show them a tiny miracle. They believe there’s a girl, they believe there’s a box she’s trapped in and a saw that can cut through it. As the saw tears through the wood, they’re glued to watching something that should be horrifying and yet they can clap and laugh because they also believe, in their hearts if not in their minds, that the magician can bend the laws of reality a bit and show them that the world is more than what they perceive it to be.

    “You’re a natural at this.” Way whispered to me as I picked up a comically huge mallet and started hammering on the saw which had gotten “stuck” halfway through the box as part of the act.

    I had to smile at that. While Way was the last person in the world I’d ever want to saw in half, she was also the only person I could ever imagine running a vaudeville show with. I think the audience could sense that too.

    “Apologies for the sawdust, this can get a little messy, as I’m sure you can imagine.” I said, playing to the front row but speaking loud enough to be heard by the back seats. There was a round of mild laughter at the joke. I’d considered playing up the horror element of the routine, but Way had suggested the lighter touch of only making a few jokes that suggested she was actually being ripped in two by the sawblade. Looking at the smiling faces in the audience, I saw she’d been right on that call.

    For her part, Way played the act with smiles and hammy overacting, never for a moment suggesting that she was in peril or pain. In truth that was better acting than it appeared. While I was busy “sawing” through the box, Way had herself contorted into the upper half of it. It wasn’t the hardest part of our show but it also wasn’t anywhere near as comfortable as she made it out to be.

    It was that level of showmanship that had won us the audition at the Chimera Club’s New Talent Night. Not many acts made it past the New Talent Night. A lucky few would get called back for a repeat performance or two but you had to really bring the house down to get a full time contract.

    The amusing thing was that Way and I were more than capable of bringing the house down, in a very literal sense, but we had to manage the performance without relying on any true magic. That was scary in its own right, but comparing our act to the talent we shared the stage with had given me a horrible case of performance jitters. It had taken Way nearly laughing herself silly at the sight of my fretting to remind me of who we were and why we were really here. Where our fellow performers were following dreams of fame and fortune, we were on the trail of a murder which might not even have happened.

    The trail of the missing Guy Mcintyre, uber-wealthy philanthropist and social recluse, had led us to the Chimera Club and its owner “Eddie” Stone, the gangster who owned enough of the city of Los Diablos that they might as well have renamed the place in his honor. Eddie had a lot of secrets and it wasn’t hubris to say there wasn’t anyone on the planet who had better chance of figuring out what they were than we did. Signing on as performers at the club would make it simple to observe the the things that were hidden backstage. Simple, and dangerous, but that’s what made the detective work so interesting.

    Which is not to say that your typical detective would think that way. In fact, to say that two eighteen year old girls weren’t exactly your typical detectives would have been an understatement even on my homeworld and there we had a kitchen sink full of craziness. That we weren’t on my homeworld was probably the first clue that Way and I weren’t your typical eighteen year olds though.  “Jin the Amazing” was a magician but the real “Jin”, the real me, was something a whole lot more.

    Like Way, I was a Dream Lord. I’d woken up one violent, crazy night and understood a whole lot more about the world than I’d ever imagined there was to know. I still thought of myself as an eighteen year old girl, but for the last four years I’d been able to walk between worlds that were joined only by my dreams. I’d met fantastic and amazing people of all species and morphologies and been inducted into the Parliament of Time’s Diplomatic Corp. Oh, and I could change what was real with nothing more than my imagination. That’s what it means to be a Dream Lord.

    Which isn’t to say that altering reality is easy or safe. While we can change the world, Way and I had spent a good part of the last four years learning to recognize all of the various situations where it was a tremendously bad idea to do so. Like, for example, Terra-2407, the parallel Earth we were playing amateur detectives on.

    Terra-2407 was a lot like my Earth, except progress had been delayed a bit. Technologically and socially the people were about a century behind my world. To them it was the modern day, but in my eyes they looked to be in the early years of the 20th century. Airplanes had crossed the Atlantic ocean but not the Pacific yet. The telegraph had been invented, as had radio and the motor car, but people were only beginning to see their lives changing because of them. Women had won the right the to vote, but the Civil Rights movement was still decades off, assuming history here was shaped by the same forces that shaped the history I knew.

