Where are my parents I don’t know but it isn’t fair I’m going to set things right the Rosecraft Blade doesn’t matter how long or far I have to travel—
[Get OFF ME!] Erany violently shoves me away.
I go spinning through emotion with breakneck speed. Absolute despair sweeps through me, but before I can decide that I want to commit suicide, I tumble into a blear of listless apathy. Then a smile rings through me, vanquishing despair and uncertainty like the afternoon sun. Oh man, everything’s going to be fime. I was stressing needlessly over—
[Jon!] Gyrax snaps onto my psychic scruff. [Stop clinging to chaos and struggle!]
I don’t know that means, exactly, but I’m guessing it’s a poetic way of saying “relax.” So that’s what I do. Almost immediately, my mind stops racing.
[Whoa.] I don’t press my hand against my chest. Instead I perform its disembodied equivalent. [Where are we?]
Erany projects, [The bleed between solid focus and immaterial being. Amongst mages, it’s referred to as the Twilight Effluvium.]
[Sounds kind of steampunk.] I stretch out with my senses, the equivalent of looking around in this hella weird state. I don’t really see anything so much as feel it. Sometimes I catch a fleeting glimpse of a partially formed picture, but most of the time I get the impression of it rather than the detail. As far as space and time, I have a definite sense of being somewhere…it’s like I’m inside an ethereal cockpit, and my desire to move propels my attention.
I flex my will, reaching for clarity, and an image appears in my mind’s eye: Gyrax, Erany and me, hands hovering over Nyanti’s body. We’re rendered in psychotropic detail, like a photo negative ablaze with color. The outline of our bodies haze and waver, made indistinct by my oscillating focus. At the edges of my vision, colorless tines prickle and move in a dreamy, tidal rhythm.
[Hurry. UP.] Erany gives me the impression of clenched teeth.
[Shit. Sorry.] The psychic feel of flustered dork boy washes through me.
[Time runs thin.] Gyrax raises an eyebrow (or projects the feel of it, however you want to label it is fine by me.) [Ready?]
A snap of his fingers, and we go swirling into Nyanti’s psyche.
I’m deluged by a flux of random memories. Laughter, tears, adoration, resolve…they all sluice through me in a torrential flood.
Nyanti was raised in a family of Witches. She began learning magic before she could speak. Her parents communicated with the Primal energies, conversing with her in a tug of emotions and subtle urges. When she was able to speak and walk on her own, her mother enrolled her in an academy for mages: Shylan’s School for the Magical Ar—
[Enough. We’re not here to pore through her past.] Gyrax’s voice cracks through my mind.
[Uh, right. Sorry.] I rub my disembodied neck.
[We need to find her points of twist—the blocks and kinks in her auric body.]
[Unwind your perception and merge it with mine. This is a joint effort—we have to feel out where we’re both needed.]
[This isn’t easy. Please—hurry.] Erany isn’t panicked, but she’s definitely straining.
I turn back to Gyrax. [What should I do?]
[Keep your attention on me and follow my lead.]
I do as he says, feeling him close his metaphorical eyes and become…blurry is the closest I can come to verbally describing it. He’s not concentrated into a single location; now he’s more like a floating cloud.
[All right. I’ll try.] 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 funny.)
Gyrax senses my wayward thoughts. [Jon. Focus.]
[Sorry.] I resettle my attention and reach for relaxation. It’s not happening—I’m stuck in a whirl of ceaseless reflection. The Iguars, my unquickened sight, Nyanti’s injuries, I can’t believe I’m in a parallel dimension where humanoid warriors cast spells and—
[Jon. Don’t force it. Just abide in it until it opens into something calmer.]
Abide in it. Right. I let myself acknowledge my worry and doubt, without trying to deny them or push them away. I feel a little calmer, but I’m not really sure if—
Ah. There it is.
I feel a shift deep in my awareness, as if something suddenly decided to let go and relax.
Gyrax nods approvingly. [Now direct your focus on to me.]
Our minds swirl together, easy and open. Even though we’re energetically connected, it’s not overwhelming; it’s like when you’re playing a sport and you instinctively bond with another teammate. You know where they’re going, where you’ll be, and how to move in tandem.
[Now reach for Nyanti. Again, not too hard. Just point yourself in her general direction.]
I feel an urge to delve deeper into his words, but I let it go. It seems like the more you try and put meaning and framework around magic, the less it wants to comply. So I gently build a Nyanti-like feel inside my awareness, allowing my impressions about her to fall into place. Pretty soon, I can sense her presence: her dark beauty and kind heart (or so I suspect) and the general “Nyantiness” of it all.
[That’s it.] Gyrax says. [Now feel out the breaks in her aura.]
