The snow on the ground starts singeing into steam the split second before a raging torrent of rainbow light impacts the ground like a waterfall impacting the rocks. After a moment the brilliant light dissipates into the cloudy sky leaving a lone man standing in a burning Celtic rune. That could have been conspicuous but fortunately I’m on the edge of the Wolf Wood and the Bastard’s castle is around the bend…and JESUS CHRIST IN HELL is it cold!
Monk’s attire! What in the goddamn hell was I thinking?! Run you idiot run! The faster you run the quicker you’ll get warm!
Things are off to a great start! Well it’s not all for naught. There are two dragons flying over the castle, so that means they’re here…unfortunately that means the King Other has the third and the Wall has been breached. We are out of time. That’s the calculated risk I made and now I got to make the best of it.
With the depth of the snow, it is quite deep; the castle is a little less than an hour’s walk away. I could get there considerably quicker but I don’t want to be too eager to show my cards. Besides, this gives me time to make some assessments. There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that my theory about the Cosmic Weave being present in this world was correct; the bad news is that I can tell that by virtue of the overwhelming Dark presence I can sense to the north. I do sincerely hope that is the King Other and his army and not just him; otherwise he could easily be on par with a Dark Emperor.
Land untouched by industrial revolution is truly a sight to behold. Like nature herself this place is beautiful and unfathomably dangerous.
As I draw nearer the sounds of the army camps grow louder and more distinct. Good, they’re assembled. They are here by the tens of thousands. It’s good but with the Wall breached it is nowhere near enough. Everything is going to come down to those dragons and the King Other. If he falls so does his army and the war is won. That’s why I need to make sure that the Bastard can take him out.
So a couple questions occur to me:
- a) How do I get in the castle?
- b) How do I talk to the Bastard and the Queen?
- c) Am I better or worse off if the Seer, the Bastard’s crippled younger brother, has seen me?
The first two questions essentially boil down to, “tactful or bombastic”. The third is more vexing. On the one hand if he has seen me that means he’s gotten a lot better at his job, on the other hand it makes my job more difficult. We shall try to be tactful.
Getting through the gate was considerably easier than I anticipated. Apparently I’m assumed to be a local commoner and let through with little explanation. Once I’m on the inside of the forty foot walls the true size of this stronghold is made apparent to me. Between the furriers, armorers, and regimented soldiers actively training there very well could be over ten-thousand people behind these walls. Being tactful might get me nowhere very quickly.
Bombast it shall be.
Go to where the soldiers are training. With as many people as are gathered here it is only a matter of time before someone of significance makes themselves available. It doesn’t take long before the Dog’s distinct murmuring of, “cunt” and “fuck off”, catches my ear. It’s hard to miss the towering knight of great renown and his fire kissed face…but the real question is, “where is she?” If I picked a fight with her that would get the attention I seek.
Don’t look for her, she’ll never be found if she doesn’t want to be. Sense her.
Too easy, her presence is like a shadow in the center of a well-lit room. Of course she doesn’t know how to cloak her presence, she’s never had to. My eyes are drawn to the veranda over-looking the square and indeed the Young Assassin is there. All that is left for me to do is to pick this fight.
I walk towards the center of the sparring area, discarding my robe as I do. Bo staff in hand I point up at her and issue the challenge. The Dog is most displeased with me. I mildly mock him and he challenges me. This will suffice.
He picks up the Blacksmith’s Warhammer but before we begin I impose a restriction on myself. Hand halfway down the staff I draw a circumference around myself. His victory is solely predicated on forcing me out of the circle. The fight begins.
Truly he is a man worthy of his reputation, but I’ve stacked this deck. He’s surprisingly quick for a man of his stature but with the advantages I’ve empowered myself with I am ten times quicker without even trying. He gets one swing before I’ve swept him clean off his feet. With an audible thud he lands on the flat of his back.
Properly motivated, the Young Assassin comes down to meet my challenge. As we begin I close my eyes.
She is very good, beyond her physical limits good. Clearly she possesses the necessary qualities to be trained in more advanced arts. With time and the right training she will be far greater than I ever could be, but for now I am simply operating on a level several tiers removed from her. She is disarmed after I successfully bind and torque the rapier out of her hand.
A fervent command to cease at once is issued her older sister, the Lady. She is strikingly beautiful and rather tall for a young woman…and not at all pleased with me.
A short while later I find myself being badgered by a host of questions by her in the court. Seemingly she is more furious at my treatment of the Dog than her own sister. Huh, I’d forgotten that she was sweet on him for the times he had protected her in the past, though a low-born commoner presuming to challenge the royalty is not being overlooked.