    From my perspective, as a Chinese-American girl, it was a weird and unsettling world. I was spared the worst of it in the sense that it wasn’t a reality I would be forced to live in for the rest of my life. As a performer, I benefited a little from the “Asian Mystique”. It helped people believe in the magic shows a bit more, but getting them to take me seriously outside of the performances was another matter. That was a big part of the reason that I’d chosen to appear as I normally looked though. Being dismissed as a lesser lifeform for my gender and ethnicity would have been aggravating under normal circumstances, but given that I needed to ferret out some rather deadly secrets without relying on my dream magics having people underestimate me seemed just fine in my book.

    On another world, discovering who had murdered Guy Mcintyre (or finding him if he was still alive) would have taken five minutes at most. Terra-2407 wasn’t like most other worlds though. The barrier between the real world and the dreaming world, between what was real and what was imaginary, was the most brittle of any world I’d ever been too.

    Using dream magic was possible, but any sort of overt, obvious effect would leave a crack in reality that the world couldn’t heal. On my Earth, those cracks formed in the wake of dream magic but reality was more fluid. History would change and come up with a path that explained why a car decided to suddenly explode that had nothing to do with a dragon breathing fire on it. Or it would decide that the dragon had always been there and the car owner would have “destruction by dragon fire” as one of the coverages on their insurance. Not so for Terra-2407.

    Earth-Glass (as I’d come to call it) would leave the ruined car there as a visible sign of the break in the laws that governed the world. Fixing a fracture like that was a dicey thing. There were decent odds that anything you did it would cause the effect to spread until the world eventually crumbled to illogical dust. The alternative was worse though.

    As a magician I brought wonder forth from the impossible. There’s more than wonder in the dreaming though. There are monsters that lurk in it too and quite a few of them love nothing more than finding worlds like Earth-Glass to slip into and terrorize. Those were not fun fights to be involved in.

    That’s why Way and I had crafted a pair of very “mundane” identities for ourselves when we’d stepped into Earth-Glass. A stage magician and her lovely (and strong) assistant resonated with our overall identities which made them easy to wear while not straining the bounds of reality too much. We were unusual but not unbelievable, especially among other theater performers.

    With Way “cut in half” and still waving to the crowds, I gestured for the stage hands to bring out the water tank for the second part of the effect. The script called for me (with the help of a few burly stage hands) to drop the two separate boxes underwater where my poor vivisected assistant would have to somehow escape from her bonds and reassemble herself before she drowned. While she tried to that, the stagehands would spin the water tank around while I added “magic powders” to it to brew her into a potion that would make me the “most beautiful woman in the world!”

    The “magic powder” was nothing more than colored earth that would make the water murky enough that people wouldn’t notice Way slip out of the one box she’d contorted herself into. The stagehands would be the first to “notice” that she was gone and would form a convenient wall for just a moment while she slipped out of the water tank as well.

    From there it was all on me to fill two minutes with “spells” in the form of rapid fire card tricks and conjurations to keep the audience enthralled and wondering what had happened to my assistant.

    The big finish followed that with me “remembering” how I’d always told my assistant that she was “angel” and “could she please come down now”. Way would then descend on a wire from the roof of auditorium, a quick costume change having dried her off and put wings of downy white feathers on her back.

    Way and I had gone over the routine dozens of times. We had our timing nailed down. I had my patter all worked out and a dozen effects at my fingertips. We’d prepared for everything.

    Everything except a dead body crashing down into the water tank as the stage hands wheeled it out.

    I caught sight of the man’s body, as it fell and had to suppress a surge of anger at the interruption of our act. I banished that particularly idiotic impulse a moment later as the glass walls of the water tank shattered.

    There’s a saying that the “show must go on” but when the stage becomes the scene of a murder investigation the normal rules are suspended. I glanced over the audience and saw that what had been a delightful show was about to become a terrified riot as people fought to escape. Before they could give in their natural and potentially justified panic though I turned to them and hooked my thumb at the body.

    “You’ll have to give us a moment folks, seems someone’s trying to sneak in to the show without paying for their tickets!” I said, giving them a broad smile to let them know it was “all part of the act”.

    It was callous and probably cruel, but sometimes that’s what was called for. Four years of training in the Diplomat Corp had taught me a lot of things, not the least of which was that crowds can be dangerous beasts when they’re spooked, both to themselves and others.

