Assuming you're new to the story, welcome to THE CONVERGENCE! This story is a collaborative project run by myself, SuperFire131, Asanetargoss and several other authors. Inspired by the sadly failed RIFT project, we started THE CONVERGENCE up back in 2015 in the hopes of bringing the characters of our various stories together in a unique, new context which reveals new aspects of their character. We see a Fire from long before the events of "Slaves of the Desert Mine", a Fristad lost somewhere in the middle of "The Book of Dreams", a Tyron from long after the events of "Cubic Fire" and many other beloved Minefic characters. I recommend checking out Book 1 and Book 2 if you want to understand all the nuances of what's going on, but don't worry, we've provided a handy-dandy character sheet below, and have written the opening chapters with a new reader in mind.
Anyway, I'm rambling. We've had an absolute blast bouncing all these different characters off each other and we hope you have just as much fun reading their triumphs and tragedies. Now, we hope you enjoy:
Book 3:Twisted Paths
The Story So Far
For millennia, beyond the Overworld, beyond the End, beyond even the Nether, The Entity has jealously eyed the infinite possibility of creation, building its own reality from the growth and decay of worlds. From this, Nexus, the patchwork world was born. For a time it was satisfied to rule over this dumping ground of the multiverse, but now it expands its influence at an alarming rate. It has built itself an army, an army it calls the Tower, and it intends to conquer. Now, as its plan reaches its apex, only one problem remains.
A group of heroes has emerged to finally contest the Entity and its captains. Initially a disparate group of stragglers who found themselves in Nexus through little agency of their own, they have defied the Entity twice now. First, they staged a prison break at the heart of the Tower itself. Now, they have escaped its attempt to recapture them. Injured and exhausted, they have escaped the ashes of the village they were hiding in, and they now seek shelter elsewhere.
Thankfully, they have a place to flee to. Fire the Mencur-Besh, a 5,000-year-old altered human, broke off from the party shortly before the attack. At the behest of a mysterious prophet, he has built a shelter for all those who would oppose the Entity’s forces.
Little do they know, they have made the Entity feel fear for the first time in millenia, and in the process have prompted it to accelerate its plans. It is now more dangerous than ever, and the fate of all worlds now hangs in the balance.
Fire: Calm, collected, scaled, three-meter-tall, millenia old, all of these apply to Fire the Mencur-Besh. In reality Fire is a human named Peter accessing a world based on our favorite block game, created using revolutionary technology. In this world he went on various adventures and acquired all manner of skills. One day a strange potion he experimented with took him out of his own world into another one, Nexus.
Despite being the group’s most experienced leader and perhaps its most powerful individual combatant, Fire is a fish out of water. No longer able to rely on what he built in his own world, Fire is now forced to find his way in Nexus. With everything being unknown, trusting anyone is difficult. Fire also has Claw to think about, a remnant of his past manifesting as a feral split personality. And the stakes couldn’t be higher - from what he knows respawning is off the table.
Since arriving in Nexus, Fire has been the most proactive in seeking out answers as to just what Nexus and the Entity are. Eventually, this led him to establish the Shelter, a safehouse for all those who would challenge the might of the Entity. Believed by the Prophet to be the champion he has prophesied, Fire is the group’s de facto leader. However due to his sudden disappearances before the escape from the Tower and the battle of the village, as well as his detached outlook, some of the others find his style of leadership a little more than off-putting.
Shadow: Shadow was brought to Nexus by her brother Fire to aid him in his quest to shed light on the happenings. She is an immensely powerful mage, possessing mastery over many kinds of magic, as well as some abilities that most would consider aberrant. Shadow is not quite human, which shows in ways ranging from innocuous blunders in personal interaction, to her complete lack of physical needs, to her unsettling Void magic.
So far Shadow has presented herself both as fiercely loyal to her brother Fire but also neutral in most other regards, helping where possible without taking sides. She aided in revealing the Book’s nightmarish meddling and is now keeping an eye on it. She also started building an odd bond with Astro, not just over magic but also over more philosophical things.
Kay: General Kay Mandy would like you to believe he is a suave, upper-crust intellectual and a natural leader - a real up-and-coming young man - it’s not entirely untrue. Despite his renown as “Herobrine’s Lap Dog”, his retirement from the military has left him directionless and erratic. He has done a great many things to be ashamed of, and fears fading into impotence and irrelevancy in peacetime. As such, when he found himself trapped in Nexus, he was simultaneously frustrated and relieved to have another adventure to distract himself with. However, having realised the scale of the threat posed by the Entity and his weakness in comparison with the rest of the group, he has formed an uneasy alliance with the Book. He has gained access to its power in return for a promise to help it accrue power when he returns to his world. However, can he keep the Book in check?
Kay’s mixture of ruthless pragmatism and near-inspirational arrogance has resulted in a mixed relationship with the rest of the group. He has formed close friendships with Warnado and Tyron in addition to his pre-existing friendship with Astro, but managed to get off on a spectacularly wrong foot with Steve and Jennifer and has an extremely strained relationship with Fire. Knowing of the Mencur-Besh’s true identity, Kay considers him a fraud, and last time they interacted they had a serious falling out.
After an ill-fated encounter with the Entity, Kay is recovering from his wounds in a bed at the Shelter, not having been lucid in over a week.
Warnado: The joker of the group, this quarter-demon wizard’s top priority in any given situation is to squeeze some enjoyment out of it. Stealing a key? Use magic to replace it with an upsetting quantity of jam. Need to knock someone out? A hilariously oversized baseball bat seems appropriate. Your enemy wants a dramatic confrontation? He’ll call them a dork and crack a bunch of dumb jokes even he doesn’t necessarily understand.
However, beneath this jovial, pleasure-seeking demeanour lies a genuinely sad past. Warnado is one of the five Children of Prophecy, who are destined to save their world from Herobrine. Sadly, he hasn’t met any of the others yet and he is only thirteen years old.
Warnado has spent a lot of his time with Kay, almost up to the point of idolization, participating in whacky undertakings if there isn’t a battle to fight. Warnado also deeply cares for Amanda, an old flame he believed dead before arriving in Nexus. He fiercely defended her from a Book-controlled Fristad, and now worries about the Book’s apparent acceptance into the group. He has also entered a magical apprenticeship under Shadow and is showing great promise, though he is not entirely sure whether he should make use of his demonic heritage.
Amanda: Once upon a time, Amanda was a normal enough young girl, living in a village under the protection of a demon-boy named Helix. Of course, she doesn’t remember that. She was captured by a pack of bandits and found herself in Nexus with no inkling that she’d ever had any life outside that patchwork world. She eked out a living moving from village to village, selling her wares to their confused, lost inhabitants. Her life continued in this vein until she ran into Helix again - who now goes by Warnado - who made her aware of her past.
Due to the hardships she’s endured as a travelling merchant, Amanda has a prematurely cynical and world-weary outlook. That said, she likes the carefree, energetic goofiness Warnado brings into her life. Even if she doesn’t remember their time together, after he helped rescue her from the Dreamweaver’s tortures, an affectionate relationship has begun to bud between them.
Having picked up some skills with a crossbow over the years, Amanda intends to make herself useful in the fight against the Entity. Following Warnado’s lead, she hopes to grow in ability under the tutelage of the glamorous assassin, Rose.
Destiny: Destiny was once part of a team. Together with her boyfriend David, she helped to defeat Herobrine’s apprentice and save Minera from the Sovereign’s tyranny. Not a day after their victory, they were approached by the echoes of their past selves, Carter and Anya, and told to travel to Nexus to stop another great evil. Now, David is dead and Destiny hasn’t coped with it as well as she’d like.
She is still very much grieving. She and David were reincarnated across lifetimes to be together, and now she’s worried they might be “out of step”. When Fire enlisted her to help build the Shelter, she leapt at the opportunity to distract herself, but it has only been a partial success. She’s not sure if she trusts Fire, worrying he just sees her as a problem to solve. Having finally found a way to contact Anya again, she at the very least has someone she feels comfortable talking to about her grief, but she has a long way to go before she’s fully healed. In the absence of an enemy directly responsible for David’s death, she yearns for revenge against those who imprisoned them in the Tower - the Ender, Freak and Glibby the Ape - and she will take any opportunity to enact it, regardless of her own safety.
Tyron: Tyron Dragoknight was finally enjoying some peace. He had beaten Herobrine, beaten the endermen, freed the dragons and restored balance to the world.
However, his heroic status has made him a target, and he found himself at the mercy of the phantom known as Freak. The phantom feeds on fear, during his captivity Tyron found himself regularly overpowered by visions of despair and destruction. He’s a naturally laid-back, optimistic sort, and since his liberty he feels more himself, but the scars of his imprisonment linger. His sentient bluestone sword, Kir, does their best to lift his spirits, but everyone has their limit.
None of this changes the fact that Tyron is a powerful warrior with access to some fairly powerful magic. He can summon icy blades around his hands, bend the earth to his will, and even fly on wings made of stone. Moreover, when he holds Kir he becomes one of the finest swordsmen Minecraftia has ever known. He is one of the team’s most capable all-rounders, and despite his reluctant return to heroism, he will do all in his power to defend his new friends.
Fristad: Fristad of Veridale is just a shepherd. Normally, he just worries about how much wool he’ll be able to produce, about keeping his flock safe, and otherwise just tries to enjoy his life. He has led a life characterised by honesty, boyish camaraderie and a love of nature. However, several months ago, he came into possession of the Book.
As soon as it mysteriously entered into his possession, the Book began eroding Fristad’s free will through coercive nightmares, psychological manipulation and the promise of sharing its power. This only worsened once he arrived in Nexus, when the Book saw a true opportunity to extend its influence. First it transformed Fristad temporarily into an Enderman, then made him become the Dreamweaver in an attempt to enthrall Amanda. However, this was when the Book finally lost control of Fristad, not from his own will but from a coordinated intervention from his friends.
Now, Fristad must wear a magic-suppressing harness to prevent the Book from ever attempting to regain its influence. With this dominating presence gone, Fristad is at a loss for direction in his life. All he knows is that he feels guilty, particularly for his actions as the Dreamweaver, and hopes to find some purpose and redemption in the Shelter.
Steve and Jennifer: Steve Brine and his girlfriend Jennifer are an accomplished power duo. They have faced off undead armies, the Ender Dragon and Herobrine himself. As the owners of a set of gems the Entity desires, they entered Nexus hunted and confused, though confident in their ability to pull through. It was in this period of pursuit that they came across Fristad, with whom they formed a close bond. They were the first people he told about the Book, and the first ones other than Destiny to figure out he was the Dreamweaver.
Steve is a friendly goofball, and Jennifer balances a genuinely supportive and nurturing personality with being a ruthlessly accurate sniper. Both are capable of carrying huge amounts of materials in their seemingly bottomless pockets, and are capable of digging and building at rapid speeds. Steve is the group’s tank, Jennifer its sniper, and together they are the ultimate crowd-control.
At the Shelter, they feel a little directionless, having had to follow the lead of others since their arrival. Honestly, constantly dragged around is getting a little draining. That said, they have a great deal of respect for Fire and are more than happy to follow his lead.
Astro: Astro has lost a lot, and much of it was his own fault. He trusted the wrong people, and now he mourns the death of many of his dearest friends: among the dead was his good friend, Kay, King of Gaia. He was, before arriving in Nexus, tasked by Jeb with combing the snowy Fields of Acrisius for the corpses left behind by the latest conflict. However, he now finds himself in the midst of a new adventure.
An able warrior and a better wizard, he can shatter bones with a thought, summon shields and even fly. However, his magic is slowly killing him and until recently he could only use so much of it without quickly wearing himself out. He is the definition of a glass cannon.
Moreover, a mishap with portals means he has come into contact with a younger Kay from far in his past, and this is more than a little troubling to him. In addition to worrying about the threat the Entity poses and the threat to the timeline, he has to grapple with the monster he knows Kay will become, and might always have been. Worse still, after Shadow tore open a hole in reality as a demonstration of her power, Astro struggles with strange headaches and dreams, unable to stop thinking about this mysterious un-space.
Lucy: Originally a maid in the employ of a wealthy couple in a village close to the Tower, Lucy was unexpectedly and suddenly recruited by Fire for reasons unknown to her. She quickly found out what Fire saw in her: her talent for logistics and working with people, which became invaluable for ensuring the smooth operation of the Shelter.
The Prophet: An enigmatic figure preaching from the top of a hill to his congregation. Many say he is completely insane and they may even be right. Even still, his prophecies turn out to be true, if sometimes only metaphorically, too often to be explained with luck. He acts as a beacon of hope for the less-well-off citizens of Nexus, but has been missing since the Entity’s forces occupied a village near the area where he would normally address his followers.
Also Steve (no relation): The Prophet’s guardian, who has the ability to teleport, a rude, confrontational attitude and an intense hatred of the Entity. He claims the Entity destroyed his world, though he does not know by what means. He appears to have been trying to recruit a team of heroes to liberate Nexus for some time, though until encountering Fire had little success. Like the Prophet, he has been missing since the Tower raided the village.
From "A Tale Known by Only One" by Bruvvy.
Rose: A cold and classy assassin hailing from a world quite different than the usual, Rose was chosen by Fire for his expedition for her prowess at killing.
Voidblade: A green-eyed enderman chosen for his powers of teleportation. In Voidblade’s world the End was fighting a losing war with humanity, making interactions with humans understandably difficult for him.
Urist: Urist is as dwarven as a dwarf can be, but keeps his past to himself. He was chosen for his natural talent for excavation and engineering.
The Lady of Dreams: A benevolent phantom who occasionally visits Peter/Fire in his dreams with the goal of helping him come to terms with his traumatic past. However, since she followed him into Nexus she has seemed increasingly distressed.
The Entity: Little is known of this being. It created the Nexus and the Tower, indicating it possesses immense power. On account of a tightly-fitted suit of bronze armour, it has few obvious weak points aside from a pair of white, fabric gloves it wears instead of gauntlets. Without its armour, it appears to be composed of grey TV static in a deeply unstable but vaguely humanoid form. Additionally, when it wears no armour it will possess or absorb anyone it touches, allowing it to appear multiple times on the one battlefield. All that is clear is that it will kill and murder and steal anything that gets in the way of its esoteric motivations. Normally, it spends its time in The Tower, overseeing the business of dimensional transactions and the coordination of troops, occasionally sending its manifestations into battle.
However, during the raid on the village it made a rare appearance in person. Apparently responding to a tear in reality created by Shadow, it appeared intent on sealing it with immediate effect. Since then, it has ensured the village is fortified and personally guards the site of the tear. The reasons for its concern are currently unknown.
The Ender: An enderwoman who is the main commander of the Entity's forces. She wears obsidian armour and carries a purple sword that crackles with energy. Acutely observant, she maintains an alliance of convenience with The Entity, in the hope of advancing her people's ambitions. The heroes showing up have made her job rather difficult, she has so far been unable to apprehend any of the ones who staged the prison break. Her loss to Kay only added injury to insult, making her the target of Glibby’s heckling and growing skepticism in her homeworld. All this has filled her with a strong determination to not only get back at the Ape but redeem herself in the eyes of the Entity.
Freak: The phantom who kidnapped Tyron. He appears almost human, aside from talon-like fingers, his blurry, smoke-like aura and the fact that light passes through him. He also has the strange ability both to create hallucinations and to only appear visible or tangible to people of his choice. He has a love of mind games and is perhaps the cruellest of The Entity's officers. The Entity accordingly allows him the most freedom to roam as he wishes. He has no known troops under him and could be just about anywhere he wishes, always looking for fear, which he consumes for sustenance. He has also become fascinated with the Entity’s fear after seeing its reaction after the raid, the extent of this fascination is as of yet unknown.
