It isn’t fair going to set things right find the Rosecraft Blade chase them down to the ends of the—
[Get OFF ME!] Erany shoves me away.
I tumble into a blear of apathy, overcome by a wave of despair. Then a smile blooms and takes hold, vanquishing my indifference with a sweep of contentment. Oh man, everything’s going to be just fine. I was stressing out for no reas—
[Jon!] Gyrax clamps my psychic scruff. [Stop clinging to chaos and struggle!]
Almost immediately, my thoughts stop racing. [Whoa.] I perform the disembodied equivalent of pressing a hand to my heart. [Where are we?]
[Between solid focus and immateria.] Erany projects. [Mages call it the Twilight Effluvium. It can only be tapped by the most accomplished—.]
[Enough.] Gyrax snaps. [There’ll be time for that later.]
[But are you sure he can—]
[Not now, Erany.]
I sense her desire to press the issue, but she takes a step back and forcibly swallows her unvoiced protest. Beneath her strain, I sense a deep-rooted sense of respect and wonderment. Fear, even.
I stretch out with my senses; the equivalent of looking around in this hella weird state. I don’t really see stuff so much as feel it. Sometimes I glimpse a partial picture, but for the most part, all I get are vague impressions. As far as space and time, I have a definite sense of being somewhere…
I flex my will and reach for clarity.
An image appears in my mind’s eye: the three of us clustered around Nyanti’s body, hands splayed above her head and chest. We’re all painted in psychedelic blaze—a photo negative brimming with chroma. At the edges of my vision, colorless tines prickle and move in a dreamy, tidal rhythm.
[Hurry. UP.] Erany emotes the impression of clenched teeth.
[Sorry.] The mental essence of flustered dork boy washes through me.
[Time runs thin.] Gyrax raises an eyebrow (or projects the feel of it, to be exact). [Ready?]
He snaps his fingers. We go swirling into Nyanti’s psyche.
I’m deluged by a flush of random memories. Laughter, tears, adoration, resolve…I respond instinctively, weaving the information into a linear narrative.
Nyanti was raised in a family of Witches. During her infancy, her parents communed with her through Primal energies—a tug of emotions and subtle urges. When she was able to speak and walk on her own, her mother enrolled her in Shylan’s School for the Magical Ar—
Gyrax’s voice cracks through my brain. [Enough. We aren’t here to comb through her past.]
[Uh, right. Sorry.]
[We need to undo her points of twist—the blocks and kinks in her auric body.]
[Unwind your perception and merge it with mine.]
[Um, okay. And how do I do that, exactly?]
[Please—hurry.] Erany adjusts her psyche and braces against us. The tension is palpable through our link.
I turn back to Gyrax. [What do I do?]
[Don’t overthink it—follow my lead through feeling and instinct.]
He closes his eyes and becomes…blurry is the best I can describe it. He’s not concentrated in a single location; his presence is cloudlike.
[Okay, here goes.] I close my eyes and still my being. (I stifle a giggle as I think of Happy Gilmore, where Kevin Nealon tells Adam Sandler to “be the ball.” God, those ’90s SNL movies were so damn funny.)
Gyrax senses my wayward thoughts. [Jon.]
[Yep, yep—sorry.] I try and relax, but it doesn’t work; I become entangled in past reflection. Murderous Iguar, my unquickened sight, Nyanti’s injuries…I can’t believe I’m in a parallel dimension where humanoid warriors fight with swords and spel—
[Don’t force it. Abide in it. It will open into something calmer.]
Abide in it. Right. (Shouldn’t be hard—I’ve seen the Big Lebowski a kajillion times.) Instead of denying my fear and worry and doubt, I acknowledge their presence without trying to fight them.
I’m a little calmer, but I’m not really sure if…
Something shifts deep inside me. As if invisible weights dropped away from my head.
Gyrax responds with an approving nod. [Good. Direct your focus on to me.]
