The Soul’s Fortress – Chapter 21 – Next Steps

The Soul’s Fortress – Chapter 21 – Next Steps

The moonlight blade had a purpose, and it had a name. Those two things weren’t enough to grant it a will, but they did serve to guide the magic that was channeled into it. Within the folds of light that the blade was crafted from little bits of awareness were caught and sewn together.

It wasn’t an accident or a mistake in the design. For the moonlight blade to serve its purpose it had to possess a measure of awareness. It had to be able to connect with its wielder and act as a channel for their will. That was the only method of allowing it to fulfill its purpose.

Without a will, the blade would cut the shadows but have no particular destination and leave nothing more that a portal to the void when swung to pierce the dimensions.

“That can take us back to the real world?” Iana asked.

“Your world is no more real than the shadow worlds,” Lagressa said. “But yes, it should be able to provide passage between that world and this.”

“And if it fails?” Wynni asked. “What happens to us in that case?”

“It depends on how it fails,” Lagressa said. “The potential outcomes include being lost in the empty space between the worlds, ripped to pieces by an imploding portal or the portal exploding with deadly force over a wide radius.”

“How wide?” Iana asked.

“Anywhere from within a few feet of it to the entirety of this planet.”

“I see why you didn’t try it out earlier,” Iana said.

“It wasn’t ready earlier,” Lagressa said.

“Our timing seems awfully convenient then,” Iana said.

“It’s less a matter of convenience and more a matter of fate,” Lagressa said. “When the Silence Breaker is used, it cuts across not only the space but time as well. In doing so, it creates a weakness in both space and time so that things, or people, who are going to transfer between the worlds are more likely to wind up transferring along the same pathway where it is, was, or will be opened.”

“It does what now?” Venita, the dwarven air courier, asked.

“The worlds are separate,” Lagressa said. “Carving permanent holes between them could have disastrous consequences, so the Silence Breaker cuts a path through space and time.”

“That seems a thousand times worse,” Londela, the human land courier, said.

“It’s much safer. The tear only exists through a set amount of time, means that it automatically closes and was effectively never open afterwards.”

“That doesn’t make much sense,” Daggrel said. “How can something do that?”

“It’s magic,” Gertrude said as though that was the full and complete explanation for everything that she’d experience in the last several hours.

“Can’t say as I like magic,” Daggrel’s complaint was silently shared by most of the rest of the group, except, notably, for Iana.

“If it can get us back home, then I’m more than willing to try it out,” she said. “Commander Wynni, you said you would be able to evaluate the portal before we risked it?”

“I said we might be able to evaluate it. Our magic is internal. It’s a part of who and what we are,” Wynni said. “Either what the blade is going to do will resonate with us or we’ll have no more idea than you of what will happen to anyone that tries to pass through it.”

“Then I should be the first to go,” Iana said.

“No,” Yuehne stepped forward.

“You don’t want me to risk life and limb?” Iana asked. “I thought you wanted me dead?”

“Not here, and not like this,” Yuehne said. “Think; if you die or get lost, what happens to the Shadowfolk? What happens to the nobles of Gallagrin? What happens to my family?”

“The same thing that happens if I don’t get out of here at all,” Iana said, taken aback by the vehemence of Yuehne’s questions.

“The portal will be able to take more than one person right? So someone else can test it first?” Yuehne asked, turning to face Lagressa.

“If it’s stable, yes. We’ll cut through enough time with it that everyone can pass to the far end before it closes,” Lagressa said.

The Silence Breaker felt conflicting wills reach out for it. Those were easy to ignore though. Only one hand was on its hilt, and its maker had a special claim on its attention.

“Let me go through first then,” Yuehne said. “If I get scrambled, no one is going to miss me. They all expected me to die on this mission anyways.”

“No, I can’t let you do that,” Iana said.

“You have to take all the glory, is that it?” Yuehne said.

“No, there’s no glory here,” Iana said. “It’s simply a matter that no one else has the protections cast on them that I do. I’m also reasonably sure that if I’m lost, Dae will be able to find me. She doesn’t have the same connections with the rest of you to draw on. Most importantly though, you’re more critical to this moment than I am.”

“They’re going to start a war that could end a species because of you!” Yuehne said. “How am I more important than that?”

“Because you can give testimony about what you saw,” Iana said. “By living, I can forestall another  war, but you can help us root out the real culprits who are responsible for bringing us to this place.”

“I’m a failed assassin!” Yuehne said. “No one is going to believe anything I say!”

“You’re not a failed assassin. You’re a witness. One whose been brave enough to survive this far. Don’t sell yourself short.”

“Brave? I didn’t have any choice for any of this!” Yuehne said.

“You’ve had at least a dozen chances to get away clean and easy since I met you,” Venita said. “And about half as many chances to finish your mission. I think our princess is right. You’re not as much a prisoner here as I first took you for. That’s why I’m the one who’s going to go through first.”

“Venita! No! I can’t ask that of you!” Iana said.

“That’s right. You can’t,” Venita said. “Which is why I’m not offering, I’m telling you, this is how it’s going to be.”

“I thought it was the royalty who gave the orders?” Gendaw said.

