Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kari?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Broken Bonds – Chapter 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kari nodded.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They still need me.” she told herself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An instant later Ralls body toppled over lifelessly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are we going to do then?”

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

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

“They’d attack because we were here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So we should all try to be different?”

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

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

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

“And with the cauldron?” Kari asked.

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

“It’s that bad?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prelate Avernicus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You can not stop me.”

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

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

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

“Jin!” Kari yelled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Unending life.” she whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m going to talk to him.” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you.” she asked.

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

“But what are you?” Grida pressed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The War Council had begun.

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Most of them.”

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

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

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

I nodded.

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

Kari blinked and her focus came back to the bungalow.

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

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

“Nightmares?” Kari asked.

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

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

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

“Won’t you be really tired though?”

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

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

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

Five minutes later she was out like light.

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

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

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

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

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

Kari blinked again and came to full wakefulness.

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

“I don’t remember that.”

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

“Does that happen a lot?”

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

Kari shivered at the implication.

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

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

“Better chance than at Caina’s place.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maak’s mouth stretched into a bitter smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s an act of war!” Grida said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened next?”, Kari asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s that?” Grida asked.

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

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 20

One of the first things they teach clerics who have an interest in the Sixth Dominion’s healing magics are the skills needed to treat injuries via mundane means. As ‘Priestess Jin’, I hadn’t been different from many other new clerics in wondering why that would be useful. Being able to stitch up a wound seemed pointless when you can make the skin good as new with a spell that takes three seconds to cast.

As it turned out, there were a lot of reasons for a priestess to understand anatomy and physiology. Healing magics worked better the more the healer understood what was wrong with their patient and how the body would naturally repair itself. For simple wounds, or in battlefield situations, it was often a better practice to use only mundane methods to promote healing. Healing magic was delicate and fatiguing to work. If nature could take care of a wound then it was safer and easier to let the body take care of itself.

Then there were situations like the one I faced with Maak. His wounds were grievous enough to call for magic healing but the Sixth Dominion’s spells couldn’t begin to repair them. In a world where people could instantly regrow limbs, serious fighters need to be able to hurt their opponents and have them stay hurt.

Whoever had worked over Maak had been wielding a magic sword. More puzzlingly though they’d been very careful about how they’d wielded it. Since the knight was unconscious I was able to inspect his wounds at my leisure. They looked painful, and the bleeding had weakened him severely but none of them were immediately life threatening.

As a priestess, the medical training that I’d received left me well aware of how difficult wounds like that that were to inflict. Way could manage it when she fought, but that was only because she was orders of magnitude better than most of the people she tangled with. In a match between opponents of comparable skill it was extremely challenging to disable your foe without killing them. Especially not in the manner Maak had been wounded.

Whoever he’d fought hadn’t gotten in a lucky blow that took him out. It had been cut after cut, stab after stab, each carefully restrained. From the blood on the outside of Maak’s armor it was clear that his attacker had paid for the wounds he’d given Maak with similar wounds of his own. It had to have been an ugly, brutal fight. And yet, his attacker had been holding back.

“Priestess, is it safe to come in?” Healer Grida said from outside the bungalow.

“Yes, please! I have a knight here who needs your skills.” I replied.

Grida came in with Kari and Colten following in her wake.

“What did you do to him?” Grida asked.

That hurt a little. She didn’t mean to be insulting, in fact she was very afraid to be, but that same fear was undermining her faith in me as a decent person.

“I rebandaged the worst of the wounds and I kept him warm. I have basic medical supplies here but not enough to treat someone this injured.” I said, sidestepping the implicit accusation that I was responsible for his condition.

“These look like wounds from a holy blade.” Grida said, inspecting Maak’s injuries.

“Someone attacked him with his own sword?” I asked.

“Doesn’t look like it.” Colten said. “His sword is outside the door there.”

“Why is he back here at all?” Kari asked.

“The Prelates said that Bishop Rask’s task force had failed at its mission. Maybe he’s the only survivor?” I said. Meta-awareness was being maddeningly vague on the topic.

“Why would he have come here? To you?” Grida asked.

“He wasn’t conscious long enough to tell me. Maybe he was afraid of Bishop Rask?” I was guessing broadly there. As far as Maak knew I was an unbearably rude Priestess who lacked the sense to keep her mouth shut. The only reason he’d turn to me for help against Rask would be that I probably couldn’t fall any farther from the Bishop’s good graces so I had little to lose by opposing the annoying old jerk.

“Better question is what happened to his partner?” Colten asked.

“Hopefully he can tell us all that when he wakes up. Will you be able to help him?” I asked Grida.

“I think so. I’ve treated wounds from unholy swords before. They’re worse.” Grida said. She looked around the bungalow before adding, “I’ll need to take him back to my house though. Colten, go and fetch some carriers and a litter.”