Glibby The Ape: A relatively recent addition at The Tower. In his world, he is known as a serial killer and enforcer and who looks like a gorilla, but in Nexus he is one of the Entity's more powerful captains. Covering his huge hands with metal gauntlets, he is formidable in close combat and even the sturdies members of the heroes would have trouble walking off a blow from him. He also leads a group of endermen who have defected from the Ender’s forces known as the Grey Ones. He has been sent to Nexus by the crime-lord known as The Silhouette to defend his interests, under strict instructions to maintain a good relationship with The Entity.
Dr. Veronica Mercury: As the Tower’s head scientist Dr. Mercury is in charge of managing resources and making sure everything runs smoothly. Her main task is the construction of an ominous machine that plays a central role in the Entity’s plan. In her off-time (which is regrettably little) she works on her own projects in the field of necro-technology, as well as tinkering with her powered exo-suit. While investigating some strange energy signatures in the village near the Tower, she was confronted with a tear in reality created by Shadow, leaving her unconscious but recovering.
Marinus Bul, attorney at law: The Entity's spokesperson and self-professed “attorney”. A smooth if highly-strung negotiator with a stressed streak a mile wide. He has compiled files on each of the heroes and knows most of their emotional weak-points. It is unclear how he came into The Entity's employ or why. He really hates Freak. Just so much. He makes things so difficult.
Silver: The leader of the Grey Ones. When Kay interfered with one of the Entity’s business deals, Silver and two of his colleagues found themselves trapped in his world for eleven years. During this time they came into the employ of Glibby and the Silhouette, and their scales grew grey with age. They only returned to Nexus after being sent to kidnap Astro. Silver is deeply grateful to Glibby for the protection he offered, and resents the Ender for abandoning him for a decade. He also hates Kay and attempted to kill him by trapping him and Steve in an arena full of mobs.
The Dog: A minor officer in the Entity’s ranks who conveyed Fire, Warnado and Kay to the Tower when they briefly attempted to negotiate with the Entity. He didn’t do much, but Kay feels they really struck it off in the brief time they spent together, and laments the fact that they are on opposite sides. No one other than Kay feels this way.
Little pillars of smoke pierced the canopy at various points, telling of camps beneath. From his branch, Voidblade couldn’t see the refugees themselves, but he could hear their voices. Anger and optimism were widespread among the camps’ denizens. They had come far, fleeing the forces of the Tower and the ruins of the village. It was unfair - the Tower had ripped them from their worlds and they had congregated together at the foot of the Prophet’s hill. Now, the machinations of the Entity and its captains had scattered them again. Voidblade had been among their number, and even though they were humans, he felt a certain sympathy for them.
“The enemy of my enemy…” he lamented. “I hope we can just get this over with soon so I can get back to warring with the humans instead of protecting them.”
However, he stopped this line of thinking and calmed himself down. Getting frustrated wouldn’t change their situation. Soon, they would reach the shelter Fire had established, and they would be welcomed. For now, they would have to sit there, eating their meagre rations and cursing the pursuers who were no doubt hot on their heels. This insistence that they were in danger confused and infuriated Voidblade. It seemed to be a rule that humans, no matter what world they came from, always assumed they were being targeted. It also seemed to be a rule across worlds that this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
In truth, they probably had little to fear. The Entity had sent its forces to attack their village and their congregation for its own specific reasons. The Prophet was a dissident of some sort, preaching against the Entity and prophesying the downfall of its Tower, or something of the sort. Now that his congregation was considered scattered they were unlikely to consider them worth pursuing. Besides, they had been there pursuing Fire’s colleagues, who had arrived a few days prior, weak and injured. However, something had happened in the village, and its priorities had changed. It wasn’t sending anyone out to pursue the congregation or its original targets. Instead it was fortifying the village.
Voidblade had teleported far and wide, even going as far as the village outskirts, and he had seen the Entity striding about in its bronze armour. If he didn’t know better, he might have thought it was pacing in agitation and worry.
But for the moment, they had no idea what it was up to. For now, he had to report to Fire, and explain that soon they would have wounded to tend to, and soldiers to arm.
He stood up, teleported and found himself at the mouth of the shelter. Rolling his shoulders, Voidblade readied to walk amongst the humans. It had been fine when it was just the three women (and Fire, and the dwarf). Now they were everywhere and it was getting… awkward. He didn’t hate all humans, exactly, but humans had massacred his kind to the point of capitulation in his world, so he was aware of human cruelty. The enderborn had started that war, but the human retaliation had been terrifying. Maybe these humans were different. Voidblade wasn’t holding out for that, however. He had been let down enough times.
He pressed the button and the immense piston doors started to slide apart. He stepped right through and began to walk at a brisk pace. On his left was a small library where Destiny sat, staring at a page with a scowl on her face and fingers running through her brown ponytail. Until recently she had been out hunting constantly. Then, the others arrived and people kept joining her hunts and she had been polite, but obviously wanted to be alone. As Voidblade understood from the well-meaning whispers about the shelter, she had lost a loved one recently. He hoped she recovered quickly. War did not wait for grief. But she seemed to know that well - she had killed Herobrine’s protégé.
“Then again,” Voidblade mused. “A lot of people here claim to have killed Herobrine, or to have served him, or to come from a world where he doesn’t exist at all. It would be nice to come from a world where that killer never existed.”
Passing by on his right were the red-haired woman they called Jennifer and Fristad, the shepherd. They had bows and were obviously about to go hunting. The latter wore a strange chest-place which glowed purple in places. He had seen the crystals used to suppress magic. There was a story in this to be sure, but no one seemed comfortable talking about it and Voidblade was more than happy to remain ignorant for the time being. Nonetheless, he had resolved to snap Fristad’s neck if he ever attempted to remove the suppression device.
“Voidblade!” called Fristad suddenly, beaming in that obnoxious human fashion. Voidblade didn’t believe these ostentatious, grandiose emotions could possibly be sincere and yet it was all humans seemed capable of displaying. “My man, how did the scouting go?”
Voidblade turned to look down at him, incensed and stooping a little. “I am not your manservant.”
Fristad’s eyes widened and his face flattened with surprise.
“I… I didn’t say that,” responded Fristad with a tone so meek it became a question.
Voidblade looked him up and down, trying to decipher whether he was being mocked.
“Sorry,” said Voidblade. “There appears to have been a breakdown in communication. Have a nice day, my… man.”
He then quickly strutted off, not looking back. However, if he had he would have seen Fristad turn to Jennifer and start asking if he’d done something wrong, and the red-headed warrior pat him on the shoulder and start to smooth the feathers of his worry.
He reached a bend in the corridor. Urist the dwarf and Steve Brine, Jennifer’s boyfriend, were talking to Lucy, a blonde-haired woman who apparently had been a housemaid before being recruited by Fire. The former was characteristically short and dumpy and covered in soot. They had been mining. Steve, however, showed absolutely no sign of this endeavour. His armour and skin were clean. This was an odd, slightly unnerving characteristic of Steve and Jennifer - they never got dirty, as though they only interacted with the physical world part-way. Steve didn’t even seem used to the concept of blood, always flinching when he saw bleeding.
Regardless, the two had been mining and now they were reaching into their seemingly cavernous pockets and producing quantities of stone and riches that Voidblade couldn’t fathom. And Lucy responded with equally unfathomable comprehension, noting down and categorising every article of their delivery in her notebook.
“So, where do you want us to put the coal?” asked Steve, balancing a perfectly square block of coal ore the size of a child on his fingertips. That was another thing - no matter what he pulled out of the earth with his pickaxe, it always took on the shape of a perfectly euclidian cube.
“I designated one of the areas for ore storage just earlier, can’t miss it, just one entrance further down the tunnel than what we used so far. It also has sub-sections for the different types as opposed to the old pile.”
“Cool,” Steve nodded, before pocketing the coal and setting off down the hall.
Voidblade kept his eyes on the floor and marched past Lucy, mumbling his report out in rapid-fire: “Scouting mission completed. No Tower sightings. Refugees approaching.”
Lucy looked up from her notebook and smiled. “That’s great to hear, thank you for giving us eyes out there, Voidblade.”
Voidblade stopped and made rigid eye contact. He nodded once.
“You’re welcome,” he proclaimed, before resuming his measured, inconspicuous charge down the hallway. He congratulated himself for the level of courtesy he had afforded the human. If he kept that up he might just survive in this shelter after all.
He paused a moment when an energy arrow shot out from the training room, a large cavern they had converted into a bit of a dojo. It had pierced a fully-cooked chicken drumstick and was now pinning it to the wall. The arrow rapidly disintegrated and Voidblade caught the food as it fell. It occurred to him that he hadn’t eaten so he looked in through the door to make sure it wouldn’t be missed.
“You’re improving,” said Rose diplomatically. “Accuracy-wise, you’re doing great. You just need to work on timing, and not shooting the last one out the door. Come on, that’s like the fourth time today - you’re just letting that become a habit.”
A quick inspection of the room revealed the black-haired assassin sitting in an armchair, materialising knives to throw at a bullseye across from her. However, that was the least interesting aspect of the room. There were half a dozen other targets around the room, each of which had a small pile of pierced drumsticks on the floor in front of them. At the centre of the room was Warnado, the small hooded child, holding a bow of glowing light. Of his face, only the mouth and two glowing red eyes were visible. He wore a large brass-coloured gauntlet that covered most of his forearm on one arm but not the other.
“Really? My timing’s off?” he snapped. “Here I thought it was just chance that the last one keeps going out the door! Surprisingly, lady, it’s a little difficult to get the timing right on summoning six separate chicken drumsticks in mid-air, then shooting them just as they pass by weirdly-placed targets with arrows I have to will into existence!”
“Stop getting frustrated. Take five. Next round I want all the chicken on the bullseyes.”
She threw three knives at her target in quick succession. Warnado went over to a basin of water and started splashing his face.
These knives were then gathered up by Amanda and sorted into labelled buckets depending on make. Voidblade observed the process repeat several times. At seemingly random intervals Rose started throwing, and then the second she stopped Amanda would snap to attention and snatch up the knives before Rose started throwing again. No warning was given and in the three or four times Voidblade saw this process repeat, nearly all of them were near-misses. It appeared to be some sort of reaction-time exercise.
“Hm, that’s enough cleavers,” Amanda suggested. “Lucy said we really need some more stilettos.”
Amanda was about as young as Warnado, barely a teenager. And yet she had a world-weariness about her. Lack of sleep had engraved rings beneath her blue eyes, and her skin was so pale her dark brown hair seemed jarring. Her manner was where it was clearest though. Despite the tendency of even mature humans to waste words, she said only what she needed to say when it needed to be said - she would have fit in well among Voidblade’s people.
“Honey, Lucy can need as many stilettos as she likes. You aren’t ready for me to start throwing stilettos.” She threw another cleaver to punctuate her point.
Amanda shook her head and returned to her catcher’s position.
“Hey V!” Warnado called, leaning against a stone pillar and waving. Voidblade realised “V” was referring to him. The red glows were slightly narrowed, indicating a frown. “What do ya need?”
Voidblade realised he had given the humans quite enough words for that day. That was perhaps the thing he hated most about being in a primarily human environment - humans never stopped asking questions. How are you? Did you have a good day? What do you want? Why are you staring at me like that? And so on. Enderborn always seemed to be on the same page and he vowed to never take that for granted ever again when he got back to his world. He pointed a finger at the drumstick, then at his mouth. Warnado deliberated a few milliseconds upon this laconic but intriguing polemic in favour of the enderman getting the tasty chicken leg before offering a thumb’s up of resounding approval. Voidblade, meanwhile, held true to his withdrawal from human contact and had ducked back out of the room before the thumb was even fully raised.
Biting voraciously, he rounded a corner and took a moment to appreciate just how bright the shelter was. A large lamp pierced the ceiling every few minutes. Miniature swords of light needle his vision and he fought the urge to rub them. Voidblade supposed he should be glad he didn’t have to stoop to avoid them, as he had in the village’s buildings. That had motivated in part his decision to sleep in a tree at the foot of the Prophet’s hill - he was tired of knocking his head off the ceiling.
The command room was just at the end of the hall, but Voidblade stopped himself one last time to steal a sidelong glance into the infirmary. The wizard, Astro, stood over a bed. However, the wizard, with his black hair and his face line with age and worry, was of little interest to Voidblade. Everything about him, from his slight stoop to his aura of sadness, disgusted the enderman a little. He could never take real interest in such a frail specimen. Voidblade was interested in the man in the bed.
The divider was drawn back and Voidblade could make out the outline of his body, covered in layers of duvets and blankets. Beneath all that, his body looked soft and smooth as a snow drift. Voidblade could hardly reconcile this with the image of mortality they had recovered a few days before. His obsidian-plated cuirass had been shattered, and the ribs beneath fared little better. His pale skin and auburn hair had become a frail canvas for blood and bruising flesh. His opponent had slammed him against the line between life and death until his back broke. If not for the potions from Fire’s world, he would be dead. With their help, he was due to recover within a few days.
Now, a half-dead human was hardly an interest to Voidblade, but this was an exception. He heard many strange things about him. That he was a General. That, contrary to the others, he had served Herobrine. That the book that sat on the table beside him, seemingly unassuming, was a source of power to him. However, above all, Voidblade had heard he had taken on the Entity alone. He lost, and evidently quite severely, but there was something to learn there.
Voidblade couldn’t stop himself from speculating in the face of that. He wondered if the fight had been close, or if it had been a massacre. The stories spread about the congregation did not inspire hope in Voidblade. Entire armies fell before the Entity. The Entity itself could be considered an army, literally or figuratively depending on who recounted. That he had survived at all seemed something of a miracle and this one miracle might promise another. Sadly, for the moment, the auburn-haired General remained asleep and the miracle remained solitary.
Voidblade continued on before Astro could notice him and force an interaction, finally reaching the doorway. He stopped to tear the remaining chicken into his mouth and swallowed it down before throwing the chicken bone into a small gutter. Voidblade almost walked on, but reminded himself of something Lucy had called him up on. He pressed his palm into a large stone button and watched as the bottom of the gutter opened up and the bone was consumed by lava.
Inside the command room were three individuals. Tyron, who called himself Dragoknight, was tending a furnace. The fire reflected in his clear blue eyes, and sweat matted his green fur. He was half-listening to the conversation of the other two. He reached into the glowing blue portal on his back from which he materialised a bucket of water. He blew on its surface and it immediately began to frost over. Tentatively, he cracked the surface of the ice and trickled a thread of diamond-shaped droplets onto the flames. He drew back as the steam emerged, placing the bucket back into the portal and proceeding to rearrange his damp facial fur. He then began to stare at his sword, which he called Kir, and cocked an eyebrow.
Fire and Shadow stood over a map showing the topography of Nexus, the patch-work world the Entity had trapped them all in. Fire was a huge scaled creature not unlike an enderman, though he had short, white hair, glowing red eyes and wore fabrics like the humans. He called himself a “Mencur-Besh”, though Voidblade did not know what this meant. He had a series of small flags in hand that he placed with pin-point precision upon the map.
Shadow sat on the edge of the table, just under five feet tall and kicking her legs back and forth. Like her brother, she had red eyes and hair of a shocking white, though it was long. A wave of it flowed down until it broke upon her shoulders and mingled into her robes somewhere past the armpit. It stood in dichotomy with her skin, which was the colour of night. There was not a trace of her namesake on the wall or floor. Wodahs the living shadow has evidently left its master for a stroll.
The two siblings were deep in conversation and Voidblade waited for a moment to intervene.
“We know from Destiny’s scouting missions that the Tower’s immediate area of influence is surprisingly small. The Entity or the Ender, whoever is in charge of the troops directly, may send out patrols but it seems that very little attention is given to what goes on in Nexus. Most of their focus seems to be on the outer worlds.”
Shadow replied: “I think I understand the logic. From what I could gather from the Prophet’s sermons, the Entity gains power the bigger Nexus becomes, so from its point of view everything that’s here is already conquered and secured. It seems to find ‘internal’ threats unlikely, maybe even impossible.”
