the Spectre - Episode II:
A tunnel of light stretches out before me, luminous strands of energy blurred and distorted by the speed of my movement. It draws me in, pulling me through its fathomable depths with unseen power, a loving childhood embrace taking me through the very heart of the universe and beyond.
I feel warm. Every instance of human contact, human touch suddenly recurs to me, sending my every sense reeling with sensation. There aren't very many, I realize, far too late to do anything about it.
Loneliness spreads its wings and takes flight.
Cascading images clash violently amidst the spiraling turmoil of the tunnel, whisking me through oblivion, its speed exciting and thrilling me. Worlds come and go, disoriented, lost in the wake. We change course abruptly, and for an instance I can see phantoms chasing after me, haunting spectres of the past chasing my afterimage through the light. Their forms coalesce and divide in the same moment, and just as I begin to see why they are there, the light thickens around me, seeping through every pore, every crevasse in my soul. As suddenly as my journey begins, it ends.
Once more I am surrounded by light.
Nabob's eyes opened slowly, gradually and defiantly.
His mind still spun, a dozen images conflicting and battling at the forefront of his mind but fading even as he tried to remember them with clarity. A journey. From where? To where? Had he arrived yet? Why had his small little world suddenly stopped spinning?
A rough hand tried to pull at him up to his feet. Voices, indistinct and distant, seemed to speak, rising to a crescendo of garbled nonsense. Nabob shook his head, once, twice. The words clarified themselves.
"Leave him be, Torvan!" a female was saying. "This was his first time through."
"I have seen children with more fortitude
The Chimneysweep blinked, sleep clearing from his eyes. Light poured out from everywhere to greet him, but not the light that he had seen before. This was a gleaming blue light, shining, almost pulsating from somewhere nearby. He could make out the still-blurry forms of what he assumed to be people as well. A friendly voice was beside him.
"Nabob? Nabob, can you stand?"
He could, although he didn't consciously remember doing so.
"You're Home, Nabob."
Could I really be home? It's been so many years, so many years since I last saw her. I left her standing there, angry and trembling, storming away and vowing never to come back. Tears
I remember tears. Were they hers or were they mine? Perhaps both. But that is what home is made of. Tears. Shattered hearts and broken dreams, always remade but never fixed. Loss. Tears.
"He won't be coming back."
" he managed to stammer.
"I thought this might have been a bad idea," another voice, full of contempt and unconcern. It was familiar too, and the name Jabez sprung to mind. "He isn't magically anchored to the world like we are. Sending him through the divide was like sending a rowboat down a whirlpool without a rope. His mind might not have come through properly."
"Will he be all right?"
"I think he'll live."
"Think is not good enough. Not this time. Let's get him inside."
"Wait!" Nabob had to focus very thoughts and force his lips to move the way he wanted them to
very, very slowly. Vertigo lapped upon the shores of his conscious mind like a corrosive tide, and for an instant he almost lost the distinction between the two of them.
Then the rest of his mind caught up with him.
It hit him with a psychic backlash not altogether unlike the sensation of snapping an elastic band. The exertion knocked Nabob back down to his knees before anybody could catch him, and he knelt there for a moment, breath coming in short, sporadic gasps. He forced himself to relax, though, and forced himself to open his eyes again.
The world was considerably clearer. Surrounding him he could now make out the distinct features of Kali and Jabez huddled close, with Torvan standing not far off, arms folded with contempt. He could see several other faces too, these ones unfamiliar. Everything and everyone was awash in a pale blue light that seemed to be periodically pulsating in its intensity. He glanced around as far as his neck muscles would allow before rebelling in bouts of pain. There were numerous buildings, all built out of the same charcoal-silver material, arrayed in a crescent half-moon bordering a deep pit, probably half a mile wide at the center. It was from this pit that the throbbing blue glow was emanating from, bathing the entire little town in the incandescent radiance. The word quaint lodged itself firmly in the forefront of his mind. The entire area, as far around as he could see in any direction, was surrounded by what seemed to be giant walls of solid mist, stretching up to form a sort of dome over the town site and the glowing lake.
Kali breathed a sigh of relief in the Chimneysweep's face. "Thank the Divinity. I thought we were about to lose you."
"I'm not that easy to get rid of
" Nabob said, eyes savagely boring a hole into Jabez.
The Rogue mage, for his part, immediately backed up. He was rather frail and could not have hoped to stand up to Nabob if the Chimneysweep had decided to pounce. "Hold your temper, Guild-Slayer. I didn't know that was going to happen
"You said you thought it might."
crossed my mind, perhaps
but if you think I knew then you really are out of your mind. We've never brought an outsider through before. Lucky enough you got here in one piece."
