Novel for NaNoWriMo 2014
This is currently being written. Expect updates every day until the end of November.
The man pushed up his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He glanced over at the clock and groaned when he saw that it was three thirty in the morning. He needed to have everything done before the office official opening for business. The project was almost completed and all his co-workers would be angry at him if he wasn’t done by then. Technically the game was already completed, it only needed the final compile and bundle that he had been working on all night.
Jordan decided it was time for another cup of coffee. He was nearing the end of his task but he needed that last cup to keep him going. The small break room that they used was only a little bit away. He walked over to the coffee machine to pour himself a new cup. The break room was plastered with all sorts of promotional materials for he game he was working and they were placed their by their manager to help motivate all the employees.
He looked at the large poster while he sipped at the coffee. It was a close up of the two female protagonists who where staring off into the setting sun. The name of the game was featured in stylized letters at the top. “The Forbidden Domain” it said.
The male protagonist in the game was not featured on the picture. Jordan knew that was true of almost all the promotional materials. After all the male character was mainly an insert of the player and had very little personality of his own. While the choices the player made shaped the story his only personality came from the different dialog options that the player chose. This wasn’t too unusual for the male character in visual novels.
Jordan took his cup of coffee back to his desk and sat back down. The office was strewn with all the remnants of the late night party of celebrate the completion of the game. The manager has finally given her final seal of approval and the game was finally finished. Jordan had be present but he had known that even though all his fellow employees were done he still needed to finish the final steps before the game could be send the publisher.
The last of the other employees had left hours ago, off to celebrate their success at a bar. Jordan had wanted to join them but couldn’t. He understood their celebration. The Forbidden Domain had been in production at least twice as long as anything else that he had worked on. The project almost died three months ago when their publisher cut their deal. It has been a struggle but the manager got them a new publisher and work on the project continued.
Everybody had been hugely invested in the project. It was the largest visual novel that any of them had worked on and certainly on the most ambitious projects he had ever heard of. The story was huge and there were many different endings and possibilities for the game. The writers and voice actors and driven themselves nearly sick working on all the dialogue for the game and the artists had worked potentially even harder. Even programmers like Jordan has worked long hours to get this project complete.
Jordan finished getting all the files in order and began the final packaging process. Then the lights began to dim and a moment horror fell upon Jordan and the computers in the office all shut off along with the lights. Jordan cursed and then a moment latter the lights returned. Jordan jammed his figure at the computer power button desperately hoping that everything was alright. He knew his panic was unfounded, everything had been saved and backed up but still the fear was there. There was a real, if small, chance of all the work in the last couple of hours disappearing.
He sighed in relief as the computer finished booting up and he found that everything was still in working order. The final project bundle had failed because the computer had restarted in the middle of it but that wasn’t a big problem. He hit to button to restart the process before sinking back into his chair and finishing off the coffee he had been drinking.
The was some movement out of the corner of his eye and he glanced over toward the break room. He lifted up his glasses and rubbed his eyes again. He had thought for a moment that the two women on the poster had been moving. He thought that he must more more tired then he initially felt. He has been working extra hours for the last couple of weeks so that was certainly possible. He knew that he could be greatly relieved when he would be able to go to bed for the evening.
He jumped in his seat when his computer made a ding sound only to remember that was sound of the package completing. He has heard the sound many times when he had made testing builds for their QA department to test out. He reached out and grabbed the flash drive that was nearby on the table and plugged it in. The files were quickly transferred over the the drive and when with no small amount of relief he placed the drive in a manilla envelope and sealed it shut.
He stood up and walked over to his managers desk but before he could set the envelope on it there was a ringing sound. The phone that sat on his desk was ringing. He wondered who would be calling him at this time of night. Maybe it was his manager trying to make sure that everything was done. It would be a bit coincidental that she was calling right now though.
He walked back to the desk and paused for a second before picking up the phone. He tried to sound cheery instead of hopelessly tired, “Hello, this is Jordan Rhodes at Starlight Studio, how may I help you?”
“There is no choice without meaning but not all choices lead to hope.” Said the man’s voice on the other side of the phone line.
Jordan paused for a moment. That was one of the lines from the game one that he thought was fairly iconic. You would hear it in most of the bad endings but there were a couple of good ending where you heard it, notably both of the special true endings.
Jordan said, “Cornelius is that you? You shouldn’t troll me like this.” Jordan thought the voice sounded kinda like Cornelius, one of the writers for the game. He would also be the kind of person to try and mess with people with prank calls like this.
“The game that you hold in your hand is the pivot of the world. It will swing the world into ruin and damnation.” Those words were definitely not from the game. Jordan looked down at his other hand. He was still holding the envelope having forgotten to set it down on his manager’s desk before he answered the phone.
“Who is this?” He still wondered if it was Cornelius who might be hiding in a nearby room calling him to freak him out in the middle of the night.
“You must destroy the cursed one before she steps into the domain of God.” That was another line from the game. However then the voice continued speaking works that for some reason make Jordan shiver. “She must never be released. Only you have the true power to stop her. Destroy the drive, delete the game, you must for the sake of the world.”
The words seemed to reverberate in his head until it became too much for him and he slammed the phone down, disconnecting the call. He was frightened, who would be calling him at this time asking for him to destroy the game and everybody had worked so hard on. Not even Cornelius would try and pull something like that. Jordan took a few deep breaths. He fear that the person would call back so he held his break for a few seconds but when nothing happened let out the breath again.
Maybe it was just some crazy fan of some other game that felt threatened by The Forbidden Domain. That person must have just heard those lines from the promotional material. Jordan hadn’t know that had been on those materials but he didn’t keep up with all the different things that were sent out.
It took Jordan a few minutes to calm down. After a little bit he walked back over to his managers desk and set the envelope down into it. Then he walked back to his computer and made sure to make a backup of the fully completed game. That way even if soemthing happened to the flash drive it would be easy for them to make another copy.
He shut down his computer and then, because he was still spooked by the call, checked to make sure that all the doors and windows into the office was locked. Then he made his way outside to his car. His work was finally done and when his manager came into work tomorrow she would be able to send the drive off to the publisher.
Still the words of the person on the other side of the phone nagged at him. ‘The game what you hold in your hand is the pivot of the world. It will swing the world into ruin and damnation.’ He shivered and tried to shove those thoughts as far away into his mind as he could. Surely they didn’t mean anything at all.
Valerie sat kneeling in the rain. Her clothes soaked with water both from the rain and from her tears. She sat their sobbing holding the amulet that she had gotten from her mother. She was holding it tightly like it was the only the remaining connecting her to the world.
The man steps closer and reaches down to touch her shoulder. He saids softly too her, “Even if others would cast you out I will always be there for you.”
She looks up at the man and says, “Even if I am cursed?”
“I will never consider you cursed because to me you are the greatest of all blessings.”
She smiles the smallest crack of a smile and reaches up. He reaches down and completes the embrace. The two stay their hugging each other in the pouring rain. Then Valerie whispers into the man’s ear, “I love you.”
Then there is the grinding sound of metal against concrete. The man looks up and sees Yiskah walking toward them. She holds a sword which she is letting the tip drag against the ground. The man could not see her fact because she was facing the ground and her hair fell down covering her features.
“So this is your choice?” She asked, “You chose the cursed one and all the sorrow that she will bring. How little you care about the world if you would sacrifice it for your own desires.” She lifted up the sword and finally raised her face to the man. Her features were wracked in pain, indecision, hate, and jealousy. “Why! Why did you chose her over me?”
Lyle Clarke was the most dedicated of all the fans of Starlight Studio. He had camped out for more than one full day to make sure that he was first in line for their new game. Starlight Studio had not released a game for the last three years and their new visual novels was more hyped then any other game that had come out in the last four months.
And Lyle Clarke was their number one fan. He knew this because he was the first in line. He knew this because he was wearing a shirt featuring the heroines from Starlight Studio’s last game. He knew this because he had played their last game, Torment Peace, all the way to completion more then thirty times, viewing all the different possible endings. There was nobody who was more excited then him about the release of the new game.
He had even made sure to take the week off of work so that he could fully enjoy the game. Based off the numbers that Starlight Studio were saying about their game that would be enough time to beat the game, maybe even twice.
Lyle Clarke was still uncertain which ending to pursue for his first try at the game. Given their previous titles he expected for there to be a lot of them and Starlight Studio had only given hints at a couple of the endings. He did know that there would be a major choice between which of the two heroines that he would support. The other heroine would then become the antagonist. He also suspected that there would be a special hidden ending where you can reconcile the two heroines although that way would probably contain a twist that nobody could have expected. His primary goal was to discover this ending and watch it, hopefully before anybody else.
That was one of the reasons that he was first in line, because he was the number one fan. There were a limited number of special edition copies of the game and he wanted to make sure he and a copy. Sure he didn’t need to be the first in line to get one of those but he had to be the first in line because he was the number one fan.
He looked down the line at all the other people waiting for the store to open. The line was quiet long. The people right behind him were nearly as dedicated as he was and the people way in the back could hardly be called fans at all.
The time was almost upon them. Only a few more minutes and the doors to the store would open. This store was special because they were giving out the limited edition figurines of Valarie and Yiskah the two heroines. Only the first hundred copies of the special edition which were sold at this location would include those figures.
The employee inside the store began walking toward the front door. Lyle could see him through the window. There was murmuring throughout the line and everybody began standing up and picking up all their things. Their wait was almost over and the official release for The Forbidden Domain was about to begin. It felt like an eternity but was only a few moments later then the employee unlocked the doors and began ushering people in one at a time.
Since Lyle was first in line he got to enter the store before anybody else. He felt hushed and awed and he walked past the rows on game to the counter. The man behind the counter reached out and they shook hands. That man understood the devotion that Lyle was giving to the game. The man said, “Normally we only give out either Valarie or Yiskah but the first few people get both. Congratulations!”
Lyle nodded, “Thanks, I will treasure them.” The man behind the counter put the special edition copy of the game into the bag along with the boxed figures of both Valarie and Yiskah. Lyle handed over his card to be processed. A moment later he was the owner of the very first copy of The Forbidden Domain. He could feel the boxes underneath the plastic bag and they felt heavy, like he had been given a great weight of responsibility. Lyle bowed to the shopkeeper and then turned to leave.
He passed the second in line as he left and they nodded in understanding at the great honor that those first in line had been given. The others that he passed looked at him with a mixture of reverent respect and jealousy. He understood their emotions perfectly. He would feel that exact same way if he was standing in their shoes. Of course he wasn’t because he was the number one fan.
The route home was full of painful anticipation while he mentally prepared himself for playing the game. This would be the longest gaming binges he had ever done. He had already prepared his apartment for the upcoming experience. There was plenty of microwavable food and plenty of extra snacks and drinks for him to have so that he wouldn’t have to leave the house at all for this week. He even planned on putting his phone on silent so that nothing would be able to disturb him.
He lived in the fourth floor of a rather large apartment complex. Once he arrived he quickly made he way over to his computer where everything had already been previously prepared. He carefully placed his bag down next to his computer and pulled out the box with the game in it. Despite his impatience to play the game he was still careful when opening the package making sure to keep the box in as pristine condition as he could so that he would be able to proudly display it on his shelf of games.
Finally he managed to extract the disk and then placed it inside his computer’s disk drive. He waited for the disk to appear on his computer and then clicked the install button. The install began running and while it began working he returned to his bag. He carefully removed the two boxes containing the figures of Valarie and Yiskah. Some collectors might leave the figures in their boxes to maintain their value but Lyle would have none of that and wanted to display them. After all if he never planned on selling them why wouldn’t he want to set them fully up.
The figures didn’t require much assembling but he carefully did what needed to be done and then carefully placed them on the display shelf just next to his computer. That way he would be able to glance at them while playing the game. They were both very well done. Yiskah was a little bit taller than Valarie and she was carrying the sword that was shown on lots of the promotional materials. Valerie hand those strange symbols all up her left arm, according to the box the symbols were glow in the dark. He placed the two right next to each other and then turned back to his computer.
The installation was almost complete. A few more minutes of restless anticipation continued before the computer finally binged that the installation was successful. Lyle then, at long last, clicked play and began the game he had been waiting for for ages.
Yiskah swung her wooden sword repeatedly in the practice motions that were fluid and perfect. She stepped through each of the different motions with her blade practicing the different forms in her sword style one after another. After one of the routines she stopped and looked over at the man that was watching her.
“You said that you would practice with me didn’t you? However it seems that all you are doing to watching me practice.”
The man laughs softly before saying, “I’m sorry, I was just entranced by your practice.”
Yiskah blushed softly turning her head down so that the man had trouble seeing. She stepped over to the man and handed him the wooden sword, “Well, this time you need to practice. If you don’t get stronger then you will not be able to help me.”
The man smiled, “Thank you. I promise that I will get stronger so that I can protect you.”
Yiskah elbows the man jokingly, “Then get to swinging, nobody ever learned by doing nothing.”
Lyle sat back in his chair with tears streaming down his face. It has been three days since he had bought The Forbidden Domain. He had played the game almost constantly since then and had just finished the game. He had gotten one of the bad endings, one that he choices had lead him to. It was a sad and tragic ending where both Valarie and Yiskah met their deaths in tragic situations and he knew that it was his choices that led them to that ending.
The story had a tragic setup in the first place with only Lyles choices to change the course of the story and bring about a good ending. Still Lyle did not regret playing through the bad ending all the way to its full conclusion. Even these ending had the tender care of the writers at Starlight Studio.
Having watched the ending Lyle briefly consider loading one of his older saves and finding a path toward the ending that didn’t end so horribly. Eventually he decided against it. While he might be able to find the path he already knew that he made many mistakes throughout the story. He decided starting a new save would be the best method of leading to the ending.
Lyle eventual goal was to view the special endings so in his first game he had been too wishy washy when choosing who to support. He had tried to be on both Valarie’s and Yiskah’s side which meant that both of them ended up hating him. The two of the seem eternally opposed with no hope. Valerie was a cursed with a power that would bring the world to ruin should she be allowed to continue to exist. Yiskah on the other hand came from a line of hunters and was assigned the task of eliminating Valarie.
The matter was however even more complicated then that. The two women were childhood friends and at that time they did not realize their inevitable opposition to each other. Lyle was convinced there was an ending where the two women could reconcile but he did not yet see the route that would lead him to such an ending.
He clicked to start a new game and he entered his name once again. This time he decided that he would support Valarie all the way. That would probably be the more certain way to get at least a good ending even if it was not the ending that he was looking for.
It was a few hours into the game when he noticed some strangeness. It was just a small thing. The dialog seems a little bit different this time around. Admittedly some of his initial choices had been different this time around but usually he excepting more of the stock dialogue, especially this early in the game, to be the same. He decided it must be the amount of work that was put into the game to make each play through unique. He knew that the amount of dialog in the game was monstrous in proportion to many other games.
The man had recently moved to the new town. It was a small peaceful place which is what he had been searching for a long time. It was a place where nobody would know him and he could finally be free from the past that haunted him. He had gotten a small house using the remainder of the money that he had inherited from his father. He had a lot of works still to do to unpack but there was another thing to had to do.
One of his father’s friends lived nearby and had helped him purchase this place. The man needed to go by and pay a visit to that person and thank him for everything that he had done to help. It was a short walk away through the town. The small town center and market was very lively and he was glad to have moved to a place like this.
A few minutes later he arrived at the larger house that was owned by his father’s friend. He knocked at the door and was greeted by a jolly looking older man. The man recognized him as his father’s friend Mr. Bordelon.
“Ah, hello!” Mr. Bordelon said. “I’m so glad you could stop by. Please come in.” T
he man nodded and the two of them entered the living room and sat down.
“Did everything work out for the move?” Asked Mr. Bordelon.
“Yes, thank you for all of your help these last few months.”
“It was no problem. I owed a lot to your father and was heartbroken to learn that had had died. It must have been hard for you these last few months.”
The man sat there quietly for a moment and Mr. Bordelon nodded in understand, “This new town is probably confusing for you. You are probably more used to the city then a small town like this. Basically everything is within walking distance and I’m sure that you will get used to it soon enough. However, I can have my daughter give you a tour of the town.” Mr Bordelon stood up and moved the the doorway, “You stay here while I go and find her.”
A few minutes later her returned, followed by a young woman who was probably around the man’s age. Her brown hair went down a little past her shoulders and where was wearing a thick, long sleeved shirt which must have been quiet warm for this time of year.
“This is my daughter, please say hello.” Said Mr Bordelon.
“Hello, it is nice to meet you.” Said the woman, “My name is Valarie Bordelon. It is a pleasure to meet you.”
The light melodies of Valarie’s theme song floated through the air of Lyle Clarke’s apartment while the credits rolled across the screen of his computer. It was very late at night and he had finished his second play through of The Forbidden Domain. This playthrough had been even longer than the first one, mostly because he had reached one of the standard good endings. It had been a long journey full of emotions as Lyle struggled to guide the story to a satisfying conclusion.
As the music finished playing and the game returned to the main screen Lyle used that moment to stand and stretch. He glanced at the clock and saw that it was four o’clock in the morning. It was now Sunday which meant that he would need to return to work tomorrow. He looked longingly at the screen, he had hoped to be able to play some more but he would need to do all the things needed for him to return to work.
He needed to avoid pulling another all nighter if he would need to prepare his sleep cycle for work. Even with the draw of the game he knew that work needed to remaining a priority, the other option involved moving back into his parent’s house and since they did not approve of his hobbies that would be an issue.
A few minutes later he had retired to his bed. He would be able to play a little bit more once he woke up but he would have to wait for the next weekend for the next serious binge. Still he would probably be able to play through most of Yiskah’s story line during that time. After that he could plan his strategy for doing the combined ending.
The next morning came soon enough. It was a little before noon when he sat back down at his computer. He placed his hands over his keyboard and was startled when a small electric shock shot through him. There was a loud buzzing ding from his computer and error messages popped up all over about unresponsive application.
He swore and shook his hand force closing everything. He thought that maybe leaving his computer on all night was probably not the smartest idea. The computer finished shutting down and he let the machine cool off for a few minutes before he started back up the machine. It was still a little strange, he had left him computer on for days at a time before and nothing bad had happened. He thought it could be because he left it on the main menu of The Forbidden Domain. Or maybe it was just computers being odd.
The computer booted up normally and he launched The Forbidden Domain. He checked his save files to make sure that everything was good however he didn’t notice anything wrong. He decided to start up a new save, this time supporting Yiskah, and within a few minutes he had forgotten about it all the problems.
Much later he checked the time and reminded himself that he would need to go to bed. He had been progressing fairly quickly this time because he already had a good idea of the flow of the game. Again the text was different but that was not surprising. This time he closed the game and powered off his computer to make sure nothing wrong would happen. He would have to leave soon after he woke up in the morning.
The laid down in his bed on the other side of the room and began dozing off to sleep.
“Traitor” said the strained and creepy voice of Valarie and she stood over the Man. She raised her left hand, the runes on her arm were glowing and it crackled in strange black energy. The brought down the arm down on the man. Then with a clatter Lyle woke up in fright. The room was dark but the barest inkling of light were coming through the window. Nobody else was there with him. That dream of Valarie had seemed so real, like she was really in the room with him.
He mopped his sweating brow and pulled himself out of his bed. He doubted he would be able to sleep much after that. He took a few steps from his bed and toward the bathroom before he noticed the strange glow. It was coming from his computer desk. He moved closer to it before he recognized the source of the light. It was the figure of Valarie. She had somehow fallen off the slightly higher shelve and landed next to his computer. Her left arm which was covered in those runes was slightly glowing.
It freaked him out for just a moment before he remembered that her arm was glow in the dark. Nothing was strange her. He walked over to the desk and picked her up. The model was quite sturdy so there had been no damage to the figure, for which he was glad. He placed the figure back on the shelf next to the figure of Yiskah. She seemed to have moved slightly too. Lyle furrowed his brow slightly, had there been a small earthquake during the night? They were sometimes small tremors around here but they were quite rare.
He breathed a sigh of relief that everything was alright. If there was a tremor that would have had explained his bad dream. With everything sorted out in his mind he continued toward the bathroom. It was early but it might make a good impression with his boss if he came in early today. Or at least help offset the fact that he was likely to be a little late for the rest of the week.
I remember the first thought which make me question things. It was ‘This guy is a jerk’. At the time I didn’t really understand why I thought that. It was the first time we had meet after all, or at least it was the first time that I actually remember meeting him. Those thoughts however quickly vanished from my mind as my life swiftly spiraled out of control and he was the only one who remained by my side. He comforted me when I was lonely and reassured me when I was worried.
I truly feel in love with him and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. We stood there at the end of everything, after having save the world from the terrible dangers that had threatened it. There had been many sacrifices along the way, including the person who had once been my best friend. However together the two of use had survived and won.
With the dawning of the new day I told him, “I love you.” And we kissed for the very first time. Then my life shattered and all my dreams burned up in flames.
I woke up. It was the morning in the day that I had first met him. I expected to just be a dream and my memories would quickly fade but they did not. They remained, clear as ever. Maybe it had all been an illusion, some trap to make me waver in my mission. Then I heard his voice again, those same words that I had heard last time.
“Could you help me? I seemed to have become lost.” Those are the words I will always remember. I turned to him. I wanted to ask him what happened, why the flow of time had been reversed. But when I looked him in the eyes I saw nothing. He did not recognize me. That tore my heart in two. I wanted to tell him the truth, to have him believe me, but I was afraid of what might happen. What if I drove him away?
So I responded the way I did the last time. Maybe, just maybe, I could remember everything that I did and we could be together again. Then, when he trusted me once more I could tell him about what happened, about his missing memories, and we could find a solution to this new problem, just like we had before.
How naive I was…
Lyle was disappointed, not with The Forbidden Domain, but with work. Because of the length of the game it was difficult to progress with the amount of time that he was spending at work. He had tried requesting more time off but his boss would have none of that. He had already taken a full week off and he was not going to accept any more days off for quiet a while. Lyle wasn’t surprised, just disappointed. He wouldn’t be the first one to unlock any of the special endings at this rate. He had been keeping a watch on the Starlight Studio fan sites on his phone while work was quiet but so far progress on discovering the route to any secret endings had been slow.
Starlight Studio like having some of the ending take lots of work and story learning before being able to be seen. Some of them even required you to have already beaten the game multiple times before the dialog choices would even show up as options. Starlight Studio was the master of making it notoriously difficult to find these endings, which made it all the more rewarding when those endings were actually found.
He had been able to finish his playthrough supporting Yiskah but it had taken him much longer then he had thought. Work kept him busy and limited how long he could play at night. Plus the winter season was approaching so the store that he worked at had been getting busier and busier and Lyle had been forced to work longer hours than normal. In fact yesterday he had only been able to play for five hours before having to collapse in exhaustion and because of that he had been a little bit late for work today.
When Lyle returned from work he quickly returned to his computer. The current route that he was working on primarily involved Valarie. She was certain to the story, probably even more so than Yiskah. Her cursed power was what drove everything that happened. Lyle thought that if he understood her route a lot better he could find the method of fusing the two paths to lead to one of the secret endings.
The time though things were radically different. He must have triggered some flag for Yiskah along they way because her role in the story was even more prominent then it was last time and she seemed to be more jealous then the first time he did Valarie’s arc. There were a couple of times he interacted with her to get more information about Valarie and her connection so that must have been the trigger. He remembered a couple of similar things from his very first playthrough, the one that ended tragically. Trying to work both sides of the story seemed to be the cause of most of the bad endings according to message boards he frequented.
I could not stand the pain. Worse then the pain of my broken body was my broken heart. I lay there on my back with my head angled backwards and I could still see them. If I could move my head I would do so no matter the pain. Seeing them together made me wish for death to come sooner.
Why? What had I done wrong? I had spoken like I remembered it, tried to make him trust me, but it was to no avail. Then things changed, everything was different. He was instead with her, my her side, not mine. I struggled, tried everything I could think of, appealed to him with all my heart but still he had denied me. It felt like everything that had connected us was gone, erased like a dream. She had stolen him away from me and there had been nothing I could do about it.
His presence by her side had strengthen her and weakened me. He gave me hope several times but each time he pulled it away and abandoned me. By the end he felt like a stranger to me, a stranger that held my heart in his hands and then ripped in in half. When they beat me and cast me aside for true I was thankful. Death would be far kinder than seeing them together for any longer.
My blood seeped out of my body and my vision faded as I reached out my hand one last time to him, hoping that he would give me one final glance. Then it was over….
Yet the torture had not truly even begun. I breathed once more, awoke again, with the light of the morning sun peeking through my window. I pulled up my legs and grabbed them with my arms. There where tears in my eyes, painful tears. Was it hope or terror that I felt? Both existed in my in equal measure. Would I see him again today? Certainly so. Would he remember? Last time he didn’t and this time I desperately hoped he would not.