“We should be careful trying to read too much into the Entity, it doesn’t exactly think along the same lines as we do. However the effect is the same, we should be able to operate relatively unhindered.” Fire said. And so they continued. And continued. And continued without missing one beat.
As Voidblade waited seemingly ceaselessly for a gap to appear in the wall of conversation a small voice chirped in his head. “Hello friend! Reason for coming? Will tell Tyron. Make things faster.”
Voidblade’s first thoughts were immediately along the lines of “Who are you?” And his first reaction was to look around as though stung by a wasp.
Voidblade’s blood stopped pounding so much. They had mentioned that the sword could talk. This was just the first time it had found reason to talk to him. Yet it already called him “friend”. It was worse than the humans.
His mind naturally floated toward why he had come and without having meant to, he answered Kir’s request.
Tyron turned and smiled at Voidblade with his glassy eyes and said, “We have news from the scouts. Come in Voidblade.”
Fire stopped talking, Shadow stopped preparing her response and the siblings stood to attention.
Voidblade seized the moment and explained, “The Prophet’s congregation will arrive within a day or two. In numbers. No pursuers apparent.”
The three looked at each other and Voidblade awaited instructions.
Fire didn’t answer immediately, his gaze suggested he was thinking something over.
“I will have to check out capacity with Lucy. We should have enough for at least nine hundred comfortably, about double that as an absolute maximum. I think I’ll have Urist and his team construct an additional sleeping area, that should push our capacity well above a thousand. For now our mushroom farms should more than cover our food needs and in a pinch we’ll resort to the spiders… I had hoped for a smoother transition.”
“That is all well and good,” added Tyron. “But we are making them into an army, are we not?”
“Once they have had a few days to adjust we can start dividing them up based on existing combat skills, the ones proficient in fighting can act as instructors along with people from our group, who will act as coordinators.”
“And that’s all great,” Tyron conceded. “I was more getting at who’s going to lead them, and command structure beyond that. I get the impression you’re keen on leading, and I’m not opposed to that, but we should have a conversation about it. If we can present a united front, the congregation will join us more readily. You may be the ‘Champion of Life and Death’ they’re so keen on, but people only put as much faith in prophecy as others put in.”
Voidblade blinked. He had not thought about who might lead them other than Fire. Since they arrived, Fire had been the undisputed leader, and none of the others had questioned this when he took them in. In fact, his position had just been consolidated further, with Shadow, Tyron and Astro forming a Council of advisors. In Voidblade’s view, everyone else was either too young (like Warnado and Amanda), too solitary (like Destiny or himself) or as happy to receive commands as to give them. Then again, humans were inexplicable and irrational. Voidblade just hoped one of their number didn’t end up leading.
Shadow said: “The exact wording was ‘Mortal gods have taken two kinds and forged them into a higher one! Their champion will come to command the forces of life and death!’ but that’s besides the point.”
Fire chuckled, then turned to Tyron again. “It’s a good thing you brought that up. So far I have been leading because it was a natural transition from building the shelter and nobody objected to it. But yes, I do not plan on taking the leadership without asking anyone about it. The best way of going about it would probably be a ballot of some kind.”
“That was about what I was going to suggest. Secret, written ballot. Nice starting point of democracy,” Tyron clapped his hands together and pointed them at Voidblade, “Here, can you do me a favour and go around gathering the others?”
Despite his annoyance at having to talk again, Voidblade nodded and asked if there was anything else.
“If you could grab Astro first, that would be great. I’ll need his help organising the count.”
Voidblade teleported into the infirmary. He could have walked it, but that would have given them more opportunities for instructions. The enderborn liked to think they had the best work ethic of any species, but Voidblade was the first to admit it had its limits.
Astro was still standing over his friend, so Voidblade came over and tapped him on the shoulder. The wizard, who had been deep in thought, didn’t jump when the talons brushed him. Instead, he slowly shambled around and his stupor continued until he was looking Voidblade in the eyes. He only seemed to show the slightest bit of surprise when the enderman began to speak, as though it made the whole situation oppressively more real.
“Liability,” thought Voidblade.
“Tyron requires your help,” rasped the enderman. “They are going to vote on who shall lead the congregation to war.”
Astro nodded in a slow, creaking way that said “I hope beyond hope it isn’t me.” He moved toward the door, looking so thin and frail a light breeze might have been carrying him along against his will. With that, Voidblade warped off and began to rally the others.
Chapter2:A day for saying what we wish were true (Kay)
You hear that?
It roused me a little. I was nowhere near awake, but I had risen above dreaming. That was preferable. I had been dreaming of the worst pits of warfare, though I was no longer sure which one. It might not even have been a real war. Mud and gunsmoke clothing me. Boiling blood and hurrahs carrying me. Thud of arrow. Squelch of boot. Snap of bone. Metal screams at metal. Like a leaf, I am buffeted and surrounded by sound.
As I said, it may not have been a real one, but it felt like a war. It felt right.
They are talking about leadership. It shall be a vote. You must awaken, quickly. It is our chance.
Our pact came back to me. I had agreed to pursue power with this Book, in return for access to its magic. And with them I had been powerful and bested the Ender. It was time to start fulfilling my end of the bargain.
I forgot that it couldn’t hear the roar of the river of my consciousness. Defending that had become so natural since Herobrine. In my rare moments of lucidity I had experienced sudden surges of panic about whether my defences would hold and I would end up a pawn like Fristad. Evidently, my earlier confidence was well-founded.
“Sorry,” I thought in response, inflecting it with the resonance of a half-chuckle. It was artificial, but it conveyed my meaning. “I forgot how good I am at this.”
“You’ll learn to love it, really.”
…Leadership election. I can wake you up early and keep you up. Time is of the essence.
“One moment, I’m constructing a plan of attack.”
I was actually telling the truth. Fire was my obvious rival and I set about drawing up a list of likely allies. Astro was a given. Thanks to Glibby blowing up that portal, Astro had spent a full decade more time bonding with me than I had with him. Of course he’d back me. Tyron and Kir would perhaps too after our wee heart-to-hearts. Warnado would naturally want to support me. We’d been inseparable since arriving in Nexus...
Steve and Jen would probably back Fire because he’d always been nice to them, whereas I started out by punching Steve in the head. That wasn’t a totally lost cause, though. Steve and I had shot the breeze a lot in the village. Destiny probably wasn’t too impressed by my emotional display back in the village. Shadow was Fire’s sister. Fristad was an unknown, so was Amanda, and then there were the four people who had accompanied Fire and anyone else who might have arrived in the meantime.
I took a moment to reconstruct my “leadership accent” and I had reached campaigning mode.
“Ready, wake me up.”
My eyes shot open and I immediately started looking around. I lay in an infirmary bed, in a night-gown. Everything was well-lit by redstone lamps and annoyingly clean. Astro had a hand on the doorframe and a foot in the hallway and an enderman had just teleported away. I could see the particles in the air. I realised my heart was pounding. Every inch of me was tingling. I almost felt like I was waiting for the world to catch up with me. I immediately started throwing aside my covers and scrambling to my feet.
“Why am I so hyper?” I asked the Book.
Adrenaline boost. Trust me, you won’t like it if I stop it. If you had’ve listened to me and not fought the Entity it wouldn’t be necessary.
I felt my heart quicken yet further when I remembered the moment where the Entity’s second manifestation had grabbed my wrist and hurled me into a sword. I felt my lungs tighten and my view of the present was suddenly supplanted by my inner view of memories. Now was not the time for a panic attack.
“Fine, you’re right,” I permitted for efficiency’s sake, powering on through. “Rift to hallway, now.”
I raised a clenched fist and a gash of grey flame tore itself open before me. I practically leapt through.
I arrived in the hallway just before Astro. His prematurely old eyes widened.
“Hey Astro!” I shouted jovially, throwing my arms wide before hugging him. “I hear it’s election season, can I count on your vote?”
You certainly are… direct? I consoled the Book not to worry. This and sneaking were my elements.
He immediately broke down laughing, “Mods, you always did strike while the iron is hot!”
“Can I take that as a yes?”
Astro rolled his eyes. “Sure,” he allowed, looking around a little.
“Knew I could count on you, buddy!” I clapped him hard on the back and he laughed again in surprise. “Now, where’s Warnado at?”
“In the training room, just around the corner-”
I grabbed him by the arm and willed the Book to open another rift. Another doorway was visible just on our right and I marched right toward it.
“So,” I craned my head around. “What have I missed. How are things around the… what are we calling it? Does it have a name?”
“Just the shelter.”
“Shelter. Catchy. I like it,” I grinned as Astro shook his head and exhaled happily through his nostrils, “But yeah, anything I should know-”
Just as I passed into view of the doorframe I saw a glint of energy in the shape of a knife hurtling at me at several-dozen miles per hour.
“OH THAT’S SUCH BULL!” shrieked Warnado.
“Defensive portal!” I shrieked aloud in my native brogue, assuming a one-legged pose of panic. War only prepares you for so much, and I was expecting a totally friendly environment. Don’t mock me. I spared a glance at Astro, who was covering his mouth with a weathered hand adorned with magical rings. He had the aspect of a man with front row seats to a great and impressive cultural moment that he would mock for the next decade. If possible, he might communicate it to his young self, so they might work two decades out of it.
The Book obliged, hastily opening a rift in front of and behind me. The energy knife flew through the circuit and planted itself in the wall just to my left.
“Thanks,” I muttered internally to the Book. That’s two I owe you.”
Only two? I suppose an election is a day for saying what we wish were true rather than what is.
The jest, while probably ominous, amused me. It helped me as I stepped into the room, desperately trying to reconstruct my mystique.
“Warnado!” I boomed merrily, the accent reassumed. “How have you been?”
“Kay, you’re awake!” he called enthusiastically before running up to me.
I ruffled the tip of his hood, feeling hard lumps between what I assumed was hair. A quick glance revealed Amanda, who was sorting knives into buckets by a bullseye on my left. She smiled sardonically and waved. I nodded with philosophy in response.
From out of my field of view came the voice of a woman: “And who might you be, man who almost got yourself skewered?”
“I’m glad you asked!” I turned to her with my eyes closed importantly. “As commandant of the 10th Legion of the Herobrinian Army, I, Kay Mandy, entreat you to vote for me in this upcoming leadership election!”
I opened my eyes and saw a rather dangerous-looking woman with black hair and brown eyes. I looked at her clothes and found she was darkly dressed and had a habit of hiding weapons on her. She also had a knife in her hand that she aimed at a bullseye. The very image of an assassin. Her mouth formed a half-smile that betrayed a faint but fleeting amusement.
“And why would I do that?”
“A myriad of reasons,” I began to saunter over to her, projecting my voice to the room and looking around. Amanda had sat back and stopped sorting. Astro and Warnado were watching me from the doorway, one with a begrudging awe and the other with childish enthusiasm. I’ll let you decide which was which.
“I am a General, philosopher, aviator, adventurer, mercenary and man of faith! Herobrine blessed me with the gift of prophecy and I foretold his return. I then fought alongside him. I won him Arcadia! I won him Zine and then protected it from both Notch himself and Israphel!” I raised an arm emphatically.
“I was there as he ascended and Israphel cracked open the heart of the world! I have seen the depths of the Void, the fires of the Nether ,the light of the Aether and many of the sights worth seeing in the Sane Realm of mortals! I have defied corrupt administrators, twisted game-masters and the Entity itself! And all this I did with sword and with fist! Now, having tamed that Book which sought to warp the minds of men-”
Tamed, am I?
“Hush,” I calmed it. “We’ll work on accommodating your dignity later. For now, results.”
Reasoned well. Do carry on.
“-I have obtained powers beyond my own wildest imaginings,” at that I asked the Book to summon voidflame which turned from silver to purple in one hand and sparks of stark blue lightning in the other. “I am Kay Mandy, of Void and of Tempest. First time using this power I bested the Ender. Had the Entity not intervened, she would be here now, captain of a mostly dead and dispersed guard that would crumble in her absence, telling us the Entity’s full plan. To conclude: I am a fighter of great experience and power, a strategist of great wisdom, and as this speech has hopefully proved, an orator of great ability. I hope I can count on your votes.”
Astro offered a polite applause. Amanda smiled. Warnado whooped and called out “Kay 2020”, a phrase which meant nothing to me and of which I doubt even he truly understood the significance.
Rose’s reaction consisted of a single raised eyebrow, she said: “And I am Rose, became a cult enforcer for the money, ritual-stabbed a guy, ended up here and have no idea what most of the names you just said mean.”
I’ll be honest, I expected her to be more impressed. I tried to hide my disappointment.
“Well, Rose, it is a pleasure to be formally introduced. I get where you’re coming from. I was a mercenary for a long while, and in my time serving Herobrine I was something of a cultist myself. Don’t you want someone to represent your interests in the leader’s seat?”
It was hard to read but I could have sworn her mouth curled into something resembling a smile for a split-second. Whether that was a sincere smile or a sign of mocking amusement was a whole other question.
“We’ll see,” she warned, eyes wry and discerning.
“We shall see indeed. Anyway,” I swung around to Astro, “Where’s Tyron?”
“Probably the command room with Fire and-”
“Okay, where’s everyone else?”
“The atrium,” responded Astro, cock-eyed, “I guess.”
“Yeah,” Warnado agreed. “Fristad and Jennifer were heading out hunting so they’ll pass back through there. And of course Lucy will be around there. Destiny, too. It’s just at the end of the hall.”
“That’s excellent, do you mind helping out with canvassing, pal? D’you have time or are you training?”
“Sure,” he said easily, then with more tension added, “I’ve kind of hit a snag in the training for today. I’d better take a break and look at it with fresher eyes.”
“Then to the atrium we go!”
I grabbed them by the scruffs of their necks and the Book summoned another rift. A split-second later I was looking at a desk covered in papers with Lucy working away at it. I nodded politely to her. A look in the other direction revealed a small cluster of people containing Fristad, Jennifer and an enderman, presumably the one who had visited Astro in the infirmary, entering the shelter through a large piston door. Down a hallway to the side Steve and a dwarfish man left a room, chatting away about mining and such.
“Who are the Endling and the short fellow?” I muttered to Astro.
“That’s Voidblade,” he pointed toward the piston door-end of the atrium. “He doesn’t talk much. The short guy is Urist. He’s an actual, honest-to-Mods, dwarf. Not the word we use to make fun of Stoneholmers.”
“Really?” I was genuinely surprised. Folks called Aaron a dwarf back home and he was taller than me. Just because he lived in Stoneholm a wee while. Dimension-hopping really put inconsistencies like that in relief.
And with that I recomposed myself, noticed that everyone was starting to notice that I was awake and prepared to speak.
“Listen up!” Warnado called, beating me to the punch. “General Mandy has something to say!”
Pleasantly surprised, I watched people stand to attention and cleared my throat. Destiny, book in hand, stepped out of the library. I became very conscious I was wearing the white nightgown of a mental patient, but I hoped it just added to the quirkiness of it all and worked in my favour.
“Well, guess I’m not dead,” I chuckled and stepped back to look at reactions. Jennifer and Steve both smiled predictably. Fristad seemed wary, understandably. (I made sure not to let the Book hear the last word, though telegraphed the rest of it to show it my powers of observation). Endling: impassive. Urist: grinning. Lucy: kind eyes, beaming and nodding. I couldn’t read Destiny - I’d obviously shattered the morose scowl she had been wearing, but I wasn’t sure what the remaining emotion was. Disgust, confusion, distrust and cerebral contusion all seemed just as likely. Regardless, everyone seemed just as disarmed, and this was as perfect a stage to seize as any. “Sorry about the dressing gown - not my choice.”
I cleared my throat, but just as I began my speech, Tyron came in. Scratching his head with one hand and holding Kir up like a looking glass, he approached the desk. This was perfect. I still needed a few seconds to construct a speech. I’d kind of hoped to have a few lower-key schmoozings before Warnado took charge.
“Lucy,” he asked, “do you have any ballot paper? I-” He looked up and saw me in the centre of the room. “Oh, Kay, you’re up! Great to see you.”