    I wasn’t the only one who keep their wits together thankfully. As though we’d rehearsed it, the curtain guy let the front curtain fall with a dramatic thump as I gave a parting wave to the audience.

    Way was out her constraints and out of the top half of the box before I had a chance to get over to her. Together we walked across the stage to where the body lay.

    “I think he’s really dead.” Joe, one of stagehands, whispered.

    I looked at him and flinched. He was definitely dead. The bullet wound in his head left little doubt of that. What was worse was that I knew him!

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 31 (Epilogue)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Two weeks.” Way said, smiling.

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

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

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

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

“We put it back together though!”

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

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

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

“When will Kari be back?” Way asked.

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

“Think she’ll pick Diplomat?”

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

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

“With Grida’s cooking?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

Both Way and I sat up in surprise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“About two seconds ago.” I answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why was it safer?” Helena asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why’s that?” Colten asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s a relief.” Grida said.

The was a knock on her front door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 30

Sometimes it’s the smallest things that can turn your day around. Hearing Way’s voice was like that for me. I didn’t need her to fix everything that was wrong, or to fight my battles for me. Just knowing that she was with me meant things were ok.

That was particularly good since I knew I was going to have to destroy Vale Septem.

Kari could use a hand, and I think there’s a few million demons laying waste to the Goblin Kingdom.” I dream spoke to Way, sharing images to help her make sense of what had happened since she’d defeated the first demon army.

What about the Holy Throne?” she asked.

I’ve got dibs on him!” I replied with a wicked smile.

Way sent back a laugh and added, “Think Kari will be ok?

Yeah, he smacked her into the deep dreaming but her meta-awareness is up to speed so she’ll figure it out.

I’ll take care of the demon army then. Apparently I didn’t hit them hard enough the first time.” she said before streaking away in a blast of thunder. Several million demons. One Way. I’d have to hurry if I wanted to deal with the Emissary before she was done.

“Empty fire shall not avail you!” the Emissary shrieked as he wove his hands through the gestures series of complex gestures.

“By the threads of time, I bind you! From the loom of fate, I strike you! Forever be no more, Empty Ghost, Hollow Spectre, Forgotten One!” he intoned, building his will into a strike against me that nothing on Vale Septem could stand against. He wasn’t weaving a spell of the Dominion’s magics. His words were guiding the dream magics he’d stolen. He was speaking in the voice of the Blind God and trying to rewrite reality itself to reject me.

“I’m sorry.” I told him, genuine pity beginning to stir in my heart. “I make my own fate.”

The Emissary lashed out with his hands and released the power he’d gathered to unmake me. With hands contorted into talons he ripped widening rents in the fabric of reality. If they’d continued they would have swallowed everyone in their path the way a earthquake fissure would. Grida and her people, the Goblin King and his subjects, they all would have been would have been cast into oblivion along with me if the Emissary got to call the shots.

“The world’s not for you to destroy.” I told him as I reached forward gently and gathered the tears in reality to myself like spider silk. The force of the spell that was ripping reality apart met the force of my words and dissipated.

“You…you can’t do that.” the Emissary stammered. Rage and terror welled up within him and burst forth as an incoherent scream. Unable to contain himself, the Emissary belched holy light at me like dragon fire. I didn’t gesture, or even speak. I just imagined the holy light dissipating into a stream of fire flies winding a path back to the heavens. The attack that should have washed over me and burned me to dust instead swirled around my arms, lightning the night with a beautiful soft glow and living sparks that rose towards the stars above us.

Dream magic isn’t about will, or power. It’s about imagination and the ability to connect things together.  I’d been in Vale Septem for only a few days but I’d spent the time building connections to the world. The Emissary had been in the world for aeons and had spent the time drawing away from and denying the world.

“I’m sorry. There should have been someone to catch you when you fell. You’ve spent so long and understood so little.” I told him as I started walking closer to him, leaving the defenders of Dawns Harbor behind me.

“My will is supreme! I AM THIS WORLD!” the Emissary screamed.

“I know. That’s what I sorry about the most. You’ve wormed yourself into the fabric of this world so deeply that I don’t think I can pull you free of it without breaking it all apart.” I said.

“You will not take from me what is mine. I have defeated gods mightier than anything you can imagine!”

