The Longest Battle – Ch 16 – Tales of the City


Jin had walked in many empty places, many lost and desolate corners of forgotten worlds and broken realities. It’s what she had expected to find waiting for her in the city she’d discovered on the edge of twilight. By a strict interpretation of the Parliament’s classification system, it was a failed world. One that hadn’t been real enough to last for longer than a brief instant of time. The crowds that bustled along the street beside her, boisterous and alive in the cool spring air, were out of place for such a world though.

“Shouldn’t these people be nothing more than memories?” Jin asked Pen. He had chosen a different look than the one he normally wore. Gone were the white t-shirt and white jeans, replaced with a white suit, a white hat and a white cape.

“Who’s to say they’re not?” Pen asked. He was gazing at the skyline with a look Jin couldn’t read in his eyes. She followed his gaze across the small park they’d arrived in. The tall spires that surrounded them glowed in the midday sun, their polished metal and fresh stone faces giving back the warm light that touched them.

The only piece of the city that didn’t gleam was the giant statue that dominated the center of park. It’s surfaces was dulled and pitted with the marks of weather and time that were absent from the rest of the buildings.

“There was a war here wasn’t there?” Jin asked.

“Several actually. What tipped you off?” Pen asked in return.

“The buildings are too new. The only thing that’s been here for longer than a few years is that statue. What happened?”

“The usual. Greed. Stupidity.” Pen said.

“And that wrecked this whole world?”

Pen was silent for a moment before answering.

“I guess it must look that way to you.” he said and continued walking across the park to an elevated train station.

“Is this where you were from originally?” Jin asked. She wasn’t sure why he had brought her here, but nostalgia seemed like a viable possibility.

“Originally? No. And yes, I guess.” he said. Jin knew when he was being cryptic because the answers were dangerous, she’d played that game with him far too often. The way he smiled though suggested that it wasn’t the case this time. This time he was just having fun with her.

“You get paid based on how many questions you make me ask don’t you?” she said, selecting a tone that said “I’m amused now but will kick you in the shin if you keep this up.”

“No, this isn’t where I started out, but yes, it is where I started anew.” Pen said, relenting. He was still focused on the city more than his student though.

Overhead, a blimp drifted over the park, advertisements flashing across its LED coated sides. Jin was trying to read the latest one when a burly man in overalls bumped into her. Or at least she thought it was a man. He was covered in fur and had soft bunny ears on his head.

“Sorry m’am!” the rabbit man said. “Wasn’t watching where I was going.”

As he scurried off, Jin saw that a half dozen other non-humans were tagging along behind him. They were carrying tools and hauling building supplies behind them.

“No problem.” Jin said belatedly. She rubbed her arm where the rabbit man had collided with her. It hurt.

“They’re real?” she said, looking at Pen for confirmation of the apparent impossibility.

“Yeah. It’s nice to see.” he said as he watched a pair of winged birdmen soar up to the advertising blimp.

“But this world isn’t.” Jin said.

“Not anymore. It’s just memories now.” Pen confirmed.

“How are they here then? Are they dreamlords too?” Jin asked. She knew they weren’t. Her meta-awareness told her that the only dreamlord near her was Pen. No one else should have been able to interact with a world that was as unreal as the one she was standing on though.

“No. Not in the sense that you mean it. What we are is different from what they are making themselves into.” Pen said.

“I don’t understand.” Jin said.

“You can create worlds right?” Pen asked.

“And destroy them.” Jin agreed.

“So can they. So can everyone.” Pen said.

“In their imagination, sure. Those are the dream worlds that border real worlds.”

“What’s a real world though?” Pen asked.

“World’s that are shared between people and exist independently of the imagination of those who inhabit them. Or at least that’s Professor Haffrun’s definition. I’m guessing that you have a different one in mind though.” Jin said.

“Actually that’s not far from what I was thinking.” Pen said.

They’d reached the elevated train line just in time for a car to arrive. A handful of people in silver and orange armor boarded the car with them. They ranged in sizes from pixie-scaled to so tall that they had to sit on the floor to avoid bashing their heads into the ceiling. One of them was on fire, but didn’t seem particularly troubled by it. Once upon a time Jin would have made excuses to find another train to ride. That had been years ago and worlds away though. She’d been a very different ‘Jin’ then. As it was she barely noticed that the strange people were there.

“The key is to consider how much ‘independent existence’ something needs to be considered ‘real’.” Pen said.

“What do you mean?” Jin asked.

“This place was real once. The war you mentioned changed that. Now its just a memory, but that’s the important part. It’s still remembered.” Pen said.

“Which means its still being remembered by someone!” Jin said, understanding where her mentor was going.

“Right. What we remember we can recreate. Not as it was, but in a new form.” Pen said.

“It won’t be the same though will it?” Jin asked.

“The same? No. It’s different, but everything is different from one day to the next, everything changes.” Pen said as the train reached its stop.

“You getting out here too?” Pen asked the troop of armored people, holding the door for them as they moved around.

“No, we’re heading to the north end. Thanks though.” the biggest one of them said.

“Ah, have fun at the launch site.” Pen said and allowed the door to close.

“Launch site?” Jin asked.

“To the moonbase. It was planned but was never constructed before the war.” Pen explained.

“How is it here then?” Jin asked.

“This is a memory for now, but its as much a memory of what might have been as it is of what once was.” Pen said. “So the dreams that we had? They’re still a part of this too.”

“Is that why we’re here?” Jin asked.

“No. We’re here because I want to make sure this place is better defended.” Pen said.

“Defended from what?” Jin asked.

“The things that almost destroyed it the first time.” Pen said. They walked down a street of freshly painted blacktop and passed a circus performers who seemed to be throwing bolts of eldritch energy at each other. Jin wasn’t sure if they were attacking one another or performing an arcane form of juggling.

“What sort of weapon did you bring for them?” Jin asked as they arrived at long, multi-story building on the edge of a college campus. Her senses tingled as they went inside and she saw they’d entered a library. In a way, she’d been reborn in a library and she was still as fond of them as she’d ever been.

“The most powerful one of all.” Pen said as he placed a new book on the nearest shelf.

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