“Tyron, my friend,” I greeted in my most grandiose, booming voice, positively overcome with joy at the sight of the big, green furball. Naturally, I was happy to see him, but I was putting it on a bit. “How are you?”
I ran up and bear-hugged him to the best of my ability.
“I love this man!” I called out performatively. “He has been there for me in some low moments since I arrived in Nexus, an excellent confidant. He and little Kir!” I pecked the sword on its flat. “I wouldn’t be here without them. And of course not without Warnado, who introduced me with such enthusiasm. Another great friend, with whom I launched the escape from the Tower. Who helped me tame the Book - his was the plan that stopped its dream-weaving. And I wouldn’t be here without Steve and Jennifer, who, with help from Shadow, conducted essential research that figured out a way to nullify the Book’s powers - research which now allows Fristad his freedom! Not without Destiny and…” I swallowed defensively, on the verge of an immense blunder.
Yes, condescended the Book. Do not talk about the escape or the grief that came of it. Probably shouldn’t have claimed credit for the escape attempt.
“... without Destiny, who alerted us all to the threat Fristad posed in his possessed state and didn’t allow herself to be gaslit or manipulated into silence. Without even the now-tamed Book, which teleported me away when the Entity bested me and enabled my capture of the Ender, and the massacre of her forces.
“Most of all, I wouldn’t be alive without Astro, our wizened wizard. A friend of mine these last four-to-ten years who advised me through some deal of war and strife, funded my dreams and somehow put up with me through all of it. As loyal a companion as I could ever ask for!
“And not without so many of you here would we have escaped the village!
“Even those who weren’t there with us through any of the things I have recounted, who only joined when Fire sent out the call for the construction of this kindly shelter, have been essential to mine and our survival. Urist, Voidblade, Lucy, you gave us a place to flee to.
“In fact, if I recall correctly, for I was mostly catching up on some much-required beauty sleep at the time, the shelter crew ensured that we actually successfully reached this place. Had we proceeded on foot, I certainly would not have lasted long enough to be healed fully. Shadow had done her best, but I was still losing life. I felt myself slipping away day by day, growing ever weaker in spirit even if my bodily decline had been stymied. For these things and many other services and sacrifices of which I am probably as yet unaware, I thank you. We will ensure your efforts are not in vain.
“Moreover, I thank everyone in this bunker for what they have given to fight the Entity and assure our mutual survival. We now face a choice, and I would be honoured to be the one who leads you. I have seen the threat we face, and I have not missed the toll it has taken upon you and so many others. Mitigating current suffering and preventing future difficulty will be at the heart of any army headed by me. I entreat your support.”
And with that, I turned toward the command room, and took the lead in marching on, buffeted onwards by the winds of polite applause and satisfied hmmmms.
Chapter3:The Ballot (Fire)
“Kay finished his speech. They’ll be here in less than a minute.” Shadow said, a rune dimming on her arm.
Fire took a deep breath. “Let’s hope this goes by without creating any bigger issues.”
Fire used the few seconds he had to mentally prepare himself for what was going to happen. Everyone would enter the room, they’d close the door and hold their ballot. Maybe Kay wouldn’t be too confrontational due to his recent injuries but Fire wasn’t too hopeful. Ideally the entire thing wouldn’t take more than ten minutes and once it was over they’d have an officially elected leader.
Shadow asked, as if reading Fire’s thoughts: “What if it isn’t you?”
Fire replied: “I’ll make do, I don’t have to be at the top to see this through, it’ll be just like back home. It’s not ideal but it’s workable.”
Before they could exchange any more words the rest of the group was upon them. Somewhat surprisingly Destiny was the first one to enter the room, quickly followed by Steve and Jennifer as well as Lucy, who gave them a quick greeting by waving a handful of ballot paper at them. Almost immediately after them came Urist and Fristad, who were loudly chatting about something. Then came Warnado, Amanda and Kay.
The moment Kay entered the room his eyes were fixed on Fire burning with competitiveness and other things that Fire deliberately ignored. Kay was still wearing his infirmary garb, that combined with the fact that his movements were even more exaggeratedly grandiose than usual did not bode well at all.
“I’m back!” Kay exclaimed as he struck a pose. “Hope you didn’t miss me too much. I’m feeling just in the mood for an electoral debate. Would be a good change of pace after defeating the mods-damned Ender in single combat!”
Shadow cut in. “Kay, there isn’t even everyone here yet. You’re welcome for the healing by the way.”
Kay blinked in indignance, Fire looked back at the entrance. Tyron and Astro were the next ones to enter, Astro pulling Tyron aside almost immediately. A few seconds later Voidblade and Rose entered and shut the door behind them. Voidblade immediately tried to gain as much distance as he could from the humans in the room, a tendency of his that would hopefully lessen as he got more used to living with them.
Shadow spoke again. “Alright, now that everyone is here it’s time to explain exactly why we are here in case anyone hasn’t heard it yet.”
Fire was glad that his sister was taking the speaking role, since he was one of the candidates it would have been quite odd if he had announced the ballot himself. Shadow was a good speaker if she wanted to be, there was something about her that made people listen.
Shadow continued: “Fire built the foundations of this shelter but immediately taking the lead would be a bit undemocratic, so we decided to hold a ballot for who is going to take the position of leader. Currently the two obvious candidates are Fire and Kay, however if anyone else wants to step forward they can.”
There was no response for a few seconds. “We have our candidates then.”
Lucy spoke up: “I have the papers but no urn. How are we going about this?”
Urist started shifting on the spot and a few seconds later he was holding some kind of vessel. “Almost forgot I had this thing, memento ‘o my last colony.”
He hurried forward and placed the vessel on the central table. Fire took a closer look at it, it was odd to say the least. Its basic shape was that of an urn made from what looked to be silver, decorated with spikes of various other metals. On the urn were engravings that Fire couldn’t read. Urist had started to teach him the runes and iconography that dwarves used but his grasp on them was still rudimentary. The only runes Fire could decipher meant “elephant” and “lever”.
As much as Fire would have liked to contemplate the urn, there was an election at hand and his opposition seemed quite eager to get some words out.
“Most of you have heard my routine already,” Kay oozed confidently, sitting on the table, arms folded loosely and eyes half-closed. “So, I’ll be brief and hopefully a little less formal. Pretty sure I used the word mitigating last time - ha! - breaking out the big-boy words and such. What on earth was I at?” He paused for a few isolated chuckles.
“Suffice to say, I’m a military man. I’ve withstood sieges, led ambushes, taken death-blows for superiors and underlings alike. I am fiercely loyal to those I consider friends and exceedingly liberal with the definition of friend. I am a skilled swordsman, hand-to-hand fighter and now magical man. I will whip that congregation into shape. I have fought men and Divines and Endlings, and if you give me an army I will teach them how to massacre all three. I am, to the best of my knowledge, the only one who has bested a captain of the Tower or faced the Entity and I will seek to convey what I have learned.
“And it doesn’t stop on the training field. I am a man of exceeding mental fortitude and strategic instinct. Out in that battlefield I was telling the book how to use its own powers to maximum effect. In warfare I was renowned for low-casualty, unconventional raids that wreaked havoc on our enemies before we engaged them in open combat. Herobrine’s 10th wasn’t actually that large. Maybe eight thousand at its peak, and yet we held the Arcadian peninsula for a year.
“Moreover, I’d like to think I understand people. I know how to keep morale up. As I’ve hopefully proved, I can be quite persuasive,” he chuckled and a few more people joined him than the last time. “And I tend to lead from the front. While I am glad that this shelter was built and ready for our arrival, I would like to point out that Fire just kind of left without telling anyone he was going aside from Shadow. And he also only told Shadow he had sighted the Ender at the Prophet’s hill, which might have been useful to know before she turned up hunting for us a day or two later.”
He was mad now. Obviously mad. Fire wanted to stop him but he picked back up.
“And he wasn’t there at the Tower, either. This is not to cast aspersions about Fire’s motives or character, but his leadership style does feel a tad detached for my tastes. There’s leading from the front and then there’s leading from a front, somewhere. Moreover, it does seem premature to me that someone who has barely even faced the Entity or his little squad of goons thinks he can adequately lead people against them, on account of his success in simulated warfare,” Kay concluded with a harsh and bitter brogue. “I appreciate your support.”
With that, he stood up and rejoined Warnado, furrowing his eyebrows and tightening his folded arms. A polite but somewhat uneasy round of applause went up. Tyron patted Kay on the shoulder, but his face was such a mess of consternation that he might have been congratulating or consoling him.
Fire took a few moments to consider. Just like when Kay had lost his temper in the village, the temptation to deliver a crushing, deconstructive response was there but yet again Fire decided against it, if anything it would escalate the tension further.
He said: “I suppose I’ll start with some backstory as well to stay in theme and then respond to the more glaring accusations. I was born to pretty much the worst parents you could imagine, not only were they war profiteers and generally horrible people, they were also dead for as long as I can remember. I only found out about this when I was older but for brevity I’ll spare you most of the events after. The important point is that I had a sister who was pathologically afraid of anyone but me and I spent most of my life looking for a way to remedy this.
“I finally found a group of people who managed to create a world parallel to mine, a world in which my sister could be free. That is the world where I truly spent the majority of my life, time wise at least. It’s been a good five millenia now, in which I have gathered all kinds of experience in war and other matters, and contrary to what some might say, this experience was quite real.
“Eventually I made a slight mistake when experimenting with a new potion mixture and ended up in Nexus, where I ran into the very man who is now my opposition. I admit, I have had a history of disappearing in moments that were in hindsight quite inconvenient. The first time I managed to negotiate my ‘release’ with the Ender and gained valuable information in turn, which not only included the knowledge of safety of the location we are in but it also allowed me to return home and bring Shadow here. I could have just stayed in my world and hoped for the best but something tells me that it wouldn’t have ended well. As for the second time, as Kay put it, the shelter is essential to our current well-being.
“I know most of you have already made up your mind for who you want to elect, in fact, I think that for some that decision only has one viable choice, whichever that might be. Do what you think is best for our survival, because that’s what it comes down to in the end.”
Once Fire had stopped speaking Lucy started going around the room, handing out ballot paper and writing implements to everyone.
Once she arrived at Shadow she was met with a raised palm. Shadow said: “My vote was decided before I even arrived. I’m abstaining to have a result that better represents the opinion of those who don’t have my reasons.”
Astro, after conferring with Kay a second, cleared his throat: “Naturally, Kay has my support, but I respect that I’m a free vote on account of my past affiliations. For pretty much the exact same reasons, I abstain. Wizards think alike, I suppose.” He lightly tossed his ballot in.
Everyone got a few minutes to consider and cast their vote, some took longer than others. Fristad and Voidblade were the very first ones to put their paper into the urn, causing some slight awkwardness when it came to who went first.
Warnado was next, folding his ballot in the shape of a boat with a spell and flicking it off his wrist. Amanda rolled her eyes and handed in a less spectacular but certainly more anonymous entry to the anonymous ballot.
Lucy and Urist were the next ones to vote, followed automatically by Destiny, who seemed to have waited until the initial wave subsided. Rose followed a short while after, adding a second, identical boat to the urn, giving Warnado a sly smile. Fire smiled in turn, it seemed that Warnado had yet again managed to bring out a soft spot in someone.
When Shadow gave the warning that only a minute of time was left Steve and Jennifer stepped up as well, albeit slowly. Only Tyron remained not having voted, still looking deeply conflicted. As the last seconds ticked down he quickly scribbled down a name, folded the paper and threw it into the urn. He looked like he’d handed over a baby, or dropped it on the floor.
Shadow announced: “So, we have all the votes. I think it would be best if Astro and I do the counting together. Astro?”
Astro nodded and they spent a minute unfolding papers, separating them into piles and counting them. They spoke to each other the whole time, Shadow casting a ward to prevent people listening in on them. Then, finally they spoke.
“The count reads,” announced Astro, “Eight for Fire, three for Kay, with two abstentions.”
Fire felt relief flood through him, but shot a look at Kay to figure out what was going to happen. He looked like he’d just tasted sour milk and was appropriately silent. He walked up and offered a hand to Fire, forcing a smile that was as iron-clad as his gaze.
“Congratulations,” he said, offering a thorny, reluctant olive branch. “I did give you a fight.”
Fire replied: “That you did. Even if I had lost you would have had my support. It’s the ends of survival we’re fighting for here, how we get there is less important.”
“Naturally, survival is paramount and unity is key to that,” Kay conceded as though making a point to someone else. It wouldn’t have surprised Fire if that had been the Book speaking for Kay. “How do you intend to proceed, commander?”
Fire collected his thoughts, an outline for a plan was in his mind already, the details gradually filling in.
“The congregation will be here in less than two days, until then we need a clear command structure that allows us to smoothly integrate everyone into the shelter. The core group and some of the skilled early arrivals will act as group leaders in their respective areas, once more arrive they’ll have to delegate another layer of command. That way we keep the chain of command short but ideally without sacrificing professionalism. We don’t have the time to build up elaborate structures.”
“How are we defining ‘areas’?” asked Kay with a pragmatic sigh.
“Rough division between combat and non-combat, with each being split into smaller categories. Not everyone will be a soldier, we need logistics too, aspects of that’ll be most of the non-combat areas. The combat area is split into things like conventional weapons, siege operations, guerrilla tactics, magic, and a few others. The middle elements in the chain control the areas they are proficient in.”
“What’s the general strategy?” interjected Astro wearily, as though just to remind Kay others had similar questions. “How soon do we want them combat-ready?”
That was a good question, one that was very difficult to answer since a lot of the variables were unknown.
“I could say ‘as soon as possible’ but that satisfies no-one. I don’t know how close whatever the Entity is planning is to completion so we need to assume earlier rather than later. A rough estimate would be two weeks for the bare minimum of being able to put up a fight. Victory is not very likely through direct combat, the Entity remains something that we can’t ‘just’ kill.”
“What will you have me oversee?” Kay asked flatly.
Fire said: “Actually, I thought about making you my second-in-command when it comes to warfare. You are experienced and I could use an additional opinion when forming plans. Shadow would be filling the equivalent role on the magical side of things. Do you accept?”
“Absolutely,” said Kay, obviously surprised but not hesitating for a second. Collecting himself, he added: “I would be honoured. Dealing with the Endlings will be crucial and hopefully I’ll be able to give some insight on how that might be achieved. I’ve some formations from the Onslaught that might prove helpful.”
So far so good, now there was one final matter Fire had to address. “One last thing I’d like to say while we’re all in a room together. It’s regarding that prophecy that started off the shelter. I don’t know how much of it should be trusted, all I know is that people see me as its champion and I intend to use it to smooth things over until they can trust us because of how we lead not because of a prophecy.”
There was a silence in the room, they were obviously waiting for Fire to continue. “That’s all, get some rest, clear your head. In the evening we’ll meet here again to figure out the chain of command.”
Chapter4:Behind Closed Doors (Freak/Fristad)
Another meeting, great. Those had only increased in frequency in the recent time and I didn’t like it. Any other part of the Tower had a lot more fun things I could do, even if it was just invisibly stalking some technician. Here in the meeting room I had to stay visible and at least somewhat responsive and since I was part of the Entity’s “inner circle”, as they called it, I was expected to show up consistently.
Currently I was sitting in a chair between two other inner circle members, to my right was the Ender and to my left was Glibby, Glibby the Ape as his full name or title went. Well, he tried to bear it as a title, but it had the stink of a nickname that he couldn’t quite mask beneath his regal poise and gallons of perfume. The Ender was still badly beaten from her fight against the general, prominent lightning-shaped scars now visible across her face.
I couldn’t help but feel slightly bad for her, I was only mostly a heartless *******... on top of being a phantom that feeds on fear. Mortal emotions did have a tendency to worm their way into the minds of my kind as we aged. However I didn’t need to listen to that tiny voice in my head to know that the Ender was in a precarious position. Her role as primary military leader placed a lot of responsibility on her and with that came the ire of everyone else once she inevitably made a mistake. Glibby was especially happy about her failure, which he showed through remarks that were polite on the surface but brutally condescending beneath that.