I could feel the Emissary building up his power. Across the world magic drained out of the shrines and temples of the Dominions. Holy relics lost their inner spark and magic armor and enchanted weapons became mundane. Even the Sanctuary spells the guarded the many cities of the Empire flickered and failed as the Emissary reached out to bring the entirety of his power to bear.

Apparently I’d successfully impressed on him the caliber of threat that I was.

“You still don’t get it.” I said, shaking my head.

“You are the darkness. I am the light. My power shall expunge your corruption from this world forevermore. I shall fashion a new dawn, I will bring my people into a day which never ends.” the Emissary ranted.

In meta-awareness I saw the future he spoke of. A world spinning so fast it had become frozen in time. No change. No life. All within it caught in the moment the Emissary believed to be the closest to perfection they could achieve.

I shuddered.

“Can you hear yourself?” I asked and knew the answer immediately. He couldn’t. He was striking out with words but he’d long ago given up on understanding the reason behind them. He was the truest believer in his own madness.

He’d reached for power out of fear and had found only more things to fear. Capturing the Blind God had shown him the dark unknown beyond the world and the Emissary had shown himself to be weaker than Kari in his reaction to that.

Where she’d had the courage to face the mystery that she’d discovered, the Emissary had fled from it. He’d bound the Blind God out of fear of losing the power he’d stolen and he’d bound Vale Septem in terrified denial of what he couldn’t understand.

Where Kari had imagined both dragons and knights within the unknown dreaming, the Emissary could only imagine monsters. He’d been so limited and small and, in growing to the vast heights of power, he’d shrunk even further.

But as he’d said, the world was his.

I watched as the combined magic of the world gathered in his hands. He’d drawn in enough energy to turn the world into a new star. In smiting me, he would boil the oceans and burn the skies. Nothing living anywhere on the world would survive his attack. He would be alone on an empty world with no threats to his power at all, nor anything to anchor what little remained of the humanity he still held. Then the loop of time would reset and those who’d once lived would live again, and they would be all that he would have left to feed on.

I saw him pause, just for a moment, before he unleashed the force that he’d gathered. I met his eyes and saw the last spark of the man he’d once been holding him back. Even after so much time, even as lost in denial as he was, there was still a part of him that could see that what he was about to do was wrong.

I crossed the last few steps to him and placed my hands on his.

“You need to let it go.” I told him gently.

And so, with a scream of primal terror, he did.  The star fire that he held blasted out of his hands to consume the world and met my fingertips.

It tickled.

I wrapped my arms around the world ending sphere of force and closed my eyes, letting it flow into me, imagining it as liquid sunlight that my skin could simply drink in and store for later.

When I opened my eyes, I saw that my skin had turned a rich chocolate shade of brown. Not burnt but rather the deepest most perfect tan imaginable.

The Emissary stood before me empty and exhausted. He moved his hands in a repeat of his initial unmaking spell.

“No more.” I said, interrupting his gestures by touching his hands.

He didn’t even have enough energy to be terrified. His hands dropped to his sides and he stared at me numbly.

“What are you?” he asked.

“What you could have been. What you could still be.” I told him. I didn’t whisper it but my voice was quiet enough that the words for the two of us alone.

“I will never be a monster like you.” he said, but instead of defiance his voice held only sorrow and fear.

“Look. See what you’ve become. See what you’ve done to those most loyal to you.” I said and gestured behind me.

I held all the power of the Holy Throne. I held all the magic in the world. At my call the Eternal Reborn appeared. All of them, standing silent  and still and facing us just as the defenders of Dawns Harbor did.

I peeled away the illusion of life that cloaked the Reborn to show them as they were. Empty vessels. Homes for souls that had been shaped into barren puppets.

“This is what you’ve done to those who were loyal to you, even to those who loved an image of you.” I told him.

“Lies! They were sanctified. Purified.” he whispered back.

“They were that too. Sanctified to your will. Purified of all the traits you disliked. Purified of everything that made them unique, vibrant, and individual.”

“No. You are a nightmare. You’re showing me things to destroy me. You cannot trick me! I will not listen, demon!”, he hissed.

“If you won’t listen to her, then you will listen to us.” Grida said.

“We know what you are. We’ve seen what you’ve done.” the Goblin King said.

“We know where you are taking us.” Liggy said.

The defenders of Dawns Harbor had advanced to stand beside me, with even Liggy and the Knights joining the assemblage.