“Won’t take a moment.” Colten promised, nodding his head in acceptance of the task before departing.

Grida inspected the bandages for a moment after Colten left before speaking again.

“I’m surprised you didn’t heal him the way you did our pastor. Did he offend you?” she asked.

“Yes.” I admitted, recalling how he’d taken Rask’s side during our dinner ‘conversation’, “But that’s not why I didn’t heal him.”

“It wouldn’t have been as difficult as restoring Peracles’ mind would it?” she asked.

“Yes and no. I risked doing what I did for the pastor because he was in terrible shape and unrecoverable otherwise. Also, he chose it. Maak will heal on his own, I think. Definitely if you can care for him. It wouldn’t be fair to take the same risks with him. Also, I’m guessing he’s not thinking too clearly at the moment, so even offering him the choice is questionable.” I said.

“Why would you think that?”

“He came to me for help. I can’t see him doing that unless he was truly desperate and desperate people aren’t renowned as the best decision makers. They’re usually too frightened to see things clearly.” I said.

Grida looked over at me and smiled.

“Wait till you’ve been in a few desperate situations. It’s not always wrong to be a bit afraid of them.” she said.

I smiled back.

“I’ve been in a few. There’s usually someone around who’s less desperate than I am and can keep me sane.” I said, a trace of regret in my voice.

“What happened to your friend?” Grida asked.

“She’s ok. Using the kind of magic she did to drive the demons and the Shadow Breakers away costs a lot though. I don’t think she’ll be able to get back here anytime soon.” I frowned. I was tired, and I knew I wasn’t going to get any real relaxation for a while. The responsible part of me accepted that. The sixteen year old in me, on the other hand, didn’t want to have to deal with the problems of a world that didn’t like me and wasn’t even slightly related to my own.

I noted with some amusement that this was the same side of me that had been bored and petulant and eager for problems to erupt and interrupt our relaxing vacation.

I make no special claims to being either reasonable or sane, except that thanks to meta-awareness and some wonderful people in my life I have a better than average shot at noticing my own craziness.

“I’m sorry I can’t give you more details.” I said. Explaining Way’s current whereabouts would be difficult at best. Worse, if I managed to show Grida what had happened in enough detail, that might lead to her awakening as well. One new dream walker was hard enough, two would be a waking nightmare.

Grida looked like she wanted to push the matter further, but Colten returned with a trio of fishers in tow. The two men Colten had brought with him carried a stretcher and the woman carried blankets and chains.

Grida noticed the chains as well and raised an eyebrow.

“In case we have to restrain him.” Colten explained.

“That was with cursed wounds. These are holy. They’re not going to drive him mad. We’ll be fine with just the blankets.” Grida assured him.

The woman who carried both shrugged and wrapped the chains around her arms instead. I wondered briefly if she’d shatter them the next time she flexed but I didn’t get a chance to find out.

“Help me get him on the litter. Carefully. We don’t need to open his wounds any further. It’s going to be enough work to patch him up as it is.” Grida grumbled. I recognized the tone. She hadn’t had a particularly good evening either and a lot of it came from trouble that shouldn’t have landed anywhere near her doorstep.

“I’ll come by in the morning if that’s ok? It looks like there are two people we’ll need to talk to.” I asked.

“Will he be alright by the morning?” Kari asked, pointing to Maak as Colten and his crew got him arranged on the stretcher.

“He won’t be any prettier but he should be conscious by then. Once he’s treated, I’ll have him set up in the Under Chapel with the pastor. I’ll probably be there all night so come by when you’re able to.” Grida said, before turning to lead Colten and stretcher carriers out.

In the calm that followed, I almost let myself relax.

It was so tempting.

But of course, it was also not to be.

“Can you tell me what’s happening to me now?” Kari asked.

“It might be easier to show you.” I said.


“Before I do though, you need to know a little more about what you’re asking. Right now you’re on the edge of something. On one side you’ve got this world and a life that connects to everyone you’ve ever known. On the other you’ve got the unknown and the unknowable.”

“Which side are you on?”

“Both, for now, but that’s limiting me. A lot actually. There’s a catch too. What I am, you can’t become without losing the life you have.”


“Your world is special. It’s why I’m here. If you leave it, if you go over the edge I’m talking about, you won’t be able to get back. That’s part of what limits me here. If I leave, I can’t make it back either.”

“That’s what happened with Sir Way, isn’t it? She had to step over that edge.” Kari said.

“Yeah. We had to stop what was happening and we didn’t want anyone else to get hurt. I’ll see her again when I leave this world but till then we’re stuck apart.”

“You’re going to leave?”

“I’ll have to eventually. My home’s on the other side of that edge.”

“I want to go with you then!”

“Why? Do you hate this world? Is it too miserable to stay in?”