I shuddered harder, who would he choose this time? Me…. Or her. I managed to pull myself out of bed and looked at myself in the mirror. My face was smudged with tears and I tried to wipe them away as best as I could. Maybe this time I could convince him, if I could earn his trust then I could tell him about this. I had done it once, I should be able to do it again. Just because I failed once didn’t meant that I shouldn’t try again.
And if I failed again…. Would I get another try? I didn’t want to think about it. I would definitely succeed this time but I still had some uncertainties. Last time I had tried to remember what I said the first time but I must have gotten something wrong, did I remember correctly. I was even less certain now that I correctly remembered everything. Which part had I gotten wrong last time? I didn’t know. I would just have to tried my hardest and show him the truth.
I wiped the tears from my eyes once more and began to get dressed. I remembered the set of clothes that I wore. It wasn’t the most glamorous of clothing, I certainly owned prettier things, but it was the set that I wore the first time. If I tried something else then who knows what might happen.
I went through all the different things I did before I met him. When the time was right I then heard those fated words once more.
“Could you help me? I seemed to have become lost.”
I hesitated for a moment before turning toward him. Those eyes stared right back at him with that same expression that I remember from the last time. He did not recognize me.
“Lost? How could you possibly become lost?” I stepped forward and looked him up and down exactly like I did before. After having become close to him this aloof persona felt strange an awkward. “Hmm, I don’t remember seeing you around before. Are you a tourist? We don’t get many of them.”
He placed his hand behind his head like before and laughed soft, “No, actually I just moved to this town. I haven’t been here very long so I don’t know this place. I had a guide but I seemed to have become separated.”
It was just a tip, our first contact. A meeting of coincidence, or more likely of Fate. We talked and walked through town for a few happy minutes but I knew what was going to happen yet. Soon she would arrive, his original guide, and my most hated enemy.
She stumbled into view exactly when I remembered she should. She was clumsy, she had always been like that. She climbed back to her feet and brushed the dirt off her stockings. She saw him and smiled, “Oh, there you are. I was looking all over for you.” Then like before she saw me and our eyes locked.
This time however it was different. I saw something in those eyes, an uncertainty, worry. It was something that I hadn’t seen the last time. It was then I knew that she too remembered. She had that strange uncertainty that I had had last time where everything was torn away from me and I was desperately fighting to return things to how things were before.
It seemed our battle was not over, this time a new battle, one where we both had an idea of how it could end. However I could not afford to lose, this time more than ever. So like the previous times I opened my mouth and spoke her name with the most venom that I could muster, “Valarie, what are you doing here?”
Lyle had managed to get a good ending with Valarie. He felt however that he had been on the edge of getting a bad ending. Yiskah had been much more of a problem that game then she had been previously. He had pondered his options for trying to reveal one of the secret endings.
He had trouble reconciling the relationships between Valarie and Yiskah. Part of the problem was Valarie’s cursed power. It was incompatible with having a truly happy ending. From a logical perspective it was pretty easy to say that Yiskah was correct, that stopping Valarie, which would end in her death, was the morally right course of action. However a human’s emotions are easily swayed, Valarie’s plight can be sympathized with.
If Lyle had to make an educated guess, and he was pretty good at those for these types of games, there would probably be two secret endings. One is if he could convince Yiskah to cast off her ideals and become willing to sacrifice the world to side with him and Valarie. He was beginning to see the outside for this path. It would be a difficult route with even one mistaken dialog choice leading to an exceptionally bad ending.
The other option would be to find a curse for Valarie’s power. That would lead to a happy ending, if a little less interesting. That route however was clouded in his mind. There had been a couple of lines providing clues about her power but the core of the solution was still beyond his grasp. It likely required sequence breaking and a lot of meta information, something very unlikely to be discovered by pure chance.
He would need to do a special run just to learn the secrets that he would need to know for the new run. Then her would be able to start the real run. It would probably be the first time he actually had to significantly take advantage of the saved games so that he could correctly pilot the plot to the end of the story I desired. There would still be a lot of work ahead of him but he was up to the challenge. He didn’t know how long it would actually take him but he expected that it would take most of the rest of the month to find the ending.
What cruel fate it was that compelled us. I sat with him again, however things were different. I felt like I could trust him again but my heart was still in broken splinters. I still felt that I loved him but I no longer knew if it was this him that I loved. Everything we had been through the first time felt like something I had done with a different person, he didn’t remember it. If I told him I felt that he would help but what then? Would we be able to solve the problem, continue time? Or would everything reset once more with me having to earn his trust once more.
I sat there with him, tears in my eyes, before I eventually decided not to tell him. Not telling was painful but the thought of what would happen if forgot our connection again was even worse. However I couldn’t just let time repeat again and again. I had to figure out what was causing it.
I had thought Valarie was the cause at one point. She was the Maiden of Destruction, my ultimate enemy, but when I had seen her eyes I knew that she could not be the cause. Still I could not trust her because I would be forced to kill her eventually. I had only one other person I could turn to to help me.
I finished speaking with him, keeping him on my side. I would need his help when I found the cause of the problem. I would need him by my side. Once he was gone I walked down the street alone for a while. I remembered what I had done the first time but at the moment it didn’t feel important. I needed to visit my Master.
He would not appreciate my visit, I was only supposed to return once I had dealt with the Maiden of Destruction. He had tasked me with that difficult task, the thing he had trained me for years to be able to do. I had always know that he had an important task that he needed me to complete but I had not known how difficult it would be, or what it would entail… or that my enemy would be my childhood friend.
It waited at the bus stop until it arrived and then began the trip. The place I was heading to was a couple hours away. I had not made this trip at all after meeting him so I did not know if it would interfere with anything. My Master never showed up before the reset and I had never made an afterward report because the reset happened. I tried figuring out what I would tell him when I got there, could I explain what was happening successfully? I didn’t know but it was the best shot that I had.
I was restless the whole trip and when I finally arrived I could feel the tension in my body. The bus stop was basically in the middle of nowhere. I few people lived out here, this far from the town. Even after the bus drive it still took my around ten minutes of walking to get to the path that lead to Master’s house. There was a set of stairs leading up and I followed them until I eventually reached the old house. It was ill kept as usually. Even when I lived here it was like this. The place had many memories for me and I was nervous to come back here.
It knocked at the door and when there was no response I pulled out my keys and unlocked the door. I entered the house and called out, “Master? Are you there? I have something important to ask you about.”
There was no response to my calls. I wondered if Master was out back. I walked through the back door. There was a small garden out back that Master tended. It was well taken care of like usual but there was no sign of Master. I checked his bedroom and wandered through the hallways looking for him. I grew desperate as I ran outside and checked the shed. There was nobody here. I returned to the house worried and scared. Master rarely left this placed, maybe he had gone to purchase something, that seemed to be the most likely. I could wait for him but I didn’t know how long he would be. I sat down on of the the chairs near the entrance to wait for him.
Soon after I did however my cell phone began to rang. I wondered who it could be while I pulled it out and checked the front. It read “BLOCKED”. Very strange. I pressed answer and put my phone up to my ear.
“Hello?” I asked.
“Hey child.” Said the voice I had been hoping to hear.
“Master! Where are you? I come to your house but you are not here.” I could feel the relief of speaking to him. I had been worried when he was not here.
“I’m sorry for not being there. This call is all that I could manage. And I can not continue it for very long so we must talk quickly. Tell me child what your problem is.”
Maybe Master was off somewhere however how did he know that I would be at his house. “Something strange happened. I managed to stop Valarie but after I did that time reset and I was forced to try again. Then I tried again but this time I failed to beat here however time still reset once more. I wanted to know if you have any idea what is causing this?”
“There is something at work behind the scenes that is influencing everything. Whatever it is it has strength beyond even that of the Maiden of Destruction.”
“Something even power powerful than the Maiden of Destruction? Is that even possible?”
“Previously I would have have believed to do be so.” Said Master, “However I have felt the influence and your story about time reseting confirmed by suspicions. Unfortunately it seems that you are the only one who can truly remember what is happening. Even my mind is clouded. I could no help myself but let the house today so that I would not visit you. Even this phone call is stretching the limits of my ability.”
“No,” I said, “I am not the only one. I believe that the Maiden of Destruction also remembers.”
“Is that so,” came the pondering voice of my Master. “Then I have a new order for you. Your top mission is to find the source of this problem and eliminate it. Your mission to stop the Maiden will be on pause until then.”
“Yes Master. However I was hoping that you could help me. I do not think I defeat this foe alone.”
“I can not help you any more then this one call. After this you will not hear from me again, even if you return here after a future reset. The force that opposes us is very strong.”
“Please, can you at least give me a hint? Something to help me find a solution?”
“Whatever it is that is at work must have a purpose, some reason to continue reseting time. It must be trying to accomplish something, change time to suit its desire. You must stop it before it gets time to work like it wants.
“If something is controlling time then what does it desire?” I asked.
“There can only be one thing it is after.” Said my Master. However now there was thick static on the phone line and I could barely make out what he was saying.”
“One thing? What?” I asked desperately.
“The Maid…..” Then his voice cut out and my phone beeped and showed that it has been disconnected. But Master had given me the clue that I desired. Whatever was controlling time was after the Maiden of Destruction, maybe to use her power for some sinister purpose. I needed to stop it but I could not do it alone. I needed somebody on my side and I really only have two choices. I did not want to pick either of them…. But one of them remembered. I gritted my teeth, I would have to ask my enemy to help.
I placed my phone back in my pocket and the looked around the building once more. It seemed lonely without Master. If what he had said was true then I would not see or told to him again until this problem was solved. He had always made this place seem so lively even if that had just involved forcing me to train.
While I knew there was not much point to it I moved quietly back through the house. Now that I knew that he was not here I felt like was intruding. I made sure to lock all the doors I had opened and then left the house. It felt empty and hollow. I went back down the path and thought about my options while I waited at the bus stop for the next bus.
I wanted to protect him however I could because he didn’t remember anything. Sure he seemed to trust me right now but if there were any more resets then getting him to help me would be a major undertaking. I would instead have get get Valarie to help me. I needed to ensure that she really did remember. I didn’t want to rely on her and her cursed power but there didn’t seem to be many other options for me.
I tried to think through everything that had happened between the time resets. I needed to find a time when Valarie would be able to talk with me which meant I needed to remember where he was during all this time. All the times I had encountered Valarie during previous repeated I had been with him so I needed to figure out where Valarie was at other times. It was a difficult problem, had this been the first time I certainly wouldn’t have been able to have had a secret meeting with Valarie but with two timelines worth of memories I would be able to find a time.
He was however a wild card in the picture. In the last two resets and this time his actions were remarkably different. There were a few consistencies but where he was on any given days was unpredictable… well, not truly unpredictable, he spent a lot of time with either me or Valarie. Since it seemed that this time he had chosen me I would need to escape his notice. Today would have been perfect I had already spend most of the day getting that information from Master.
I continued to ponder the problem while I got on the bus and took the route back to the town. By the time I had returned I decided that it would have to be a night visit to Valarie. Everything was too difficult to judge to find another time. Valarie lived with her father so I would need to sneak in and confront her there. I had considered it was an attack strategy before but it would have been too flashy and there would be too much collateral damage but if I was just going to talk with her then it would be fine.
I was walking back from the bus stop when it happened again. That strange but familiar feeling of vertigo and everything around me shifted and changed. I was sitting back with him. We were sitting on the bench on the roof of my apartment complex. This is where we had been sitting earlier today when I had been speaking to him. I panicked slightly trying to figure out why this had happened. Time had reset again but this time it hadn’t been all the way back.
My daze was broken when he spoke to me. It was different this time, something had changed, but his expression was still the same as always. I could see that he hadn’t noticed anything wrong. “Wait, don’t go yet.” He said, “There is a festival tomorrow.”
I hadn’t realized that I had been standing up but I must had done it instinctively in my panic. He continued, “I was hoping if you would join me then.” I remembered the festival. We had attended together that first time. It was a moment of happiness, something short before we went to fight the Maiden of Destruction. That festival was one of the happiest moments of my life.
He was inviting me once more to join him. I blushed and nodded before wordlessly turning away and running to the stairs down from the room. It had been similar to my reaction last time, I wanted to say that my full heart was in it this time but I knew that was not true. While I wanted to go once more with him but I really wanted if for him to remember, what use is happy memories if they will be washed out by the end of the week.
I was a few flights down when my phone buzzed. I pulled it out and there was a text from him, ‘A date then. I’ll pick you up at 5pm’. Just like last time. Despite his unpredictability some of the things he did were identical. I was still bewildered by the time change again but this had given me a perfect moment. I could go meet Valarie even though I had already gone and spoken with Master. I paused, Master, if what he said was right then he might not remember my talk with him and even if I tried calling him he would not respond.
It would have made me sad if I had any more sadness left to feel. If I was going to solve this problem I was going to have to bury my emotions. My happiness, sadness, anger, all of it. It was becoming too much to bare. The weight become such that I almost collapsed in the stairway. I sunk to my knees and I could feel the pain welling up inside me. If I solved this then what would happen? Would things return to normal? What would normal be? If I did it wrong then Valarie would win and the world would be doomed but I had to use her to help me.
There was then the painful thought, almost too much for me to hold in, that I would be happier if these resets just continued forever. He could stay with me, if not always at least sometimes and everybody could live happily. If things kept repeating then both me and Valarie could have our moment of happiness and the world would not be doomed.
I used all the strength I could muster to pull myself to my feet. That illusion was enticing but I knew it could not be. The repeats would eventually stop. Master had convinced me of it. Eventually the force causing the resets would get what it wanted and that ending would probably be even worse then the fate that could be caused if Valarie won.
By the time I reached to bottom floor I had found my resolve. It was small but I clung to it with all the will I could muster because without it I would be dragged away into the ocean of regrets. I knew where she would be right now and if I reached her soon enough I would be able to corner her. This would be my most difficult battle. The one where I had to get my enemy to help me but when this problem was solved I need to be the one winning the next battle because that one would be completely final.
The observatory was at the edge of town. It was a quiet place because people needing an observatory was fairly rare. However the position was great for looking at the stars and the lights in a small town like this one would make looking at the stars much more pleasant. The place was one of the few draws in the town and it had been build and was owned by Valarie’s father. Valarie helped him out by managing the place.
I knew that most days she could be found here. I knew that he would not be here today but she should be. I had always thought the place was a fairly worthless place. Maybe that had just been my distaste for watching the stars. When me and Valarie had been kids we had always come to this place. I had liked the stars back then, I thought it was fun coming here and watching them with Valarie. Those days were pleasant memories that made the present all the more painful.
The doors were open to the public so I pushed them open and walked in. There was a dinging sound signaling that there was a visitor. I was not far in when I head Valarie call out in the distance, “I’ll be out in a minute!”
The observatory was well taken care of, Valarie did her job well. The last time I had been here was…. Well last reset, this place had special meaning to both me and Valarie so having our final confrontation here was almost inevitable. However if you are only counting time before the first reset it had been years since I had been here.
I took a seat and waited and a few minutes later Valarie pushed open a nearby door and said, “Welcome….” Then she stopped. She stood there and we looked at each other for a long time like we were both waiting for the other to act first.
She eventually took a step backward like she was retreating but I raised my hands showing that they were empty. “I didn’t bring my sword. I said, “Today I just want to talk.”
She turned her head left and right like she was looking around for something. She was nervous and spooked.
Eventually I spoke, “I know what you are thinking. That this isn’t suppose to be happening.”
“What!? That?” She seemed to shrink down even smaller. She was normally a little bit shorter than me but she had this habit of making herself look even smaller in comparison.
“It happened to you too. I can tell. Time has skipped and everything is not happening as you are expecting it to. I know because that is happening to me too.” I tried to remain as quiet and calm as I could. She acted so innocent but behind that mask was a woman who had the potential power to destroy the world. That long sleeved shirt that she wore concealed the markings on her left arm that showed what she really was, the Maiden of Destruction.
It was finally at this time that Valarie seemed to recover her calm, at least some small portion of it. Finally she managed to murmur, “Then you remember too? He didn’t remember so I had thought you didn’t either.”
“It would have been a lot less painful if I didn’t remember.”
Valerie began to gather some of her own courage, “Then your the one interfering, preventing me from getting him help me again.”
I bite back a scathing response because that would not solve anything, even if it would make me feel better. “Whatever you might think I am not the one turning back time, and I can tell it isn’t your either.”
“Your just trying to trick me. You are so desperate to win that you are even trying to change time to succeed.”
I thought it was a bit weird, she obviously remembered the last reset but apparently not the time before that. Only I seemed to remember that time. Was it because she was dead at the end, no that could not be it. I died at the end of the second time. What was it that caused me to remember the first time. Was I even sure that it was the first time, maybe there had been resets before but I did not remember them.
“If that as true then why would I be here. I’m here because I do not know what is caused the reset As much as I hate to admit it preventing the reset from happening again might only be possible with the use of your power.”
Valerie reached up with her right arm and grabbed her left arm. “You are asking me for help?”
“Yes, because you are the only other person who remembers.” I decided I needed to tell her something to make her trust me. “And for me this is not the first reset. I remember it reseting once before. That time I won and you lost however that ending was apparently not meant to be. The next time you won but even that history was lost. I don’t know what the person reseting time wants but it is not mine or your success. It is something else.”
“You think somebody is causing this?”
“I can think of no other explanation.”
“Do you have any idea of who is causing it?”
“No, but I think you are the reason why. This person is trying to do something with your power or make you do it. However I know not what it is that they want. However they are more active this time around. You noticed it didn’t you? The short reset maybe an hour ago.”
She nodded, “Yes, I noticed it.”
“Then you have to understand that something needs to be done.”
She thought for a moment before straightening her back and saying back to me, “No, I will not help you.”
“What?” I muttered in surprise. “You have to. Who knows what might happened if we do not stop the person who is behind the resets.”
“No, you disappear for seven years and then when you return you come threatening my life saying that I will cause the destruction of the world. Then you come here requesting my help but all I see is you continuing to try and stop me. You say we should work together to solve the resets but that will be you controlling me and in the end all I see is you trying to kill me once more.”
I grimaced and stood, finally getting angry at her, “You saw it didn’t you. The things that happened last time because of your ability. Who knows what horror that can caused by those power.”
She looked at me with pity. “And that is exactly why I can not help you. Because the only ending you can see is the one that ends in my death. At long as that is true I can not join you. I appreciate you coming and telling me about what is happening. Goodbye Yiskah.” Then Valarie turned and left the room preventing me from responding to her.
With her gone I gritted my teeth. It was frustrating. I could not blame her for feeling like her did. I could tell her what Master had told me but it would not mean anything to her. I left the observatory and walked away with my eyes tearing again.
I did not want to kill her but there was no other option. The Maiden of Destruction could not be cleansed of her curse. And despite anything that Valarie desired she would not be able to stop her power when it fully awakened. There was only two options, the destruction of the world or Valarie’s death.
My Master and those who came before him and tried everything in their power to find a solution that would not result in the death of the Maiden of Destruction but none such solution existed. The only choice I had was what I would sacrifice, my childhood friend or everybody else. It had been a difficult and painful decision for me but one person should never control the lives of everybody else.
Now with Valarie not willing to help me I had to find the source of the resets myself but I did not have a clue where to begin.
Lyle Clarke had a whole notebook full of route information for The Forbidden Domain. He had played through the game more than a dozen times now but he still wasn’t certain how to get to one of the special endings. The primary problem was that there seemed to be some kind of random seed generated at the beginning of the file which controlled a lot of the behavior of the heroines.
Each time he made a new game there was small variations in their words and actions although the general path still remained the same. This made if very difficult to tell if actions he made early in the game had important changes later in the game. Starlight Studio had put so much work into this project that Lyle was uncertain if how much longer he would take to find the paths he was looking for.
He had been doing more loading recently checking different paths to find more information about people’s reactions. It had been rather difficult. Still the route was beginning to take root in her notebook with false ends being mark off and possible routes being highlighted. I few more tried and he thought he would be able to play through the true Valarie ending where he convinced Yiskah to abandon the world and join them.
After that he would begin the planning for the Yiskah’s true ending.
There was no longer any more pain, I had grown callous the repeating world. They days were happy, and they were sad, but I entered each of them knowing it was ephemeral. How many times had things reset? Ten, twelve? And that wasn’t even counting the smaller resets.
All my happy times and sad times blended together so I had trouble knowing that counted as real anymore. And I had not gotten any closer to finding out the perpetrator of the time resets. I could feel that they were out there but I could find nothing that indicated that they actually existed other then the continued time resets.
Things had become a strange routine. It had reset again this morning and it was fresh dawn where I would meet him again for the first time. I stretched and got out of bed. The house was lonely and if I had to give myself an emotion it was be depressed. No solution presented itself and I was beginning to give up hope that there would ever be one.
The worst part was not the resetting time, it was that the only other person who remembered was not on speaking terms with me. I had previously gotten dressed quickly was there was quite a while before the first meeting so I spent my time making sure everything was done. Getting dressed, having breakfast. It was only at moments like this that I could be relaxed.
I had finished dressing when I walked over to the counter near my table where my phone was charging. Then I felt a bewildering feeling. There was something different. Nothing was ever different in the morning of the first day but this time there was something.
I reached down picked up my phone. There it read, “One new text”. It had never said that any time previously. I swiped open my phone and opened my text messages. There was a message from a number that I did not recognize.
‘To find the answer ask yourself one question. What should I know that I do not know?’ read the text.
I read the text several times trying to descern the meaning. I clicked to call the number but I only got an automated system telling me that the number did not exist. Very strange.
What should I know that I don’t know? What sort of cryptic advice was that. I wondered if this had been sent my Master. He said he wouldn’t be able to contact me again but maybe he managed to do one last thing. What don’t I know that I should know, I tried to think about it for a bit but I couldn’t think of anything.
I would have to keep it in mind. I finished getting ready and eat breakfast and then headed out for town main street. I got into the right position and got ready. Then those words came once more.
“Could you help me? I seemed to have become lost.”
“Lost? How could you possibly become lost?”
The conversation continued just like it always had. He would explain to me everything like I didn’t have any idea who he was and then Valarie would show up and interrupt us because she was his guide. I had done this many times before. It was our first meeting, that was repeated again and again.
We had spent so much time together that it was hard to think of this as a first meeting anymore. More like old friends reunited.
Me, Valarie, and Him. Despite our conflicts the three of us had spend a lot of time together during the past resets, although he didn’t remember it. Me, Valarie, and Him…. Me, Valarie, and Him… I paused for a moment while I was conversing with him. That was very strange…. Very strange.
I was about to say something different, to mess up everything when Valarie interrupted. My mind was trying to walk through everything in my mind, trying to bring the rail of my though to a conclusion but things were happening around me and I needed to speak, to continue saying the things that I always said.
The meeting finished and Valarie took him away and as they rounded the corner I sunk to my knees no longer able to support myself. I ran through the conversation again and again in my mind. It wasn’t there…. The thing that should be more important then anything else.
I tried remembering, thinking back to previous times. Had it been said then. I remembered may of those conversations, those where what I used to say my line again and again but it was missing.
It was a horrible gut wrenching feeling, something that I though I had concealing. Something dark and sinister was pulling itself loose my my subconscious like a giant snake that had been waiting there for me to make this realization.
‘What should I know that I don’t know.’ Those words rang in my head again and again. Why had I not been able to see it until now.
I did not know his name.
During the first conversion that we just had he never introduced himself. He did not tell me his name. In all the times he had spoken to me I never remembered him telling me his name.
People have names, my enemy had a name, she was Valarie Bordelon. I had a name, it was Yiskah. I even had a last name, although because I was an orphan I never thought of it as my real last name. It was Page. Yiskah Page. And although I always called him Master even he had a name, it was Arron Kruse. It was normal for people to have names but I had always thought of him as just Him.
How had that not seemed strange until now? Then there was this darn nagging serpent that was coiling itself around my thoughts. Before now I had never questioned him, never thought his activities too strange but now that I was trying to put the pieces together things were starting to make a kind of disturbing sense.
It has always been me, Valarie, and Him. At then end when things were reset it was just the three of us. If it wasn’t me that reset things and it wasn’t Valarie then that left only one other option. When I had looked at him I had never gotten the sense that he remembered anything, his eyes and face showed no recollection of the past time however…. I shivered and that dark serpent loomed.
His actions were always different. More than me and more than Valarie, His actions were different every reset. Previously I had simply discounted that as his response to my slightly different actions but it couldn’t just be that. There could be only one conclusion from this. That He actually did remember and that it was Him and was the one resetting time.
It was hard to believe, painful to believe, but that all my thoughts were coalescing into that one realization. I didn’t want to believe it… If that was true then… he deliberately…. The pain was too much for me to handle.