“This is our world too.” Kari said, descending behind the Emissary on wings of fire.

“And it needs to end here.” I said.

“No. It can’t. Not after all this time.” the Emissary pleaded.

“You were once a man of faith. Look to that faith now.” Grida said. “For one last time, believe there is something more than all this.”

The Emissary looked at her. He looked at Liggy. He looked at those who’d assembled to stand against him. And then he looked at me.

“I don’t know how to do it.” he whispered.

Let go.” I said, sharing via dream speech the image of the bound Blind God and the power that had been trapped for so long.

But the I will be no more.” he replied and around his words I saw the monsters of the void which terrified him most. Solitude. Despair. Hunger and Pain.

I reached out and drew one of them forth. It took the form of a winged serpent and the Emissary gasped at the sight of it.

With my finger I led the serpent around in a spiraling pattern until it was coiled around my waist like a belt.

“It’s ok, I forget to eat sometimes, so I can use the reminder.” I told him. I ran a finger down the serpent’s head and it swayed in sleepy contentment.

The Emissary’s body had gone rigid with revulsion at the sight of the serpent but was gradually relaxing again as he saw it for what it was. The monster, the hunger, was just a part of me. Accepting it for what it was didn’t mean giving it power over me. It’s the monsters that we hide from that can control us, as his had controlled him.

Slowly, like the sun hinting at the day to come, I saw understanding creep over his features.

“I think I see.” he said. I watched the tension drain from his face as stream of peace burbled up from some long lost corner of his heart.

Yes, let it end.” he added and with an exhalation all the world around us began to disappear into a haze of mist as the stars in the sky winked out one by one. He’d freed the Blind God, he’d given up the power he held and the world that was bound together by his will crumbled away.

With the world went the defenders of Dawns Harbor, swallowed by the mists and the darkness as well until finally only Kari, the Emissary and I were left.

“I don’t understand. Why am I still here? Or is this to be my hell?” the Emissary asked.

“No, I’m going to make a far worse hell than this for you.” a new voice said.

From the shadows, the Blind God stepped forward. He appeared as a boy a few years older than me, and he’d not only regained his voice, he also clearly wasn’t blind anymore.

“I don’t think so.” I told the formerly-Blind God.

“You’re going to defend him?”

“I’m going to defend you both. If you’re really lucky I’ll even put in a few kind words for you when your cases come up for review.” I said.

“What do you mean?” the Emissary asked.

“You’re both on my turf now. Which means I’m dragging both of you to the Parliament of Time and make you their problem to deal with. Given how much you two managed to screw up an entire world, I’m betting you wind up in the remedial ethics classes.”

“What are you talking about?” the Blind God demanded.

“You’ll see soon enough.” I told him. “Let’s just say that while it’s impressive you were able to make a fully realized world, there are people used to dealing with much bigger fish than you.” I said, and then exhaled and continued in a gentler tone. “You’ve both made some mistakes. The Parliament will help you make sure you understand who and what you are so that you don’t make them again.”

“What about me?” Kari asked.

“Where you go is up to you, but you’ll probably want to join the Parliament too. I’ll introduce you to my class advisor. She would love to have an awesome student like you to work with.” I said, thinking of how happy Professor Haffrun to get to deal with someone like Kari rather than the usual problem children that get sent her way.

“Before we can do that we have a few things to take care of.” I said. As if on queue, a golden lightning bolt announced Way’s arrival.

“Aww, you didn’t save any for me?” she complained.

“You just got to play with how many demons?” I asked.

She rolled her eyes.

“Those don’t count. But it was four million, two hundred thirteen thousand and fifty six.” she grinned.

I shook my head.

“I’m never going to find you a big enough Christmas present am I?”

“What are you babbling about! My world has been destroyed and I will have my vengeance!” the Not-Quite-So-Blind God yelled.

“About that…” I began and stopped to listen.

From a far away distance I heard Grida calling a single word. My name.

“Kari, I need your help here.” I said and put out my hand to her. She took it and Way took my other hand without me needing to ask her.

“You’re the future Kari. You hold the unknown. Think of all of the things you can imagine happening tomorrow in Dawns Harbor. Then think of everything you can imagine happening tomorrow everywhere.” I told her. It was a ridiculous thing to ask but I needed her to be as open to as many possibilities as possible. The bigger the grasp on the future she could give us, the better.