The urge to leap the gap between them and forcefully send the Rogue's head and torso in opposite directions was suddenly blunted as he noticed a murmur that rippled through the growing crowd around them. It was just a single phrase being repeated and passed on from lip to lip.
"I'll kill you later," he managed, "when a lynch-mob isn't around."
"They are not a lynch-mob," Kali said emphatically. "They have just never seen a
She nodded somberly.
"Perhaps you should also be aware," Jabez said, "that in this particular culture the term Guild-Slayer is something of a how do I put this? strong use of language."
"Jabez!" Kali growled, half-warning and half-threat. The male Rogue nodded slightly in an apologetic fashion and stepped away from where Nabob continued to kneel. "Forgive him," she whispered, leaning close. "He does not trust my judgment the way he should."
"Why should he? Because you're the leader here?" Nabob's voice sizzled with a rising trepidation.
She hesitated. "For several reasons, but yes. Are you going to be all right, or should I call for a healer?"
"I'm fine, but
She rose and turned uneasily, coming face to face with yet another Rogue. He looked to be in his mid-fifties, with a thin, knife-like body that carried a perpetual unsaid threat. His complexion, as with Kali and Jabez, betrayed a hint of oriental ancestry.
Kali bowed slightly in stiff formal respect as he approached. "Maliki."
He returned the gesture. "Kali. Your safe return
pleases us, but
" His shifty eyes turned towards Nabob and fixed there. "This is a very serious matter."
"I do not believe that you do. If you truly did, you would have sent advance warning, or not have attempted such a
stunt at all." The man Maliki, his name seemed to be drew closer. "Justinian has warned you about recklessness, child."
Kali, however, met his glare in ferocity. "I would not expect you to understand or sympathize. What I've done was for the good of all of us, and
" her voice trailed off, "
The ground beneath their feet began to shake.
"This is new," Nabob heard Jabez comment nonchalantly.
What began as a dull tremor quickly erupted into a forceful and particularly violent jostling motion beneath them. The Chimneysweep looked around frantically, but his body was still getting over the shock of having been separated from his higher mental functions, and for that if no other reason he was unable to force himself to dive for cover. There wasn't much cover to be found, anyway. The ground splintered, rose slightly as though under tremendous seismic pressure, then splintered again.
Screams ricocheted through the grinding moan of twisting rock formations. One of them, Nabob realized, was his own. But even that was drowned out an instant later by a horrible screeching sound that seemed to come from both nowhere and everywhere at once. The whine was almost electric in its nature, ripping through the audible wavelengths like a Canuckalisk on crystal meth. Nabob tried thrusting his hands to his ears, burying his forehead against the glossy sand in which he knelt, but to little avail. The sound kept coming and coming
He looked up again, movement snaring the corner of his eye. The mist wall
something was happening to it. Streams of blue electricity ran up and down its length nearest to where the Chimneysweep and his companions had materialized. For a horrible instant it almost looked as though the entire wall was going to buckle and come cascading down upon them.
And then it stopped, as suddenly as it had begun.
Slowly, warily, the people gathered around the teleportation site looked and finally stood up. The ground was still splintered badly, and several glaring crevasses had formed, but nobody looked to be hurt, and from the looks of it the tremor had been too short-lived to do any real damage to the nearby town.
Torvan had moved away from the fallen 'Guild-Slayer' and was helping some of the gathered Rogues back up, while Jabez was likewise gently pulling Kali back upwards. Again, Nabob saw that fleeting intimate air between the two of them as they caught each other's eyes. Only for an instant, though, before the feeling passed. Nabob shrugged it off. There were more important things to worry about at the moment.
that?" he demanded, pulling himself up to his feet. His palms were chapped and bloodied from pressing into the sand.
"It felt like causality feedback."
"Oh, yes, of course, causality feedback! Now why didn't I think of
A stone about the size of a man's fist jarred loose from the ground during the tremor smashed into the side of his head, and he finished his sentence in a jargon of painful exclamations and crude obscenities. Stars flashed in front of Nabob's eyes, and his body, already in a partial trance from the teleportation sequence, buckled beneath him.
"This is what you have done for the good of our people, Kali?" roared the man called Maliki as he stood, feet firmly planted against the ground, an almost tactile field of magical energy rippling around him. Nabob could see several other rocks literally pry themselves loose from the rubble surrounding him and begin to hover in the air at eye-level, held in place by some telekinetic force. With a brisk gesture another rock was sent careening towards Nabob
only to be snagged in mid-air by another invisible telekinetic hand.