In the following days Glibby’s Grey Ones, a squadron of old Endlings he had practically stolen from the Ender, would probably lord it over the Ender’s own troops. I chuckled. They were as much a drinking club as they were a unit. They didn’t even properly do their job as wardens, which had cost me quite a sizable amount of “beloved” subjects.
No, in truth the inner circle only included Glibby because he was sent by the Silhouette as an ambassador, hostage, gift or something of the sort, I didn’t concern myself with the details. The true third member of the inner circle was Marinus Bul, the terribly boring and pedantic but admittedly vital mouthpiece and “lawyer” of the Entity. He sat to Glibby’s right and was currently looking through some sort of notebook.
The important players were all here with Marcus from Command and Control already waving a pointing device around wildly and occasionally handing off to Issa from Dimensions and that dimensional cartographer Clark Belmont.
Other than that, the table was almost fully seated with the notable exception being the throne that the Entity usually occupied. Another important absence was the scientist who had accompanied the Ender during her mission, Dr.… Mercury, yeah, right. That was her name. Apparently her magical counterpart Archmage Wisp would answer in her stead, however everyone knew where the actual competence was in that duo.
As to where she was, I had some insider knowledge, and by that I mean I stalked her a bunch. She got quite obsessed with the thing we found in the village and apparently she was instructed to look into it by the Entity directly, with priority above the machine no less. Which brings me back to my new favorite subject: The Entity’s fear.
I could get a morsel of everyone in that room’s fear just by throwing my head back and breathing in. I knew them all well enough to know the taste by rote. The Ender had the coppery taste of high expectations - of what would happen if she returned home defeated. Glibby the unique savour of a specific person from his past. Bul the succulent tang of fearing death beneath a million more banal anxieties. Marcus: the Void. Issa: burning. Wisp: his mother or poverty (depending on the day). All of these were well familiar to me - as they should be, feeding on and knowing fear was my function in this world.
The Entity was not.
Ever since I entered its service, the Entity had betrayed not even the slightest concern. Reality was a mere bump in the road on the way to its objective. It wasn’t even like the taste of water, that at least had a texture. It wasn’t like breathing air. It was as though the air had been knocked out of the lungs of the world where it stood. The Entity was an absence. A suffocation. And while others of my kind had ignored it, feared it on these grounds, that was mere short-sightedness. I saw the terror it could engender in peoples, nations, worlds. It was like an empty god. And I told myself I would be there to ride the wave it would create and I would feast.
Then, something happened that I hadn’t believed possible. Something in that village - that insignificant collection of houses and shops - had made the Entity afraid. It had hurt it in some small way it hadn’t considered. Now, it hardly left its chambers, and had its manifestations patrolling the site of the problem.
As it gazed upon the little wound made upon the world, I tasted a strange sort of fear coming off my employer. It wasn’t as nourishing as mortal fear to be sure, but there was something sophisticated about it. The same way mortals desired to taste expensive spirits just to feel wealthy, I yearned for another taste of that elixir.
The Ender and the scientist were the only ones that had seen its cause and they were tight-lipped, but somehow the escapees had done it. I wasn’t sure which one - the wizard, the witch, the warriors, maybe even old Tyron - but I would have to conduct some research once we found them again. One of them, a shepherd called Fristad who hadn’t been in Bul’s omniscient notebook, was weak. Something had held him under its thumb before, and he would be pliable again. I looked forward to squeezing what I could out of him almost as much as I anticipated the fear of my master.
But there was something beyond mere yearning.
I had caught a glimpse of something more within the fear. Of another such wound, that the Entity desperately wanted to hide. Pretending to be healed, the wound festered somewhere in its chambers. Somewhere, in a room plated with obsidian and bronze, a tiny distortion trembled atop a throne. And there I might find the source of its fears. And in that source, perhaps an opportunity awaited. For if empty gods could still feel fear, how high could fear itself ascend?
I know I want to talk to Kay the second the vote is read. I see a look of anger in his eyes that cannot be his own. Not that I know him too well, but it’s a look of anger I’m familiar with. It’s how I always imagined the Book’s facial expressions. It wanted the leadership. That was obvious already - it’s why I didn’t vote for Kay - but seeing its anger on his face makes me aware of the more human consequences of its lust for power.
With me it just had a vessel which it had to make powerful. With Kay it saw an opportunity to grasp at power. He got less than half the votes Fire did, and he really seemed to be trying with those speeches. It will be angry.
Apparently he’s trained to resist mental manipulation, but I know the nightmares it is capable of conjuring. He at least needs some solidarity. I shoot Fire a pleading look that I’m not sure if he notices.
Please, I entreat, Let him leave this with something to show for it.
Relief washes over me when Fire grants him second-in-command, but I know that will only placate it so much.
So, as everyone leaves the room, I follow Kay and ask him for a moment to talk alone. He and Warnado exchange a look. The kid looks worried and I fail to make eye contact with Amanda as she turns to face me. I remember the terror the Book persuaded me to inflict in her. To break her. To make her our… its slave. The colour of youthful enthusiasm has started to return to her cheeks but she still has a certain paleness.
The metal vest with all its crystals feels loose upon me, and I wonder what I might be thinking if it were gone. My lungs feel paradoxically tight and my breathing constricted. I want to hug the vest against me and never let it get away. Never leave my mind vulnerable again.
After an agonizing few seconds, Kay folds the corners of his mouth downward in acceptance and leads me down a hallway and into a storage room. He starts going through a chest of armour, picking out lightweight diamond pieces.
“So, what is it you wanted to talk about, Fristad?” He asks distantly, his head still in a chest and his hands still rummaging.
The scrape and clatter of metal being moved is nearly deafening, so I wait for a pause in his movements before I talk. After a few false starts I manage:
“You know, I just wanted to check in. You looked pretty pissed about losing the election if you don’t mind my noticing.”
“Eh,” he grunts laxly. “You win some, you lose some.”
More clattering. Silence otherwise. I’m going to need a better approach. Normally I’d take this as a cue to leave a douche alone, but I try to tap into the optimism and empathy I’ve been making an effort to exercise since getting rid of the book.
“Listen,” I try again. “We are alone, alone, right? You can tell me.”
He turns around, looks me dead in the eye and chuckles.
“Don’t worry,” he says, clapping me on the shoulder with surprising warmth and sincerity. “The book and I have an arrangement.”
He returns to rummaging and I struggle not to feel reassured.
“An arrangement?” I cock an eyebrow.
“Yes,” he says, comparing two boots. “I want to get strong enough to beat the Entity and defend my friends once I get home. The book wants to accumulate power and strength. Our goals are fairly well-aligned. Worst comes to the worst, I decide I want to retire once I get back home and help the book find a better host. All works out.”
I’m surprised by how genuinely unconcerned he is, and it stokes the flames of worry in my chest.
“Okay,” I begin, snarking. “I won’t worry about the crazy possessed artifact that was inside my head controlling my every act for the last age.” I clap my hands against my thighs. “It’s just that easy, I guess.”
He turns around and sits on the lip of the box.
“Fristad,” he says. “Believe me, this isn’t a slight against you. You’re a civilian, not used to this sort of thing. Me? This is nothing new. Endlings worked on me for weeks. I didn’t crack, because I had the proper training. I’m glad you’re free of its influence, and don’t mistake this for me defending it. It’s done some reprehensible things, I’m sure, but this is a difficult time. Like our new commander said, it’s survival we’re fighting for here. The book gets that too. Besides, if there’s the slightest problem I’ll just borrow your vest and get Shadow to bully it until it starts toeing the line again.”
He winks, excuses himself and carries his new-found armour set off. I linger in the room a little while. I sigh. I wander back to the atrium. Jennifer’s gone out hunting by now for sure. It’s a pity. There’s a dark cloud hanging over my thoughts that going out hunting with her might lift. Steve and Jennifer have been such a help through this whole thing and I love them for it. At the same time, I can’t lean on them too much. With the book gone, I had no excuse, it is time to figure out my own flaws and fears without either imposing them on others or attributing them to external forces.
I go into the library and immediately see Destiny.
“Well,” I surrender. “A little shared grousing is good for us all.”
Things have been weird between Destiny and me, not that they were ever normal. I met her maybe an hour before David mortally wounded himself fighting off the Ender, and she’d been grieving ever since. Then, while the book was trying to break Amanda, Destiny walked in on me and she was the first to figure out my involvement. In fact, she came rather close to burning me alive in front of the whole group when I tried to gaslight her out of what she saw. Shortly after I was liberated from the book’s influence and she vanished off with Fire to build this shelter. And since I’ve arrived she’s been avoiding everyone, first by hunting, then by recoiling in here. All that’s to say there has never been time for the much-deserved apology. Now, here she is, alone and pretending to read a book.
Please don’t judge me too harshly for missing the opportunity to make a fool of myself by unloading a long and rambling apology with no warning. I just really need to vent.
“Do you ever get closure on something only to realise that closure has opened up a whole load of other questions?”
Destiny looks up with the enthusiasm of a subsiding house, flicking a strand of brown hair away from her eyes. I don’t expect her to respond - like I said she’s been avoiding everyone, even blanking non-essential conversation - but she does. Maybe the election has reignited something in her.
“What sort of questions?”
After the shock wears off I immediately launch back into talking, pulling up a chair.
“What do I do now? Who am I now without this big thing that’s been dominating my headspace for the last age? I’ve just wanted to get back to normal for so long I’m not even sure I know or like what ‘normal’ is anymore. Those sorts of questions, y’know?”
Destiny lays her book down and almost laughs - she makes one of those amused exhalations of the nostrils you make when there’s nobody else around - and begins to nod.
“Yeah,” she smiles. “I know that mood.”
She says nothing else so I decide to seize the day and get a few more specific things out there.
“It’s not that I was under that book’s thumb for years or anything. It’s probably not been more than a few weeks… months, maybe? It was all a bit of a blur, it’s not important. It’s just that, before all this I was a shepherd. I didn’t have to be worried about anything other than just keeping my flock in order and making a living. Then, that nightmare with the book happened and… I’ve learned so much. It was awful, but I don’t know if I can just return to the grindstone. If I want things to be exactly the way they were.”
“Yeah,” she agrees. “You feel like something needs to have changed. To make it worthwhile.”
“Exactly!” I said, pointing a finger. “That’s it. I think…”
“It must be even weirder with that thing still about.” I’m struggling to figure out if she blames me for this before she picks up again. “I mean, you don’t even get the closure of knowing it’s gone for good. I imagine you were probably expecting something just a little more final than ‘I guess that’s not my problem anymore!’”
“How do you feel about the book?” I ask, trying to find out if there’s a hope in the Nether of avoiding an apology.
“I don’t trust it, honestly I really hate it, but I’m glad Kay’s found a use for it,” she shrugs. “If it can screw up the Ender or Glibby it can stick around. Anyway, I do get where you’re coming from,” a chuckle sends ripples through her speech, “David and I were reincarnated to stop Martin and the Sovereign and now that’s done. It’s crazy. There was this function and now it’s filled so what am I supposed to do, y’know? It’s so weird… but it’s okay now.”
I find this interesting. What’s changed?
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“Yeah, I was able to find someone to talk to - from my world - and suddenly it’s not so bad.”
She smiles and I smile back. I wonder who she found. I try to cross-reference her characteristics with anyone else in the group.
“Lucky you,” I chuckle, “I’ve only got the book.”
Destiny laughs hesitantly and weighs her words before she leans in and whispers to me. “I mean if it works it works. Technically, I’m just talking to myself out there.” She laughs a little too enthusiastically for my liking and I’m almost creeped out.
“Yeah…” I say, trying to think of an excuse to get out of there.
“Oh by Notch I sound so crazy!” she falls back laughing and it’s slightly less scary. She beckons me back in and says, “I found a chunk from Minera, my world. The portal there’s broken but there’s still some sort of connection. I can commune with my past self, Anya, when I’m there. Haven’t been able to do that since I got to Nexus, usually I can’t shut her up. Don’t tell anyone though, I want to keep this private.”
I’m still not sure if she’s delusional or joking or whether this is just a thing where she comes from but I nod and assure her she can count on me. She smiles in confusion as she stands up.
“Thanks for the talk, Fristad. I think Jennifer should be far enough out for me to get there unnoticed now. Talk to you later.”
Taking me totally by surprise, she hugs me. It’s weird, tentative and ends quickly - I don’t even get a chance to hug back - but I think I need it too. Neither of us seem to know how to touch another human after all we’ve been through. We both stare at each other for a few seconds, then she gives me a thumbs up and leaves.
I sit there for a while. Urist steps in.
“How’re ye, Fristad? Ye well?”
I look at him and smile with something resembling wisdom.
“Oh I’m fine, it’s just… Interdimensional travel is weird, Urist,” I say, “Really. Freakin’. Weird.”
Chapter5:Warnado’s Gauntlet (Shadow)
It was just after sunrise when Shadow entered the cavern they had converted into a training ground. The floor had been smoothed out and was now completely level, Urist had taken the liberty of engraving some scenes of battle into it. Shadow liked the engravings since they reminded her of the base they had back home on the server, it hardly had any plain surfaces left.
Shadow had arrived a few minutes earlier than she had agreed with Astro and Warnado, if this room was to be used as a site for magical training it couldn’t be left as-is. One stray spell could completely collapse this cavern, with a risk of the cave-in spreading to the rest of the base. Shadow sat down in the middle of the room and tapped into her magic, visualizing the shape of the room. The warding spell she cast was one she had used many times in different forms, it was in essence the same one she had used to block out sound on many occasions, only now it would block magic and physical force.
Under normal conditions the spell would have taken hours to cast but due to the uniquely high ambient energy in Nexus Shadow could manage it in less. As the spell began to draw from her life force, various runes all over Shadow’s skin lit up. The pull was quite substantial but Shadow redirected it to the various pieces of energy-storing jewelry she was wearing.
About half-way through the casting process Shadow had a thought, a theory she could test while nobody was nearby. She opened that new sense she had gained when she came to Nexus, as she did her skin took on hints of the even-less-than-nothing of her unbound form. Her perception had changed, she looked outwards from the physical world into what was beyond.
“This explains a few things.” Shadow muttered.
From what she could see Nexus wasn’t just one three-dimensional world, there were multiple additional layers. None of them contained any physical matter but they were filled to the brim with energy, bloated almost. Shadow’s vision didn’t extend far enough to see where all this energy was coming from but knowing that it was there was enough to confirm her theory.
Bolts of pure nothingness began arcing outwards as Shadow forcefully pulled energy from those parallel planes. This would have been quite dangerous if anyone else had been around, something Astro would probably agree with. Shadow felt a sting of guilt when thinking about Astro and the predicament she had put him in. She pushed the guilt away, Fire always said that there was little use in worrying about things you couldn’t change.
Before long the protective ward was finished, with time to spare still. Both Astro and Warnado were still eating breakfast in the mess hall. Shadow chuckled to herself. Her acute awareness of everything around her would probably disturb a lot of people if they knew the extent of it. She had consciously not listened in on any of the conversations before or during the election but she was almost sure that whatever Astro had told Tyron had swayed his vote in some manner. Tyron had looked positively tortured when he cast his vote. Shadow definitely had to question Astro on this later.
While waiting for her training partner and her apprentice, Shadow thought back to the meeting they had held the previous evening. Kay had seemingly calmed down but she wasn’t entirely sure how deeply that calm reached. As Fire had promised, they had assigned everyone a position as a division leader. Shadow herself would be in charge of the magical training along with Astro, Destiny and Tyron, the latter two were assigned a hybrid role of overseeing martial training as well and ideally to help with integration of magical and martial forces.