“Way, you’re the present. You’re the ground I stand on. You’re what I believe in. The Way of Vale Septem is still alive in you. You’ve fought on every corner of the globe chasing the demons, Imagine the things that ‘are’, remember the world as it is.”

“And Grida…” I said, casting my voice into the dreaming. “You give us the past. You provide the context of everything that we do. You know those who have come before. Remember them and imagine your connections to them. Through each of them go further. Let Colten tell you of his parents. Let his parents tell you of their friends. You will be the center of the web of time that has already been woven, let your memories grow and echo with the memories of all you’ve ever touched and all they have touched in turn.

I felt Kari pulling me outwards, towards the dawn that awaited at the end of the night. I felt Way holding me tight, a part of the world through the gravity of my connection to her. And I felt Grida reaching back to us, the incalculably vast web of the “world as it was” joined to her.

Kari and Way reached out through the shadows and caught hold of Grida’s outstretched hands. As the circle formed I let the magic that I’d taken from the Emissary pour forth from me and I called everything back. All the good, all the bad, everything that was real about Vale Septem.

In the sky above, the stars blazed back to life. Below our feet, the darkness was replaced with the earth shining under the brilliant light of the moon. All around us the shadows pulled back to reveal Dawns Harbor and its people, restored and gleaming in the silver light that bathed the land.

In freeing the Blind God, I’d destroyed the world, but together we’d brought it back.

I felt relief sing through my heart. I’d been pretty sure we could pull it off, but pretty sure is not the same thing as certain.

That was when we were joined by a few new arrivals and a horrible, terrible thought occurred to me.

“Would someone please care to explain what just happened here?” Professor Haffrun, my advisor, asked as she stepped forth from the Dreamlit World.

Vale Septem had been under intense scrutiny by the Parliament. They hadn’t been able to help us because the days we’d spent had passed in a fraction of a second. With the time flux gone though there were a whole bunch of people from the Parliament who were going to be crawling all over Vale, looking for who was responsible for what had happened.

Oh, we are going to have so much paperwork to do to explain this!” Way said, more worried about that than she had been about the four million demons I’d asked her to face.

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He turned to look at Kari.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve got to stop them!” she said.

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

Yes.” she said and opened one for us.

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

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

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

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

I laughed.

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

But what if I can’t stop them?

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

Yes?” she said hesitantly.

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

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

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

She thought on that for a long second.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Has the Emissary come?” Maak asked.

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

“What power does she have?” Gahn asked.

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

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

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

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

“Whatever it costs us.” Maak agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the dream speech came a flood information.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.” Gahn answered.

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

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

“Surely you remember too?” Gahn asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tell me about the Blind God.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was a Dream Lord.

And the Emissary had trapped him somehow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And what did he ask in payment?”

“The Blind God’s voice.” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you Liggy.” I said, and rose.

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

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

“What can we do?” Gahn asked.

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

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

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

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

“This isn’t possible!” Rask screamed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With that Kari finally got his attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything I can do to help?” Way asked.

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predictably though it wasn’t quite that easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Goblin King laughed.

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

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

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

Something was wrong.

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

My mind spun on that.

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

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

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

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

In her hands I saw black fire gather.

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

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

But I wasn’t the girl I’d been.

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

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

So I let the Shadow Queen burn away to ash.

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

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

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

Fortunately for her, Kari was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To where sire?” Andromalius asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Broken Bonds – Chapter 27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colten laughed.

“Got a few of those myself.” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Betrayal?” Maak asked.

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

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

“Do we go in?” Kari asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kari looked at me closely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Holy Throne?” she guessed.

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

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

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

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

“Let me show you.” I requested.

“Please do.” she agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dragons? I summoned dragons?” Kari said.

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

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

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

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

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

“So are we safe?” Pastor Peracles asked.

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

I stepped back into Grida’s mind.

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

“What do have in mind?” Grida asked.

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

“Certainly!” she agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s my fault.” Kari said.

I rolled my eyes.

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

“Easiest for who?” Brayson asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We may not have to.” I said.

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

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

“Who would do that?” Pastor Peracles asked.

“The Goblin King.” I said.

“Why would he do that?” Brayson asked.

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

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

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

“Who?” Grida asked.

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

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

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

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

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