I open a little more and immediately pull back. Jesus—everything inside her is crooked and mangled, a tortured mess of pain and dissonance. If she were a trauma victim, her bones would be broken in a hundred different places.
[Easy, Jon. Relax back into—]
And then I hear her. She sounds like talons scraping a massive chalkboard.
[AAH!] I clap my hands over my ears, twisting side to side as I shut my eyes. [AAAAAAHH!!! GYRAX!]
He’s talking to me, urgent and fast, telling me to slow down and take a breath. I hear what he’s saying, but I just can’t do it; Nyanti’s screams aren’t just audible, I feel her terror and total helplessness, I feel her frenzy and absolute hysteria.
[Gyrax!] My breath hitches in my chest. [I can’t I can’t—] Nyanti screams again and I join in.
[JON!] Gyrax grits his teeth, grabs hold of my convulsing being, and wrenches my composure back into place. It’s like the psychic equivalent of a chiropractic adjustment.
[There. Better?] He regards me warily.
[Yeah.] Christ, that was intense.
[You’re going to have to bear her pain. I wish there was some way other, but there isn’t.]
[I…okay.] I take a deep, steadying breath. [Let’s do this.]
He lets himself blur. I do the same. Once again we merge together, sharing impressions and feelings as we swirl and combine. After we syn, we both reach out toward Nyanti. Instead of bracing or trying to resist her experience, I open myself up as much as I can.
She crashes into us like a ton of bricks. For a split-second, I try and fight it, but then I channel my focus into staying calm.
Gyrax says, [We’re going to realign her and it won’t be pleasant. I’m not trying to scare you, but I want you to be prepared. Come closer.]
There’s no such thing as distance here, but the concept exists, and that’s what matters. I move “closer” to Gyrax and we press together, linking idea and thought, intention and motive. As we blend and fuse, Nyanti’s screams tear through my mind. Me/Gyrax relax even further, coiling into a ball of spring-loaded purpose.
[Deep breaths, Jon.] He becomes completely still.
I breathe deep. Once. Twice. Hold it.
And then we arrow into Nyanti, grabbing hold of her ragged, disjointed pieces. Her piercing wail does its level best to split my brain; she bucks against our grip like a fish out of water. We grab everything we can and pause for a brief, nerve-jangling moment. I know it can’t hold—there’s too much tension crackling through us. We don’t have the strength to keep her stable.
[On the count of three.] Our focus becomes wire-tight.
[One.] he/me says.
[Two.] me/he breathes.
Then we scream, [THREE!]
If Gyrax gave me the psychic equivalent of a chiropractic adjustment, this is like punching a dislocated joint back into place. We dive deep into her injuries, snapping and cracking them back into place. In some instances, we have to attack them; me/he has to channel pure aggression into the deeper traumas, forcing loci to line up with meridians. But it isn’t enough to adjust her loci—Gyrax floods our combined self with the realization that I—me, Jon—have to fix her aura, I’m going to have to rewrite her injuries.
[Write her into place!] he yells. [Hurry, Jon—she’s stable for now, but she’s about to unwind!]
[Wait—what???] I instinctively reach for him. [What do you mean ‘write her into place?’ Why didn’t you tell me before we—]
[You would have overthought it! Jon, do it NOW! She’s starting to loosen!]
I turn my attention back to Nyanti. Sure enough, I can feel her slipping out of place. I can sense her energies slowing and clogging.
[Whatever you’re going to do, do it fast! Can’t hold…for much LONGER…] Sweat pours from Erany’s face. She grits her teeth, squinching her eyes as she forces my aura to remain open.
Everyone’s counting on me. Breathe Jon—you can do this.
I relax my focus, allowing myself to flow into Nyanti. As flares of pain erupt along her loci, she meets my attention (the magic equivalent of meeting my eyes) and issues a desperate plea.
My mind steels over. Nyanti’s a friend—can’t let her die. Doubt flies off me like a wind-fluttered ribbon, and I dive back into her arcane damage, letting my intention and will get to work on her wounds. They flow from my mind in an elated rush, filling Nyanti with my support, my belief, my conviction in her wellness.
And that’s what I fixate on—not her pain or injury or total panic, but her wholeness. A story sluices through me and shores her up—a story not of her dissonance, but of her internal harmony. I envision her rifts and schisms as golden opportunities, as chances to weave her back stronger than ever. The narrative dances off me, into and through her, 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 over. Not yet.]
I continue envisioning her as she deserves to be—singing, dancing, laughing, playing. A few seconds later, I break away. I think I’m done. (For now, anyway).
[Good job.] Gyrax gives me a psychic pat on the shoulder. [Let’s get back to our bodies.]