Our minds swirl together, like when you’re playing sports and unconsciously bonding with the rest of your team; you know where they are without even looking.
[Now reach for Nyanti. Again, not too hard.]
I build a Nyanti-like feel inside my awareness. Pretty soon, I can sense her presence: her dark beauty, her kind heart (I knew she was nice) and the general “Nyantiness”of it all.
[That’s it.] Gyrax says. [Now feel for the cracks along her aura.]
I open a little more and immediately recoil. Jesus—if she were a trauma victim, her bones would be broken in a hundred different places.
[Easy, Jon. Relax into—]
And then I hear her tortured scream: like talons scraping a massive chalkboard.
[AAH!] I clap my ears and twist from side to side. [AAAAAAHH!!!]
Gyrax is talking fast and urgent, telling me to slow down and breathe, slow down and breathe, but he might as well be speaking gibberish. Because Nyanti’s screams aren’t just audible; I’ve become her terror and utter helplessness, I’ve become her frenzy and hysterical panic.
[Gyrax!] My breath hitches in my chest. [I can’t I can’t I can’t—]
She screams again. This time, I join in.
[JON!] Gyrax wrenches my composure back into place.
[Better?] He regards me warily.
[Yeah.] Man, that was intense.
[You must bear her pain. I wish there was some other way, but there isn’t.]
[I…okay.] I take a deep, steadying breath. [Okay.]
We merge back together, sharing impressions and sentiment as we swirl and combine. Once we’re synced, we reach for Nyanti.
She crashes into us like a ton of bricks. For a split-second I try and fight her, but then I laser in on staying calm.
Gyrax says, [This won’t be pleasant. Come closer.]
Gyrax and I press together, linking idea and thought, intention and motive. As we blend and fuse, Nyanti’s screams tear through our mind. Me/Gyrax relax a bit more, coiling into a ball of spring-loaded purpose.
Once we’re aligned, we arrow deep into the Witch, grabbing hold of her dislocated mind. Her piercing wail cleaves our brain—she tries bucking us off with fight-or-flight strength. For the moment, though, we’ve got the upper hand. Gyrax wordlessly communicates what he wants to do next. I respond with a disembodied nod.
We grab everything we can, hold on tight, and pause for a brief, nerve-jangling moment.
[On the count of three.] Our focus becomes wire tight.
[One.] he/me says.
[Two.] me/he breathes.
We swim through her breaks, snapping and cracking them back into place. Occasionally, we channel pure aggression into her traumas, forcing loci to line up with their parent meridians. But it’s not gonna hold—I can sense it’s only a temporary fix.
Gyrax affirms this with, [She’s still disjointed; she’s going to unwind. You need to rewrite her wounds.]
[Wait—what???] I instinctively reach for him. [‘Rewrite her wounds?’ What does that even mean? Why didn’t you tell me before—]
[You would have overthought it! Jon, do it NOW! She’s starting to loosen!] Sure enough, I can feel her slipping.
[Can’t. Hold. Much…LONGER…] Erany grits her teeth.
This is it, Jon—do or die.
I flood the Witch with intent and awareness. As flares of pain erupt through her loci, she meets my attention—the magical equivalent of meeting my eyes—and issues a desperate plea.
My mind brims with steely resolve. Nyanti’s my friend—I can’t let her die.
So I charge wholeheartedly into her damage, letting desire and will flow over her wounds. Narrative pours from the depths of my soul, filling Nyanti with an abundance of belief, my absolute faith in her natural wholeness.
And that’s what I focus on: not her wounds, but her organic integrity. I envision her rifts as golden opportunities: a chance to weave her back into strength and fortitude. My apologue dances throughout her being, bringing her slowly but steadily back into alignment.
[Jon.] She stares at me, astonished. [How are you—]
[Shhh.] Sweat pools and drips off my brow (in the imaginative sense). [Not finished.] I continue envisioning her as she deserves to be—singing, dancing, laughing, playing.