Rose and Voidblade were chosen for weapons training and guerrilla warfare respectively. Urist had immediately volunteered for siege operation, citing his intricate knowledge of dwarven engineering. Steve, Jennifer and Fristad decided to oversee resource gathering and similar supportive tasks. Lucy didn’t get an overseer role as such, however since she was head of logistics she’d have indirect command over a whole variety of people. Despite Warnado’s protests, he and Amanda were not assigned roles since despite their contributions so far, they were still kids at the end of the day. He got over it pretty quickly.
Speak of the quarter-demon: just as Shadow concluded her thoughts Warnado threw the door to the training hall open enthusiastically, maybe a little too enthusiastically, shortly behind him was Astro. With satisfaction Shadow noticed that Warnado’s facial obfuscation spell was a lot more potent than it had been in the past, however still not enough to keep her out. Warnado’s face had a slightly nervous expression on it, with good reason. Today they would attempt to explore his demonic side.
“So!” Warnado called. “Demon magic and flying today. What’s first?” He was trying to sound enthusiastic but his preference was obvious.
“Let’s start with flying,” said Astro, clapping him on the shoulder and unfurling a rug he’d brought with him. “Honestly, it’s not that tough. Ghostly taught me fairly early on.”
The flight idea was new but it would be a good opportunity for Warnado to warm up first.
Shadow asked: “What type of flight do you have in mind? Wings? Levitation? Recoil propulsion?”
“Let’s try levitation,” Astro said flatly. “Simplest and once you get the knack for it it’s the most sustainable. Recoil propulsion can get ugly if you launch yourself too hard and wings are fine but kind of exhausting.”
He and Warnado sat down at opposite ends of the rug and Shadow stood by to watch.
“So,” Astro began. “You know the whole, light the fire in the middle of a leaf and stop it spreading thing?”
Warnado rolled his eyes and nodded.
“Yeah. Ever heard of oxygen?”
“I have, and thanks for clarifying that you have. It’ll come in handy later so you shouldn’t be wasting it.”
Astro produced a leaf from his pocket and floated it over to Warnado.
“Don’t catch it with your hand, just keep it where it is,” he said. “Don’t let it dip or rise. Like I said, it’s like lighting the fire in the middle of the leaf and not letting it spread. It’s not about pushing it, it’s all focusing on where it is at the moment.”
It was now floating over the center of Warnado’s un-gauntleted palm. Shadow could see the look of concentration on his face.
“I’m going to stop keeping it there,” Astro explained. “Up to you to keep it there. Three. Two. One.”
It dipped a little, but it then held in place. Shadow noted the progress of Warnado’s abilities. A few weeks prior it probably would have shot off or fallen because he panicked or got overexcited. His confidence was growing.
“Alright,” Astro clapped. “Well done. Now, focusing on where it currently is, try and imagine it moving up.”
“Imagine?” Warnado snapped, and the leaf wobbled. Through gritted teeth he added, “Next you’ll just tell me to believe in myself.”
“Honestly, the easiest way to do it is to just assume it’ll work. Just think of it as no big deal, as though it’s perfectly natural that the leaf would rise,” said Astro with a shrug and a laugh.
Warnado nodded, seeming to understand a little more. And then the leaf quivered upwards for a few inches, growing slightly more steady as it went.
“And stop,” said Astro. “Now I’m going to ask you to do something that’s going to sound really dumb, but trust me, it works.”
Warnado smirked beneath his hood. “If you tell me the real leaf was all the friends we made along the way I’m going to punch you.”
“Okay, not that dumb,” Astro laughed. “So I don’t break your concentration I’m going to explain the concept first. Where I come from, we wizards like to pretend our brand of magic is a science like thaumaturgy, or a power with a quantifiable source like admin magic, but in reality it’s just a natural thing we can do. Some people can sing, some folks are strong, we can change reality a bit. Once you realise that, it’s all about how you look at things.
“Some of it has a basis. Like, once you appreciate that water is hydrogen and oxygen, it’s not that hard to envision those two things splitting apart. And from there, because you know gas gets set on fire it’s not too hard to see the hydrogen catching fire and exploding because that’s what hydrogen does.
“Other times you just have to trick your brain into accepting something that doesn’t have a good explanation. Part of the reason I floated it over to you is so that you could clearly understand that the leaf can float if you want it to. You’ve already seen it do so, so you’re not going to doubt it so easily. You get it?”
“I think so,” Warnado responds. “Consensus reality and all that.”
Warnado’s vocabulary always surprised Shadow. Occasionally he would mention words or concepts he logically had no way of knowing, like how he had mentioned Clue when they were investigating the Dreamweaver. She really wondered where he got them from.
“Consensus reality is a dumb term made up by smart idiots who don’t appreciate that the entire point is not to overthink it,” Astro ranted. “But yes, it’s pretty much that. So, now I’m about to say the dumb thing.”
He didn’t say it.
“Keep me in suspense, why don’t you?” Warnado pressed.
“Imagine you are the leaf,” he paused to Warnado’s stifled laughter, and chuckled a bit himself. “Ha… ha, just, ha, just presume that when the leaf moves... you move.”
“Oh boy,” Warnado shook his head. “Give me a second.”
Warnado stifled his laughter. Shadow noticed that the leaf was still where it was supposed to be. It trembled a lot, but it was there. Despite all the snarking and laughing, Warnado was paying attention. His multitasking truly was impressive.
After a few seconds pause, the quarter-demon re-centered his attention fully on the leaf, muttered “I am the leaf” and then started squinting. Sure enough, the leaf started floating upwards, and so did he. His face lit up beneath the obfuscation charm, he immediately called out.
“I’m doing it!”
“Yeah, you certainly are,” Astro smiled politely. “Now, try moving a little to the left.”
Warnado, now adopting a smug expression, his glowing red eyes squashing and stretching to indicate a cocked eyebrow.
He immediately shot off to the left way too quickly and slammed into the wall, spread out like a snowball. The leaf fluttered away harmlessly.
“You tried to apply force to it, didn’t you?” Astro groaned, eyes closed.
“I did indeed,” he grunted. “Forgot you’re just supposed to assume you’re only naturally going to be wherever you’re supposed to be or whatever. I can do it better.” He floated the leaf back up off the ground.
“Oh you absolutely can. That said, I think that’s enough of that,” Astro said with a wave of the hand. He rubbed his temple. “Don’t worry, it’s literally just that principle. You can practice in your own time. Eventually you won’t need something like a leaf to focus on. The big thing today: demon gauntlet!”
“Yeah,” Warnado said, gulping back saliva and looking at his feet. Shaking life into his limbs and hopping from foot to foot, he made eye contact with Astro and Shadow consecutively and pronounced a more confident “Sure thing!”
“Good,” Astro took the gauntleted arm like a doctor and looked it up and down. “Okay, so it’s a demon gauntlet. What does that mean?”
“It does… demonic things.”
“Right,” nodded Astro, feeling dumb. “Shadow, can you get any readings on it? I’ve not seen too much like it back home. There’s demons and stuff to be sure but we’ve mostly got them locked away. Could use a rundown.”
Shadow took a closer look at the gauntlet and, a few spells later, said: “It seems like this is not a gauntlet in the traditional sense but formerly part of an actual demon, at least part of it was. Like someone took the hand of a demon and made it into a gauntlet. It’s partly organic, as far as demons are organic at least, their definitions of what a body can be made of is quite wide. I suppose ‘demonic’ is the correct term after all but it’s also not very descriptive if you don’t know what exactly is meant.”
“Ohhh…” Astro said with a smile of discovery on his face. “So he’s drawing on another creature’s power. That makes sense. Just give me a second.” Astro closed his eyes and started pointing wildly in the air at an invisible diagram. “Right, I’ve got it.”
Astro walked back over to the gauntlet again and held it up for Warnado to see.
“You’re not a full demon, so you’re all potential but little practice. If I’m right, you need part of a being that is already in touch with its powers in order to access your own. You’re attuned but not active. It’s like Shadow and I’s rings.” He clenched a fist and clanked it onto Warnado’s wrist, which was now an acting display case and table.
“These rings draw in the background energy of Nexus or the Sane Realm or whatever world we’re in, and then we can use it. Otherwise it’s worthless. You’re the same way…” he paused. “That came out wrong. My point is that the gauntlet is able to take the latent demon juice running in your blood and make it tangible. I wish I could tell you more specifically how - I imagine there was some sort of pact made. Maybe the demon in question benefits from the arrangement. The big thing is that you realise you’re not drawing power from the gauntlet, it’s feeding on you. Oh, actually! Good analogy: it’s like a bank. You’ve put your power in an account and now you want to withdraw. Don’t let it convince you otherwise or you’ll start running into problems.”
“Convince me?” Warnado asked, a little tremor in his voice. “You’re telling me it’s alive?”
“Well,” the wizard grimaced. “I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but your dad didn’t go mad for no reason.” He powered on through Warnado’s horrified expression. “I don’t think it’s sentient like the Book, but it’ll have some sort of intelligence. Worst case scenario, it’s a conduit for the thing it’s been severed from and it’ll talk to you. Best case scenario, it’s got a few stock responses to try and catch stupid people out. Little word-games to try and get out of or alter its contract. Just be really specific when you tell it what you want, okay?”
Warnado nodded unhappily. “Just be specific. Loving the irony.”
“Excellent,” Astro stated, clapping Warnado on the shoulder. They both tensed. He continued, in the low bass of attempted reassurance: “You’re doing great. Sorry if I’m a little vague. This is new territory.”
Shadow said: “It’s good that you know a bit about demons Astro, I’ve realized that my world’s safeguards have kept the worst demons out. All the ones I know are at the very least indifferent, some are even actively cooperative and interested. On the other hand, even if the bad ones came through, we do have a way of safely making contracts. In my world there is a special potion that allows you to speak and think like a demon, in that language each and every concept in existence is its own word, that way demons can’t get away with their usual word twisting. Aside from demons, the Mencur-Besh also speak it naturally, and Wodahs does too for some reason.”
A thought occurred to Shadow at that moment and she looked around at her shadowy companion. “Care to demonstrate, Wodahs?”
Wodahs detached from Shadow’s feet and walked over to Warnado, gleefully ignoring the laws of perspective projection. When she started speaking it sounded like words but not quite, Shadow knew better than to try to understand, all that would do was cause headaches, even for her. Astro flinched, indicating that he had also discovered this peculiar effect.
Warnado stopped her mid-sentence. “Okay, okay, I understand. You don’t need to be so harsh about us three-dimensional types.”
Shadow and Wodahs looked at each other in genuine surprise. Over the years, Shadow had learned how to read her companion’s body language in lieu of a face. Turns out that shades are more expressive than most people would expect, with this one raising its hands in open-palmed surrender to this confusing development.
Shadow mused: “Natural understanding of demonic, huh? Demonic from another world, no less. Makes me wonder just how much or how little of a demonic mind is needed to comprehend the language.”
Warnado’s face lit up: “She was speaking demon? And I think you’ll find my demonic brain is very large. And smart. About demon stuff.” He conjured a celebratory taco and held it up like a cigar. However, before he could chomp down, it floated out of his grasp and tipped a cocktail of meat juices and salsa down in front of him.
Astro smirked. “Sorry, after the lesson if you please.”
“You’ve made a powerful enemy today, Astro,” growled the quarter-demon child, clenching his fists. “Watch out in the lunchroom.”
“If you get me with the same trick,” he responded. “I will consider it a mark of my success as a teacher.”
The three chuckled.
“But yeah,” Astro swallowed. “Let’s test something out. What do you know demon powers to be able to do?”
“My dad was really fond of setting his arm on fire,” Warnado began with nostalgic enthusiasm, before finishing with a slightly more haunted tone, “That orphanage did not stand a chance.”
Astro gritted his teeth, blinked, patted the child uncomfortably on the shoulder.
“So,” Shadow said. “if you want to try to activate the gauntlet, I can do my best to keep you safe while you do it.”
Warnado, face furrowed into lines that seemed to physically divide his face between enthusiastic determination and terror, forced out an ironically conflicted “Absolutely!”
“I’m going to need you to sit down in your best meditation position, or whatever else helps you focus. Even with my safeguards in place, it’s best if you don’t have to make use of them.”
He leapt, folded his feet under him and then stopped in mid-air. He looked between the two of them, eyes wide open and ready to be filled with approval.
Astro laughed. “Well done, now get on the ground, please. You need to concentrate.”
Warnado closed his eyes. He haltingingly floated down, with a few jitters and split-second pauses. He took a few minutes to breathe, and looked at Shadow expectantly. She walked up behind him and placed her palms on Warnado’s shoulders. Shielding another mind was not something Shadow did often, it involved forming a very superficial link to the mind in question so that any assault would be redirected to her and drowned in her mind.
“Ready.” She said.
Warnado nodded, and it began. She caught glimpses of what Warnado was seeing as he reached out to the gauntlet. A throne of tin, bent and beaten, in a room dimly lit by fire. The gauntlet was worn by something in flux. It almost had a body but it was as though she were looking at it through condensation on a window. Whatever it was, it seemed shriveled, but occasionally flared with strength. Its legs appeared the worst affected, unable to even reach the floor.
Warnado trembled towards it, hands loosely held in a fighting stance. Shadow couldn’t understand the demonic words it pronounced but was able to gather an approximate equivalent from the human parts of Warnado’s consciousness.
It spoke, to which Warnado responded: “What are you?”
It appeared to say the same thing again, because, aloud, Warnado said: “I think it’s just a bunch of stock responses, like you said Astro. It keeps saying the same thing. This is going to be easy.”
Shadow opened her eyes to see his response. Astro gave him the thumbs up, realised the child’s eyes were closed and awkwardly called out: “You’ve got this kid. We’re with you 100% of the way!”
Shadow closed her eyes again and saw the demon speak.
“Don’t worry,” said Warnado to the vague being. “I am here for a request. Just calm down. I’d like to make a withdrawal. Let me set my arm on fire… without it hurting me or damaging my clothes.” After a pause: “As is my birthright!”
Shadow noted to herself that Warnado had really paid attention to what they’d said. It was good enough that he was trying to be specific, but she was almost certain he would forget to remind the creature whose power they were using. It would have been so easy to keep that implicit.
The being spoke again and Shadow made the mistake of trying to listen, a stupid mistake stemming from the unfamiliarity of the situation. Rebounding with a headache she quickly checked her defences. It was making no indication of a mental attack. She saw it kneel, reach out its arm and chant.
In the real world, the gem of Warnado’s gauntlet began to glow. Veins of embers began to criss and cross over the entire limb, from the tips of his fingers and stopping just before the shoulder. Then, when the whole thing started to look like a molten quilt, it sparked and the arm was ablaze in deep purple. The eager tongues of fire formed an aura at least four inches thick around the gauntlet-clad limb. The light was strong enough to weaken the darkness beneath Warnado’s hood and consequently light up his face with something other than enthusiasm.
And enthusiasm he had in spades. Warnado was looking at the arm like it was a family photo. He turned it over, stroked it (and found no burns), posed it. This elaborate dance of fingers and joints culminated in the child laughing and saying: “This is so cool.”
“Do you want to test it out?” Astro asked in a spirit of genuine scientific curiosity. “Can it spit flames or is it just for close combat?”
“Let’s find out!” Warnado cackled, standing up abruptly. Shadow readjusted her shielding, opening her eyes reluctantly. She didn’t say anything though, as the demon was still making no efforts to interfere with Warnado’s mind. It seemed territorial, refusing to leave its dented throne or its ashpit of a throne room.
Warnado arced the burning arm over his head and aimed for a training dummy, which was promptly consumed by a ball of purple flame and reduced to ash in a matter of seconds.
Its destroyer jumped with joy.
“This is so good!” He cackled yet wilder and returned to look at them. “You know, it kind of looks like a demon arm like this. Like if it remained burning, but the aura became solid a couple of inches deep. It would be all muscular and fiery and start punching everything. That would be so cool.”