It couldn’t be true, He couldn’t be the cause. I needed to prove that this was just my imagination. Maybe I was dreaming and I would wake up and remember his name. I somehow managed to pull myself to my feet and staggered through the streets of the town. He moved to town recently, I knew where he house was. I staggered through the streets until I stood outside it.
The front door was locked but that would not stop me so I walked around to the back door. I felt a bit guilty for what I was about to do. Master, had given me weapons to use to fight Valarie. Tools designed to stand up to the strength of the Maiden of Destruction. They were not intended for breaking and entering but they served the purpose fine.
The Dimension Seal was intended to protect me but it could be used to open holes in things. The seal appeared for a moment on the back of my hand when I placed it on the door. A black circle appeared on the door and I passed my hand through it. I fiddled on the other side and unlocked the door. I pulled my hand back and the black circle disappeared and I pushed the door open.
I walked in shutting the door behind me. I felt back about breaking in but I needed to know. I walked through the hallways. There here boxes around that were filled with his stuff. I moved up the stairs. From previous experience I knew that his room was up at the top floor.
The room was basically empty. There were boxes but nothing had been unpacked. Not surprising considering he moved in about a day ago. I opened one of the boxes, clothing. I closed it and checked some more. The next couple contained books.
After rummaging through the boxes I eventually found one full of more personal belongings. Inside it was a photo frame which I pulled out. There was a man in it. I remembered seeing it before. I had been to his house a few times before… in the future, past, whatever. He had said is was a picture of his father. Now that I looked at it again it felt like an odd picture. He had said that he father had died recently which is why he moved to this town to find a quiet place to live.
That part wasn’t really strange, however him and the man in the picture didn’t really share any family resemblance. Still that only wasn’t enough. I put the picture back in the box and shut it, there should be another clue somewhere.
A few boxes later I found exactly what I was looked for. I had remembered seeing them in his house but I hadn’t had the opportunity to look at them there. He had a set of family picture albums. I opened the oldest one first. There was a little relief when I saw pictures of a smiling kid with his father looking back at him. The father was the same person I had seen in the framed picture.
I flipped through the album beginning to be relieved. Maybe it had just been the strange resets that were befuddling my memory. He definitely did have a name, I just needed to ask him to properly introduce himself next time. Maybe I had done that previously and just forgot. Human memory is very fickle.
I looked at the last picture satisfied and was about to close the album when that dark serpent in my thoughts reared its ugly head again. His eye color, the kid in the picture had a different eye color then he did. Frantically I pulled out the most recent album and paged through it. It contained pictures of him in collage. At least it should have but the man in the picture was definitely not him. The hair color was almost the same but the features and eye color was different.
Only a blind person would confuse the person in the photo with the person I had met earlier today. All the hope drained from me as looked at the picture. Who was he? Stuff the albums again and ran from the house, barely remembering to hide the traces of my presence there. Why was he doing this to me?
My own voice responded in my head, ‘Because he does not care about you.’
‘But everything we went through?’
‘It was just part of the plan to him.’
‘He told me that he loved me.’
‘He lied, to both you and Valarie.’
This pain in my heart was worse then any I had felt before. Must worse then the feeling I had after the first reset or just before the second reset when Valarie took him away from me. I could not imagine being in more pain.
Soon I found myself back at my apartment building however instead to my room I went to the roof. It was still early in the day for the place was empty. I walked over to the bars that lined the edge and looked over them. There was a desperate part of me that yelled ‘Leap, it will be less painful’, and I almost gave in to that voice, to abandon this pain and forget… but I had died before that that had not been a solution.
I huddled down near the bars looking down at the ground below. If I could just end it all that would be better than this but even that was not possible. I wouldn’t even care that I was leaving Valarie behind to destroy the world…. I paused. So intense was my pain that for the first time I truly considered letting Valarie destroy the world. This world which had abandoned me. Would it be better that way?
The dark thoughts rose in my mind, revenge. He manipulated me, made me love him, and then through me away only to repeat the process. If he thought he could get away with that then he was wrong. There would be only one way to get true revenge. He had been reset time to get something he wanted. I needed to make sure that he never not that. Even if that would cause the rest of the world to burn.
Lyle Clarke felt that everything was going well in his pursuit for Valarie’s true ending. He had found the route that he was looking for and everything seemed to be falling into place. Despite the fact that this was Valarie’s ending the path for Yiskah was the difficult part. He had stumble across her portion of the route almost on accident and once he had triggered it then the route almost become too predictable.
The ending was almost upon him. According to the website that he frequented he would be the first person in the world to find this ending. He was excited to see it and then share his findings with the internet. In the story he had just reached the eclipse, the point in the story where the ending finally revealed itself.
There was also lots of new dialog that he was encountering and it was exciting. He took a short break from the computer to grab some extra snacks and visit the bathroom. It would be a long haul tonight and he needed to be prepared for everything that could happen.
It was near the end. It was the night of the lunar eclipse, it was always after that that He reset time and I had to deal with everything once again. Should he not get what he wanted then he would surely do it again. What he did not know is that I had plans of my own.
Now that my vision of clear and I knew what he was doing it was easy to notice that he had been trying to manipulate me and force me to act certain ways. I played along with him. I needed to wait until the showdown between me and Valarie.
This eclipse was special because it forced the powers dwelling inside Valarie to be released in an uncontrollable format. I alway had been there in the final attempt to stop Valarie even if it resulted in her death.
From the different resets I had been privy to there could be multiple results from this. It could go out of control killing us both. I could succeed in killing her with his help and prevent the power from wreaking havoc. She would defeat me and then he would calm her powers using the strength of his feelings. I had seen them all before multiple times although there had been some variation. This time however I had a plan for a different ending.
He was manipulating us to try a different ending as well, maybe this one was the one that he was looking for. In his version I think he will attempt to force me to abandon my morals and join Valarie. Little did he know how much in common his ending had with the one I had planned, although after that point there would be many differences.
The top floor of the observatory was where it usually happened. I climbed the stairs one step at a time until I reached the top. Valarie was there and he was standing there right next to him. I was carrying my sword with me. The sword was the Shīringuken, it was made ages ago to fight evil and had been passed to me via my Master. It was of unmatched quality and although it had no special powers of its own the makeup of the blade let it withstand the techniques I had been granted by Master.
I pointed my sword at Valarie and said, “This ends here Valarie. I can not let you destroy the world with your power.” I looked up at the hole where the telescope poked out into the sky. The moon shone bright and ominous and within a few minutes the eclipse would begin for real. “Soon you will lose control. Surrender yourself to my blade now and I can at least promise that your death will be quick and relatively painless.”
Valarie spoke her words in response, “Come what may I will not meekly surrender myself to you. It is my life and even if the world will crumble I still have the right to live it.” She looked over toward him and smiled, like she did when he was on his side. She spoke to him, “With you at my side I’m sure I can withstand any trial that comes tonight.”
He placed his hands on her shoulder but spoke to me, “Valarie is right. Yiskah, don’t you see. What she is is no fault of her own and we should not blame her for it.” This had all been according to the primary sequence but his choice of words was not changing.
This time he had spent almost as much time with me as he had spent with Valarie. He had learned about my past, once again, and leveraged that against me to make he follow his ending.
“Yiskah, she is not unlike you. You were an orphan, however your entire life was not rules by one mark against you. You were still able to have a happy life and become the person you are today and you still have a bright future ahead of you despite the darkness in your past. However the ones who sent you here are trying to steal that away from Valarie.
“They think that her future contains only darkness and she should be eliminate but I believe that they are wrong. There is no evil in darkness and that in whatever world that she brings us to after destroying this one will be better then what exists here. Please Yiskah, help us, help save this world from the discrimination that exists within it.”
My hands wavered with my sword but that was just an act. I was still playing to his tune until the moment arrived. “Do you think that is really possible? That the world will be a better place?” There was some truth in my words, the pain and rage inside me desired released.
He nodded, “Indeed, this world is dirty and infected and this is the only way to fix it. Now watch” He pointed upward as the eclipse began. “We can all go to the new world together.”
Lyle Clarke was feeling quite good about how the ending was progressing. At this point he was basically just watching the ending unfold. The game had a good autoplay text system where he could just sit back and listen to the character talk to each other. Occasionally he would need to lean forward and select a dialog option for his character.
He watched as the lunar eclipse started and was preparing for the special ending to behind the final moments.
However was he did so he saw Yiskah smile and say, “Unfortunately for you the ending that you are seeking is not going to be happening today.” Lyle frowned and leaned forward. For a moment he thought that Yiskah was actually talking to him and not his character. Had he messed up and Yiskah was now going to mess up his plans.
Yiskah turned to Valarie. Valarie’s left arm was glowing. Normally Valarie wore long sleeved shirts to hide the rune on her arm but tonight was special and she was wearing clothing that was far more flattering.
Yiskah spoke to her and said, “Normally I would tell you to stop or that I would kill you but I have come to a realization. Now I want you to do what I have been attempting to stop you from doing all this time. I want you to destroy the world.”
Valarie looked genuinely confused, shocked would be the right word. It was like Yiskah was speaking nonsense to her, “What are you talking about? Why are you saying this?”
Lyle was confused as well but the game was giving him no text choices so he just continued to watch. This was a strange ending so even if it was not what he was looking for he still wanted to watch it to completion.
“You too will want to destroy the world soon. And right now I’m tearing away this fake illusion and we are showing to each other. No matter what happens this will be the end for us, all three of us.”
Valarie began to hide her emotions now which seemed uncharacteristic for her, “What is the point? This is the end. When tomorrow dawns what you are doing now will be forgotten by him.”
“That is where you are wrong. We are all actors in this farcical play where we all think that the others are not actually pretending. He is no different then you or me. No, worse, he is the cause of everything.”
There was really anger and sadness in Yiskah’s eyes which almost made Lyle question what he was seeing. This ending was stranger then anything he had seen before.
Valarie said, “Surely you can not be right. If that was the case then…”
She paused and Yiskah finished the sentence, “Then everything, right from the beginning was fake. Every last bit of it. And I have all the proof I need. I can show you without a shadow of a doubt that what I am saying is true.”
Valarie bit her lip as she spoke back, “Then do just that. Prove it.”
“Alright. Valarie, this man, the one standing beside you. The one we have both spent so much time with and experienced so much with. Tell me. What is his name?”
Lyle frowned like he was actually the person standing there. It was obvious what his name was. He had entered it at the very beginning of the game. He had used he own real name when he started each new game file.
Then he frowned more, actually was she right? He didn’t think any of the dialogue included his name. He wouldn’t normally think it was strange, after all the game was fully voiced so it would have been impossible for them to voice act all possible different names. Even the male character who he represented was voiced so there never would be an option for him to say his name.
Yet why were the characters in the game asking this question?
Valarie simply stood there. Her jaw moved like she was trying to make sounds with it but nothing was coming out. Her eyes flicked back and forth like she was trying to find the answer but nothing was coming to her.
Yiskah turned toward Lyle’s screen and she stared at him. There was some sinister smile on her face, an emotion he had never seen in her before. She spoke to him, and it once more felt like he was actually getting spoke too, “It is now to late for you too. Even if you try to change this now that has been done can not be undone, not even by you. I will never let you have what you want. I can only hope that your pain will be as great as the pain you have caused me.”
Lyle was having difficulty following in the plot. Sure he might had done some things to slightly anger Yiskah this run but she should still be supportive of him. However there was this weird nagging doubt, something that couldn’t possibly be true, that she was speaking not to his character but actually to him.
He glanced at the text bar wondering if he would have a dialog option but the bar was done. The screen was just the full image of what was happening in the game. Even his menu options was gone. Everything about this ending was getting rather strange.
Valarie was also looking strange. She was almost convulsing while holding her left arm. She hadn’t said anything since Yiskah had said that thing about names. Sure it was a strange realization but it shouldn’t be this major of an issue.
Yiskah looked back to her with Lyle and she took a few steps forward. “Is it painful? I knew exactly how you feel. I wanted to pretend it was false too but He is the cause of everything. All those times we have lived through this is all his fault. When I understood that I think I truly understood you. Some things are more important then the world. For you it is your right to choose your life, but for me it was revenge.”
She continued, “He used me, tricked me, and then pretended it never happened. Nothing could be more painful than that. You feel it now. I asked you once before for you help with this problem. I remember what you told me. This time I will truly ask for your aid because I no longer desire your death. This world, which allows this to happen, can not be allowed to exist.” Yiskah reached out her hand toward Valarie and said, “Don’t you agree?”
Valarie looked up at Yiskah and grabbed her and with her left hand. It was the only time Lyle had seen the two women hold hands. “What will happen?” Asked Valarie.
“I do not know.” Said Yiskah, “But as long as we live there is still hope. Isn’t that what you like to say? And maybe the destroyed world will be better then this awful world that we live in now.” Valarie nodded and her arm glowed brighter and brighter. Instead of seeming to be some dark curse power it shown in maybe hope.
Lyle smiled a little. Maybe this ending wasn’t so bad after all. It was a bit strange but the two woman finally found common ground. Sure it was with him as the enemy which probably qualified this as a bad ending but like they said maybe a bad ending is the right one.
Then his computer sparked. He could still see the scene of the two woman with the floor of the observatory collapsing around them and the lunar eclipse behind them but his computer was making strange sounds. Sounds which were really bad for a computer to make.
Lyle was horrified. Why did it have to happen now of all times. Then the room shook. Lyle could only stand in horror, an earthquake now? Things on his shelf was falling over and the quake was getting worse and worse.
The sparks coming out of the computer were growing too. Lyle scrambled backward toward the door. However the distance between him and the woman didn’t seem to be getting any smaller. In fact they seamed to be getting larger and larger. With the next quake movement the figures of Yiskah and Valarie fell from the shelf.
They began to fall toward the floor but the electricity from the computer arced out and the figures were caught motionless in the air. Lyle had failed backward and could only gape as the images on the screen overlayed what was happening in reality. The figures seemed to merge with the images and then they began to grow larger.
I could see the destruction of the world around me. The observatory was cracked and broken in many places. Through some of the holes you could see the town but in other holes there was just pure blackness. As the sky began to crack around the lunar eclipse I could see His form. It was flickering like static, a strange and surreal sight.
Then the world around him broke and it was light a hole but there was something on the other side. A small room. There was another man in it, he was backing way toward the door. He looked similar to Him but more like a real person.
I looked at Valarie and pulled her onward. We walked through the broke rubble of the observatory. The land was still shaking and we walked toward the hole. I reached out my hand and there felt like there was a solid wall blocking me. One of my hands was pulling Valarie along but the other was holding Shīringuken so I raised it and slashed at the air.
It came apart in a rush an I could feel everything around me contorting. Everything around us seemed to ripe apart like reality was only barely holding together. We lifted from the ground because there was no longer any ground to hold us down. There was darkness all around, at one of the edges I could see our world and at the other I could see the small room.
Then I heard something. Not really a voice but more like thoughts passing through the air.
‘The doors have been unsealed. All that is thought lost will be found once more. Maiden of Order, Maiden of Chaos, your guidance is all that is required. Long has the world waited.’
I looked at Valarie and I could see that she was heading the thoughts too.
“Who are you?”
’Those who have waited. Maidens, seek the world that is truly desired. The perfect world.’
I could see the light burning on Valarie’s left arm and then I felt pain in my right hand. The tools were vibrating, no it was something else. They were changing. However I didn’t have time to pay attention to that. The darkness was contracting and the other world was getting closer.
The room seemed to pulled us in and for a moment in the room I felt like I was a small child floating in the air but then everything began to contract into contract to the right size. There was a shiver through my skin and it felt like my entire body was strange and foreign to me.
When in an instant gravity returned and I landed on the floor of the room. With a whoosh the hole closed behind us. Me and Valarie were standing in the strange room. In front of us was the man. There was similarities in his looks and I knew that he was the real me. The one manipulating me.
I released Valarie’s hand and took a few steps forward before raising my sword and saying, “Now it is time to regret what you have done.” I was about to kill him when Valarie grabbed my arm. I looked back at her.
She had an expression of sadness but there was something else. It was pity, but not toward me. She said, “Look at him.”
I looked at the man and for the first time I saw him. Not at the man who had ruined my life but as this ill-kempt man in a small room. He was cowering in the corner whimpering, “No, don’t kill me.”
I looked around the room seeing it with clear eyes. It was a small apartment room, not unlike the place I had lived in. The place was scattered and disorganized but I saw the games on the shelves and the figures of different characters. I looked back at the man and the grinding gears of my thoughts began to fit pieces together.
“You didn’t know.” My voice was flat. All my emotions were beginning to drain from me. All that hate and suffering might never fully go way but the infection was gone. Whatever he had been doing to me, to him it hadn’t been real.
I had a strange surreal feeling. Hanging on the wall near my man was a poster. It was a picture of me and Valarie. The likenesses were too similar to be anything else. I looked at Valarie and asked her, to see if she hand any more idea then I did. “This picture? Is it us? How?”
She shook her head, “I don’t know.”
The poster read, ‘The Forbidden Domain’.
I looked at the man who was still cowering. “Come on Valarie, there is nothing in this room that holds value for us anymore.” She nodded and I opened the door. We left the man behind, the one whose name we truly didn’t know and never had.
The world we entered seemed very similar to the one that we came from, at least on the surface. It was still night in this world but the lights outside showed us that we were in a city instead of the town that we were in before. I wondered what strange sights would welcome us in this new city.
Project Mayfly was supposed to be a joke organization. Nobody knew this more than Miss Marilyn Linson. She was the project director of Project Mayfly. Officially the governmental project existed to debunk supernatural phenomenon. Unofficially it served the purpose of allowing the government to piss away its money to dispose of troublesome employees that were too effective just to fire. The civil servents were sent to Project Mayfly with a low wage and no opportunity to ever advance and were pressured into quitting the job.
Miss Linson was the current exception. After all, Project Mayfly needed somebody to man the main desk and to subtly pass out the retirement slips. It was her job to make sure that she was the only employee at Project Mayfly.
And Miss Linson was excellent at her job, although for very different reasons then her governmental dictators desired. However being excellent at her implied job meant that when she was called on to do the ‘official’ job of Project Mayfly she had to do it alone.
She had used to be a police detective however when her report said that the only possible explanation to the case was that her suspect used magic to kill the victim. The chief detective politely told her that she was insane that she could either quit or get transferred to Project Mayfly to prove her case.
She accepted the transfer and when she came in for her first day at the job she had been greeted my a tall friendly man. That had been quite in contract with Miss Linson who was a short stout woman. She was too fit to be considered fat but her body type was not what you expected when you heard ‘Former Detective’.
The tall man had shaken her hand, thanked her for becoming the new director of Project Mayfly and then handed her his two weeks notice, which had been backdated two weeks. The man then grabbed his hat and walked through the door and Miss Linson had never seen him again.
Since then she had been the director of the Project, for four year now. She had seen many employees come and go. Some determined to continue their career, some only staying there until they could get a different job. However they all always left, not that she particularly minded.
“Now would you repeat again what happened to you, Mr Clarke? This time using words that I can understand.” Asked Miss Linson.
Lyle Clarke took a deep breath, “As I was trying to say. I was playing a video game. During the game there was an earthquake and during that time a couple of the characters from the video game appeared in my room. Yiskah even threatened me with a sword.”
“And this Miss Yiskah is who?” Asked Miss Linson in a calm voice.
“She was a character in the game but not she is real. There was some sort of electrical fire and somehow she and Valarie come into my room through the screen of my computer.”
“Is that so?” Asked Miss Linson. She had been called a few hours ago by the local police department. They had been receiving complaints from this man who was demanding that supernatural events had happened to him. Rather than having to deal with him they had passed him off to Project Mayfly. Government buck passing at its finest.
So Miss Linson was here at the home of Lyle Clarke in the attempt to find an explanation that would convince him that nothing supernatural had happened. There had certain been an earthquake last night when the Mr. Clarke claimed the event to have happened. It was fairly minor and localized.
The room itself still showed signs of the electrical fire. Miss Linson looked around the room trying to find signs on anything strange. She knelt down near the floor and examined the markings. The room had unfortunately been disturbed too much for her to be able to learn anything about what happened her too much.
From what she could tell Lyle had was an avid video gamer as was evidenced by the game and paraphernalia what was on the shelves. The disturbance from the earthquake was still noticeable though. Things were knocked over and everything was badly organized. Although she did not know how much of that was because of Lyle’s lifestyle.
“So, these two women that broke into your apartment last night. What did they look like?”
“As I said..” Lyle was exaggerated and that much Miss Linson could tell from his voice. However Miss Linson didn’t want to give him any reason to think that his case might be special or real. That always just ended in disappointment.
“They are two of the characters from The Forbidden Domain.” He moved over toward the wall and pointed at the poster. It was the one showing Yiskah and Valarie. “It was these two woman. I’m telling you that they came out of my computer and then ran off someplace.”
“So two woman which were dressed in these costume entered your room and threatened you with a weapon. Did they take anything from your apartment? Or is there some reason that might have to threaten you?”
“I don’t know. In the game they were saying some strange things about how I manipulated them and that I was the cause of everything. I was just playing the game however it seems that they were real in the game and took it personally. I don’t understand how it could happen, it must have been the electrical fire that caused it.”
“Is this game,” Miss Linson looked over at the poster again to remind herself, “The Forbidden Domain, some kind of online game? People can take the things that happen in those quite personally.”
“No, no, it is just a regular visual novel game. I’m not joking, the characters in the game literally came to life in my room. I thought you were part of some police group that was suppose to actually help me wit this.”
Miss Linson nodded, “I am. Project Mayfly is suppose to help identify and deal with potential supernatural problems. However…” She paused, “Do you happen to know how many supernatural problems I have actually encountered?”
“No? How many?”
“None.” Said Miss Linson. That might not be technically true but she had never been able to get adequate proof to the contrary. “If you case turned out to be the first one then good but I highly doubt it.”
“But I saw them…” Lyle tried to say.
“Yes, so you say. However before I can believe you I must rule out the other possibility. Now will you please cooperate?”
“Very good. Now were you under the effects of any drugs last night?”
“How about sleep deprivation?”
“I, not really, I might have been up late but that isn’t unusual more me and I had sleep some within twenty four hours.”
Miss Linson had been examining the room while listening to Lyle’s explanations. She knelt down and picked up a small partially melted plastic circle. She picked it up and examined it. It was a little bit smaller then the size of her hand. There was another identical piece right next to it. There were near the worst part of the electrical fire and she was surprised to find them in as good condition as they where. However she did not know what they were for.
“Any what are these?” She asked.
Lyle walked over and took a look at the piece himself. “I, I’m not certain. It looks like a base to one of my figures.” He looked over at the other piece. Then a look of realization came over his face, “Those must been the bases for the figures of Valarie and Yiskah I had. When the came to this world I think the models became their real bodies.”
Miss Linson gave Lyle an unbelieving look, “Please don’t tell me that you think a couple of model figures are walking around threatening people with swords. I’m pretty sure that would be all over the news if that was true.”
“No, wait, I mean that those models acted as conduits to allow them to come into this world. Maybe they swapped wit the models and now the models are in the game some place. Let me assure you that the two of them were very real and normal sized when I saw them.”
Miss Linson scowled at him, “Not it just sounds like you are making up explanations without giving any thought to them. Now correct me if I’m wrong but you do actually believe that these plastic disks are from the models and you did see the two woman in the flesh. The idea of about swapping with the model is just your speculation.”
Lyle looked a little crestfallen, “Yes, that is correct. When they came through I saw the models fall from the shelf there,” He pointed. “I saw them eclipse the image of the two of them in the screen. I think there was more about how they came to this world but everything happened very fast so I don’t know if everything I remember is completely accurate.”
Miss Linson nodded at his more accurate assessment of what he saw. Even if she didn’t believe him yet it was still good to have his story straight. His story sounded unbelievable but so had many of the stories that she had heard over the course of her career at Project Mayfly.
She looked back over at the poster and asked, “Then you claim that these two woman left your appartment. Do you know where they left too?”
“How closely do these woman look like the people in the poster.”
“They look exactly the same, except you know, real looking.”
“Exactly huh? Then do you mind if I take this poster? The easiest way to find out the truth about your claim would be to find these two women and question them about what happened. If they exist then they will be able to collaborate your story.”
“The poster? Sure, I have a few more copies of it. Do you really think that you will be able to find them.”
“If they are who you claim them to be then yes. After all if they came out of your video game then they will not have real identification and will be alone in the city. Of course if they are actually real people then it will be doubtful I will be able to find out what two women happened to dress up as your characters.”
“Is there anything that I can do to help?” Asked Lyle. “They came out of my game so I kind of feel responsible for what happened.”