“You need to study Gallagrin more,” Venita said. “Royalty gives us suggestions. We then do with those suggestions whatever is most fitting.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s not how it really works,” Wynni said.

“Well it’s how it’s going to work this time,” Venita said. “We can’t risk the princess being torn to shreds or tossed to a place worse than this, and I’m not letting a child run a risk that I’m afraid to face myself. So there. No. More. Arguments.”

The Silence Breaker knew that there wouldn’t be further discussion. Of all of the wills focused on it, Venita’s was the strongest. Even its owner was less committed to the course of action than the dwarf was.

“What about the wounded?” Londela asked. “Should we move them someplace safe before we try anything?”

“Yes,” Lagressa said. “Place them in the apartment I secured for her.”

She nodded at Miaza, who was staring open mouthed at the proceedings.

“The apartment you did what to?” she asked, snapping out of her surprise.

“The building you found where you’ve recuperated for the last few days? It had been the nest of a colony of swarm bears.”

“Sleeping Gods!” Wynni said. Neither she nor Miaza offered any other commentary, though both clearly knew of the creatures Lagressa was referring to.

“What’s a swarm bear?” Yuehne asked.

“You’re familiar with bees and bears?” Gendaw said. “Before the Sleeping Gods made those two creatures in their current form, they spawned a great number of early versions where the two were one entity.”

“So tiny little flying bears?” Yuehne asked.

“No, bear sized bees, complete with bear bites and bear claws. Sometimes the gods made wise choices in the animals they did not include in the final version of the Blessed Realms.”

“And you…?” Yuehne asked, turning to Lagressa.

“Drowned them. They were a nuisance and I’d meant to get around to it eventually. Her arrival just made it a more urgent matter.”

“So the meat and honey I’ve been eating?” Miaza asked.

“Was very fresh,” Lagressa said with a nod.

“Why? Why would you do that for me?” Miaza asked. Her expression was more than faintly horrified though whether that was due to Lagressa’s action or dining on Swarm Bears was difficult to say.

“The colony was hostile and unreasonable,” Lagressa said. “I hoped you wouldn’t be.”

“It’s not easy being more than you were designed to be. Especially not alone,” Iana said.

Lagressa answered with a small, tight nod.

“How long will it take to get ready to bring us back?” Venita asked.

“We could try immediately,” Lagressa said, “But I would be grateful to have the Shadowfolk inspect the edge of the blade. I have not made many of Silence Breakers and the construction of one is not a trivial task.”

“Let’s take an hour’s break then,” Iana said. “We had a long night and if we head back too quickly, we may run into the wrong people.”

“That should be enough time for our review,” Wynni said.

“Presuming you find no flaws in the blade,” Lagressa said.

“If we do we can re-evaluate our time table. If we don’t find anything in an hour though I don’t think we’ll find it in a day either.”

The Silence Breaker felt the relaxation of intent that followed. It wouldn’t be used yet.

Instead it was poked and prodded, turned over and used to cut a number of mundane objects. Nothing for which a true focus of vision was required.

Then Venita picked it up.

“An hour sure passes fast,” she said, and the Silence Breaker felt both her focus and her reservation.

“My hands will need to be on the blade as well,” Lagressa said.

“Does that mean I’m going to drown?” Venita asked.

“No,” Iana said. “Lagressa and I practiced while we were waiting.”

“Practiced what?” Venita asked.

“My curse is something I can control,” Lagressa said. “It was intended as a weapon after all.”

“The problem was, she never had anyone to practice the magic with, everyone would die at the first touch, so the effect was always on,” Iana said.

“And now you can turn it off?” Venita asked.

“I believe so,” Lagressa said.

“Well, that’s extremely comforting,” Venita said.

“You don’t have to do this,” Iana said.

“Yes, I do.”

“Then take my hand,” Lagressa said.

The Silence Breaker felt Venita’s will coalesce. Dwarves weren’t made of iron, but their wills were.

Moonlight blazed down the edge of the Silence Breaker, driving back the shadows and making the mountaintop visible for hundred of miles in every direction.

“Focus on your world, hold an image of it in your mind,” Lagressa said. “The sharper the picture, the more details you can see, the cleaner the cut will be.”

“I’ve got it,” Venita said, her voice reverberating with the Silence Breaker’s power.

“Then lift the blade high,” Lagressa said, “And slash through the barrier that stands before you.”

The Silence Breaker descended like a bolt of judgement. Along its edge, the veil of shadows that stand between the worlds, cutting each off from the other, was rent in two. Moonlight burned through the fabric of reality, pushing aside the old boundaries, and two realms that had never touched, met at a single point in space and a brief moment in time.

Without waiting for anyone’s approval, Venita stepped through the rift in space.

She left the Silence Breaker with Lagressa. For all the blade’s power, it was nothing more than moonlight unless it’s owner chose to relinquish it.

If the portal lead back to the Blessed Realms, then it would be obvious enough for the others to see and follow in Venita’s wake. If it didn’t then Lagressa would need to forge the Silence Breaker anew and they would need to try again.

In either case Venita’s fate was sealed the moment she committed herself and from the smile on the dwarfs face as she entered the portal she was perfectly ok with that.

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