“No. It’s wonderful, but I want to see what else is out there. I always wanted to be an adventurer. I wanted to find new things, go new places but I knew I’d never I’d be able to. I’m not anyone special, I don’t have awesome skills, or magic powers, but talking with you lets me I forget that. All day you’ve treated me like I was someone important and I’m scared that if you go, I’ll remember that I’m just a nobody again.”

“You’re not a nobody.” I told her. I had to fight back a smile at how silly she was being. ‘No awesome skills or magic powers’? Yeah, because just anybody could spontaneously develop meta-awareness and start casting cleric spells based on observation and overheard dream speech. I hadn’t been much more rational when I awoke, but that didn’t make it any less funny to see from a more experienced perspective.

“Yes I am. I know these things I can do aren’t really mine. I’m just copying you. When you go I’ll have no one to copy. I’ll just be me again. A little serving girl, with no one to wait on.”

“What makes you think being a serving girl is the same as being a nobody?”

“Isn’t it? Before today I was nobody important at all. Anyone could do what I did.”

“Let’s see if that’s true. Close your eyes, if you trust me.” I said.

She did without a word.

From her memories I teased out an illusion similar to the one I’d cast when we first met. Rather than the Moon’s Palace though, this illusion showed Caina’s Inn with a family starving in the cold outside it.

“Without you, they weren’t fed at all. Caina kicked them out when they complained. It’s a cold night too, I don’t think they’ll make it to the next town.” I said.

“But anyone could have done what I did.”

“Maybe, but you were the only one there who noticed them. You were the only one who cared enough and was clever enough to find a way to help them in spite of Caina. That one action changed the world.”

“That’s just one family though.” Kari protested.

“It’s more than that. Look.” I said, gesturing to Caina’s Inne. Within the illusion it became a burned out husk.

“What? Why is it burned? Where is everyone?” Kari asked.

“Do you remember preventing a disagreement between two patrons from escalating?” I asked.

“No. Or maybe? That happened a lot.”

“Yep. Just not as often without you there. In fact one time too few in specific. The fight got out of hand. A fire was started and this is where it led.”

“I see.” Kari said, her gaze absorbing the damage. All the familiar buildings for a block in each direction were burned. Families and people that she knew were gone. Departed to build a new life in some cases, ashes on the wind in others.

“So this is what happens if I join you?” she asked.

“No. This is what might have happened if someone else had lived your life.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s not spells, or magical knowledge, or even knowing me, that makes you special. It’s who you are. Who you chose to be. You think the things you’ve done have been too small to matter, but the truth is it all matters.”

“So what does that mean?”

“It means that you when you choose which path to follow, you need to believe that on either one you’re going to wind up as someone amazing. You don’t need to give up your life here for that to be true.”

“I see.” she said, her eyes focusing on a faraway point inside herself as her meta-awareness confirmed what I had said.

I couldn’t see her future, but I caught glimpses of it from along a hundred different threads. In one she was a warrior who’d trained with Helena and fought back an invasion from  Hell. In another she was a spectacular mom, raising a small horde of children, both her own and adopted. Magic wielder or inn keeper, church reformer or skillful politician, whichever way she chose to turn the possibility of greatness lay before her.

“All of these you can be, and lose nothing of who you are now.” I said, and shared each of the snippets of the future that I saw.

Kari sank to her knees in the illusion as the reality of it all flooded into her.

“It’s wonderful.” she said, tears welling in her eyes.

“You’re wonderful. All of that is in you.” I corrected her.

She was silent for a few minutes as she took it all in.

“What about the other side? What can I become if I chose that?” she asked.

I changed the illusion one more time. Now it showed only darkness. An empty starless expanse.

“What’s this?” Kari asked, staring around at the endless black.

“The unknown. The unknowable. The impossible.” I replied. “This is what awaits you on the other side.”


The Broken Bonds – Chapter 19

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

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

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

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

“Ah, damn.” I grumbled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you need?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

I…I can see it!”, Kari dream spoke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kari nodded, in agreement more than understanding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How’s Pastor Peracles?” Colten asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 18

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

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

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

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

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

I looked at her. Really looked at her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about Prelate Avernicus?” Kari asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m coming with you.” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Isn’t that impossible.” she asked.

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

“Is that how you got your magic back?”

“Nope. I straight up cheated on that.”

“Cheated how?”

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

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

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

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

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

“How long will that take him?”

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

“What do you mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You would challenge me?” he laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he really had no idea what I was like.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened?” Kari asked.

“He escaped.” I said.

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

“Maybe. But he knows what I am now.”

“What’s that?”

“Beyond him.”

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about the soldiers?” Helena asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The ocean?” Marcus guessed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helena laughed and relaxed.

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

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

“And what about you?” Marcus asked Way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brayson shook his head and frowned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Make who draw back?” Marcus asked.

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

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

This sucks.” I complained in dream speech.

It does.” Way agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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