Miss Linson felt that he looked eager, too eager. That fort of eagerness made people get into trouble. If she just told him no then he would just go off and doing things anyways. He had the look in his eyes of somebody who had something special happen to them and wanted to continue to be special. If she told him not to help that would just mean that he would ‘help’ by himself.
She sighed, resigned to look after him until this issue was finally resolved. “Fine, I’ll let you help but you have to do it by my rules which means no independent action.”
The Wanderer stopped and took a moment to look up at the sky. The winds had picked up, which was a rarity by itself, and was managing to clear the sky of ash for the moment. It was night but the stars were so rarely visible so it was nice for the Wanderer to see them. He was wearing thick black clothes as he always was. His hair was also wrapped up in the clothing and he was wearing a special mask which kept all the ash out of his face and mouth. The outfit would be unbearable hot during the day.
Eventually the wind faded and the ash covered the sky once again. He turned back on his lantern again which allowed him to see once more through the dark ash. The moon did not shine through the thickness and the only other light was the occasional phosphorescent mushroom. The lantern was the only source of light that he could trust.
Even without the light though he would have still been able to travel. He knew this area like the back of his hand. The ruined buildings, large mushrooms, and razor sharp shadow vines were all things he knew. They had been all that he had ever known. In his youth his grandfather had told him about the time when they lived in buildings that had been above the ash and people could live like people.
The Wanderer had never really understood that phrase. Hadn’t people always lived like people. Still the Wanderer remembered times like that fondly. Back when there had been other people which he could talk to. Now there was just him.
Now he could see a light in the distance. Because the ash smothered light that meant that he was almost home. The light shown through the one thick glass pane which had so far avoided breaking. He made sure to scrub it free of ash every couple of days so that he would be able to see it in the darkness. Not because he needed to see it but because it gave him a little comfort. He passed the mushroom garden which grew all the different mushrooms that he used as his primary food supply. His grandfather had also talked about other growing things, things that were not mushrooms or shadow vines. Things that were green.
The Wanderer had liked listening to his grandfather’s stories. They told of all sorts of strange things. The Wanderer also had liked reading books with his grandfather and it was one of the few hobbies that he managed to retain when he had grown him. People had preserved a lot of books and when the Wanderer found one of their abandoned homes he would take the books back with him to his home. His grandfather had said that his father had once seen one of the ancient talking pictures and were spoken of in the books.
He had finally reached the light and he cranked open the door and stepped through. He tried to keep as much ash from getting in as he could when he shut the door and cranked it closed behind him. Once it was shut the Wanderer was able to take off the thick black clothing. He set the small sealed bucket he had been carrying to one side while he remove the thick outer layer. One he had done that he picked back up the bucket and brought it over to the stove. He shoved some dried shadow vine in it and lit the fire. Then he removed the sealed top of the bucket to reveal the dark muddy water.
There was a machine next to the stove that he moved onto the top of it. He had been made a long time ago to filter the muddy water and make something drinkable. It would heat the water and make it evaporate. Then the steam would rise to the top of the machine and then condense making clean water. He had learned about the principle in one of the books and tried reproducing it. It had let him gather much closer sources of water instead of going miles away to an underground spring.
He let the water boil while he cut some mushrooms for dinner. Sometimes he also ate meat with the mushrooms but that required hunting one of the different beasts that still lived outside. Generally that was not worth the effort but he tried to go hunting once a week for the nutritional improvement. The books on nutrition that he had read made it clear that you were supposed to eat a balanced meal. That was hard to do consistently so instead he just did the best that he could.
The house was big. Once it had homed him, his grandfather, and his mother. After they had died he had the place to himself. His mother had hoped that there would be some girl that would move in with him but because of the migration that never happened. The ash had gotten worse around seven years ago and everybody else who had lived nearby when to migrate to higher altitudes. The Wanderer had been told that he wasn’t welcome so he had stayed.
Still he hoped that they were alright. The migration of a small community like theirs was difficult and setting up a new place to call home was extremely difficult. And the ash had risen drastically over the seven years since they had left. The Wanderer didn’t know if there would be anyplace left that was clear of it. Since the Wanderer remained because this was home and because nobody would accept him even if he did move.
After he had made and eaten dinner he went deeper inside the house. It was where he kept his collection of books. There was all kinds of books here. He didn’t make a distinction. Some books taught him valuable things which he could use to continue living here. Things like the water purification machine that he made. Other contained fantastical tales of worlds where everything was not covered in ash. Some of them were labeled as fiction while others were supposedly historic but all of them seemed like fantasy to him.
‘Wanderer, are you there?’ Said the voice. It wasn’t imaginary, he was fairly certain of that. He had first had a voice speak to him when he was rather young. Initially he had been told that he was imagining it and that nobody was actually talking with him. When he got older he became a little ostracized because he heard the voice.
“Of course I’m here. Aren’t I always here?” He replied.
‘Well, sometimes you are sleeping.’ She replied. The Wanderer know that the voice was from a young girl by the name of Esta. There used to be a different voice that spoke to him but that voice was long gone.
“How was school today?” He asked. He knew what school was because of books and because of his talks with Esta but he had never been himself. There was never an opportunity for kids in his community to learn in that organized method. There had been some things akin to lessons and school but nothing to the scale of the books and stories that he was told.
Esta lived in a world drastically different then the Wanderer lived in, a place like those in the books that he read. From what he had gathered listening he figured that she either lived in some completely different world or maybe in the past. He had tried talking about it with the previous person he could hear but nothing came of it. Essa was only twelve so he didn’t try to force anything onto her. Instead he just listened and answered her questions to the best of his ability.
‘Nothing special. The teacher asked me some questions but the answer was easy. Mostly it was just boring. I wish I lived in a place more interesting like where you live.’ She had expressed interest in the world that he lived in.
“I’ve already told you that it is more difficult then it looks to live here. Even if I could let you visit I would recommend against it. Your world is nice and peaceful. You should enjoy that.” Her world sounded like the nice places in the Wonderers books. He would have liked to visit her world as well however he wasn’t certain how he would adjust. He didn’t know any lifestyle beyond the one he had here.
‘Yes, but if I was with you we could be together all of the time and have a lot of fun.’
The Wanderer tried to avoid showing emotion. Esta had a strange machine, called a computer, which she somehow used to communicate with him. Through it she was able to speak and watch him. The last voice had the same method of communication, it might have even been the same computer. Despite his numerous attempts to understand it he did not have an explanation about how Esta was able to communicate, only that she was able to do it.
Since she could see him he had to ask normally when trying to tiptoe past delicate situations. He knew a little bit about her family life but didn’t want to pry too much. He knew that her parents were rarely home and that she spent most evenings in her room talking with him. The problems that she dealt with seemed foreign to him but he understood that it was difficult for her. And since she was his only companion he wanted to remain friends so he tried to avoid bringing up touchy issues with her.
‘How was your day?’ Esta asked.
“I had to drive some worms out of the nearby canyon. They had been scaring away the scruffles which made them harder to hunt. It wouldn’t have been a major problem if the worms were edible but they have a very acidic makeup and decompose quickly so there is basically nothing useful to eat that you can make out of them.”
‘How did you drive them out?’
“They don’t like bright lights or loud sounds so I was able to scare them away and out of the canyon. They are fairly big so once I got them to leave I used some makeshift explosives I had been working on to collapse part of the entrance to the canyon. That should keep them away and let the scruffles come back. Hopefully that will restore the ecosystem in the nearby region.”
‘Wow, you did that much? You always have interesting things to tell me. And you are so clever, making your own explosives and doing all this work by yourself.’
“Mainly I just got the information about how to craft the ingredients from the books. The difficult part was finding suitable replacements for some of the ingredients I didn’t have access to. I had to refine some of the reactants from one of the local breeds of mushrooms. They stored up one of the ingredients that they pulled from the air. At least there is one benefit from all this ash. The mushrooms come in many different varieties and I have a notebook keeping track of all of them and what all the different uses for them were.”
Esta listened to him ramble about his different projects. The Wanderer kept himself busy by reproducing all kinds of useful materials and machines from the books that he read. A lot of the things made might life there a lot more bearable. Thinks like his water purifier or the air purifier he had installed in the building. The old one was ancient and was beginning to fail so he had to design his own. All of his weapons and tools were mostly hand made as well. He had setup a forge in one of the old homes to allow him to smelt his own metal. There was certainly enough left over scrap that he would never run out of things to melt down.
Usually he was the one who spoke the most. Esta mainly quietly listened to him talk. He enjoying having something to say. There had been a period of almost half a year before he first spoke with Esta where he was just alone. His previous voice no longer spoke with him and all the people from the village had long since migrated. He was beginning to feel desperately alone and considered leaving his home to find somebody else when Esta first spoke to him.
After he had finished talking about his latest projects Esta asked, ‘Then do you think you could read me a book?’
She sometimes made that request of him. He remembered the times when his grandfather had read books to him and it was actually rather fun to read some of his books to her, “Did you have a preference?”
‘Do you have something with Dragons?’
“Dragons you say? I’ll see what I can find.” IHerummaged through one of the bookshelves trying to find a book. He had read most of the books that he had which given the amount of books he had was a lot. He finally found one that seemed appropriate. “Dragons of the Black Moon, does that sound good to you? It has dragons and princesses and magic.”
‘Yeah, that sounds good.’
The Wanderer took a seat in his good reading chair and adjust the lights to make it easier to read. He then began reading from the beginning, “Galven grew up in a small town…”
He was still reading around an hour later when the lights in his home flickered. He was a bit worried. The electricity that he had in his home was sometimes a bit spotty. He had done a bunch of repairs over the years to keep it working but sometimes it broke down completely and he had to spent too much time without power before he could fix it.
Then he heard painful grating in his ear like the horribly loud sound of static. He covered his ears but that didn’t keep the sound out. “Esta? Esta? Is this you?” He called out. Maybe the sounds were coming from her end. There was no response just the loud sounds which seemed to come from nowhere.
Then he heard something strange, something different. Like a soft voice speaking through the static which he could mostly make out. ‘The doors have been unsealed. All that is thought lost will be found once more. Maiden of Order, Maiden of Chaos, your guidance is all that is required. Long has the world waited.’
It was something strange, in a voice that didn’t really sound like a voice at all. He tried to listen, to figure out what was being said but the static was making it difficult to listen.
‘Who are you?’ It was a different voice, a woman’s voice. But not Esta or any other voice he recognized.
’Those who have waited. Maidens, seek the world that is truly desired. The perfect world.’ The first non-a-voice spoke again.
Then the static began to fade. Finally the Wanderer removed his hand from his ears. What had that been, he did not not. Again he spoke, “Esta? Are you there? Did you hear that too?”
‘Wanderer? Yes, I’m here again. Yes, the screen had all sorts of funny things happened to it and I heard some weird words. What happened?’
“I do not know what that was. However it was very strange. Those two that were talking. Who do you think they are?”
‘I don’t know. Do you have any idea?’ Asked Esta.
I shook my head, “I don’t know. This has never happened before. However…” The entire experience had been strange for the Wanderer. Previously the connection between him and Esta had never been interrupted. It was the closest he had gotten to actually understanding how that connection worked. He had gotten a couple of clues from the previous voice but this was the first time he had noticed something strange. Maybe he could use it to find some kind of clue. “I plan on figuring out what just happened. You always talked about wanting to do something interesting. Do you want to help me?”
Esta sounded a little excited when she responded, ‘Sure, I can help. Just tell me what you need me to do and I’ll do it.’
“Excellent. Now can I ask you a question? When you heard everything happen was it just on your computer or did it seem to be coming from inside your head.”
‘It was very strange. Initially it was just coming from the computer and I covered my ears to help reduce the noise. However when the voices began to talk then not even my hands helped. I could just hear them and the static just got worse and worse.’
“That is good.” Said the Wanderer as he was thinking through things in his head.
“Well if it was like that for both of us then that means it was just as real for both of us and it wasn’t just something that existed on one side of the other. That means it probably has something to do with your computer.”
‘My computer? I know it can talk with you but then you mean it is even more special than that.’
“I don’t know yet but I had an idea. There used to be computers in my world but that was a long time ago. If I could find or construct something like that I might be able to make a connection to your computer.”
‘Will that work?’
“It is the best lead that I have. However I’m going to need your help. I don’t have any books that have technical explanations of how computers work so I need you to find one. With that and any parts I can find I might be able to make something that works.”
We were in trouble. I should have foreseen something like this happening but being in a new world had scrambled my wits a bit. While previously it had been summer in the world that I can come from it was winter here. The city was also a lot bigger then the town that we had come from. However beyond that this world was almost identical to our own.
I had found out a couple of things. The city that they were now in was called Bay Port and it was not just large it was busy. There were roads for cars but they were packed even when at night. This meant that there were also a lot of people walking along the streets. To counter the congestion some of the streets had even been closed off to car traffic and only allowed people on foot.
And the signs. I had never seen such a sight before. Large neon signs, giant digital displays. The whole place seems like it never slept and the entire experience was different to deal with. Unsurprisingly we learned that our cell phones did not have reception in this new city.
Then in an ill-advised attempt to get out of the cold and to form a plan on what to do next we went into a family diner. We had not eaten since we had come to this world so we unwittingly ordered food to eat and began to decide what we were going to do here.
I was of the opinion that we needed to find out what we could about this city and the people that lived in it. Valarie however decided that we needed to find out about that poster in the man’s room and how that related to us. Eventually I surrendered to her superior suggestion as it seemed more pressing to know the answer.
All of that was fine and well but the problem came when we left our table to pay. I handed over my ticket and card like I normally did but was surprised when the cashier told me, “I’m sorry but your card was declined.”
I blinked for a couple of minutes before that horrifying realization dawned on me. I knew that our phones did not work but for some reason I hadn’t considered that I would not have any money either. I opened my wallet hoping that I had enough cash, there were a couple of bills but certainly not enough to pay for our meal.
I nudged Valarie and quietly asked, “Do you happen to have any cash?”
She tried to remain happy looking as she whispered back to me through her teeth, “This is probably a bad time to mention that I didn’t bring my wallet with me today.” She had left it back in our world. Oh, boy, was this going to be a mess.
“Well you see…” I was began to say to the cashier. She had a scowl on her face which made me feel like this conversation was not going to go very well for us. I briefly considered out options. Running would probably work but that would probably have some consequences, at would using any of my Tools to deal with the situation. Especially because I had not used my Tools since coming to this world and I didn’t know how they had changed. I imagined that Valarie was in the same sort of situation.
However there didn’t seem to be any other option. I prepared myself but was interrupted before I could do anything rash.
“Is there anything that matter here?” I turned behind me and saw a large muscular man wearing slightly professional clothes. His head was shaved and his glasses were slightly tinted. It was the kind of man you would expect to see guarding the entrance to a fancy night club, or so I would imagine having not been to one myself.
The woman at the register seemed to recognize the man, “Oh, Martin. These two woman seem to not be able to pay their tab.”
He looked over at us and asked, “Is that so?”
Hoping this was an out that wouldn’t require us to make a scene I nodded, “Yes, you see we are from out of town. Normally I expect my card to work but something must have happened and unfortunately I seem to spent all my remaining cash elsewhere.”
Martin looked me up and down like he was trying to get a good judge of me. He paused and examined Valarie too. I could almost see the cogs turning in his head but I could not decipher his thoughts about us. Finally he nodded, “I see, well that must be quiet the trouble.”
He turned toward the cashier and said, “I’ll cover them tonight. Just bill me and don’t worry about it any longer.”
She nodded, “Sure, I’ll at it to your tab.” Then she glowered a little at me and said, “Any don’t cause Martin too much trouble.“
“Yes ma’m” I said not wanting to cause her any more trouble.
With that matter dealt the three of us moved closer to the front door. Before me and Valarie could leave Martin blocked our way out. He was slightly intimidating. He said, “I don’t mean to be rude but you too seem to be in a bit of trouble.”
I turned my head slightly away from him while I said, “It is nothing that we can’t handle.”
His mouth widened in a small smile, “Is that so? You seemed to handle that back there pretty well I can see. I suppose you already have a place to stay for the evening? After all it is rather cold outside and without money it would be rather hard to find a place.”
I grimaced and looked over at Valarie, “What do you thing?”
“Well, we know his name. That makes him a little bit more trustworthy then the last man to help up. Although I’m not certain about the moral character of a man that invites us to his house at his first meeting.”
“Hey, don’t look at me like that.” Said Martin. “I’m a respectable member of this community and I wouldn’t be so shameless as to invite a couple of unknown women over to my house. I have a store nearby, it isn’t much but there are a couple of couches in the break room if you want to stay there for the night.”
Me and Valarie shared a look before I finally nodded and said, “Alright. We will accept your offer.” Then wanting to make sure everything was proper I continued, “I’m Yiskah and this is Valarie.”
“Indeed you are. Now if you would follow me.” The way he said it made me think that he had already know what we were going to call ourselves. I wanted to question him about it but I flashed back to that poster in His room and I wisely decided that, at least for now, I would keep my mouth shut about it.
We walked for a couple of blocks in the cold before we rounded a street corner and he stopped in front of a small building. The sign outside read, “Pendulum Lounge”.
“A bar?” I asked. From his looks I would have been surprised.
“Not really. More like a cafe but that isn’t really what it is either. It is truly just a Lounge.” He pushed open the door and held it open while me and Valarie entered. Like he had said the place was like a cafe with tables and chairs. There was a small sign near the entrance that read ‘Seat Yourself’. There was only really one room and it wasn’t very big. There were a handful of people sitting at the different tables doing various activities. A few of them had drinks and one was eating a sandwich while reading.
A couple of the customers waved or nodded their heads in greeting to Martin. I examined things a little before I finally said, “This place actually looks rather nice. A lot more pleasant then I would have imagined.”
“Oh? And what did you imagine? You shouldn’t really judge people on their looks wouldn’t you say?” I motions toward the free tables, “The lounge is still open for a couple more hours so you can have a seat at one of the tables until then. Once we close I can show you the break room.”
Martin left to go behind the counter. The two of us took a seat near the back away from the others. Once we had taken out seats I spoke softly to Valarie, “Do you think that we can trust him.”
She looked around the place, “More than our other options. He did say that he was a respectable member of the community and this place seems to reinforce that. Although I do have to wonder why he is helping us.”
“Yeah, he does seem like a nice guy but offering a place to potential vagabonds seems rather risky. What if we took his stuff at night and ran off into the night. After all we have already shown ourselves to not have any money.”
We quieted our conversation as Martin came back carrying a tray with a pot and some three cups on it. He placed the tray on the table and took a seat on one of the empty chairs. “I brought some tea. It has been cold this winter so it should help warm you up.” He began pouring us some of the tea and then finally poured himself a cup.
“This all seems rather charitable of you to do to help us.” I said trying to draw some kind of comment out of him.
Martin shrugged. “Bay Port is a city of visitors and travelers like you. Those lost on the road of life are not uncommon. My lounge is supposed to be a refuge to people, it would go against my standard to let travelers go without a roof. However,” He raised his hand menacingly, “kindness only goes so far. I know people well enough that they want to avoid charity.”
“So what? You want to arrange a trade for your lodging?” Asked Valarie. She didn’t sound too suspicious and I agreed with her. Martin felt mostly honorable, if not fully trustworthy. I agreed with him that I wanted to avoid charity.
“Well,” Said Martin, “My impression was that your card was declined because there was not money left.”
“I suppose that is true.” I said trying to avoid saying too much. More likely the bank account that it was linked to didn’t actually exist in this world so the card was basically useless.
“In that case my Business has been rather busy recently and my usual employees are not able to keep up. I can provide a few days lodging and small paycheck if you want to work here for a few days. That should be enough to get you back home.”
“We’re not going home.” Said Valarie too quickly and defiantly.
“Is that so?” Said Martin. “You both are too old to be running away from home so I’ll assume it was something complicated. Well, if you want to stay in Bay Port I’m sure I can help arrange a place for you to rent, that is assuming you are good workers. Of course you are willing to reject my offer. I’ll still let you stay here for the night too.”
“We will consider your offer.” I responded not wanted to commit too much without privately discussing it with Valarie.
“Very good. Now I’m sure you have quite a story to tell since you are stuck in Bay Port without any baggage and no home you want to return to. You will have to tell me about it but right now I have to help close the place. Please excuse me.” Martin slipped out of his chair and went over to the other employees where he began closing the store.
With a moment to ourselves again I took a sip of the tea, which was actually quite good, and then asked Valarie, “Do you think we should do it?”
She simply blew on the cup trying to cool it down. After a couple breaths and some thought she responded, “Our other choices seems rather limited without taking his suggestion. Without money we do not have many options. We would have to look for a different source of income anyways if we refused him. At least until we have other options we should accept his support. Although..”
She paused and took a small sip. “He still seems a bit suspicious. Don’t you think?”
I nodded in response, “Yes, this lounge just feels a bit too relaxed to be his full story. Although, I actually feel more secure thinking that he had some other motive and plan. Better that then trusting in his honesty and getting hurt because of it.”
She looked down at her tea which she hadn’t drunk much of and stared at it for a moment. There was some thick silence before she finally said, “Yiskah… With everything that has happened I haven’t asked you about some things. You offered me your hand and asked me to come with you and I did but since then everything has been so different.”
“Do you regret leaving that world?”
She shook her head, “No, I glad to be done. By the end there everything was seeming empty and pointless. I was just repeatedly doing the same thing over and over again and I wasn’t trying to change anything. Yet you found an answer, an escape from that place. Maybe if I had accepted your offer that first time it would have happened sooner.”
“No, you were right to refuse me that time. I didn’t understand, I had never tried to understand your situation. I just listened to others and followed what they said.”
“Do you still think that I am the Cursed Maiden of Destruction?” There was a little bit of fear still in her voice.
I raised my hand and tried to wave off her fear, “Even if I thought that I would no longer want to kill you for it. Also my thoughts are a bit jumbled. Ever since I have arrived in this world all those feelings that I had built up inside me has been dissipating bit by bit. Previously my life had been a rollercoster of powerful emotions that let me to my choices even at the end there but when I saw him cowering in front of me all my feelings began to blow away.”
“Do you think he was controlling our emotions as well, making us like him?”
I frowned mulling over the question, finally I responded, “I don’t think so. At least not directly in the same way he was controlling time. Although I do wonder how much control he actually had. He was surprised when we arrived in his room like it was beyond his possible exception yet he did strange things in our world. My Master, one time I tried to meet up with him yet something conspired to keep up apart. However I received one call from him warning me about the possibility of the manipulator which his why I contacted you the first time.”
“What do you think happened to our old world? Do you think I really destroyed it?”
“I don’t know. It was quite the world destruction scene however I’m not sure about it destroying everything. However we might not ever know the full truth.”
We sat in some silence for a while longer and eventually returned. The lounge was now basically empty now. “Alright I can show you to the room now. The other employees are all gone so it will be just me closing up.”
We left the table to followed him into the back where he showed us the break room. It was a smallish room. There was a couch against one wall. There was a table which had been moved to one side and a rollout bed mat had been placed where is probably normally stood. I eyed his quizzically, “Do you have many visitors who stay the night.”
“It had happened a couple of times before to I keep the mat around.” He handed me a small key. “This is the main key to the break room. Don’t lose it or I will have to replace the lock.”
I took the key from him. “I’ll be back in the morning at around 7am because the place opens at 8am.” He said while he pointed to some small plastic wrapped sandwiches on the table. “Just something extra made with some of what we had left this evening.”
“Thanks,” I said. He didn’t seem to be one that minced words so just with that he was about to go finish closing however I stopped him with a question, “Have you ever heard of The Forbidden Domain?”
He examined me just as I was examining him trying to watch for notable reactions. “A bit, there was a whole bunch of advertisements around here a few months ago when it got released but I’m not really into stuff like that so I didn’t get it. It seems to be getting rather popular though so I might need to learn a little about it for business reasons.” I laughed a little, “Maybe I can ask you two for help with that.”
I tried to greet his smile with my own. It was difficult to talk with somebody when they assume you know what you are talking about but you can’t reveal that you don’t know.
“Do you know where we could buy thinks like posters about it?” I tried pointing the conversation with as generic questions as possible. I knew that he had a poster with our picture and the Forbidden Domain written on it. There were some strange doubts, if Martin knew about the Forbidden Domain then did he know us…. And what did that actually mean.
“Sure, I would visit the Clocktower to find something like that. They seem to have all kinds of unless knickknacks.”
“The Clocktower?” I asked, “That is a rather strange name.”
“Indeed, yet that was what the building once used to be. It got purchased and renovated around five years ago. A bit high class for a game store but that hadn’t really stopped them, in fact they seem to have embraced it more that is healthy. Although I except that the two of you will like it there. You will probably get requests for pictures there however so be careful, Bay Port City can be rough.”