[Thank Ishay.] Erany breathes.
Gyrax takes hold of my attention and directs it back onto physical existence. Our awarenesses filter into the material plane, with the inexorable rhythm of water swirling down the drain. Erany sighs explosively and detaches from my senses.
I open my eyes and gasp in shock. I’m back in my body. My clothes are soaked clean through with sweat. Some of it plips onto Nyanti’s brow. She wrinkles her eyes in annoyance and raises a hand to ward it off.
“Jon. Please move back.”
“Oh!” I scuttle to my feet and laugh nervously. “Um, yeah—sorry. Diddn’t know I was—”
She gingerly sits up and lets out a groan. “Be at ease—if not for you, I would still be lost in a maze of pain. You saved my sanity if not my life.”
“Right, of course.” I let out an awkward snort-laugh and immediately hate myself for it. “No worries—all in a day’s work.”
She gets to her feet and regards me with a smile. “When I first heard about the Prophesied Traveler, you are not what I expected.”
Erany rises, rubbing an eye with the heel of her palm, and mutters, “Do you truly believe that Jon is the Traveler?” She’s still woozy from our psychedelic kumbaya. (Can’t say I blame her.)
Gyrax, who’s a little more composed, dusts himself off and says, “Without a doubt. Now more than ever.” He looks around. “Where are the others?” Ren and Elier are gone. Lucky’s half-lying, half-sitting against the wall, eyes closed and breathing deeply, apparently asleep.
“Uh?” His eyes flutter open.
“The others,” Gyrax says. “Where are they?”
Lucky scoots up on his palms and butt, groaning in pain. “They said they were going to search the castle…said they were going to hunt the Sytíshí…” Another groan escapes his lips. “My gods-cursed leg…”
Nyanti strides over and kneels beside Lucky. “Here.” She extends her hand and moves it slowly down the length of his leg. Her fingers glow with a dreamy, soothing sparkle. “This should help.”
He grunts in acknowledgment. “My thanks. It feels better already.”
“It’s a partial healing.” Her eyes stay on his leg as she reverses directions and moves her hand toward his hip. “It should suffice for now.”
“What? No!” Lucky searches her face with an angry gaze. “Finish the job! My leg is—”
“Fine for now.” She meets his gaze with a level stare. “We are trapped in a castle with two Sytíshí, not to mention—”
“I am wounded!” Lucky shouts. “I’m not being paid to be a soldier! The agreement was to travel alongside the Wolven and watch his back, not fight a pair of high-magic—”
“Not to mention the horde of Iguars crawling through the city,” she continues calmly. “I can’t afford to waste any magic. If I heal your leg, I lessen our chances of surviving and escaping this city.”
“This is absurd,” Lucky grumbles. “There is not enough coin in all of Evermoor to justify this madness.”
“You’ll get what you’re owed.” Gyrax checks the gear on his body. “I’m going after Ren and Elier.”
“So am I,” I say automatically.
“No,” he unslings his ax and gives it a cursory examination, “you’re not. You’ve done enough, Jon. The Whisper Folk are far too dangerous.”
“That’s not fair!” I protest. “I just saved your life! Everyone’s life! If not for me, then—”
“This is a different situation, Jon,” Erany says quietly. “We are going after wounded animals. They will fight to their dying breath.”
Suddenly, the door slams open, Elier and Ren come staggering in, leaning against each other. Ren lowers Elier onto the floor and collapses beside him. Erany and Gyrax run out through the door, weapons out and ready, but Ren calls them back.
“We’re safe,” he says. “For now. We chased them into the lower catacombs. Collapsed the walls with a majeric wave.”
I’m about to ask what that is, when my common sense catches up with my brain—he’s obviously talking about an offensive spell.
Ren continues with, “They’re probably trying to dig their way out. I can’t imagine they want to stay and fight.”
“They’re trying to escape?” I ask.
“Yes.” He gives a nod. “And if they can kill us in the process, they won’t pass up the chance.”
“We have to press them,” Nyanti insists. “If we let them go, it’s only a matter of time before they return. If not in Jelia, then somewhere else. And who knows what evil they’ll bring? It will be much, much worse if we let them go.”
“Agree.” Gyrax nods his head. “This is no time to cry off. Nyanti. You, I and Erany will hunt them down and—”
“What about me?” Ren asks heatedly. “I can throw spellcraft. If you leave me behind, you’ll be—”
Gyrax shakes his head. “Guard our injured. Elier and Lucky can’t fight off a pair of Iguar, much less a pair of Sytíshí Whisper Folk.”
“I can still kill Iguar,” Elier mutters.
“My point is—”
Before he can finish, the door bursts inward and the room floods with violet-black mist.