That, as it turned out was a mistake. The arm straightened out and went bolt rigid. Warnado screamed as the flames gave way to metal-like flesh. Shadow searched her shield but there was no sign of an incursion. Then, all of a sudden she felt the gauntlet’s field of influence expand all the way up the arm. This was a physical attack, a land grab.
Warnado shrieked and the arm grew to twice its size and started punching wildly, beating the ground and sending cascades of light outwards from the impacts as the protective barrier absorbed the hits.
“What do you mean this is what I asked for?” Warnado cried out aloud and in his mind. The creature visibly shrugged. The moments where it looked shrivelled were increasingly rare.
Shadow was tempted to cut him off there but Astro said.
“Give us a second. This could be a learning experience.”
“Warnado,” Astro called out. “It’s your power. Just tell it to give over control.”
At this point the arm whipped off in Astro’s directing, propelling itself with a mighty blow to the ground. Astro only barely deflected its attack with a shield but seemed unfazed.
“Please!” Warnado wailed out on both planes of existence. “You don’t have to hurt him! There’s no enemies here. Please, you have to stop.”
The shapeless shape in the chair was growing more defined. Its legs were now whole enough to stand. It arose and gestured for Warnado to kneel, speaking in what was either a chant or proclamation.
“He won’t respond to that,” Astro scolded. “Tell him, firmly.”
“He’s too strong!” Warnado pleaded.
Shadow had enough of this. So far the creature on the other end seemed to not have noticed that she was listening in but that was about to change. She sent a blast of void magic down the connection, more a warning shot than anything else, however the message was clear enough, there was plenty more where that came from. The demon froze up.
“You are going to revert your influence on Warnado or I’ll drag you over to my side and make you face me.” Demon language or not, Shadow knew the demon had to take her seriously, caught off-guard as it was.
It sat down and became shrivelled and ambiguous again. Warnado’s arm faded back to normal and he collapsed. Shadow made sure that no trace of the connection was left, then severed her own link to Warnado’s mind, there was bound to be a large amount of emotional turmoil and she had no intention to share in it directly.
Astro ran up and lifted him, chuckling noiselessly and nervously.
“Well,” he began. “Memorable first day.”
“Memorable?” The child spat. “I almost killed you.”
“Almost is a relative term,” he jested, before continuing more calmly, “We know what went wrong. You said you wanted an arm that just punched everything and it gave you that. You just needed to give a counter-order. Don’t bother haggling, just make a correction. You’ll get it next time.”
“Next time?!” Warnado screeched and staggered backwards. “You’re crazy! You’re both crazy! This thing is going to kill us all! This was so stupid.”
He tore off the gauntlet and threw it on the ground.
“Warnado, it’s just a hiccup. Magic is kind of terrifying. This is just another part of that.”
Suddenly Wodahs spoke up again in the demonic language. Shadow suspected that whatever Wodahs said was only very tangentially related to the recent events. Nonetheless it made Warnado turn beet red with embarrassment under his obfuscation spell.
“This isn’t about that!” He screamed. Shadow could see his eyes watering. “This is done. The gauntlet is just a problem. I’m not strong enough!”
“Come on,” Astro tried. “Think of the things you could achieve-”
“Screw that. And screw you if you think that’s worth risking everyone’s safety over. Screw you if you think it’s worth risking my safety over! The overall vibe you should be getting is leave me alone!”
He turned heel and ran off, kicking the gauntlet as he did so.
Kay materialised in the door only to be shunted aside. At the heart of his beard his mouth became a hard line, before he forced his expression into one of generic, scholarly interest.
“What happened? I was drawing up formations and heard violent, then emotional noises. Is he okay?”
“A training mishap,” Astro said after a pause. He was staring at Kay. “He tried to use the gauntlet and lost control. Easily… Easily fixed.”
Kay gave him a thumbs up and warped over to the gauntlet. “I’ll talk to him.” He lifted it and warped away.
And so they were left there, the ground still smoking, and the ash of the dummy beckoning them.
I consider just vanishing the dust into another dimension, but that seems impolite so I do actually go and get the brush and pan. Mostly I just do it to take my mind off the lesson. I got greedy. I spend so much of my time in a permanent state of indecision and it felt nice to be obstinately sure of something. But I scared little Warnado. I forgot that he is just a child.
“Well, technically the demon probably scared him a little more,” my brain chips in, negotiating with morality. “Honestly, I thought I did my best to reassure him.”
I did try, but sadly I tried the sort of reassurance that just pretends there isn’t a problem. That demon arm did almost kill me despite what I said. If not for the rings Shadow gave me I would probably be in a heap on the floor right now.
I pick up the brush and start shuffling back towards the remains of the dummy.
That’s not to say I wouldn’t have blocked the attack. The effort of summoning a spell like that would just have crippled me for hours. I remember how I looked in the mirror this morning. I’m pretty sure I saw grey hair in there, but it was gone after I brushed it. I’m not even forty years old yet, and I look like I’m well into my fifties. Wrinkles like cracks in pottery are forming about my eyes and mouth and all over my forehead. Grey hair seems perfectly plausible.
I kneel down. Shadow has a rune glowing and her eyes closed. I think she’s listening out for Warnado. I start brushing and the dust is thick. It crumbles into the pan.
Magic is responsible for my premature age. It happens to all wizards. All proper ones. Thaumaturges get off scot-free. Admins get a few centuries out of it. However, even by wizard standards I’m unlucky. I never completed my training with Ghostly because the Onslaught came about. With Herobrine on the march and Kay just having been arrested, we all decided to leave to avoid conscription. So, I broke things off with Ghostly.
It was an amiable parting. He was all wise and father figure-y about the whole thing. He even organised an illusory combat challenge to help prepare us for the crazy world we were about to flee into. Sadly, his co-administrators caught wind of our plan and conscripted us anyway. There wasn’t much Ghostly could do. He needed the men and letting anyone go would cause a domino effect. I don’t blame him, despite it all. I just wish we’d had more time.
I stand up and walk to the bin. I hear Shadow’s footsteps pad up to me.
“Warnado’s fine,” Shadow says. “Kay’s caught up to him.”
When he arrived at the door just there, Kay looked so much like he did in the good days. When he just wanted to keep us all safe in a confusing world that seemed intent on murdering us. A slightly shaky and rash pillar of stability in the world who would gladly fall on top of and crush any opponent. Except now he can teleport behind and engulf that opponent in voidfire.
“Good,” I say with a pang of guilt. “Kay’s always been good with kids. With getting people back on their feet generally.”
After a short pause Shadow says: “Speaking of Kay, I wasn’t listening in back then but I’m still under the impression that you said something to Tyron before the election that made him look quite conflicted.”
So this question has finally come about. For a second I thought I’d actually gotten away with it, but this is unsurprising. Unfortunately for Shadow, I am not in the mood to be interrogated right now, so I snap back:
“I’m surprised you weren’t listening. You listen to everything else around here.”
“I do still have respect for people wanting their vote to be anonymous. Other than that, guilty as charged.”
“Well at least you’re upfront about it. What exactly do you think I said that made Tyron so ‘conflicted’? Please, pray-tell, what insidious rumour or grand revelation was I spreading to influence the result of the election?”
My face and voice are flat as plains. I’m not looking at her, but I see my reflection in the metal of the bin and my eyes are burning. I wouldn’t turn those eyes on my worst enemy. I try to calm myself down. She doesn’t know what I said, and she doesn’t know why I don’t want to talk about it.
“Which is exactly why she should mind her own damned business!” Brain-me offers helpfully. I remind him that she technically hasn’t accused me of anything. I’ve already been adding things on. If she wasn’t suspicious before, she is now.
Shadow obliges my obviously rhetorical questions: “The results are in and a swing of one vote in any direction would have made no difference. Still, you know Kay better than anyone else, I’m curious about your reasons since I’m starting to suspect that you advocated against him.”
I glare at the door. No one. I cast a sound-proofing charm at a five meter radius. Plenty of room for me to furiously pace and angrily gesticulate.
“What sort of two-faced backbiter do you think I am?” I muster disgust from guilt. “Kay Mandy would have led that army well. He’s hot off his service to Herobrine. That book has so far only increased his ability to lead from the front. He’s in his damned prime and then some! Even if I weren’t his friend he’s an ideal candidate. How very dare you!”
It ends limper than I intended. I’m trying too hard.
Shadow nods. “I think you are exactly not that kind of person, which opens up more questions than it answers. Kay might be slightly… eccentric and not on the best terms with my brother but so far I have seen nothing that disputes your claims. Tyron seemed in favor of Kay so saying nothing would have been sufficient if you wanted him to vote for Kay. Which brings me back to the original question.”
“I didn’t say anything to him!” I roar this out and my temper breaks like a fever. I feebly continue: “Can’t a man talk to his friend ahead of a tense situation?”
“You saw his face at the urn too, we were both standing there because of our abstention. That was not the face of a comforted man.”
There’s a truth gnawing at me and it hurts. A truth I’ve tried to ignore since this ghost of a man came back into my life. I hate her for rousing it. I give in.
“I didn’t tell him much,” I say, looking at her pleadingly. “You really want to know what I said to him? Fine. I said to our dear furball, ‘Tyron, I know what happens next. I’ve seen how this goes. It does not end well. Don’t vote for Kay.’ Are you happy now?”
I feel a tear run down my cheek and I rub it away angrily.
Shadow looks downwards and closes her eyes. “I had my question answered but I am not happy. Something is bothering you about this more than it reasonably should. If you know what happens next, from where? I don’t mean to pry beyond what I already made you say but you can say more if you want to. I may be aware of what everyone in the shelter is doing at all times but I do not disclose private information. Whatever your secret is, it will be safe with me.”
I yell again: “Well, secret stage one: I’m from Kay’s future. Eleven years ago he travelled through a portal to Nexus that explodes. He gets back somehow, but this traps some Endlings in my world all that time. At some point a crime lord called the Silhouette decided I was valuable to the Entity and sent those Endlings to capture me. And that’s how I ended up stuck in the middle of all this trash! You understand so far?”
I don’t even wait for Shadow to respond. I just yell louder. Liberty has made my anger bold.
“Secret stage two...” I pause. My mouth feels dry and I swallow without success.
I feel the fury swell as the truth approaches, but it doesn’t need bombast or screaming anymore. This rage is cold and honest and it is no less terrible for it.
“He dies, Shadow. Kay dies. He becomes a king for a bit, and then he dies. And I’m going to be perfectly honest with you, he wasn’t a great person by the end of it. Honestly, I have to wonder how good he ever was, or whether that was all inevitable.”
I let it settle. Shadow seems genuinely taken aback. I feel the urge to keep talking but I need something to push me onward. I hate her for now saying anything.
“I knew Nexus was an anomaly pulling people from different worlds… but also the same world and different times? I am not lying when I say that I can’t imagine being in your situation, like if for instance I met a version of my brother and I where our parents hadn’t died, had raised us into whatever monstrosities they were probably planning to. If that happened I would honestly not know what to do.”
“Well that’s a fine how-do-you-do, isn’t it? I don’t either, Shadow. Sometimes I wonder if the Endlings didn’t just stab me out in that field and this isn’t just a dying dream. Sometimes I kind of wonder if that wouldn’t make things easier. Do you know what I was doing out there, Shadow? I was out there searching through the ice and snow for the corpses of my friends. And many others besides. All of them dead, directly or indirectly, because of Kay’s selfishness.
“That’s not to say he was on the wrong side. Dominus, the Silhouette, the Family, even the Brotherhood all were monsters that needed slaying. And that’s without mentioning Hamish... ****ing Hamish - I choked the life out of that monster until there was nothing left in him, and I would gladly do it again!”
I discover I’m screaming again and I restrain myself. I stand as though I were stabilising myself on a table and bend back up. My voice becomes like a dead man’s, droning and soft. It’s no different from the leftover breath wheezing out of the body. It has as much agency.
“Kay had reason to be driven over the edge, but when the time came, he prioritised his own personal grudges above his duty, above his friends and above basic morality. He plotted against allies he needed. He ordered the deaths of friends. He abandoned his troops when they needed him most. He murdered innocent people more than once... Eventually, he went too far, pissed off the Silhouette. The Silhouette decided enough was enough. Kay agreed, and now he’s dead.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Kay let himself be killed. As retribution for his interference, the Silhouette himself turned up to ambush him. He made an ultimatum and by all accounts Kay didn’t even blink before surrendering. Bet he thought he was being right noble. Accepting he had no right to kill anyone more, or ask anyone else to die for him. Hoping the altruism would outweigh his shame. They burned him on a pyre and he didn’t move. Aaron arrived just in time to see him go up. It was cowardly, it was cruel and he should have tried to make things right!”
I’m on my knees. My hands shake before me. My eyes blur from welling tears and pain. Black bars close in and out of the edges of my vision. This is tearing the soul out of me but I have to say it.
Shadow is kneeling in front of me, observing like a naturalist who has discovered a new species.
“I just wish I could figure out when we stopped being the good guys,” I whisper. “That would be enough.”
I give in to the tears, weepingly openly. I throw my face in my hands. Shadow places a hand on my shoulder. It feels like nothing, but I’m not alone. There’s something.
I thank Notch I’m not alone. I’m not alone. I am not alone.
It rings hollower each time. Something is not enough to stave off nothing.
Footsteps pounded off the floor, bounced off the walls and finally reached high enough to ***** Tyron’s ears. When he had no duties and felt tired, he would often go down one of the more secluded hallways, summon his great stone wings and ascend into a tight, two block by two block hollow he’d dug out above a pair of redstone lanterns. He had a bed set up over the lights themselves so brightness was no bother, and the crackling redstone circuitry beneath him even warmed the mattress a little. He had made himself a warm, snug little shelter, even setting up a chair on which Kir could rest.
The sword liked to be propped up in this way. “Near enough to lift if there’s danger,” it would chirp in its high-pitched, genderless enthusiasm, though Tyron doubted this was the whole story. His swordly friend seemed to enjoy lying there and talking to him as though it had a full body. Or maybe it was something different. Maybe it liked the nurturing feeling of watching over a loved one while they sleep. Tyron didn’t mind. The dorms Fire had constructed were too open for him. He wanted somewhere close and warm and private. And he didn’t want anyone to see him when the nightmares came. He didn’t want them to see what Freak had done to him.
For this reason he’d always found an excuse to stay up during the night while they’d been fleeing the Entity, only getting a real night’s sleep after they found the inn and he could find a separate room. That’s not to say he distrusted anyone in particular or thought they’d use it against him, but he just wasn’t that close with these people. It wasn’t their business.
As such, when Warnado’s wild footsteps skittered down the hallway below and stirred the Dragoknight from an uncharacteristically pleasant dream, a warm pool of positive emotions rapidly drained from his heart, leaving only an unappealing mix of confusion, yearning and irritation.
He sat straight up and anxiously tried to capture the dream before it escaped him entirely, but sadly only dim impressions had stuck around. A sunny paddock. A tree. A bench beneath it and a woman in white. Tyron couldn’t even remember if they’d spoken, but he wanted to see her again. But dreams are random things, so this was easier said than done.
Tyron groaned silently, picked up Kir and asked them to reach out and figure out who was below. Discretely.
“Wizard-kid with the spooky glove.”
Kir had taken against Warnado’s gauntlet for some reason. It wasn’t a living being like the Book, but the sword seemed to sense a malignant near-intelligence about it. According to Kir, they had tried to reach out and hadn’t found a single coherent thought, but a great many negative and cruel urgings. Perhaps Kir was just mad about being given the silent treatment.
Tyron, yawning, curled around so he could peak through the slats of the trapdoor and see for himself what had brought this on. Maybe Warnado needed to tell him something and had found out about the hiding spot.
However, before Tyron actually saw him, he heard the fusilade of footfalls underscored by panting heaves. The child was crying. He had no gauntlet on. He tripped and slid on the floor a few metres, ending up in view of the trapdoor. Tyron wondered if he should intervene and immediately got an answer. What the child did next was sit up, huddle against the wall and start to sob to himself. The words “useless” and “stupid glove” occasionally permeated the deluge. Each new wave of tears drew Tyron’s claws closer to the trapdoor.