I nodded, wanting to ask more questions but knowing that if I said anything else then I would be revealing how little I actually knew. Games? Pictures? What could Martin be meaning.
Martin finally left the room leaving the two of us alone again.
“What do you think he meant?” Asked Valarie.
“I don’t know. For now I would rather not speculate on the matter. Once we visit this Clocktower then I will have a better idea of what to expect and hopefully we will be able to learn about this Forbidden Domain.”
“I’m a bit afraid. When things happened to us I was angry and sad but I’ve never really be afraid to find out about things. I’m not certain if I want to know the truth.”
“We have already left our world. I don’t think we can pretend any more.” I went to the door and using the key locked the door. Once that had been done I placed my hand on the back of the door and activated The Dimension Seal. At much as I felt like I could mostly trust Martin this world presented a risk to me and Valarie.
The Dimensional Seal was one of my most versatile Tools but its main limitation was that it was limited to one small task at a time. The small black band that had been wrapped around my wrist snapped and with that Shīringuken appeared out of thin air. I caught it in the air with my left hand as the seal lit up on the back of my right hand.
I had been hiding Shīringuken in the Dimensional Seal because I knew wondering around town with a sword would be a sure way of getting noticed by the local police. However I can not conceal it completely without notice. Each of the tools have a physical manifestation while I am using it and the Dimensional Seal is like a black cloth.
Controlling it some more it spread to the edges of the door in a cross shape, latching onto the walls. With that the door would be tightly sealed and would probably be impossible for Martin or anyone else to enter through.
Valarie watched in interest. “You know, I don’t think I have ever been able to observe you using your abilities without being on the receiving end of them.”
“I suppose that is probably true. I didn’t have them back when we were kids so we were enemies since I had the opportunity to show you them.
“They always seem so impressive. You can do so much with them while my own power seems to be barely controllable at best. I don’t think I have ever done anything useful with my power.”
“I’m sure you will be able to in time. And my Tools are not that impressive. Master was always way better with them then I ever was. They also all have severe limitations. The Dimension Seal for example is only capable of doing a single small thing at a time like hiding my sword or keeping the door closed.”
“Your master, the one that trained you to fight right? I heard you speak about him once or twice in passing. He was the one that gave you the order to kill me wasn’t he.”
I nodded, “As much as I am ashamed to admit it that is true. He had his reasons but now I will not make excuses for him. Now I believe that his orders were in error. Should I ever see him again I hope to set the record straight.”
“Then your abilities were passed onto your from your Master? How does that work?”
“There was some ceremony to show my worth and to officially make me the successor. Then I was given one at a time the nine objects that represent the different tools. Then both me and Master spilled some blood on those objects to seal the exchange and the exchange to Tools happened.”
“Blood? That sounds rather vulgur and dark artsy.”
“I’m not certain what really qualifies as dark arts other then what some of Masters teachings mentions but the blood is symbolic and for the exchange to take place then true symbolism must be employed for the tools to accept the transfer. You must also show your resolve to accept them.”
“That makes it sound like they have a mind of their own.”
“No, that is just the way the magic works. There are probably lots of ways that they can actually be transferred but it must include both acceptance from the giver and the taker and rituals like I did are a certain way of passing on magic like that.”
“That is certainly more complicated then it was for me.” Said Valarie. “I think I have always had this ability but it became more and more uncontrollable the older I got and it began to manifest itself in more powerful ways. Day always told me to keep it secret and that worked for a while I think. Until I decided to show you.”
I hung my head a little, “Yes, well, I’m not certain it does any good to apologize. However I think I should say it. I’m sorry for revealing your secret. It was because you showed me that everything had to happen.”
“I doubt I could have kept the secret forever though. It might have been you that saw it first but had that not happened I doubt that the future would have been much different.”
I nodded in thanks to Valarie. “Well, in our world there didn’t seem to be a way to control your power and because of that you were marked for death however now there are other options. We have a whole new world to explore for a way to control your ability. And if that doesn’t work then we will be able to find a world where we can.”
“Thanks, I hope I won’t be too much of a burden on you.”
“Considering we would never have been here without you I could not think of you as a burden. Also it isn’t like my Tools are that useful for daily routine so I doubt you will be a burden in any way. Now for the important question, do you want the couch or the bed mat?”
She looked between them considering her options, “I think I’ll take the bed mat.”
It was a few days later when we finally stopped staying in the break room at the Pendulum Lounge. We had accepted Martin’s offer to work there for a while at least until we had better options to choose from. Valarie had been made some kind of waitress although it mainly seemed leaving people alone except when they needed something. Her experience at the observatory helped here.
I had been placed in the kitchen not because I was a good cook, although I was passable, but because I could handle a knife and quickly cut things without injuring myself. Most of my cooking still was leaned at Master’s place and generally the stuff cooked there had been simple stuff, good but generally didn’t require much skill. My knife skill was also due to the time Master had trained me, you wouldn’t expect sword practice to help with knife use but it does.
Still we did the work and after a couple of days Martin offered to help us find a place where we could stay that wasn’t the break room. I’m not certain what magic he used to find us a place that didn’t require us to show ids and sign for it but somehow he did it. Made me wonder slightly who Martin actually was even more than I previously did.
But he got us the place. It was apparently some kind of monthly rent so if we didn’t pay by the end of the month we would be kicked out. The place was small. Little more then a kitchen and a couple of rooms. It was no where near anything which was a probably but that was one of the reasons we could afford rent.
We had basically nothing to move in. The only real thing that I still owned was Shīringuken which I generally kept hidden on me with the Dimension Seal. The money that Martin paid us, because of our situation he agreed to pay us by the day at least for now, was enough for the down payment for the place and just enough personal effects to survive for now.
With the immediate survival needs dealt with we were finally able to start looking into other matters. I had made sure that there was time this evening make our first visit to the Clocktower and hopefully find out the truth about the Forbidden Domain.
It was a risk but we decided that we would wear the clothes we had brought with us into this world instead of the new clothes. If people were capable of recognizing us then it would be pointless to disguise ourselves but if we were easily noticeable then it might be possible to learn more.
The route to the Clocktower was a bit long but we were able to make it alright. Once we got there we both gaped in surprise. Martin was right, the place did used to be a clocktower but that was mainly noticeable by the clock at the top of the building. There were signs and posters outside advertising all sorts of things. I didn’t really understand what it was though.
The door was a glass sliding door and the two of us approached and went in before we got stunned by the noise and colors. There were aisle full of boxes, toys, figurines, and almost everything that I could imagine.
“Ladies, how may I help you?” Came a voice to one side of us. I looked at saw a butler with a name tag. It took me a moment to realize that the butler was actually a woman. I could see others dressed in the same manner all over the store both men and women.
“Um, we are from out of town and thought we would pay a visit. We have heard a lot about this place and wanted to see it for ourselves.”
“Very good ma’m. Please if there is anything that you need help with then ask one of us for assistance.” She then slightly broke her stoic pose with a cracked smile and said, “You might also want to check out aisle seven on the second floor. “
“Thanks, we will do that.” With that she bowed and went off into the aisles. We also walked through the aisles looking at the different things piles on the shelves. There were comic books, regular books, and games. There was also all sorts of extra stuff like models , posters, keychains, and many other things related to the before mentioned items.
I began to feel nervous again as we got into the elevator and took it up to the second floor. I was afraid of what I would see there and I could tell that Valarie standing next to me was like that too.
There were more games on the second floor and we walked into aisle seven. It was easy to spot and we walked up to it. I picked up the small box which was labeled, “The Forbidden Domain”. There was a picture of me and Valarie on the front.
Next to it covering this entire section of the aisle was more copies of that same box and other stuff. Posters like the one we had seen at his house, art books, and other items all emblazoned with our likenesses.
“Yiskah, what are these things?” Asked Valarie. There was an uncertain in her voice like she was trying to confirm what she thought they were with me.
I flipped over the box and read a little of the backside, “They seem to be a game. A game featuring us.” I set down the box and picked up one of the books to flip through. Everything was very familiar, it contained stuff I remembered, the story that I had repeated many many times. It drew up the memories of some of those times that I thought I had forgotten through the repeats.
“Does this mean we are…” Valarie paused as she was looking through one of the books on her own, “not real? That we are just characters from this game?” There was a bit of panic in her voice.
I placed my hand on her shoulder to try and comfort her. I was feeling the same panicked thoughts in my head as well but I was the one who had initiated our entrance into this world. I had to make sure we endured through this too. “Just characters in a game? Is that what you think we are? Looking at this I could believe that that was who we might have initially been but what now? We are here aren’t we?”
Valarie seemed to take a grip on what I was saying and nodded to herself. “Yes, you’re right. But our memories, how much do you think is fake?”
“I think that might be the wrong way to look at it. To us those memories are real because they made who we are right now.” I picked up a copy of the game. “Maybe some other person decided what happened back then but since we are definitely real, standing here, there must be some reality from our old world.”
“I’m not certain I understand.”
I ginned a little bit before saying, “I’m not certain I really understand myself either but it is just a hunch that I have.” There was a lot of merchandise on the table with the copies of the game. I picked up a little keychain which had a mini plastic Shīringuken on it. “Maybe we should get something. Something to remember our old world with.”
She wiped the small beginnings of tears from her eyes and picked up a small replica of the observatory that they both need so well. It was well crafted and quite good looking. “I think this is the think that I want to remember the most.” Said Valaire.
We took the items and began to walk toward the elevator when we were ambushed and finally got to see the true horror of the fandom that was The Forbidden Domain.
“I found them!” Lyle was excited as he ran through the abandoned office of Project Mayfly. “Miss Linson, I finally found them!” He ran into her office brandishing his phone.
Miss Linson was writing reports. She wrote a lot of them. Usually they just went in the files cabinets to never been looked at again. Mainly they just helped her pass the time. She looked up at Lyle and said his her serious voice, “Mr Clarke please calm down. Stop waving that think in my face and tell me what you found.”
“The two of them Yiskah and Valarie, you gave me the task helping you look for them and I found them.” Lyle handed his phone over to Miss Linson.
She looked at it. It was a picture of two woman who did indeed look uncannily similar to the two in the poster. They were posing in front of some kind of store. Miss Linson looked back up at Lyle and asked, “Could you please explain how you found this picture.”
“Well, I was searching the internet checking to see if anybody else had seen these two walking around town. Apparently these two were seen outside the Clocktower and were surrounded by a bunch of Forbidden Domain fans asking to take pictures. According to the websites they two had one of the best Forbidden Domain cosplays that they had ever seen.”
“And you think that these two are the ones you are looking for?”
Lyle nodded enthusiastically, “Definitely. These are the two the came out of my computer.” He pointed at the phone, “That isn’t just simple cosplay. Not only are their costumes an exact replica their body type is exactly the same too. Some cosplays are good but these pictures are too good to be real, unless those two actually are Valarie and Yiskah.”
“They certain do look the part. However we still have no evidence that they did come out of your computer. We still need to find them to….” Miss Linson paused at Lyle smirk, “Unless of course you have already found them.”
“Indeed. Scroll down.”
Miss Linson looked back down at the picture. It was actually some some of image board picture so there was a bunch of comments about the picture. She read through them until she found the one that Lyle must have been talking about, ‘I remember those two, they were working at the Pendulum Lounge. They sure do look like the characters even outside the costume.’
Miss Linson bit her lip. “The Pendulum Lounge. Oh boy, is this going to get complicated.” She pulled herself out of her chair and slung her purse over her shoulder.
“Complicated?” Asked Lyle, “How so? I’ve already looked up where this Pendulum Lounge is. We should be able to get there really soon.”
“It isn’t that much of an issue. It is just that me and Mr Bryant, the proprietor of the Pendulum Lounge, have some history.” There was that look that annoyed Miss Linson. “It is none of your business what happened in the past. It had nothing to do with the current case. Now grab your stuff we need to head out.”
It was like putting the pieces together for a strange sinister puzzle. The Wanderer had managed to find the pieces necessary to put together a rudimentary computer. He had pulled out many of the pieces from an old ruin that was nearby. He had greatly underestimated what was needed to make one of these things work.
He had expected Esta to be able to find him information that could help him construct it but the amount of small detail work that was needed was beyond anything he could reproduce with what he currently had. The best that he was able to do was repair some of the pieces that he found.
Still he was surprised how much he had actually been able to find. He had been forced to go deep into some of the ash caverns to find parts of the ruined city that hadn’t been completely pillaged. There he had found the pieces that he had needed. The dark underbelly of the city that he thought he knew so well but there were countless miles of undiscovered places that he had never even heard of or seen before.
There were strange marvels down here but they made him question the stories that his grandfather had told him. More than he could have ever imagined had been lost down in the depths. But of all the stuff he found the strangest was the statue. It showed a man fighting a giant beast. It looked nothing like any of the many monsters that lived in the ash caverns. The man looked like he was winning the battle and blazed at he bottom of the statue was “Fight Protectors, We Shall Never Fall.”
Down in the deepest depths of the ash caverns there were clues that implied that the people fought some powerful enemy. The Wanderer wonders how old all this stuff was, not even his grandfather had known about this stuff, how many generations ago was this land from? His great-grandparents time maybe? Before the last was covered in ash.
There had never really been any records that the Wanderer found that explained the ash other than the generic explanation of hubris and a dying planet. Had it really been that? Maybe the people living here had lost against those large beasts. Could that have caused the ash? Or maybe not, these people could have beaten those monsters and this was their only testament to their success and the ash was completely unrelated.
Down there at the bottom of the world he found a intact computer. Time had worn it out a bit but all the components seemed in useable condition. He scavenged what he could from the machine and then began to make his way back to his home. He was nervous while he walked through the underground like something was watching him but nothing come out. He left the cavern. Then without him ever seeing it the eye closed once more and the beast returned to sleep. It was not yet time for it to awaken once more.
Much later the Wanderer returned to his home and used the part he had gotten to finish constructing the computer. The drive he had recovered was ancient but somehow in working order. There was a lot that Esta had explained to him and using them he managed to connect an old repurposed radio dish to the system. It needed some way to receive signals.
Then came the part where he needed to actually do something useful with it. Esta was only partially useful because she had only been able to afford one book. The Wanderer didn’t want to inconvenience her too much by forcing a twelve year old from spending all of her allowance on his project.
Is was by some lucky coincidence that he managed to connect to something as quickly as he did. At first it seemed like it was just static but the exact style of static was very familiar so he keep the disk tuned to it and tried to process the signal with the computer. He managed to get some words out of the static signet. Two were repeated, names.
“Esta, have you been paying attention to any of this?”
“Huh? Oh, no. You were listening to static so I have been reading. Did you find something interesting?”
“There are sometimes words I can make out. There isn’t enough to understand what is being said but there are two names which are occasionally said.”
“Names? Who?” She sounded interested again.
“The names are Yiskah and Valarie. Do those sound familiar to you?”
“Hmmm, actually they kind of do. I think I saw something that had those names in it, maybe an advertisement of some kind? I’m not really certain though. Give me a second to check the internet.”
I waited. The internet had been spoken of in some of the books that I had read so I understood the concept even though it actually existing in Esta’s world was a bit difficult to grasp. I waited for her.
“Alright, it seems like they are characters in a video game called The Forbidden Domain.”
“A video game?”
“Yeah, it is a game that you can play on a computer.”
“I remember reading something about them but I was more wondering why I’m getting information about characters in a video game.”
“Well, the game does exist in my world so maybe you are just getting some unusual signal from here. Even if you do not have a useful signal at least you have some kind of connection don’t you?”
“I suppose, I guess I should try to tune the radio dish some more and maybe I can get something else.”
“Have you tried sending a signal yet? If somebody is broadcasting then maybe they are listening as well. After all that is what you are doing.”
“No yet, the radio dish I’ve been using had only be configured to receive signals. I’ll have to adjust to to allow me to send them as well.” The Wanderer then returned to working on the machine. Had he really connected to Esta’s world just to heard information about a game in her world. There must be something that he could find.
Miss Linson drove the car. It was a company car although in actuality she used it exclusively. Lyle was in the passenger’s seat. She drove through the city until she reached near the Pendulum Lounge. Finding a parking spot was no easy feat in Bay Port but Miss Linson was an expert at that and it only took her a few minutes to find a place.
They stepped out of her car and walked the block and a half to the Pendulum Lounge. Miss Linson lead the way into the building. She looked around the room and it only took her a moment to spot Martin who was behind the counter. She began approaching him and he swiftly noticed.
“Oh, Miss Linson, it has been a while since you have visited my establishment. To what do I owe the pleasure.” Said Martin with a smile on his face. Miss Linson knew that he had let go of the past even if she never did that. He alway just took life as it came and didn’t regret things that he knew that he would never change. Miss Linson had always found that part of him rather annoying.
“Mr Bryant. It had indeed been a long time although I had hoped that I wouldn’t need to bother you again. However I had some questions about a couple of your employees.”
He raised an eyebrow, “Questions? Are some of my employees in trouble?”
“That has yet to be determined.” Miss Linson pulled out the picture of the two woman that she had printed out before she left. She handed it to Martin. “These are the two that I wanted to speak about. I assume that they are still employed here.”
Martin’s eyes narrowed at he looked at the picture and the back up at Miss Linson. “Are you working with the police? If this is an official investigation then these women would have the right to a lawyer.”
“I am here fully in my capacity as the project director of Project Mayfly. Anything that you or they tell me can not be considered official in court in any way.”
“Is that so? Well, I suppose I can answer some questions in that case.”
Lyle interrupted, “Are they here then?” He looked around the lounge but didn’t see either of them.
Miss Linson gave him a stern look. “Please refrain for interrupting. I still had questions to ask Mr Bryant before we question the woman.” Lyle nodded, “Very good.”
Martin noticed Lyle for the first time, “And this is?”
“Mr Clarke here is the one that filed an investigation claim at Project Mayfly. Should we validate that his claims are indeed possible then he would be allowed to file for a case and then the police would be able to start a formal investigation.”
“Then do you really think that there is magic?” Asked Martin.
“As of yet I have no evidence of supernatural activity other than the claims of Mr Clarke. She you and those two be able to provide an explanation that does not require magic then that will be the end.” Miss Linson narrowed her eyes and continued, “However I’m not going to just let you off without verifying your story.”
“Of course. Now what were your questions?”
“Those two, what are their’s names.”
“They go by Yiskah and Valarie.”
Lyle was about to say something but Miss Linson glared at him and he quieted. She looked back and said, “You are aware that is the names of two characters in the visual novel the Forbidden Domain?”
“Would that be a problem?”
“Have you even verified their eligibility for work?”
“I thought this was not a criminal investigation?”
“It is not.”
“Very good. Did you have another question.”
Miss Linson ground her teeth. “When did their employment start with you?”
“It has been about a week now.”
“Do you know what they were doing before that?”
“They are travelers from another city but they ran out of money and needed a job so I offered it to them.”
“Have you noticed anything suspicious about them?”
“In the magical way?” He was smiling. “Or are there possible crimes that you are not telling me about.”
“Mr Clarke claims that the two women broke out of his house.”
“Broke OUT of his house? That is a mighty peculiar choice of words.”
“He says that they are actually the characters Yiskah and Valarie from the game The Forbidden Domain and that they broke free from his copy of the game and escaped.”
Martin looked over at Lyle. “Really? Is that so?”
Lyle nodded and said, “Yes, truly that is what happened.”
“And so you got Miss Linson to agree to investigate that claim. You do always have the most interesting investigations.”
“Not that any of them lead anywhere. I expect this one to be the same. Now if you do not have further information about them then I would like to talk with them myself. Are they working here today?”
Martin nodded. “I’ll go get them. However I am not going to force them to speak with you. If they choose to not come out then that is their choice.”
I was cutting some vegetable when I saw Valarie rush from out front and move out of sight from the door. “Valarie? What is wrong.”
She hissed at me through her closed teeth, “HE is here.”
“What?” I dropped the knife onto the cutting board in surprise. I moved over to the door stealthily and peaked out to see for myself. There was the man we had seen in the apparent. He was standing next to a short squat woman who was talking with Martin. “Why is here here?”
“He must be looking for us.” Whispered Valarie. “Does he want to control us more?”
“And how did he find us here?” I asked.
“Well we weren’t exactly secret about anything. If he was looking for us it would only be a matter of time before he found us.”
I took a couple of breaths so that I could relax and think properly. “I think that we should be safe from him. Judging from the information we got about the Forbidden Domain it is likely that his powers in our world was derived from the game system.”
Then I held up my hand, “And if that is not enough then I am prepared to use all the Tools that I have.” The nine symbols glowed for a moment on the back of my hand.”
“Thanks” said Valarie as she peeked around the door frame once again. When she pulled back she said, “Martin is coming this way.”
We both stood up and moved back to more normal positions in the kitchen. He arrived in the kitchen and looked between us. I was cutting vegetables that had already been cut and Valarie was looking at the list of orders that she had already taken. We probably didn’t do the best job at hiding that we had seen something.
Martin moved into the room and waved us near him, “Hey Valarie, Yiskah, somebody is wanting to speak with you. Out in the main room is a woman named Marilyn Linson and she is a government worker whose job it is to disprove supernatural claims.”
I meet eye with Valarie before I said, “Supernatural claims? And she wants to talk with us?”
“Yes, she had a man with her who claims that you came out of his computer and threatened him. There aren’t any criminal charges so if you want me to turn them away then I can do that.”
“But that won’t solve the problem will it?” I asked.
“No, it won’t but it is still your choice.” Said Martin.
“Alright then, we will speak with them however I want it to be in private. Do you think we can use the break room to talk.”
Martin nodded. He went back into the main room and we headed to the break room.
“What do you think we should say?” Asked Valarie.
“I…” My voice shook for a second before I grit my teeth and managed to say, “I think we should tell the truth. I have lived through a lot of time that was based off lies. If we want to move on with our lives we can not do that by lying.”
Valarie looked down and eventually said, “Yes, your right. Especially with Him there. It is probably the only way to ride myself of his shadow.”
We entered the break room and I setup the table. I put three chairs on the side facing the door and two chairs on the other side. Then me and Valarie took out seats facing the door. Only a couple of minutes later He entered the room with Marilyn Linson and Martin Bryant.
I motioned with my hand and the two of them took their seats. I could see that He wanted to say something but the glowering Marilyn was keeping him in check. Martin still stayed at the door until I said, “Martin, I want you to be here too. You offered your hospitality to us.”
He nodded and took the last remaining chair on the same side as me and Valarie.
With all five of us seated Marilyn spoke, “Thank you for speaking with me today.”
I held up my hand, “First, there is something I need to get out of the way.” I turned to Him and said, “Hello, I am Yiskah Page and this is Valarie Bordelon. What is your name?”
He gapped for a second and looked at Marilyn who nodded and then he said, “I’m Lyle Clarke. Then you really are Valarie and Yiskah?”
“Lyle Clarke.” I narrowed my eyes at him, “I do not, can not forgive you. Keep that in mind.”
He moved his mouth trying to find something to say but I turned away from him and back to the woman. “Martin said that your name was Marilyn Linson. Is that correct?” She nodded and I continued, “I have accepted your offer to listen to your questions. Now if you could explain what this is about.”
“Yes, of course.” She said, “I am the project director of Project Mayfly. My job is to investigate claims of supernatural activity and disprove them. At least all of the investigations I have done so far has resulted in my disproving them. Around a week ago Mr Clarke he was directed to my office from the police to investigate his claim that two woman came out of his computer and threatened him with a sword before leaving his house. These two woman he claimed were two characters from the game The Forbidden Domain. One was named Yiskah and the other was named Valarie.”
Lyle leaned over and said to Marilyn, “There last names were Page and Bordelon by the way.” Marilyn seemed to ignore him.
She continued, “Those are your names as well, us that correct.”
I nodded, “Yes, that is correct. My name is indeed Yiskah, and hers is Valarie.
“And those are your real names?” She asked.
“Yes those are indeed our real names.” I said.
She hesitated like she didn’t want to continue, like she was uncertain about what I was going to say.
“Were you in Lyle Clarke’s house a week ago.”
“Did you threaten him with a sword.”
There was the hesitation again before she said, “Did you come out of his computer?”
“I do not know.”
Marilyn Linson squinted, “What do you meant that you do not know?”
“I mean that I do not know if the world that we existed in before we arrived here was inside his computer or not. I personally do not believe that it did.”
Marilyn licked her lips like she was waiting for something. “Then you are claiming to not come from this world and that you come from a world like the Forbidden Domain.”
I nodded, “Yes, that is correct. Our world was exactly like the Forbidden Domain.”
Lyle spoke again, “Then I was… The games that I was playing, you experienced those?” His eyes were surprised like he had known it but hadn’t understood the repercussions.
Me and Valarie both nodded at his question.