Her fire red hair seemingly blazes with her anger. It takes all my will power to not be a flirtatious idiot.
Since the lord has returned it is his judgment that I must answer to, to my great fortune.
Later that day I am brought before the Bastard and he is holding court with the Queen and the Seer. Good. He exceeds my expectations by asking questions of me as opposed to berating me; who am I, where am I from, and why am I here…I dance around the answer as best I can. This provokes the Queen to respond.
Now is my chance.
Feigning obstinence angers her. She begins to roar with authority, asserting herself. As she does I can sense her connection to the Cosmic Weave and her growing presence in it. I prick her ego and her anger starts to turn to rage. As she berates me with threats of dragon fire I instruct her to hold her hand out, focus on my throat, and clench her fist.
As she does my throat constricts and I’m levitated off the ground. I chuckle as I gasp for breath.
Shocked by her own ability her rage instantly dissipates and her grip is released. They demand answers and now is when I make my pitch.
I explain the Cosmic Weave, how people are able to tap into it, how she is such a person, and how I’m here to train her. What I don’t mention is the Bastard’s equally strong presence in it. This prompts debate among her advisers. Her foremost advisor, the Imp, is a man I’d very much like to consider a friend. Very few people warrant the same respect I have for him. Alas, circumstance precludes that possibility. I am unknown quantity of dubious merit who possibly imperils their future. His distrust and suspicion of me is warranted.
The Queen however is intrigued, and bartering is engaged. Her initial proposal is to accept under the condition I swear fealty to her. Neither the Imp nor the Bastard are pleased with this. This leaves me in a bit of quandary. My purpose is achieved but I cannot in good faith abide such an oath. However quaint it may seem, I was raised in a country that fought to be free of kings and that is a profound truth in my soul I cannot ignore. I am here so that she can break the wheel, so that eventually the crown will end.
To accommodate a middle ground I swear allegiance to her as a ruler but not her crown. Perplexed by the distinction, she reluctantly accepts. My standing with the Bastard and the Imp is not improved by my insistence on the technicalities. The Seer has nothing to say and seems completely absent from the world around him. His abilities have overtaken his humanity. While it is great that his competence and capacity are increasing at an exponential rate, the inverse correlation with his communication skills most certainly is not.
The next several days are spent familiarizing the Queen with the basics…I am a thief, beggar, and pretender…, “luminous beings are we”, “it surrounds us and binds us”, “do or do not”. Whether it be her heritage, her quotient as half of the Messiah, or just natural aptitude she clearly has a profound and advanced grasp of beast bonding. The Bastard has a prodigious natural talent, I can clearly sense it.
Yet I am utterly reluctant to entertain the notion of training him. I tell myself it’s because we don’t have time for my attention to be divided between two students but I don’t really buy that. Maybe it’s something I sense in him or it’s something inside myself, either way I find myself gravely resistant to his training.
Some more time passes. The Queen’s advancements are prodigious and she is increasingly amused by this idea of “a republic”. Everyone has apparently caught up to the knowledge that he is technically the rightful heir to the throne. Their affection for one another is tested by this realization even though he is blatantly uninterested in pressing his claim.
His sisters are quite the lot however. The Young Assassin has become obsessed with surpassing me. Though she is surrounded by darkness while he is pure light, I find myself preferring her as a second apprentice over him. The Lady is rightfully cynical and suspicious…of me. Her suspicion and distrust of the Queen belies a bizarre possessiveness over her brother. Knowing them as characters I anticipated the inverse.
Eventually reports of the King Other and his army drawing near begin to come. The armies begin to mobilize and prepare for siege. The Queen is not ready.
I didn’t give myself much time because I knew I could stall for more. Such occasion is called for. The Queen and I speak at length about the red door she holds in her conception. Through my staff I channel it as a portal but before we open it I inscribe the image of a great Eastern dragon upon it. You know his name.
Just before we open the doorway the Bastard intercedes, demanding I cease my “sorcery”. It’s amusing because he’s not wrong. The Imp joins in, concerned but fascinated by what lay beyond that door. With a wave of my hand the door opens and searing bright light floods through. As I walk through I beckon them to join me.
They cross the plane into a small temple. From beyond its steps stretched an endless white void. Confused and awestruck they demand to know what this place is. I explain to them that this is a chamber of space & time, where one day outside is the equivalent of a year in here. The Queen is eager to continue her training, the Imp is adamantly opposed to the notion (yet again I find myself oddly sympathetic to his position, given that position is in opposition to me), and the Bastard reluctantly agrees…on one condition. That he joins us for our time in here.
Against all my instincts, I agree to his terms and suffer the consequences for it.