A minute later, I relax my grip. I think I’m done.
[Good.] Gyrax psychically pats me on the shoulder. [Get back to your body.]
[Thank Ishay.] Erany breathes.
I open my eyes and gasp in shock.
I’m drenched in sweat. Some of it plips onto Nyanti’s brow.
She wrinkles her eyes and raises a hand. “Jon. You’re sweating on my face.”
“Oh!” I scuttle to my feet and laugh nervously. “Sorry. Didn’t know I was—”
She sits up and groans in relief. “Be easy. If not for you, I would still be lost in a maze of agony.”
“Right. Of course.” I awkwardly snort-laugh and immediately hate myself for it. “No worries—all in a day’s work.”
She gives me a tired smile. “When I first heard about the Prophesied Traveler, you are not what I envisioned.”
Erany rises, rubbing an eye with the heel of her palm. “Do you truly believe that Jon is the one?” She’s still woozy from our psychic kumbaya.
Gyrax dusts himself off. “Now more than ever. You saw it for yourself—he navigated the Twilight Effluvium like it was second nature. That was Laiddinic power, Erany, as the day is bright and the night is long.” He looks around, puzzled. “Where are the others?”
Ren and Elier are nowhere to be seen. Lucky’s half-lying, half-sitting against the wall, apparently asleep.
“Lucky!” Gyrax reaches over and taps his cheek.
“Uh?” His eyes flutter open.
“The others. Where are they?”
Lucky shakes his head, groggy, then scoots up on his palms and butt. “Searching the castle, hunting down the remaining Sytíshí…” A pained moan escapes his lips. “My cursed leg…”
Nyanti kneels beside Lucky. “Here.” She extends her hand and moves it slowly down the length of his thigh, fingers glowing with a dreamy sparkle. “This should help.”
He grunts in acknowledgment. “Thank you. It feels better already.”
“A partial healing, but it’ll do for now.” Her eyes stay fixed on his leg as she reverses directions, moving her hand toward his hip.
“What? No!” Lucky glares at her. “Finish the job! My leg is—”
She cuts him off with a level stare. “I need to conserve my energy. We are trapped in a castle with two Sytíshí, not to mention—”
“I am wounded!” Lucky snarls. “And I am not being paid to be a soldier or savior! My agreement was to travel with the Wolven and watch his back, not fight off a pair of gods-cursed Whisper Fo—”
“—the horde of Iguar crawling through the city,” she continues calmly. “If I heal your leg, I’ll shrink our chances at gaining the hexflow.”
“This is absurd,” Lucky grumbles.
“You’ll get what you’re owed.” Gyrax cracks his neck and circles an arm. “I’m going to find Ren and Elier.”
“Me too,” I say automatically.
“No.” He unslings his ax. “The Sytíshí are not to be trifled with.”
“I saved your life, man! Everyone’s life! If not for me, then—”
“This is different,” Erany says. “We are in pursuit of wounded monsters.”
Suddenly, the door bangs open. Elier and Ren come staggering in, leaning against each other. Ren lowers Elier onto the floor, then collapses beside him. Erany and Gyrax run out into the hall, weapons ready, but Ren calls them back.
“We’re safe,” he says. “We chased them into the lower catacombs—collapsed the walls with a majeric wave.”
“We have to finish them,” Nyanti insists. “It will be much worse if we let them go.”
“Agreed.” Gyrax nods. “Nyanti. You, I and Erany will search the castle and—”
“What about me?” Ren asks heatedly. “I am no stranger to orphic combat. If you leave me behind, you’ll—”
Gyrax shakes his head. “Guard our injured. Elier and Lucky can’t fight off an Iguar, much less a pair of Sytíshí Whisper Folk.”
“I can still kill Iguar,” Elier mutters.
“My point is—”
Before he can finish, the room floods with violet-black mist.