Marilyn Linson held up her hand to pause the conversation. “Wait. Even though you both and Mr. Clarke both agree on the story does not make it real.” She looked over at Martin and asked him, “I assume that this is the first that you have heard of it? Do you have any evidence that this story is true.”
Martin shrugged, “My employee’s background are not really my issue. If they say they came to this world via magic then that happened. Of course it is not my job to pretend that magic does not exist. Now if you want evidence then I’m afraid that I do not have anything definitive. I can say that Yiskah had a credit card with that name on it but that it no longer works and that neither of them have valid identification cards.”
I smiled while I waited for them to finish talking.
“That unfortunately is not sufficient proof.” She looked over and me, “Any what are you smiling about? You can’t expect me to just believe you can you?”
“Of course not.”
“Then you are planning on proving it?”
“And how are you planning on doing that?”
I turned to Lyle and said, “Lyle should be able to answer that. How I plan on proving our story.”
Everybody had their eyes on Lyle. He pushed himself slightly back in his chair like he was trying to avoid our gaze. “How Yiskah can prove she is who she is? That, I don’t know… Oh!” Then understanding dawned on his face. “Of course, that is so simple. They came from a story, a world, where magic is real. Both Valarie and Yiskah can use magic. Although Valarie’s magic is too dangerous to show the same is not true about Yiskah.” He looked at me. He was not young, probably a little bit older than me yet not that he was real in front of me he felt immature.
“You brought them here didn’t you? Your tools?” He asked.
I nodded, “As much as I hate to admit it you know me far too well, more than I am comfortable with. Valarie, which do you recommend that I demonstrate?”
“How about the Lantern of Illumination?” She said casually.
“Good choice.” I help up my right hand. The rune glowed there for the Lantern of Illumination. Like many of my tools the Lantern was multipurpose however one of its uses was a bright flash of light that was strong enough to blind people.
Me, Valarie, and Lyle managed to close our eyes in time before the room was bathed in super bright light. I could head Martin and Marilyn shout in surprise and pain. Adjusting your eyes to this much light was like staring into the sun. Against those that were unprepared it was a good distraction.
I opened my eyes as the light faded and place the small glowing lantern that I now held on the table. Each of the Tools took a form while active and the Lantern of Illumination was, well, a lantern.
Martin and Marilyn were still recovering. As they did so I asked, “Was that enough of a demonstration.”
As Marilyn got her eyes adjusted again and could see the glowing lantern she reached out and touched it. It was solid beneath her fingers. She looked at me with no small amount of awe, like she had seen something that she had been waiting years to see. “How? How did you do that?”
“Is magic not enough of an explanation for you?” I said.
Martin whistled, “Well, I’ll be. Not the most impressive display that I could imagine but definitely flashy, literally.”
Marilyn sat back down and looked up at the ceiling.
There was a moment while everybody sat around silently. “Oh, right” I said and just in time managed to fish out my phone from my pocket. My small keychain of Shīringuken was there and I can used the Dimensional Seal to combine it with the real Shīringuken. However there are certain incompatibilities between my different Tools and one was between the Dimensional Seal and the Lantern of Illumination. It was one of the reasons that I used the Lantern so infrequently.
The Seal broke because it had been near the Lantern to long, changing the small plastic keychain into the full sized Shīringuken. I then placed the sword on the table in front of the others. “And here is the other answer. How I managed to threaten Him,” I paused and corrected myself, “Lyle with a sword. Do you need any further proof.”
Marilyn shook her head still partially at loss for words. Lyle tried to reach out to touch Shīringuken but I glared at him and he withdrew his hand.
Valarie turned to Martin and said, “I’m sorry we kept this information from you. We felt uncertain and threatened by this new world however we came to the decision that we should tell people about it. We didn’t think that we could continue to live in this world unless at least somebody knew.”
Martin placed his hand on Valarie’s shoulder. “You know when I first saw you two I knew you felt odd. Many people call me odd too. Me and other odd people tent get along and we all tend to get into trouble so I like to help them. However I didn’t realize quite how magical you would turn out to be. I guess we learn a little bit every day.”
He patted her shoulder and stood up. “Well, I’m sure you have more to show us but I’m afraid I can’t stay away from the front too much longer. Unless you have more surprising to show right now then you can fill me in later.”
The Wanderer sat there in front of the computer. He was leaning forward with his head held in his hands. There was the water edge of tears around his eyes. He had been sitting there for the last couple of hours since he had finished analyzing the signal.
When Esta finally spoke he was relieved like he had been waiting for her to return home. “Wanderer? Are you alright? Did something happen?”
“I finished processing the signal that I had found.”
“Oh? You did? What was on it?” She seemed to have instantly forgotten that he looked upset.
“It is a recording, one from your world, it is playing on a loop here in my world.”
“Really? What does it say?”
The Wanderer pressed the button on the computer again and the audio began to play once more. It was still painful for him to listen to even though he had already listened to it more than a half dozen times.
“Hey Wanderer. It has been a while, at least it will have been for you. I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to talk to you and will never talk to you again. I enjoyed our time together, I hope you did too.” It was the voice of the Watcher. She was the one who had first talked with the Wanderer. The Watcher and the Wanderer, they had chosen those nicknames for each other. Mysterious names that would be suited for two that would save both their worlds.
“I don’t know how long for you it had been since I left and never returned. For me it has been a week. Whenever you find this I hope that you will find it in your heart to forgive me. Although you have very right to resent me continuing that will only keep you in pain.
“I hope that you have another person to talk with now. I did what I could to connect your world to another place, one with the answers we were both seeking. Unfortunately I learned that those answers would not be found in my world.
“Your ash and my wars can not be simply stopped by two people, because our worlds have already ended. For both of our worlds we are just waiting to the final death throws to end. Once that happens there will be nothing left and our worlds will be forever forgotten. I… we, did not want our worlds to end like that.
“I wanted to save us both but I am too weak, far too weak, so I hope to at least save you. Legends in my world speak of the Maiden of Chaos and the Maiden of Order. The ones that can make and unmake worlds. However the legends also spoke that those two Maidens died protecting everything but since then all existence had been without guardians.
“Yet I learned one last thing that gave me hope. That new guardians will be born and they will be able to save those worlds that are lost. I had believed that my world would be the one where the new Maidens would be but alas, it was not.
“So I did the only thing that I could. If my world did not have the guardians then I needed to give you access to the world that would have them. Maybe not now but by the time you find this message they should be there. Your new hope.
“I only have their new names to guide you. They are Yiskah and Valarie. You must find them or your world will continue to get worse and worse until there is nothing but ash left. I wish I could be there with you when you find them but I will not be able to. The wars are reaching a crescendo here and I believe that the end of my world is immanent.”
There was a pause in the recording before the Watcher spoke once more.
“This new person that you speak with, are they nice? Do you have fun every day? I sincerely hope that you do. Maybe you spend all day talking like we did or maybe make plans to save your world. Are they are woman? No, don’t answer, it doesn’t matter. Whoever they are I hope you can still enjoy your life and..”
The was another pause which the Watcher must have used to compose herself.
“Please be well, that is my only wish. And remember you must seek Yiskah and Valarie, they are the Maidens who will save your world.”
There was a tiny bit more silence, “It would seem that I have reached the end of my message. I wish I could keep talking for ever. Keep hold of your for a little longer but I must say Goodbye. Never give up and eventually you will succeed.
“Goodbye Vince” Then the recording ended. The Wanderer’s tears had well up once more while the recording played. She had been gone from his life for so long that he thought he had stopped caring about her but when he heard her voice once more all those memories flooded back to him and he could not hold back his tears.
In that last moment she had called him by my real name, the one he had nearly forgotten. He had been the Wanderer for so long that it was now part of who he really was not just some nickname.
“Who was that?” Asked Esta who seemed to be trying to process everything that she had learned since the recording began.
“That was the Watcher.” He said, “Before you spoke to me she was the one that did, back when I was young.”
“It sounded like you were very close.”
“Once, a long time ago. We were friends and we had basically grown up together despite being in different worlds. We had plans to save your worlds. Once day she told me that she had a clue and was quickly leaving to go find out about it. That was the last that I had ever heard from her, until today.”
“You spoke about your world being covered in ash? Do you really think that will destroy it? You have never asked me to help with that.” Said Esta.
The Wanderer nodded, “Yes, the ash gets worse year after year. This place that I live used to be much cleaner. It only used to be ashy on bad days. Now it is covered with ash year round. I’ve been trying to find ways of surviving well even with the ash but it is difficult. The other people who lived here moved to places with less ash but even that is only delaying the inevitable.”
He sighed, “I didn’t want to ask you for help because I didn’t know if there was any point. When the Watcher helped me I had hope but when she left I lost that hope. I gave up on trying to save the world and instead focused on being able to survive in it. If me and the Watcher wasn’t able to find a solution then there might now have be one.”
“Any now?” She asked.
“Now, I’m in doubt again. She believed that there was a solution and sacrificed everything to help me find it. I…..” He paused, “I’m angry at her for not telling me, for just sending me away without consulting me. I understand why but…” He clenched his fist in frustration and the finally released it. “But I don’t know. That time is full of happy and painful memories and I don’t think any path would have ended happily.”
Esta asked a question, “She, the Watcher, she said that Yiskah and Valarie would be the key to saving your world, but they are just characters in a game right?”
“Maybe, but that is unlikely to be the whole truth. She said that they might not be in your world when she sent this message but they might be by the time that I got it. If that is true then maybe the real Yiskah and Valarie exist in your world. I hate to impose on you but do you think that you could find them for me?”
“Do you really think that I can help you be finding them?” She asked a bit nervously.
“Yes, please. This was the last message that the Watcher left for me. I hope I can find the answer that I have been searching for with it.”
“Alright. I’ll help.”
The Wanderer smiled, “Thanks. Now I know it is a lot to ask but do you think that you can leave me alone for a while.”
“Thanks again.” He waited but Esta did not speak again. He press the play button and began listening to the message one more time. His tears welled up once more and he whispered to himself, “Why Larissa, why did you leave. I could have lived in a terrible world if only you had continued to speak to me.”
Miss Linson sat at her desk. She was supposed to be writing a report about the things that happened today but her report was completely empty still. After Martin had left she had questioned Yiskah, Valarie, and Lyle about what happened so that she had a better understanding of the situation. She had learned a great deal about what they knew happened but there was still so much that nobody knew that she was unsatisfied.
She would have thought that finding proof of supernatural claims after so many years of trying would make her feel better but instead it made her feel uncertain. She had always known what do do as the project manager of Project Mayfly but now she felt lost. There had never been any contingencies for what happened if she did discover something, there had always been the underlying assumption that nothing would actually be found because until now that had been true.
She didn’t know if she should write anything. Should she keep the information about supernatural events hidden from the world. She was sure that there had been others in her same sort of situation that did exactly that.
Yet those two had been honest with her. They had told her what happened and they had asked for Miss Linson’s help. They were without proper documentation and that would make it difficult for them to live in this world. Miss Linson had government connections and she could certainly bend the rules a little to produce such documentation.
She pulled open the bottom left drawer of her desk and pulled out the file that was there. It was an old police case that was long since closed. It was a death where the deceased was locked in a room at the time of death. There was a suspect who was the only person with a strong motivation to kill the suspect however the suspects alibi was airtight. It would have been impossible for him to kill the victim, at least without a supernatural power.
Miss Linson still remember his taunting words, “So what? Unless you are claiming that I used magic to kill him then you have got nothing on me.” It was like he was daring her to accuse him of using magic. She had looked into it and it became more and more likely that he actually had used magic to commit the crime. She had tried to get permission to investigate that possibility when she had been deported to Project Mayfly.
Then the case was closed without her intervention and the suspect was free and disappeared out of the country. It had been a humiliating experience and it resulted in her being permanently stationed in Project Mayfly. The reason she had stay was so that if even one of her investigations turned out to be true then maybe somebody would be brought to justice.
“But who am I bringing to justice here?” She asked herself. Lyle had decided to drop any possible charges against those two. He seemed enamored by the fact that they were real even though they seemed to detest him.
Sure there were charges that Miss Linson could probably bring to bear against the two women but they weren’t really criminals. They were just the victims of fate. She had found proof that her claims could have been real but it was not far too late for that case. Even if she could find the man it would be difficult to persecute him for a case he was found innocent of.
Miss Linson returned the case file to the drawer and shut it again. She returned to the report that she had been trying to write. She tapped her pen on the paper trying to decide what to write on it. Of equal importance was what she was planning on doing with it. She had superiors that she was expected to report, should she send the report to them telling them what she discovered. She didn’t even know if they ever read the regular reports that she sent them.
Still lying to her superiors could have some serious ramifications when it was discovered and the government was quick to deal with that sort of insubordination.
She paused her tapping while she considered an alternative. Project Mayfly was supposed to be the solo authority on investigating supernatural claims and providing countermeasures. Previously that had basically meant nothing but now… it could mean something. Right now she had a lever, knowledge and information that she had never had before.
Wasn’t there something that dealt with this kind of situation thought Miss Linson. She went over to one of the filing cabinets. She looked through it until her found what she was looking for, the charter for Project Mayfly. It was an old document, Project Mayfly had been around for a long time.
She brought the charter back to the desk where she began to look through it. There it was, the instructions for Code Icarus. It was an old contingency should the project ever actually discover supernatural activities. She didn’t know if anybody else still know about Code Icarus but it would provide her official support for her idea. Following the rules was how the government liked to work even when those rules were written by people who were no longer alive.
There was a number written down on the page. Miss Linson pulled out her phone and dialed it. It rang for a quite a while but it seemed to not be on any answering machine so the phone continued to just ring and ring. She waited and finally somebody answered the phone. “Hello? Who is this?” Asked the uncertain voice on the other side.
“This is Marilyn Linson in Project Mayfly. I am activating Code Icarus. My activation code is GF492 FB259.” She said.
“Oh, yes, let me get my boss.” The person on the other side of the phone went quiet and eventually there was another voice. It was a rough man’s voice. “Code Icarus? What is this all about?”
“Isn’t that your job to know?” Asked Miss Linson. “Since it is a secret code if you don’t know what it is they you will have to pass it on to your superiors. Do you need me to say my activation code again?”
“No, it was written down. A secret code from Project Mayfly?” There was some grumbling on the other end before he finally responded, “We have received your message. We will ensure the activation of Code Icarus… whatever that is.”
“Thanks.” Said Miss Linson who then hung up. She wondered how long that would take to process.
She smiled and returned to writing the report. It read simply, “Code Icarus has been activated. As of now Project Mayfly is considered to be top secret. All activities are on a strictly need-to-know basis. Please submit proper authorization to continue receiving reports.”
She signed the paper and placed in an envelope. Wrote the address to be delivered. She even managed to find some ink to use on her large “Important” stamp which she had never used before. With the report properly completed she left it in the mailbox and returned to her office once more.
Instead of immediately sitting down she went to another filing cabinet and pulled out binder of files. This one was a list of old personnel at Project Mayfly. It was rather big. The first few pages were lists of names with their associated page number. Several of the names had been highlighted by her, although considering the size of the list those namer were very uncommon.
They were the names of the former employees that she had trusted and who expressed actual interest in the project. They had all still eventually quit but their names remained, people who she had planned to contact if this ever happened. She started with the first name on the list. If this Project was going to continue from now on it would have to change and it would no longer be able to be just her.
She needed others to help her get stabilized before her superiors and others managed to cut through all the red tape that she had just strung up in their way. It she could have a team and a stable project it would be hard to shake her from that position but if they got to her before then she might be replaced with somebody who had less personal stack and more political worth.
“Thanks for answer. I know it has been a while but this is Marilyn Linson from Project Mayfly. Today I activated Code Icarus. Do you want to join me?”
The woman held her breath to keep it from being heard. It was late at night and there were not very many lights so her enemies would be relying as much on hearing as they were on vision. If they found her she would be dead. Soldiers had very little sympathy for independence soldiers like her and would certainly shoot her on sight. She could hear them moving in the room beside her. If she opened the door then she would certainly see them.
She held her gun tightly. With it she might be able to take out a couple of them before there remaining ones shot her. Go out in a blaze of glory, except there would be no blaze and no glory. Just her corpse on the floor like any other. Nobody would tell stories about her or probably even remember that she existed at all. That kind of death was worse then anything else.
So she waited, waited for the group of soldiers to leave. They were on guard. They did not know that she was there but they did expect somebody was there. They always expected that somebody was there, those that did not lived even shorter lives then those that did. But she waited in her hiding space until she could not hear anything. Then she waited even long just to make certain.
Once that had been done she slipped out from the small room that she hiding to look out into the bigger room. It was dark, pitch dark. She clicked on her small read lantern that was hanging on her belt. It make the place almost visible. The big broken machines still filled the room. The light from her lantern was barely noticeable which was good. It would be harder for other people to notice and the red light that it cast didn’t irritate the eyes like a white light would.
She had initially come into the building to avoid the patrol however she had not expected them to look through the building which was an oversight on her part. She checked her bag to make sure that the package was still there. It was her job to deliver it. Sure she wouldn’t have to worry about delivering it if she was dead but then she wouldn’t have many other worries then either.
The woman made her way to the edge of the building and looked the black tinted windows to see if she could see anything. There was the lights of the patrol heading off back toward their camp. Good, she didn’t think she would have to worry about them any longer tonight.
The landscape was pocked with big holes where bombs had been dropped. Broken barbed wire and sandbags where scattered across the landscape, evidence of the war this land was embroiled in. One country fought another and when it one a new country rose up to fight some more. There could be no peace in this land. In the morning there would be the rattle of gunfire. Young recruits, little more than kids, would be firing at each other. This land had forgotten so much about its future that it would send even the youths to fight.
She left the building and flipped off her lantern again. The moon would be enough to travel by. Any extra source of light would just attract others.
She headed off to the base of the group that had hired her, what had they called themselves? The Winged Bringers of Peace. To her it was like a joke. They wanted peace but she knew it was a fool’s hope and a hypocritical name. They would be peace their violence. Yet should would rather help them then any of the other groups, at least the retained some shred of their humanity. Better a hopeless cause then a cruel one.
In the bag was important parts to some new weapon that would ‘revolutionize’ the war. In her opinion it would at best be useless and at worse also be adopted by some enemy in the future and used against them. Not that she would likely still be helping them at that point.
An hour of so latter she arrived at the bunker door. She knocked in the pre-described pattern and the door was opened for her. The too young man greeted her and welcomed her in. It was far better to work for people who wanted to be nice. She smiled in return, best to give a good impression. She planned on staying the night in this bunker, collect her payment which would likely be smaller than initially offered, and leave in the morning either on some new job or to find some new employer.
They would likely ask her to have her help them fight but like everybody who asked that of her she would refuse. To her there was no purpose in fighting a war. The only purpose she had in helping them would be in ensuring her own survival. That was difficult enough without getting fully embroiled in other people’s conflicts. Although she could understand why people joined to fight. They wanted some purpose in their life, something more than just waiting to die. A gun gave them that something.
She however had tasted something greater, something better then just violence and death. It hadn’t been much, a short lived higher calling, but it had dulled her to the eagerness to throw her life away in glory. Because there was no glory to be had. When all the wars ended who would tell the tales, it would be nobody because these were wars that nobody would survive.
I yawned an stretched before collapsing on the bed. It was another long day at the Pendulum Lounge. Martin had us working overtime there. It was partially his kindness to allow us to earn the money that we needed without having to rely on his charity so instead he worked us to the bone. I guess that people could show there kindness in different ways.
I played my keychain of Shīringuken on the side of my bed and released the Seal letting the sword return to full size. I then bound the front door remotely to keep out any intruders in the night. I hadn’t previously been able to use the Dimensional Seal at such a distance and through walls but since my Tools had changed it had become possible.
I hadn’t seen Marilyn since she had Lyle had come to question us and it had been almost a week since then. She had said that she would see if there was anything that she could do to help us and had left. Lyle has seemed apologetic and said he was determined to ‘make it up to us’, as such he occasionally showed up at the Pendulum Lounge. Valarie had been too polite to tell him to leave and my protested seemed to be ignored. Martin said that Lyle was still a customer so I wasn’t allowed to hurt him.
Still his antics made me hate him less, maybe not forgive him, but definitely hate him less. His actions against us were unintended and not malicious. I still told him to leave whenever I saw him however.
We had begun to adjust to our new lives here however and the extra pay from working overtime had helped us full the apartment with necessary things and was beginning to get some unnecessary things too. There was a lot more to catch ones interest here in this large city then there had been in the small town in our world. Most of my youth was spent training under Master and learning the proper use of the tools. I still woke up early each morning to train before heading to work.
Valarie preferred the night and the stars so she stayed up longer than me. She sometimes spent the evening on the balcony when I headed off to sleep. She tended to wake up in the morning after I had done all my training. She was groggy and barely coherent at those times, something I didn’t understand about her.
The next day we went to work like normal. Since the apartment is inconveniently placed the trip to work takes around half an hour. Some of the route was by bus and the rest was walking. Even if I had a car I would not have a license to drive it and parking was not easily obtained in Bay Port.
We arrive at work at the usual time and Valarie was yawning like usual. The shifts were long and we continued to work until the night shift replaced us. We changed out of our uniforms and headed out to leave when we were stopped out front by a young girl.
“Wait!” She said nervously. We turned to look at here and Valarie kelt down to speak with her.
“Can we help you?” She asked.
“Are you Yiskah and Valarie?” Asked the girl. She must be around eleven if I had to guess. It was not unusual for people to ask us this question. The Forbidden Domain was still popular so many people compared us to them, unsurprisingly.
Valarie nodded and said, “Yes, that is our names.” We generally didn’t try to hide that but most people assumed we were just pretending. That kind of cosplay was not uncommon in Bay Port.
“Really? For real and truth?” Asked the girl.
I smiled and placed my hand on her head, “What you don’t believe Valarie? She said it was true didn’t she?”
The girl nodded and then said, “Then you need to help him. The Wanderer need your help!”
Me and Valarie looked at each other before I finally asked, “The Wanderer need our help? What do you mean?”
She shuffled her feet a little bit before saying, “If I told you then you wouldn’t believe me. However if you come with me then you can see for yourself and you will surely believe.”
“Don’t worry, we will believe you.” Said Valarie. She was always better with kids then I was.
“Well…” She scrunched her eyebrows for a second before she said, “Alright. His world is full of ash and monsters and he needs you two to save the world because you are the special Maidens.”
“Special Maidens?” I asked. That sounded like the thing that voice had said to us when we were passing on to this world. I still did not exactly know what it meant. Maybe a little special but not enough to be called out on it.
“Yes, we was able to discover your names but that was all. But he needed me to find you and have you help me. Please?” She looked desperate.
Valarie nodded, “Sure we will help you.” I shrugged and nodded in agreement. We might discover something it we went with her. “So the Wanderer wants are help. And you want us to help him? But first you need to tell us your name.”
“It is Esta….. I mean Estera Gaida. Nice to meet you. But you can just call me Esta, everybody else does.”
Valarie nodded, “Alright Esta, can you show us the way.”
Then Valarie took the girls hand and we walked down the street toward where ever Esta was leading us. She took us onto one of the buses toward the edge of town and eventually she lead us to what looked like an up scale housing area. I hadn’t been to this section of Bay Port before so I didn’t know what to expect. The houses were large and were much like the house that Valarie lived in back in our world.
In our world that house had been out of the ordinary but if it was placed among the houses here it would be right at home. Even then there would some homes which made her house pale in comparison. What sort of people live is houses like that?
Esta lead us to a large house, although not one of the largest. It was about the size of Valarie’s old home. “In here.” She said. “Don’t worry. My parents aren’t home.”
That made me and Valarie look at each other before Valarie asked, “Would they be upset if they found us here?”
“Probably” Said Esta almost nonchalantly, “But they probably won’t even be home tonight and if they do it will be very late.”
I looked at the girl with some sympathy. While she had the benefit of having a home to live in, I understood the pain of not having parents around very often. It could be hard for a child and Esta must have learned to be fairly independent as a young age. She had been able to come find us all by herself after all, that might not have been too unusual for her.
We entered into the house and walked through the rooms. It was quite lavish, even more so then Valarie’s home had been. Valarie’s father might have been rich but he mainly been a self made man so he was still in touch with normal people. The owners of this house were obviously not like they and they seemed to flaunt there money with decorations.
Esta lead us up to the second story of the house and into what I presumed to be her room. One section of the room seemed to be stuffed with stuffed animals, probably more then one child could play with. Considering there was only a few scattered elsewhere in the room this was definitely the case. Her parents must continually buy the for her as a form of apology that they were gone, or at least that is what I thought.
She lead us over to her computer which I felt was an oddity in the room. It was older looking then I expected. A big grey box connected to a monitor. Of course I was not the most experienced with computers, Master didn’t have one and considered them useless machines.