“No, will ruin hiding place!” Kir objects.
“Come on,” the Dragoknight scolded. “He needs someone to talk to. The least I can do is see if he’s comfortable talking to me.”
A sound of crackling bounced up to the hollow and the claws retreated.
“Warnado? There you are!”
Kay now hurried into view, wearing his new, lightweight armour over a cotton shirt and black trousers. That weird, red, hooded scarf adorned his neck as usual and he had taken to wearing his aviator’s goggles over his fringe again. He looked concerned.
Tyron felt a lurch in his stomach as he recalled the vote he had cast against his friend. However, he was also wracked by a guilty wave of relief as he realised there was someone more qualified on the case and he could keep his nap-room a secret.
“Me too,” agreed Kir. “Thank Notch!”
“So, I suppose training didn’t go great?” Kay asked.
He had already sat down and drawn the child in with one arm. Tyron noticed the gauntlet laid down beside him.
Warnado remained silent.
“Alright, so much for feigned ignorance. Astro told me you had a problem with the gauntlet,” he said solemnly, holding up said metal glove.
Warnado pulled back and stood up, Kay’s arm dancing gently away.
“Get that thing away from me.”
“Get it away,” he warned.
The robed demon-child settled into a stance that was just as ready to fight as it was to flee the scene. He held his fists up but had his legs positioned so he could turn tail and run in a single pivot. Tyron couldn’t see his eyes, but he imagined fear had prised those red glows wide open.
Kay looked at him for a second, blinked. Turned his eyes on the gauntlet. Blinked. He threw it aside. It clattered down the corridor and made Tyron’s ears twitch in pain.
“Okay,” he said.
Warnado lowered his fists. He flopped an arm forward in silent apology before sitting. His legs were crossed and he was facing Kay head on.
“So,” the General smiled. “I get that you’re a little spooked by all this. Want to talk about it a little?”
Tyron took this as an excuse to roll back away from the trapdoor and back into bed. They needed some sort of privacy. He couldn’t tune them out, though, not even when he started up a conversation with Kir to distract himself. And so he heard pretty much the whole thing.
Warnado told Kay and his unseen listeners the story of his father. His growing madness. All those deaths. All those mysterious walks where he’d disappear muttering into the night. How, one day, he hadn’t come home. Warnado had gone out to look for him and found him dead at the foot of a tree. The gem was torn out of the gauntlet, hanging around his father’s neck. Warnado was only five years old.
And all that fed into what went on in the training room.
“Astro should have quit while ahead,” Kir concluded. “Just kid.”
“Yep,” Tyron agreed. “Kind of a douche-y move. I have no clue what’s going on with that guy since Kay woke up.”
“Since Kay showed up, you mean.”
Tyron nodded in surrender.
“I can’t touch that thing again. Whatever’s in there is too strong, and I can’t trust Astro and Shadow to stop it before it overpowers me. But I’m not going to be strong enough without it. I don’t know what to do.”
Kay laughed a little.
“Warnado, you are the strongest kid I have ever met,” he began. “You have genuinely been through so much I wouldn’t have been able to deal with. You are thirteen years old and you were going toe-to-toe with heavily-armed Endlings. Thirteen-year-old you could easily kick thirteen-year-old me’s **** something fierce.”
Tyron heard a childish sniff, followed by “You really think so?”
“You would have wedgied me so hard, little guy. I was such a little nerd back then. Heck, you could probably still bully me now if you set your mind to it.”
The two laughed. Tyron smiled and reshuffled himself so he could look out again. Kay was on one knee before him, ruffling Warnado’s hood.
“You are more than a match for the little squatter in your glove,” he continued. “Tell you what. It sounds like Astro really messed this up. I’m sorry about that, he spends so much time agonising over decisions he overcompensates when he’s trying to be decisive. I’ll give him a bit of a bollocking, and you’ll try the gauntlet again at your own pace, when you’re ready.”
“I don’t know…” Warnado began, leaning back.
“Warnado,” he comforted, placing a hand on his shoulder and drawing him back in to make eye contact. “You would be surprised how often your greatest weakness can become your greatest strength. Being half-Thaum was my greatest weakness until suddenly I was perfect officer material in Herobrine’s army - who I again remind you is nothing like in your world. He’s just a bit of a disappointment since he gained power, but what are politicians for? The point is, being part-demon doesn’t have to be your weakness. It shouldn’t. It won’t.”
Warnado was nodding away.
“I just need to figure out a way to keep it in line,” Warnado agreed. “Astro just kept telling me to remind it whose power it was using, but what does that even mean?”
“My advice,” Kay squeezed the shoulder. “Don’t be afraid to be rude. Yell at it and call it names until you feel more comfortable giving orders. Just act like you’re a rude customer at a restaurant.”
“Is this good life advice?” Kir pondered rhetorically.
“Probably not,” answered Tyron.
Warnado chuckled but didn’t say anything more. His head drooped a little.
“And,” Kay pressed further. “These might help.”
He reached up and pulled the goggles off his head, dangling them before Warnado by the strap.
“The Professor gave me these back in the day. He used to say, ‘Little Kay, life’s always throwing something at your eyes. Rain, dust, emotional trauma etc.. It doesn’t matter what it is, you always need something to keep your eyes clear, and let you focus on what’s really important.’”
Warnado took them and held them in his hand. Tyron couldn’t see his face, but Kay seemed encouraged. He warped the gauntlet into his hand and he asked:
“So, you ready to give this another try?”
And the child took up their gauntlet and fixed it back on. The gem glowed for a moment and then settled. At that, they stood up and wandered down the hallway, with Kay rambling about Urist interrupting him while he was drawing up troop formations all morning.
Tyron lay back and wondered to himself how he’d let himself to be persuaded to vote against him. It wouldn’t have made a difference, but how could that man lead badly?
But it wasn’t about him being a bad leader. That hadn’t been what Astro’s face had said. His words were ambiguous, but the creases in his forehead, the quiver of his eyes had been crystal clear.
“What happens next?” Tyron asked himself. “What happens next that makes him such a horror?”
Chapter8:Crowd Control (Steve/Lucy)
Steve regretted that when they were dividing duties for the day all the refugees were due to arrive, he and Jennifer had offered to do crowd control. It really hadn’t occurred to him just how confused and hungry these people would be. All of them, the second they saw the stage they had erected in front of the shelter, had flocked towards it.
The two of them had spent the last half-hour picking people off of it. Eventually it had seemed smartest to just build a fence. As foreseen, no one, no matter how tall, could get their leg over the top of their meter-high fortification. So, now he and Jennifer were just marching through the crowd trying to calm people down and prevent any panic.
Thankfully, people were more confused than anything. Destiny and Voidblade were on guard duty, and fully armoured the two looked pretty powerful without looking too threatening. They had ushered everyone toward the stage through a path which avoided any major choke points or bottlenecks. Thankfully, the crowd wasn’t large enough for a stampede to be too dangerous, but there were still a good two thousand people there and it was better to prevent that sort of thing.
“Don’t worry ma’am,” said Steve to an elderly woman. “Once everyone’s finished filtering in, our commander will come out on stage and explain what’s going on. The Prophet reckons he’s the hero, Champion guy you’re looking for.”
The old lady smiled and fell back into the crowd. He saw her resurface in the sea of heads talking to a nervous young man holding a baby. She spoke into his ear and the release of tension must have reduced his height by a foot because Steve lost sight of his contented face pretty quickly.
After answering or deferring a few more questions, that part of the crowd seemed happy enough. They weren’t moving around as much and were now just patiently looking at the stage without being jostled. Steve looked about for Jennifer. She had achieved a similar lull.
“At times like this, I really miss the Alliance,” Steve called out.
“Yes!” Jennifer agreed emphatically. “We could’ve just asked Mark to set up some sort of seating machine. Or gotten Wolfric to cast a spell to calm everyone down. Even Ozen would’ve been useful. He could hand out his terrible sandwiches. Someone might even have had the bright idea to put up a sign or two explaining things.”
Steve smiled and they got close enough to talk at a near-normal volume.
“These people are starving,” he said. “And I’m not even sure they’d eat his sandwiches once they found out there was redstone in them. But that wasn’t what I was thinking about.”
“What were you thinking?”
“Mostly that, if the Alliance were here, all this was over, there’d be a group of people ready for a game of Dungeons and Enderdragons just at hand.”
“Who said there wasn’t?” said Jennifer, smirking.
Steve looked at her cock-eyed.
“You’re not saying what I think you’re saying?”
“I certainly am. I had a kit in my inventory before we got trapped here.”
“And you’re only mentioning this now?!” laughed Steve. “Jennifer, you lifesaver!”
Someone beckoned to Jennifer for help and she began walking over to him.
“It’s pretty much become my job. Wherever would you be without me?” she shouted back at Steve.
Steve’s mind raced with possibilities. It might take a night or two to get a group together, but by Notch it would be worth it!
That was when Kir spoke in his mind: “Commander Fire coming in thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-eight…”
They were using Kir as a crude intercom between the various teams. Steve and Jennifer took their cue and began to gesture and hiss for silence. Pretty soon half the crowd were shushing their neighbours in solidarity with Steve and his girlfriend. He was grateful, he’d thought that would take ages.
With all that accomplished, they went back over the fence and looked at the stage just as Fire came out.
Fire began: “Welcome to the shelter, I am Commander Fire. Not all of you may have seen me at the Prophet’s hill but that is not really important now. What is important is that you made it here. Back when I first spoke to the congregation I promised a roof over your head and food in your stomach, both of which are available here.”
There was a pause, the quiet was quickly filled with cautious cheers from the crowd.
Fire continued: “However there are also other reasons for why I built this shelter. Namely to have a base of operations for what could very well be a civil war. I will not sugarcoat this, the Entity is most likely not going away on its own. Both from the Prophet’s predictions and independent investigation we have found that there is something big on the horizon and if nobody is there to stop it, we might be looking towards a dark future.”
Another pause, this time without cheers but with worried contemplation.
“I have gathered a group of skilled people to help me in what is ahead of us, they will train and instruct anyone willing and able to join us. If you are no fighter, there are still plenty of things you can do to help out. If you are unable to do either, the shelter will still welcome you, there is enough space for everyone. The important thing is that we realize we are stranded in this world together, and that is also how we will turn our fates around!”
The cheers returned with a vengeance. Steve couldn’t believe how ecstatic some of them were. Then, he remembered how dinged up the team had been upon their return. These people had been travelling for even longer, in much greater numbers. It must have been terrible.
Fire spoke up again: “If you want to enlist as a fighter, report to Rose at the left of the valley. If you want to help in any other capacity, report to Fristad on the right side of the valley. Anyone else, go down the middle to the entrance of the shelter, Lucy will show you where you can sleep, eat or get medical treatment.”
Steve barely had time to let the speech settle and savour it before he and Jennifer had to dash off to shepherd people during the door. It didn’t help that a hundred or so new arrivals had already sprinted off ahead of them.
Lucy watched the speech from the entrance of the shelter, she couldn’t hear much of it but she knew the content. Fire had asked a few people for opinions on the speech so she heard it before. Now that the speech was over people rapidly started coming towards the entrance. Lucy took a deep breath.
“Okay, you can do this.” She quietly said to herself.
As the first arrived near her she spoke loudly: “Everybody please wait up, once everyone is here we can go inside!”
The new arrivals were exhausted from the journey and hungry, more than a few were injured. They looked even worse than what Lucy had seen when she had been at the hill. These were not only people from the congregation, these were friends and family of them, who normally wouldn’t make the trip to the hill but still undertook the march to the shelter. A thought flashed in Lucy’s mind. Some might not have made the entire way. She pushed it away, now was not the time.
Steve and Jennifer had also made their way over to the entrance and were now in the process of calming the crowd, just a few more minutes until everyone would be here. Lucy took looks to the left and right to compare the size of the crowds over at Rose and Fristad. Rose had accumulated a respectable amount, a few hundred if Lucy were to guess. Fristad had fewer people, maybe half of what Rose had. The majority of people were still crowding to the shelter entrance, perhaps some of them would later join one of the two other groups once they were fed and healthy.
Once it looked like any stragglers had joined one of the three groups Lucy spoke again: “Hello! My name is Lucy and I will show you around the essential parts of the shelter.”
She turned around and pulled a lever that was embedded into the stone. The entrance to the shelter had once been a relatively small cave entrance, in the meantime it had been widened out and fitted with a large wooden door that was now in the process of swinging open, driven by whatever gears, shafts and pulleys Urist had crammed into the floor beneath the entrance.
Lucy proceeded through the entrance, giving Steve and Jennifer quick looks, they’d have to make sure that nobody stayed too far behind. A few hundred meters into the mountain was the first big chamber.
As Lucy explained her voice echoed from the walls. “This is the central hub, you can reach every section of the shelter from here, there are signs in as many written languages as we could find that indicate what tunnel leads to where.”
She pointed at one of them. “That one leads to the infirmary. If anyone is in urgent need of medical treatment, please go there now. Once you feel better, you can ask any instructor to show you around, you can identify them by their armbands.”
A good portion of the group split off, Steve guided them into the tunnel. Lucy continued. “Follow me please, next we’ll go to the canteen.”
Lucy went straight ahead through the cavern into a tunnel. This one was significantly shorter than the entrance tunnel. The canteen was another huge cavern which had a large number of tables and benches set up, on the left wall was a hollowed out section of the wall where the food would be served.
Lucy explained: “As said, this is the canteen. We try to offer meals at any time of the day but our main meal times are in the morning, at noon, in the evening and at midnight to accommodate for shift work. Now please follow me out again, we’ll reach our final destination at the barracks.”
The barracks were built into the largest of the natural caverns they had found, and even so it had been expanded by a good bit to make more room. The cavern was filled from bottom to top by a wooden frame, the different tiers were connected by ladders and stairs. Wooden walls had been built between some of the logs of the frame, forming rooms that offered sleeping space for eight people each.
Lucy said: “This is the barracks, you are free to pick your room but ideally fill up from the bottom upwards, it makes the maintenance crew’s job easier as well helping me keep count of how much space is left. Are there any questions?”
A man at the front of the group asked: “If we want to stop sitting around being a load, who do we ask?”
Lucy replied: “As said, anyone with an armband will do but if you have specific roles in mind, the support and logistics roles have green armbands, the combat roles have red ones, leadership is grey. There are signs in regular intervals that illustrate the finer details indicated by the symbols on the arm bands.”
With that Lucy made a gesture towards the interior of the barracks, the crowd slowly thinned as people went and got some well-deserved sleep. Once only a few people were left Lucy turned around and walked down the tunnel. Jennifer joined her a few steps in.
Lucy took a deep breath. “Phew, that went better than expected.”
“Don’t undersell it; you nailed it!” said Jennifer with a clap on Lucy’s shoulder.
Now that Lucy thought about it, she did nail it. Everyone got the info they needed and the sick and wounded were probably already receiving treatment. In general, the people who had arrived a few days after them were an interesting group, a lot of personality to be sure. None of them seemed bad to Lucy, a bit weird sure but not bad. As glad as Lucy was for Fire bringing her here and as good of a leader he was, his confidence in her was at times a little intimidating, sometimes it seemed like he knew her better than she knew herself. People like Jennifer were a good contrast, more grounded in a way. Jennifer in general was good to be around, her outlook on life went along well with Lucy’s own. She always seemed to be looking for a way to make the situation that little bit easier. There was always a well-timed compliment, discovery of some extra food or even a pleasant smile in her back pocket, waiting for the right moment to be produced.
Just before they arrived at the central hub, Jennifer stopped and asked: “Hey, Lucy. Are you up for a game of Dungeons and Enderdragons this evening? I even managed to get permission to use the command room for the duration!”
Lucy replied: “Not sure if your game has the same rules as a similar game in my world did but sure, I’d love to.”