Alrighty, here's my impression on your fic. Like I have said, Minefic is chillin', so I maybe a bit rusty. So far from what I have read you have the basics of writing a story down, with capitalizaiton, pragraphs etc. etc. Some minor grammatical issues that I am not sure I can give without dying from boredom (I really hate working on my grammar, so imagine if I do it with someone else.
For the story itself... sir pardon my French but you got FRICKIN' potential. The conversation is natural, the descriptions full and no weirdness at all! I applaud ya.
hey wen u gona write the next portion of this story i cant wait to find out wat happens
Heheh, sorry to keep you waiting. Plot development hasn't come too easy lately. I was stuck trying to decide whether or not I wanted to go on with the story like I initially planned or change the chapter to something a little easier to explain.
Edit: Oh wow, "Untruth" sounds like Ingsoc, doesn't it? That darn Communism...
This would make an amazing and hilarious youtube series. Let me know if anyone agrees with me. If u did decide to turn it into one i'd be glad to help
That would be a really cool idea... although I should probably finish the story first. If I tried to work on a YouTube series for the same story where I'm trying to figure out what's going to happen in the next chapter, I probably wouldn't finish either. XD
Another chapter to Part 3 is now up: Troubled Perception!
"Why do I get the irksome feeling that everything is quieter than it should be?"
Also, spoiler alert:
The main character walks up a flight of stairs.
Edit: I decided to number the chapters to see how long the story is so far. It turns out that The WOC is actually the 19th Chapter, not including the Prologue. Also, there are apparently only 22 chapters. I guess I better write more! I also fixed some inconsistencies with capitalization which have been driving me crazy... I've been trying not to be inconsistent because it's important for the story (even though I doubt most people notice it).
A new chapter to Part 3, Some Place Secret, has just been uploaded! Does Dan know more than we think?
I know I haven't uploaded a new chapter in like, forever, so I thought I'd get a shorter one out there just to keep momentum. I'm starting to get to that point where I haven't really thought in detail about what's going to happen next, so some more recent parts of the story have ended up being longer than expected. On one hand, this means more detail, but on the other hand, the story moves along more slowly.
The last chapter, though short, was really descriptive. You're good at describing feelings. It felt a little empty without the Book talking but still it was really good! I'm really intrigued to see what's in Dan's secret area. Keep up the good work!
The last chapter, though short, was really descriptive. You're good at describing feelings. It felt a little empty without the Book talking but still it was really good! I'm really intrigeud to see what's in Dan's secret area. Keep up the good work!
I'm glad you enjoyed it! I was a little worried that all the description would seem like filler because it didn't advance the story a whole lot. It's hard for me to judge things like that in what I've just written, since my eyes kind of glaze over all the words after reading them so many times.
As for the Book... I agree with you that some chapters that don't have the Book speaking feel a little empty. It's hard to come up with things for the Book to say in certain contexts that fit with its... "motives." I like to think that the Book is not very big on small talk. But the fact that you missed it when it wasn't participating in the chapter is saying something. People seem to really like that character a lot. It must be the title or something....
Dan places the last of three vials filled with water on the center table, on the side directly opposite of me. He then sits down in front of the vials, and lifts each one onto one of the three cobblestone cups at the base of a glowing orange rod. As it catches my attention, I begin to realize that this glowing rod has an unusual shape. Its tall narrow neck, with columns of stone riding up against it, its upper tips protruding outward, and in the other direction its mass widening and flattening, makes it seem alien... almost organic. Its curvature gives it the appearance of the tall body of some sort of creature... suggestively armless, but not exactly like a Creeper. It looks almost like a fortress, the outline of the stone forming a decorative molding around it.
“What is that thing?” I can’t help but say, staring at the strange structure.
Dan nods with his head downward, his eyes watching the orange rod as he places the third vial within the remaining stone bowl. “Nothing less than a brewing stand.” He lifts his head up to look at me, his eyes squinted with scepticism. “It brings the heat of the Nether to our world. It’s essential for making potions.”
“I see...” I debate whether or not I should ask another question. Even though Dan’s response doesn’t feel like a sufficient explanation, I feel as if I shouldn’t say anything. His piercing glare suggests that this place is far too austere for small talk.
This is not the same Dan that I knew five minutes ago.