"STOP!" Kali shouted, stepping between Maliki and the prone Slayer, a similar field of magic shimmering around her willowy form. "Have you gone mad, Maliki? Assaulting a stranger?"
"You saw what he did! His blasphemous form trying to pass through the barrier nearly sundered it apart."
"I didn't do anything, goddammit!" Nabob hollered, nursing his throbbing cranium. "Leave me the fuck alone!"
"He is through now, and is here with us as our guest," she said calmly. "Hurting him serves no purpose."
Maliki reared back in disgust. "You
invited him. You disregard eight hundred years of antiquity's well-learned lessons and bring one of our gravest enemies into our Home. How dare you? How dare you!" The magical energy around him crackled threateningly.
Before she could reply, another figure moved in quickly, and the enraged Rogue sorcerer found himself staring down the gleaming blade of an assassin's punching dagger.
"Threaten the princess again," Torvan whispered, his voice sharper than the blade he held at Maliki's throat, "and you pay for it with blood."
"This is not the time or place for a magic duel, Maliki," Jabez said, also stepping forward. "The Guild-Slayer is here for a reason."
"I don't care about your petty reasoning. Nothing justifies the liability you have created. Or the potential for harm to us all."
"Justinian is the one who will decide that, not you," said Kali, keeping her cool as much as possible. "I stopped answering to you a long time ago."
"Yes," he leered. "You did. If you still answered to me, you would find yourself in a most uncomfortable position right now
"Stand down, or I will kill you," Torvan snarled. "I've been wanting to for a very long time."
"I'm certain you have."
"Just give me one more reason
Maliki sighed wearily, not taking his eyes off of the crumpled figure of Nabob. "Take him before the Potentate quickly then, child. You never know what accidents might be waiting." Turning, he disappeared into the crowd.
Kali was quick to drop her defensive magical field and return to the Chimneysweep's side. "Nabob, are you
"I said leave me the fuck alone!"
He could tell his words stung her, but right now he didn't care. He didn't care about anything. What was I thinking? Trying to delude myself into believing that I could make a difference of some sort, that's what I was thinking. I never could before. Why the hell would I be able to now?
"Nabob, I'm I'm sorry
Her apology dug deep. Memories tried to flash back into his mind, but everything was still disoriented, and his head still throbbed pain from the impact of the rock, so he stayed in the present.
"The tremor?" she bit her lip. "It was not your fault. It was mine. I didn't realize what bringing an untrained soul across the gap, even with a crystal, would do."
cause it?" he repeated, slowly and with rising force.
"Yes." She sounded hesitant, remorseful. "You were never trained in how to navigate the transition between Earth and Home smoothly. I thought
I thought that with a crystal it would matter less. I was wrong." She hung her head. "Your essence caused
some damage to the pocket dimension on its way through. Causality feedback."
Anger swelled in the Chimneysweep's breast. Anger at her, anger at himself, anger at the whole damned world. "How much damage?"
"Imagine if you will," sighed Jabez as he knelt down in front of him beside Kali, "that the normal transition process between our two worlds is like slipping a piece of paper through a small hole in a plate-glass window. Your entry would be better equated to haphazardly tossing a baseball through. Only with a slight time-delay as the causality feedback surge caught up with the rest of you."
" he buried his burning head in his arms. "Oh God
why did you bring me here, Kali? This is a mistake. This is all one horrible, horrible mistake
He couldn't see her do it, but he felt her grab his hand and squeeze it tightly. "No! This is not a mistake! No permanent damage was done
Justinian managed to stabilize Home before any could be. Nabob, what we're here to accomplish is nothing less than the end to all of the anger and frustration that you see in these people! Uniting our people is the greatest goal we can possibly undertake in these dark times
it cannot possibly be a mistake!" She shook him forcefully. "We need to see Justinian at once. He will see how important this is. I promise."
"Like you promised that I wouldn't come to any harm?"
That hurt her even more, and this time Nabob felt a pang of guilt at doing so, even though he knew that he shouldn't. He owed this woman and these people absolutely nothing. He had helped to save them, not the other way around.
But she believed. In what she spoke about. In reunification. In him. And in a world that had tried very, very hard to dishearten, discredit, and discard him, that meant something. Nabob couldn't let that slip by.
"Okay," he murmured after a few tense moments. "But first I'm going to need some ice