Finally I asked the question that had been on my mind since we entered her house, “You said that the Wanderer need our help. Where is this Wanderer?” I had maybe expected him to be in her house somewhere but I didn’t see anybody else.
She pointed at the computer. “He is in there. Or at least that is how I talk with him. He lives in a different world and my computer lets me see him and talk with him. Here, let me start it up.” She moved over to the computer, pulled out her chair, sat down and began starting up the computer.
Valarie turned to me and said, “That sounds like..”
I nodded, “Us, yes it does.”
“What do you think it means?”
“I’m not really certain. The real question is why this world. Both our world and his world are both connected to this one. Is this world special in some way or is it coincidence? And both of the connections are through computers. However it definitely makes me think that our world was more than just a video game that became real, although I’m not certain what.”
“Do you think that his world is a game?”
“Let’s see.” I peered over to watch what Esta was doing. The computer had finished booting up and she was loading a problem. “It does look similar to a game yet without some of the trappings of a game. More like a program that just opens into his world. Somewhat different from our connection but similar.”
“Alright, everything is set. Wanderer, are you there? I brought them here.” Said Esta.
We leaned forward to look into the monitor. We could see a small room which was lit only by a couple of light bulbs. The room was full of books some of which were neatly organized and other were strewn around the room haphazardly. There was one comfy looking chair in the room. A man, probably in his mid twenties, was sitting in the chair. His clothing was mostly black, although it looked more stained when deliberately dyed that way.
He raised his head when Esta spoke like he could hear her. He placed a bookmark in the book he was currently reading and placed it on the table. “Really? They are there? Yiskah and Valarie, the real ones?” Said the man, who must be the Wanderer because Esta addressed him at that.
“Yes” Said Esta, “There are here.” She turned to us and said, “You can speak to him and he will hear you however while we can see him, he can not see us.”
I stepped closer to the computer and said, “Hello, I’m Yiskah, and if there is a real Yiskah then I am that one. Esta said that you wanted our help.”
He nodded, “Yes, I did, or at least I believe I want your help. One of my former friends left me a message that you and Valarie would be the key to saving my world although I’m not exactly sure how. She called you two the Maiden of Order and the Maiden of Chaos. Does that sound familiar?”
I began to nod and then caught myself. He would not be able to hear me. “Yes, we once traveled between two worlds and when that happened some strange voice called us that. Although we don’t really know what that means.” Well, part of it at least. I knew that Valarie was probably the Maiden of Chaos, that name was close enough to what she was called in my world, the Maiden of Destruction. However that left me as the Maiden of Order which was strange and unfamiliar.
“I see. But you have traveled between worlds before? Do you think that you could do that again?” He asked.
“Hmm, I’m not really certain.” I looked over at Valarie, “Valarie, it was your power that let us travel the last time. Do you think you could do it again?”
She bit her lip in though, “Maybe, but should I really use my power to recklessly? Last time it, well, I’m not exactly certain what it did but the world we left probably had bad things happen to it.”
“I don’t want to believe that your power is cursed anymore. What better way to prove it then to control it and use it to help others.” I said.
“Well, I can give it a try I guess.” Said Valarie. She looked around at the room, “Although there might be some damage. Should we do it now?”
Eta nodded and I heard the Wanderer say, “Anytime is good for me.”
“No child,” Said the Wanderer, “It is dangerous here and you should stay in your home. It is far safer there.”
Esta rubbed her shoe on the floor in a disappointing way, “Ahh, well if you say so then I will stay here.”
I held up my hand, “Just give me a second and I’ll be ready.” I moved to the edge of the room and pulled out my phone. I had gotten a new one since we got to this world so it actually worked. I only had a couple of numbers in my contact list.
I quickly called Martin who answered after a few rings. “Hey, Martin.”
“Yiskah, did you need something?” He asked.
“Oh, I’m just making sure somebody knows me and Valarie are about to do something dangerous. If we don’t show up for work tomorrow then something went wrong and you should probably contact Marilyn for aid.”
“Do you expect that to happen?”
“No, but this is just in case.” I held the phone a little to one side and asked Esta, “What is the address here?” She told me and I repeated it to Martin. “I’m sure that Marilyn can do something if something goes wrong.”
“Alright. Good luck.” He said.
“Thanks,” I said and then hung up. I turned back to the others and said, “Alright, that has been dealt with. Now I’m ready whenever you are.”
Valarie nodded. She was wearing a long sleeved jacket while protected her against the cold. It also covered the symbols that covered her left arm. She unzipped her jacket and handed it to me. She then stood in front of the computer and she raised her left arm and the symbols on it began to glow.
“Keep in mind I’m basically just trying to repeat something I did in the heat of passion. So forgive me if I’m not that good at it.” Said Valarie. She closed her eyes and the room began to shake. It was the same kind of feeling that I experienced when we first traveled to this world.
Those same cracks in the world that had appeared previously began to appear once more. However this time they were concentrated near the computer. Valarie sweated and her hand shook. Things seemed to going badly for her. I looked down at my right hand. One of my tools was the Essence Knife, one of the strongest tools that I could use to stop Valarie. I could infuse it into Shīringuken and then cut her away from her magic dispelling everything she was currently casting. It was only temporary but in the Forbidden Domain I had used it several times to protect myself from her strongest magics. I could stop her here and avoid any danger now….
I grabbed my hand and shook my head. I now trusted Valarie. She was doing the best that she could and if I stopped her now she might fail. Instead I decided to show my support, “Don’t worry Valarie, you can do it.”
She gritted her teeth and nodded, “Of course I can.” Then the shaking changed to a low shutter which was a good sign, I think. Then the cracking change into warping of the air like looking into a swimming pool. Then a hole appeared in the air, it was black and you could not see what was behind it but I knew that she was successful.
Valarie walked forward toward the hole and I began to follow her. Then I saw Esta out of the corner of my eye. She was sitting on her bed holding one of the stuff animals. She looked dejected and depressed. I understood. With her parents gone all the time the Wanderer was the closest thing to family that she had. We were going to visit him without her. Silently to not disturb Valarie I turned to her put my finger to my lips to keep her quiet and then winked at her.
She noticed me, smiled and the jumped off her bed and followed behind me. I knew it was slightly irresponsible for me to offer to bring her with me but I felt it was the right choice. We followed through the portal after Valarie. The darkness surrounded us and Esta took my hand in fear. Then the light from the other side began to glow and we landing in a jumble inside the book filled room of the Wanderer.
It seemed that the spacial-like earthquake-thing had not treated this room kindly. Many of the books had been thrown from the shelves and our landing into this room was less than graceful.
“Esta? Is that you? What are you doing here? I told you to stay home!” It was the Wanderer noticing that that Esta had joined us. She was hugging him. Valarie looked at me upon seeing the sight and I shrugged like it should be my fault. She raised one of her hands to her mouth and stifled a giggle. Then having used all her energy making the portal Valarie began to collapse and I caught her. I lowered her slowly to the group and then placed her in the chair that the Wanderer had been sitting on.
Upon setting her down I looked over at the Wanderer, “It looked like even if you wanted to send Esta back home it looks like you will have to wait. It is Valarie you has the power to move us between worlds. We will have to wait for her to recover before we could consider sending her home.”
The Wanderer looked over toward me and sighed, “Alright, I guess she can stay then.” Esta raised her hands in happiness, “But! You need to stay inside and near one of us at all times. It is very dangerous out there so you need to be careful.”
Esta raised her hands in celebration. I looked around the room and asked, “Do you have a place to sitdown?”
The Wanderer looked around the room and lead us into what looked like his kitchen. There was a lot of strange devices in this place and it seemed very personal like he never expected anybody else to be here. There was only one chair at the table so he had to go off into another room to find chairs for me and Esta.
“I would offer you something to eat and drink but I’m sure you wouldn’t enjoy it. The stuff I had to offer is generally eatable but awful tasting.”
“Thanks anyway.” I said.
“I know I asked for help but even not that you are here I don’t know what to ask you to do. I still surprised that you actually made it here and I didn’t really have any plans for if you succeeded.”
“Well, we did make the decision rather quickly. Esta said that your world was dying, is that true?”
He nodded, “As far as I can tell. The ash is encroaching everything and sooner or later the entire would will be covered in it. There might still be ways of surviving but I doubt many people will adapt to that and even if they do I don’t know what would come next. Would things continue to get worse? I simply don’t know.”
“Hmm, I don’t really have any world saving experience. The closest I have is vague experience at destroying worlds.” I held up my hand, “And I’m not even certain about that. Do you know the source of the ash?”
“I know what I have been told. There are several large volcanos which spew out the ash. People once had hope that they would stop but they never have. Even if we could do it, I’m not actually sure that stopping the volcano’s would do any good at this point. There is already too much ash and ecosystems that rely on it.”
“You seemed to have put a lot of thought into this.”
“It has been the closest thing to my life’s work. I spent a lot of time trying to find a way to save the world but once I thought that was impossible I switch to figuring out how to survive in the world. Yet even then I do not have enough answers to be able to say for certain that people could survive.”
“Then do you know what you want us to help you do.”
“I’m not certain. I contacted you because of a message that was left to me. Do you want to hear it.”
I nodded and he moved over to a machine that looked like a make shift old computer. He fiddled with it until it began to produce sound. I listened to the recording of the Watcher and at the end I finally say, “It seemed that she didn’t even tell you what you needed, only who you needed.”
“I think that even if I can offer a solution I don’t think it will be a magic pill that will just make this world better and I don’t think it would be quick. Valarie might be able to do something but that could change your world to be even worse then it already is.”
“Even people just being here is more then I had expected to ever happen.” He reached out and rubbed Esta’s head, “I didn’t think I would ever do anything then hear Esta, the thought of seeing her in the flesh was something I had never considered.”
I pondered the problem for a little bit before I finally asked, “Do you think I could see your world?”
“Sure, let me get the supplies for going out. It is rather dangerous out there though so be careful.”
He went off into another room and began gathering things. I looked at Esta and said, “I know you came with us but the Wanderer is probably right that it is dangerous. Do you think you can look after Valarie while we are gone.”
She nodded and said, “Yeah, I’ve seen out there through my monitor. Even I understand that that it is too dangerous out there.”
The Wanderer brought be a set of black stained clothing. It contained a mask which could filter the air. I took them and he helped me up them on. A few minutes later we were prepared and he lead me to his front door. He took a rifle from the stand next to the door and handed it to me.
I shook my head, “I don’t need it. I have my Tools at my disposal.”
I couldn’t really see his face but he must have had a puzzled expression, “Well, if you say so. There are monsters out there so be careful.” He held the rifle and twisted open the door. The two of us walked out into the ash filled night.
It was dark so I brought out a lantern. I concentrated and activated the Lantern of Illumination. It glowed better than his lantern shining off through the ash like it was not there. He looked at me and it in surprise before he finally said, “One surprise after another. Where did you get that?”
“It is one of my magical tools which were passed onto me from my Master.” I said.
“Magical tools huh? Before now the only magical thing was my communication with Esta, there doesn’t seem to be anything like that in this world. Do you know how your lantern works? I would love a lantern that shone through that Ash like yours done.”
“Umm, I do kinda understand how it works however I don’t really know how to explain it to somebody. I could try to make an attempt latter but it might take a while so I suggest me wait.” I said.
He nodded and said, “Alright, later."
The Wanderer lead me through the ash. There were both large and small mushrooms, some of them as big as trees. There were black vines and lots of bug creatures that seemed to pay us no mind. We were walking through a bunch of ruined building. Many of them had been closed up against the ash but others had been worn down and there were mushrooms growing inside them.
“This place is strangely beautiful.” I said as I looked upon the things while we walked.
“Beautiful?” Asked the Wanderer. He turned his head to looked where I was looking as if he could not see what I was seeing. “I would hardly call this ash overgrown land that. It is a harsh wilderness.”
“Many people consider places like that beautiful too. Other animals have taken to this strange landscape well. It might not be very hospitable to us but some of the most beautiful things are also the most dangerous.”
“I don’t think I have ever had the luxury to think of this place like that.” He paused while walking and then finally said, “It has been a source of inspiration for me. Many of the things that I had made would never have gotten built had it not been for this ashy landscape.”
“I saw some of those devices. Did you really build all of them yourself?”
“Yes. I have a lot of time on my hands and the books that I have explain all sorts of things. My constructions are all based off things that I learned in books. Necessity if the the mother of ingenuity they say and many of those devices were very necessary.”
“I also noticed that you still have electrical power. Do you keep that running yourself?” I asked.
“Yes, however that isn’t really as hard. I was taught to do that by the people that used to live here with me.”
“What happened to them. Nobody else seems to be here now.”
“They left, went to places with less Ash. Higher up where sunlight shines most of the time.”
“And you did not go with them?”
I couldn’t see his expression because of the covers and masks that we wore but it sounded like it was a painful experience. “They left me here. After all I was a crazy person who heard the voices of people that did not exist.”
It was a personal hurt that I could not say anything to comfort. Obviously his voices were real because I was here now but at the time he would not have been able to prove it. Being left behind by everybody but the voice could not have been easy for him.
That awkward silence continued for a while as we continued to walk through the ash. It was a while later when he raised his finger to his mouth to signal silence. The light of the Lantern instantly dimmed to a very low glow at my mental command. It was still very useful to see things with but people other than us would be less effected by it.
He knelt and unsoldered his rifle. He pointed off into the ash and I followed his hand. There was large snake, bigger than a large dog, slithering from behind one of the rocks. It was as black as the ash around it and I was surprised that the Wanderer had even spotted it, his experience of living in this world must have allowed him to notice it.
I quickly disabled the Dimensional Seal on Shīringuken and it appeared in my hand. I whispered to him so quiet I didn’t even know if he would hear, “Is it going to attack us?”
He nodded and whispered back, “Likely, the Stygian Python is a territorial animal. I didn’t know there was one lived this close to me, it must have moved here within the last couple of days. They have a great sense of smell and it must have noticed us as we walked and come to protect its territory. However having such a dangerous predator this close to me would be inconvenient.”
“Can we chase it off?”
“Maybe, but it would be unlikely to actually abandon the area. Stygian Pythons can be very patient when hunting its prey.”
“Then..” I began to slide Shīringuken out of my sheath.
“No, let me.” He aimed the rifle at the snake as it began slithering toward us. There was the loud sound of the gun going off and the snake collapsed and red blood began to pour over the ground and mix with the ash creating a muddy area.
I slid my sword back into the sheath and then straightened. The Wanderer walked toward the corpse of the animal. He checked to make sure it was actually dead and then he hefted the giant snake body onto his shoulders.
“What are you planning on doing with it?” I asked.
“Meat is rare and since I killed it then I should take advantage of it. Anything else would be wasteful.”
I nodded in understanding. Master had spoken like that, he had enjoyed his home away from other people. He had even gone hunting and took me along with him several times. I didn’t appreciate it like he or the Wanderer did but I understood the virtues of not wasting the kill.
I returned the Latern to the normal light and turned my head back down the street we had been walking on. “Should we head back with it then?” I asked.
“Yes, if I leave it here it will begin to fester or be eaten by scavengers. Meat goes bad extremely fast in the ash and spores so bringing it back as fast as possible is optimal.”
“Alright, you do that. I’m going to look around some more. Is that ok?” I asked.
“Do you think you will be good without me? You have already seen the Stygian Python. Things can be dangerous out here.”
I smiled beneath my mask but he wouldn’t have been able to see that. “I’ll be fine. I’m a lot more capable than I look. Plus,” I held up my hand and when I focuses I could make my Tools glow on the back of my hand even through the thick gloves, “I have my Tools which will protect me.”
“Alright, but I’ll leave the light outside my house on. Try not to go anywhere that you can not find your way back from. I would hate to lose you in the ash.”
“Getting lost will be practically impossible.” I said.
He shook his head and began walking way, “You will really need to explain to me how your Tools work.”
If only they were something so easily explained. Once the Wanderer left I activated the Timekeeper. It could be dangerous to activate around other especially after the change in my tools. For its name it didn’t really alter time, more like accelerated my perception of the world, it messed with other peoples perceptions as well and tended to make those around me nauseous.
It also mucked with my internal biology a little allowing me to push my body without causing long term consequences. There were some short term consequences in the form of fatigue and other similar ailments but Master had trained me well so the effects were less noticeable. However why the item took the form of a pocket watch was always weird to me. Master had said that the items outward forms represented their outward power but that their true nature was for me to discover.
Mainly I discovered that the Timekeeper doesn’t too anything related to time. With it active I ran off into the ash to discover all the strange wonders that this world held.
When the Wanderer returned to his home he found that Valarie had awakened. He was pulling off his think extra clothing when he said, “You managed to wake up. Are you alright?”
Valarie nodded, “Yes, I’m fine. A little tired that is all. I hadn’t actually controlled my magic like that before. Previously I had just let it out to do whatever it did. However I wanted to avoid destroying yours and Esta’s home.” Valarie looked around the room full of scattered books, “Although it still looks like I can do a better job.”
“It is not a problem. This room can be rearranged again once you have left. However next time might I suggest not opening the portal into my study?”
“Ah, yes, I’ll do that next time.” Valarie looked around near the Wanderer. “Is Yiskah with you? Esta told me that she left with you to go look around.” Esta, who was still in the room, nodded to show that it was indeed true.
“We encountered a Stygian Python nearby. Because of their territorial nature I had to kill it. I decided to return with the carcass while she went off to explore by herself. I placed the snake in the smokehouse before coming back here. Before I left Yiskah she said that she would be fine out there by herself.”
Valarie nodded, “Then she probably will be.”
“Also do you think you are well enough to open another portal? It is probably time that Esta goes back home. Her parents might return and worry about her.”
“Ahh, I don’t want to go back. Besides my parents probably won’t even be home tonight and even if they were then they wouldn’t care where I am.” Said Esta who took on a pouty face.
Valarie held up a hand and said, “If there is an option I would still like to rest a little bit. If I try opening a portal in my current state I might cause even more damage then I did on the way here.
I think I had found my answer, one that I been seeking since I first left my world. The voice had called me the Maiden of Order but I hadn’t understood what it had meant. Yet as I ran through this beautiful tainted land and thought about how I might fix it I came upon a strange conundrum. I did not know how to save this world like the Wanderer had asked of us. Even more so I did not know if I had the right to change this world.
With Valarie’s power we might be able to change this world, maybe even stop the ash from falling and bring the world back to what it previously was but was that what we should do? Was that even saving this world?
Truly I had no right to do that. If there was anybody who could make that decision it was the Wanderer himself. This was his world and he had walked on both sides, both trying to coexist and to restore the world. Yet even if he asked me to change this world for him I do not think that would be right.
My tools gave me power to enact change upon the world but nothing on the scale that Valarie was capable of doing. She opened the portal into the world and she could potentially rewrite how the world functioned, just was the power of the Maiden of Destruction… the Maiden of Chaos. That would indeed bring chaos to the world.
Me I just had my nine tools. Each powerful and versatile, but I could not change a world with them. I remember long ago asking my Master why there wasn’t a tenth Tool. The writings that explained the tools and what they were mentioned ten tools. My Master had told me that the Essence Knife was the tenth tool. The question is where is the first tool?
The story he told me was the that First Tool was the one that created the other nine tools. It was the Forge of Beginning capable of forming existence into the Tools that I had. However after the Essence Knife was created the Forge of Beginning was destroyed so that no evil might have access to its power.
It was a story from long ago explaining the origin of the different tools that I wielded. Something that I had not thought too much about because it was not very relivant to me using the Tools and the old books did not give any other information.
However when the Wanderer asked me how the Lantern of Illumination worked I couldn’t give him a good explanation. I knew what it did and how to activated it but my knowledge of how it functioned was shaky at best. It revealed things that were hidden, both by darkness and by other means. Which is why it was incompatible with the Dimension Seal which dealt with hiding things.
Worse it felt like I should understand how the Tool worked. My unconscious mind nibbled at my thoughts telling me that I could understand how it worked if only I tried. So while I moved around this world I thought about it asking myself how it item really worked.
I can’t really explain what I discovered. It would be like explaining how to move your arm except that your language does not have appropriate words to describe the actions. It is like composing a song except the instrument that you are playing is reality. The Lantern is like a sheet music or maybe a music box, holding the different notes that are played. When the strings of reality are plucked the ripples in the world spread out and change things. That is the best that I can explain how it works.
By understanding my own abilities better I understood that Valarie’s power was completely different. If my Tools played the instrument of reality then Valarie was an instrument maker. She could break and repair reality to suit her needs. It was an ability that was far more powerful and dangerous then my own. Although even though she could change the instrument she was without the ability to play the instrument that she made. The best she could muster was letting the instrument play itself. So while she was powerful so was also greatly limited.
This realization was strange, if Valarie could master her power completely then she might be considered akin to a god, capable of making or destroying worlds. For maybe the first time, and definitely the first time since leaving my world, I actually understood why Master had been afraid of her. She not only have the ability to destroy our world but potentially all worlds. Truly a terrifying concept. But I trusted her, Valarie was not the type of person who would do that, at least as long as she was right of mind. It was a friend’s duty to help other friends and I would definitely help her control her power.
It was through this line of reasoning that I returned to my question about the Forge of Beginning. These tools that I had were complicated and detailed crafted to utmost perfection. I examined each of them in turn to find the same thing in each of them. I beautiful song that played on reality. Even if another Tool made them then somebody must had designed each one of them meticulously.
Was something like the Forge of Beginning really required to make these Tools? The layout of the songs in them made sense to my new illumination and the strange call came to me that I could potentially do the same thing. Then I asked myself the quintessential question, was the Forge of Beginning actually just the person who made the tools? A crafter who understood reality enough to make them. A crafter who then died. Then the fact that it was actually a person who made each one hidden in the annuals of history so that nobody would try and reproduce the effect.
Then could I do it? Could I be the Forge of Beginning and create my own tools? The idea appealed to me and also terrified me. What kind of power would that give me in a world, to have the world was my instrument, not just as a musician but as a composer?
Yet with that power could I find a way to save this world? It might be possible. So I listened to the world. I didn’t know that I could do that before I tried. Each of my tools played a song but the world had its own tune as well, the song of its very existence and everything that happened in it.
Beneath the mask that I was wearing I began to cry as I listened to the song. It was a song of regret and endurance. The world had once been strong and beautiful, one part of a larger group of instruments. Together they make the greatest of songs but then the connection broke and it was alone. It did not know how to sing alone but it tried as hard as it could to find a new, even more beautiful song. Yet it was still alone and it desired to no longer be so. The world called out to others desperately trying to join once more in song.
I stopped listening to the song as deeply. That was a weird song, what had this world once been? Somehow the question resonated with the song that I was still paying a little attention to. I felt the resonance from the song and then I found it, a piece of the instrument. It was a gun, a small one, a pistol. It lay on a metal plate bolted onto the ground. I picked up the pistol, it was old, very old, from a time that the world did not sing alone.
I could feel the old remembered song in it. It was beautiful, but like a tragic opera was beautiful. It was the same world as this one but long forgotten, was that the world that the Wanderer wanted. I did not know but it was different then the current one.
Then the idea hit me. If I could make Tools like the ones that I had then I could give them to others. To the ones that needed to use them. The Wanderer was the one that needed to decide this world’s fate, not me. There were two parts of this world’s song, the old and the new. If this gun represented the old then what represented the new.
I wild grin spread across my face. I knew what it should be. This world was never peaceful, it was a place of trial and of conquest. In both the past world and the present world. I had already seen the symbol of the present world. An ash covered world full of dangers.
I knocked on the front door of the Wanderer’s home. It had been quite a while since I had had left, five or six hours I expect. The door was answered by the Wanderer who let me enter. His lights were dimmer as I entered and removed the thick clothing that he had given me to wear.
“You were gone a long time.” He said, “We were beginning to worry about you. Valarie and Esta fell asleep while waiting.”
“I had a lot to think about. I think I understand how to save your world.”
He stopped while he was placing the coat on the rack. “Really? How?” He asked.
I placed my finger near my chin trying to find the right explanation before I said, “When desire to save this world there was actually two things that need to be done. The first is to prevent the world from dying, Valarie was solve this problem by connecting this world to the one Esta is from.”
“And the second thing?”
“Choosing this world’s destiny. The past of this world is very different from the present. What route this world takes after the connection is made will be up to the people living in this world but currently they lack the power to do it. However I can give you that power.”
“Give me the power to decide the destiny of this world? Is such a think really possible?”
I revealed the items that I had, the two sides of the coin. One of the gun that I had found representing the past. The second was a large fang. It was from the snake that the Wanderer had killed. I had been drawn to it in the nearby building and removed the fang myself.
I said “These are the past and present. Trial, that is the name of your world. It is a harsh world, any change to that would truly destroy this world. However the shape of that trial is undetermined. These Tools can help you survive in this dangerous world or they can be used to lead the survivors out of it. A past where fighting for survival was literal or the present where even existing is a challenge. They are different yet similar.”
“Trial? Does that mean that this world can not be peaceful?’
“You worked to learn to survival in this world through ingenuity. If this world was peaceful and content with no danger and threats would you still want to live here?”
“I…..” He paused and actually thought about the question for a moment, “I think that you are wrong. That this world can be make peaceful. While I might no longer be content to live in it if it becomes so that does not mean that should not be the goal.”
I smiled, “I see, a rebel against your own world huh? I can’t say that choice is the wrong one. A world of Trial made peaceful, wouldn’t that be something to see. You would be destroying the world and remaking it.”
His eyes were like fire, they burned with a rekindled hope which could possibly do what he desired. “You say the world is a Trial. Then I shall take on the greatest of its trials and make it peaceful.”
I laughed softly, “Well then, the offer still stands. I will give you the Tools that I can to help you. The Tools that represent this world. Yet, if you want a third path then these two will not be enough. You will need a third tool. I want you to go into your study and find me a book.”
“A book? Which book?”
“The one that represents your desire to save this world.”
I looked at me trying to ascertain what I was doing but eventually he nodded and went back into his study. He might actually be more like Valarie then like me. He wanted to rebuild the world, change its fundamental nature. I could not see how that would be done by him but… I feel that I could be done, if he was strong enough. However I could not change it, I was not connected to this world in the same way that we was so I could not convince it to change. Valarie might be able to change it but with her current control that might leave irreparable damage to the world. Yet the Wanderer’s closeness to the world might allow him to change it.
He returned and handed me the book he had chosen, ‘A Treaty on Mechanical Devices.’ I looked at him and asked, “This seemed like a strange choice.”
“If it is people that will save the world then it must be through our strengths. You said that I survived with ingenuity didn’t you. I can think of no other quality that can represent the strengths of humans better.”
I nodded, “Very good.” My right hand glowed and the Essence Knife appeared. “Now, the only thing remaining is a pact of blood. You must be connected to your tools in the closest possible way.”
He held out he hand. I first slit my own right palm and dripped my own blood on the three items. Then I made a cut on his palm as well and he repeated what I had done. Then I called upon the Forge of Beginning, the First Tool, Me.
The air glowed around us at I began to imbue the three essences into the different items. Each different truth was written into the item that embodied each with different forms and patterns symbolizing the that existence. It was like the ash swirled around us mixed with the sound of gunfire and the cries of monsters.
It was like the entire room shook but I knew it was more than that, the world shook as I encapsulated each power into the items. The songs felt crude next to my own tools but I worked them and changed them until I was content. Finally I sealed the items, finishing the process of making them. The glowed like a radiant dawn and then changed into sparkles of energy and flowed into the Wanderer.
“And thus the choices of your fate are written.” I said only barely realizing what I was doing. It was like I was in a trance, just following the path that I saw before me. There was something more, just beyond what I could reach. I grasped at it but it was gone, then all my energy was gone. I had put my entire existence into making no just one but three Tools at the same time.
Darkness shrouded my vision and I collapsed overcome but the fatigue that I had not realized was there. The song of the world faded and all those connections disappeared as I fell into unconsciousness.
Everything faded from my vision and I felt like I was floating in the air, surrounded by darkness. It was like when I had first passed between the worlds with Valarie. There didn’t seem to be anything else out there in the darkness, just me. I tried to listen to the songs that I heard before but even that was gone. Just silence.
I tried turning around but no matter what way I looked there was nothing. Then when I turned over once more I found myself facing an even more inky darkness, even more so then the one I was floating in. It rose and fell like waves beneath me. I concentrated as I stared at it and slowly the surface of the darkness shimmered and I could see my own reflection on it…. No not my exact reflection.
The person staring back at me looked like me, but was slightly different. She looked a bit older, more mature, but her face and body was scarred in many different places. Her hair was ragged and unkempt. The the other me spoke.
“We get to see each other for the first time here. You finally did it then, realized your true power.”
“The Forge of Beginning?” I asked.
She nodded, “Yes. A power which can shape destiny, yet such power does not come without a cost. You put a little of your existence into each Tool that you make, should you make too many then your very existence will become lost. The last Forge only made nine tools after all.”
“Then this place is?”
“You, all that is you. You scrapped out much making three Tools at once. You will recover although the path will be long and painful. However because you did that we finally get to speak.”
“Any who are you?”
“Another you perhaps, yet not exactly the same. Maybe the failed potential of you? Yet now I am just a part of you, one hidden beneath everything else.”
“That makes less sense then most of the stuff I have dealt with.”
“If you need one aspect to define you then I would be the part of you that desired to destroy the world because of your pain. You tried to bury that but you did once truly desire to destroy a world. That is not an emotion a person can live with so you suppressed it.”
“Then you are the evil parts of me?”
“That is part of me and part of you. More like the parts of you that you do not accept or does not exist yet except in possibility.”
“Like your affection for Valarie. She is more then just a friend to you, but what is she? What could she be?”
“What? No, that can’t be, I would never think of her like that. She is a friend, no a…”
“Not a what? Family? Lovers? Best Friends? Rivals? What? Or maybe she is still an enemy that needs to be killed? You don’t know and can’t decide and some options you suppress not even willing to give a thought to. But I do, because that is what I am.”
“You can’t be me.”
“Any maybe I’m not. Yet I still exist here in the silt at the bottom of your ocean of unconscious. Maybe I’m some monster waiting to be unleashed upon the world. Will you release that monster?”
I shivered as I spoke to this Fragment. I tried to deny everything that is said yet ever time that I did it dug deeper into me making me question even my denials. It understood me even better than I understood myself, yet what was it truly. Part of might subconscious, or something else.
“Are you going to continue to speak with me?” I asked.
“Do you want me to? Would it comfort you? Maybe it would drive you to insanity. I am only speaking now because you scrapped away all the surface problems with your creation of those Tools. Yet even if I do not continue to speak all the thoughts I have will not be so easily forgotten.”
“Even if you can speak with me now? Why are you choosing to do so?”
“Because you can not see beneath the depths. You are swimming to deeply in your power. There is still too much and you are not ready. I was not ready. If you continue swimming into the depths without practice or pause then you will cease to become you. That is the one thing that I can not abide.”
She reached out toward me and her fingers passed through the surface of that darkness. She continued to reach until she touched me. She placed her fingers over my eyes and I could no longer see. The fingers were cold and I shivered.
“I will suppress you power so you will not become lost. Should you truly need it once more then speak with me and I will return it. Yet until then you must return to the person you once were.”
“No, wait! I could accomplish to much with this ability! I could save other worlds, help other people! There is so much that I could do.”
“And that is why I must do this. You are not restraining your own demise. Now sleep, and conceal your power again. Until it is no longer too much for you to handle.”
My mind began to drift once more. Was the person who looked like me even real. I found myself back at the observatory that Valarie’s father owned. I was a kid once more, one who had went to go play with Valarie. I drifted off and the dream continued, this one pleasant.
I woke with muddled memories. Most of my dreams slowly disappeared into the recesses of my memories but there was one that stood out distinctly. The one where I spoke to myself in a sea of blackness.
Remembering what she said I tried listening to the song of the world once more. There was something there but it was muted and distorted like it was being filtered through some thick substance. I couldn’t make out the sounds clear enough to understand anything.
That person, me?, who spoke in the darkness must have dulled it, preventing me from fully understanding what I had previously known. Even the truth behind all my Tools was fuzzy in my mind like I couldn’t quite understand it.
Strangely I felt a little bit of relief. It was like a weight of responsibility had been lifted from my shoulders. That ability to make Tools made me feel like I should do things to protect worlds, made me feel like I was powerful and in control. It was the danger and lure of power. Back in the dream when I protested it was before I had lost it desperately grasping at to keep the strange but now that it was gone I realized that it was probably for the best.
“Very well, I understand. From now on you are responsible for deciding if I should use it. Choose wisely.” I whispered to the scarred Yiskah in my heart. Like she heard me and understood the sounds of the world song disappeared completely.
“Your awake! Hey everybody, she woke up!” I could hear Esta calling from beside me.
I leaned up and saw that I was laying somewhere unexpected. I was laying on Esta’s bed. I was no longer in the Wanderer’s world. I had returned to the Hub…. The Hub? Why had I thought that? Was it Scarred Yiskah that whispered what she could hear about this world, maybe.
Valarie ran in and grabbed my hand, “Are you alright? The Wanderer told me that you collapsed after making his Tools?”
I nodded. I saw the Wanderer standing behind Valarie, leaning on the door. He must have come to the Hub with Valarie and Yiskah, a bit surprising but I expected him to return to Trial against in the future.
“Yes, I’m sorry. I was too confident and tried to do something far beyond what I was capable.” I said.
“But you made those Tools? Made new magic, I wish I could have seen that. I’m impressed and surprised. I didn’t know that you could do that.”
“I can’t, no anymore, and probably not again for a while. I used up too much power making them. I saw a method for doing it and decided to try yet I drained my ability too much, it might be months or years before I can do something like that again.”
“I see, I’m still impressed though. That you could even do something like that in the first place. Most people couldn’t even do that yet you might be able to repeat it again at some point. Didn’t you say that your Tools were passed down through generations of people? I’m sure that the Wanderer’s will have the same thing happen to them.”
“Thanks,” I then looked over to the Wanderer and asked, “Have you figured out how to use them? I didn’t have any time to explain how to do it before I fell unconscious.”
“I tried them a little and I can at least activate them. Although what they seem capable of seems rather limited.”
“Yes, and no. The items outward forms represented their outward power but that their true nature is for you to discover. Something that seems simple but has unlimited application. That is what Tools are. I used to only be able to use my Tools in simple ways as well yet with practice I was able to use their advanced applications. You will be at a disadvantage however because there will be nobody to tell you what they are capable, you will have to discover those by yourself. Yet you will not be bound by the false assumption that everything about the Tool had already been discovered.”
He looked at his hand and then nodded, “I will remember that. Although I would like to see you use your Tools and explain what you are doing. I think that might help me understand a little.”
“Sure,” I nodded, “I can do that although you might need me to get a few days of rest.”
He smirked, “You have already been sleeping for around a day already. But I guess you can get more sleep if you want.”
“A whole day, I must have really been out of it.”
Esta nodded, “Yeah we were all worried about you. Valarie brought you back here along with all of us when she discovered.”
“And you came with us then Wanderer?” I asked.
“Yes, there is still much that I do not know. You gave me the Tools but I haven’t learned too much about its use. Also I wanted to see Esta’s world, everything that I had learned about it previously was from books and her talking about it. Valarie showed me around some and I’m amazed at this place. I know it was different but actually experiencing it was something else. I want to know what is good and bad about this place so I know what sort of world I should guide my world too.”
“Well, I’m sure that Marilyn Linson will be able to set you up with identification and other stuff so that you can live here fine. Speaking of that, Valarie, did you contact Martin about us being missing? I told him to contact Marilyn if we didn’t show up.”
She nodded, “I managed to contact them fast enough to avoid Marilyn calling in some sort of supernatural SWAT team to rescue us.”
“A supernatural SWAT team? I thought she didn’t have anything resembling a team. The closest she had was Lyle assisting her.”
“Apparently that has changed recently. According to Martin she pulled some kind of bureaucratic magic and managed to put a real team together. Having actual evidence about real supernatural activities was apparently a large factor.”
“Wow, unintended consequences. Although I think Marilyn was her priorities right so I think that having access to a real team and more resources is probably good for her. I also got a message from Martin that Marilyn wants to talk with us again, that she wants our assistance with something.”
“Alright, we contact her later when I’m feeling a little less tired. First however I think we should return to our appartment. As comfy as your bed is Esta I think that I’ve abused your hospitality too much.”
She shook her head, “No, it isn’t any problem. This house hasn’t ever been as lively as it has been with all of you here. But you will come back and visit me again won’t you?”
“Of course, and you can come visit us too.” I quickly exchanged contact information with Esta so that we could keep in touch. I then eyed the Wanderer, “And if he somehow manages to get a phone or something then you can share it with him too.”
“Sure,” She said nodding.
“And he will probably need help finding out place when he comes over to practice so I’m sure he will need your help.”
She placed her arm against her chest to show that she could handle it. I smiled and then managed to pull myself out of the bed. Valarie helped me up because I still a little bit weak.
She asked worriedly, “Maybe I should contact Martin or Marilyn and have them bring a car here. I don’t think that you are in condition to walk.”
Realizing that what she said was true I grudgingly agreed with the car idea, “I would no want to inconvenience either of the more then we already are. Do you think we could just call a cab instead?”
“Yes, we can do that. Just wait here while I make the call.”
I leaned sat back down on the bed and waited for Valarie to make the call. She walked out of the room to avoid disturbing everybody while she talked. “Wanderer, do you need our help in finding some place to stay?”
“Esta said that her parents are rarely home so I could probably stay here without any issues but doesn’t seem like a good long term solution.”
“Come on” Said Esta, “It will be fine. Mom and Dad will never notice. Yiskah has been staying here for a day already and they haven’t even been here. Nobody would care, I promise.”
“Still, eventually they would discover me. It would still be better it I had a place I didn’t have to hide to stay at.” He said.
“I’m sure I could get Martin to find you a place. He we able to find a place for us within a couple of days. Do you think that would be good with you?” I said.
“I can probably managed to stay here that long without being discovered.”
Valarie came back and said, “Alright, I have a ride on the way. They should be here in a few minutes. We can probably get you down stairs by the time they get here.”
I let the Wanderer and Valarie help me up and while I was capable of walking myself, even if slowly, they still stayed by my side just to make sure everything was alright. Eventually I made it down the stairs and out of the house. Outside there was a nice red car driven by Martin, I eyed Valarie in disapproval but she just shrugged and I then let it go.
I managed to get into one of the back seats of the car before I said, “Don’t you have work or something?”
“Don’t you have a job or something?” Quipped back Martin. Touché, I had been supposed to work today but given everything that happened that obviously did not come to pass.
“Sorry about that.” I said while Valarie got in car too and Martin then took off.
“I hear you had some kind of epic adventure instead so I suppose that it is alright that you missed work. I had some of the others work your shift and you have the next two days off too. However it will be unpaid leave.” I chuckled was he said it.
“Well, thanks I guess.”
Valarie took over the conversation that I had trouble continuing because of my exhaustion. “It was exciting though. We went to another world and got to see all sorts of things. Ash falls from the sky all times of year and there are mushrooms and lots of bugs.”
“Sounds interesting. I would like to see that for myself one day if I could.”
Valarie said, “Maybe you will be able to. Even with my limited experience I’ve gotten better at opening the portal. This time it only took me a couple of hours to recover and I think that it will get even easier.”
“Indeed, well next time you feel up for it then maybe we should take a tour of that world. Your friend, that man there, was he from that world? I recall you mentioning something when you called me this morning.”
“Yes, Wanderer is from that world.”
“Trail,” I said, “I think that world should be named Trial and this world is named Hub. A method of avoiding confusion at the very least.”
Valarie nodded, “Alright, well, Wanderer is from Trial. He has come to our world to learn how to make his world a better place. He is rather clever and he made all sorts of machines in Trial that help him survive.”
Martin nodded and drove as he listened to Valarie ramble on about that world and Wanderer. She avoided mentioning anything about the Tools that I had created. While it would probably be explained to Martin at some point at least for now I was grateful.
Finally we reached the apartment and he stopped at the road while we got out of the car.
“Will you need help up to the apartment?” He asked.
I shook my head, “No, I should be able to make it from here. Thanks, for the ride and everything else.”
He grinned out the window of the car at me, “Oh, no need to thank me. You make everything around you interesting and I’m sure that things will continue to get more and more interesting. Then I will be thankful for you.”
“I’m not sure that interesting is a good thing in this case.”
“Oh, no, Interesting is always the best thing. If things where not interesting then what point would there be?”
“A profound question, maybe I’ll think of an answer while sleeping. Although I will likely just forgot instead.”
“Well, take care.” He said and then he drove off, probably back to the Pendulum Lounge.
With him gone I made my way to the apparent with only relying on Valarie’s help a little. Finally we reached my room and I collapsed on the bed. It wasn’t as comfy as Esta’s bed but it still felt nice. Even that small amount of activity that I had done to get here had exhausted me and I could barely pull up the sheets before I fell back asleep.
“Hmm…. This is strange.” It was Scarred Yiskah. We were in some other dream again. This one however was not a strange sea of shadows and darkness. It was a hill, one behind Master’s house. I knew the place very well.
“Strange?” I asked.
“You are continuing to speak with me. Normally I should have vanished into your subconscious and would never again speak to you like this. Maybe the creation of the Tools damaged your psyche more than I thought.”
“Weren’t you supposed to know these sorts of things? Being my suppressed thoughts after all?”
“I know the same things that you know, just that sometimes you choose not to know some of those things yet I still remember. Maybe speaking to you caused me to become too personified in your mind preventing me from dissolving.”
“Hey,” I said, “I was about to suggest that. Don’t steal my ideas before I say them.”
“They are my thoughts too. Don’t forget that.”
“Are you sure that you are really just my suppressed unconscious mind, you seem too different from me to be just that. Is there something more that you are not telling me.”
“If there is then maybe there is a reason that you are hiding it from yourself? Have you asked yourself that question before? Didn’t I say that I might just be a monster. Was it wise to entrust me with the Forge of Beginning?”
“Yes, I’m pretty sure that it was. And would you give it back to me if I asked for it back?”
“Maybe, but probably not. If you got down on your knees and begged then maybe I would let you use it for a while. Is that what you want?”
I shook my head, “No, keep hold of it. It is not a power that should be so easily used.”
“At least on that we are in agreement.” Said Scarred Yiskah. She paused and then said, “Although you shouldn’t think of me like that, Scarred Yiskah, it gives me too much substance. It would be better to just forget me and pretend that I don’t exist. Although I suspect that you are unlikely to do that. A pity.”
“Is that really the best? I gave Wanderer two choices for the destiny but he wanted to reject them and choose a new destiny for his world. Maybe instead of forgetting you I want to choose a different path.” I said.
“Indeed, but where that path leads is not something that I can predict. I hope that my existence does not cause your mind more damage then it has already received.”
“Was there another reason that you wanted to talk with me tonight or was it just to inform me about this alteration? Or maybe you are just a little lonely and want somebody to talk to.”
“No, that was it. If we speak in the future then I just wanted you to know why it was that it was happening. Now enjoy your dream.”
“You remember, don’t you? Training with Master, those were fun times.” Said Scarred Yiskah.
I turned and could see Master walking up the hill toward me. I was younger again and Scarred Yiskah was nowhere anymore. I scrambled to my feet. I had been slacking in my training and had hoped that Master would not be able to find me up on the hill yet he always seemed to be able to find me.
The next day I felt significantly better. By the time noon rolled around I was capable of walking around the apartment without feeling like it was killing me. Valarie had already left to go to work because while I had the day off she still needed to go in. Instead I kept myself busy with various chores around the house, although I did have to take several breaks while doing it.
Feeling rather good I sent a message to Valarie saying that I would be good to meet with Marilyn tonight. She agreed and with that I sent the message to Marilyn to invite her over to discuss what she wanted to discuss. I quickly received a response from her agreeing to the meeting. With that dealt with I decided to take a nap before the meeting in a few hours.
I was woke by Valarie a little before the meeting. This time I managed to sleep without being bothered by any strange dreams. Scarred Yiskah must have decided it was best for me to rest now. I took the next few minutes to wash my face and help me clear the fog from my mind. Usually I did that by training but I was still in no condition to do that. I wasn’t used to sleeping and resting this much.
When Marilyn arrive I was as prepared as I could be. She was alone this time and I was a bit thankful that Lyle was not with her. I was seated at our table while Valarie let her in. Valarie joined me and the table and Marilyn took the third seat.
“Sorry to disturb you like this Miss Page. I know that you have been recovering from your last ordeal.” Said Marilyn. It was always strange that Marilyn was so formal, always calling people by their last names. I never really thought of myself by my last name because it was just a name given to me for legal purposes at the orphanage.
“I’m getting better and I know that you wanted to talk with us about something important.”
She nodded, “Yes,” She looked between me and Valarie, “I would like both of your to join Project Mayfly as special agents.”
“Special agents of Mayfly?” Asked Valarie.
“I heard that you have gathered a team of people for Project Mayfly. Last I knew you were basically the only employee of that project.” I said.
“I guess I should explain then.” Said Marilyn. “With your arrive I had evidence that supernatural activities actually exist, something that Project Mayfly has been looking for a long time. I used some old provisions in the Project Mayfly charter to fully establish the organization as the official supernatural investigation squad.
“I then contacted some of the retired members of Project Mayfly to ask them to return to the project. A bunch of them accepted my request and now that I actually have manpower and funding I plan of more fully investigating supernatural activities. The two of your are certainly not the only two people in this world with such abilities.
“Other however are certainly doing better at hiding there activities though. I am having Lyle go through all the old Project Mayfly records to find and contradictions in the reports to see if we had accidentally misclassified any of those.
“However I do not have anybody with supernatural powers on my team. I would greatly appreciate it if you would join us. Your knowledge and abilities would be a great boon to my team and just your presence will help keep the Project up and running.”
I listened to her explanation before I finally asked, “So you want to find other people with supernatural abilities and then what?”
“Do what should be done. Some of them might be like you, trying to use their abilities right or have nobody to confide in and are basically alone. Others might need to be stopped because they are using their powers to commit crimes.”
“And the ones that don’t want to be found and don’t want your help?”
“I don’t plan on turning Project Mayfly into a witch hunt. I want to protect everybody who needs protecting. It isn’t like supernatural powers automatically make you a criminal but it also doesn’t prevent people from being a criminal. There are people who need help, people who need stopping, and many other people. Normal police officers and government employees are not equipped to do that with people who have supernatural powers.
She continued, “There is a lot we don’t know about the supernatural and I would appreciate you help. Not only do the two of your have abilities that we do not but you also can understand and empathize with people with supernatural abilities in ways that I can not just because I have not gone through the same experiences. I need you to help us from going down the wrong road.”
Valarie turned to me and asked, “What do you think Yiskah? She need our help. I think that we should do it. We helped people like Wanderer and Esta, this would let us do that more. Those people need your help.”
I understood their reasons and that appealed to me as well. “What about money? As much as I would like to help people out of charity if I’m going to do that much work for you we would not be able to make rent. Especially if we had to quit working at the Pendulum Lounge.”
“Actually,” Said Marilyn, “I would like you to continue to work there. I can provide you with a small salary to help support you as payment for any assistance that you can give us but I have been working out a deal with Mr Bryant. He had quite a lot of connections throughout Bay Port and beyond and he had a lot of influence. I have been trying to arrange having him work as a contractor to help provide support for people with supernatural powers that need assistance. I would like you to continue helping him in that regard, having people that have abilities will help reassure people who ask for assistance from him. Plus I’m sure that all bureaucratic work that we have been at my office would bore you and be a waste of your talents. Instead we would like you to be called when we actually have investigations that need to be done. Would this kind of arrangement be acceptable for you?”
“I don’t see anything wrong with that kind of arrangement.” I said, “Does that sound alright to you Valarie?”
She nodded, “Yeah, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with it.”
Marilyn nodded, “Thank you for you support.” She lifted her small briefcase and opened it, pulling out a couple of contracts and slid them over the table toward us. “These are government contractor agreement to work with Project Mayfly. They include your salary and your duties to us. They also state that should I be replaced as the leader of Project Mayfly that you can opt out of the contract without advanced notice.”
I eyed her and said, “I take it that is an advantage you plan on leveraging against your superiors to keep yourself as the leader.”
“Government politics is complicated stuff and there are already plenty of people lining up to try and take over my position. All of them I do not trust to correctly lead Project Mayfly. I need to be entrenched against their attacks and have a position of strength when dealing with them or else Project Mayfly will turn into another useless government branch that might do more harm than good to people like you. I do not want that to happen and I’m sure that you do not either.”
I nodded and then looked over the contract. It seemed fairly straightforward with a more than generous salary for contract work. Some people might have slipped in special clauses for advantage against us that were hard to notice but I did not believe that Marilyn did that. The first reason was that Marilyn did not want to manipulate us, or at least I did not believe that she did. The second was that for mine and Valarie’s purpose this contract was hardly limiting at all. We could easily break the contract without any problems and escape somewhere else with little inconvenience should Marilyn attempt something bad against us.
Valarie was already signing her’s and when she was done I took the pen from her and signed my own copy. We then handed them back to Marilyn. Once she took the contracts and stowed them Valarie said, “Um, since we are not government contractors do you think that you can help provide lodging and support for Wanderer? We brought him to this world temporarily. He plans on learning about our world before he returns to his own world.