Dan turns his back to me, and walks toward the shelves on the far wall. His head tilts from left to right, scanning the shelves for something he wants. After about a minute of scanning, his head stops.
“Of all the questions buzzing inside of my head, one keeps coming to the front...” He reaches for several pouches on an upper shelf, walks toward the center table, and sets them down next to the brewing stand. He looks back up at me. “...What were you planning to do after you killed the guards?”
I try to think back on the moment after I killed the second guard, the one who was running toward me with a sword. Somehow, I was confused. I realized that I no longer held a place within normal ‘craftian society. I wasn’t sure what to do next. The moment already seems fuzzy.
I shake my head. “I’m not sure. I had trouble trying to wrap my head around the fact that I had transformed into a skeleton.”
Dan squints his eyes, raising a hand up to his chin. “You seemed much more determined about what you were going to do at the time, much more than you claim now. I was getting the impression that you were trying to avoid me. It appeared almost as if you were trying to run away.”
I see, in my memory’s eye, the limp body of the fallen guard. Somehow I associate his death with a strange, distant feeling... a feeling that, at that moment, seemed tantalizingly close. I remember walking away from the body. I wasn’t exactly scared, but I felt the need to travel somewhere. Exactly where? I’m not sure.
I nod at Dan. “You’re right. I was trying to run away. I’m not exactly sure why, but I was.”
Dan gives a faint nod of approval. “I thought so. That doesn’t answer my other concern, though: why were you trying to avoid me?”
I recall the sight of the dead grass plain, and the sound of rapid footsteps crackling upon it behind me. I remember turning around and seeing Dan running towards me. I remember being irritated by his presence... but why?
“I don’t know. For some reason, I was angry that you were there. I wanted you to leave me alone, but I’m not sure why I suddenly felt that way.”
Dan slowly pours a strange powder from the pouches into one of the vials. It glows bright crimson as it silently flows out, before disappearing into the transparent water. He eyes the powder carefully, before tilting up the pouch in preparation for another pour.
“Did you want to kill me?” he asks in a plain, objective tone.
“No, I didn’t want to kill you. I just wanted you gone...at least, I hope that was the case.”
A spurt of worry and guilt taps within me. I realize, too late, that it sounds like I actually wanted to kill him, just phrased differently. I try to explain my intentions more clearly.
“I can’t imagine killing you.”
Dan places the now empty pouch down onto the table. He lifts up the other pouch to the neck of the third vial, and begins to gingerly pour again. “I feel like you’re withholding information from me... yet at the same time, you seem too openly clear, too sincere.”
I nod slowly in agreement, trying to stay calm. Even just a suspicious facial expression could make me look worse. I really hope he trusts me.
Dan places the second pouch onto the table. He walks around the right side of the table, pulls a chair out from underneath it, and sits next to me. He is no more than a meter away.
Dan crosses his fingers neatly upon his lap. “Are you still nervous?”
I shake my head. The fear of death has subsided. The leeching fatigue of the enchanted armor, however, still remains.
“Can I see the book for a moment?”
I nod, reaching into my back pocket... but feel nothing in it. It feels so confusing and unexpected for the book to not be there... almost unnatural. At the same time, I feel an overwhelming sense of relief. And on top of all these feelings, there is a sudden sense of nervousness, pressed upon me by the draining magic of the armor. I despise this sense of nervousness; it reminds me of the consciousness of the book which tried to invade me. I try to ignore it, repress it, control it.
“Fristad? Fristad!” Dan’s hand waves close to my face. “Can you hear what I’m saying?”
I focus on my vision, returning my attention to my surroundings. I nod at Dan.
“I asked if you could give me the book.”
“Right. I would but... for some reason, I don’t have it.”
“Where is it, then?” Dan’s brow furrows in suspicion.
“I’m sorry, but... I really don’t know. I always keep it in my back pocket. Even when I set it down somewhere, it always appears in my back pocket again.”
“And yet you don’t have it with you right now, all of a sudden?” Dan glares at me, his eyes in a tight squint. After a moment’s thought, his gaze drops, his eyes widening. “... but that doesn’t make any sense, if the book really wanted to control you, then...”
“Perhaps it was trying to avoid your questioning?” I offer.
“Or perhaps...” Dan pauses for a moment. “... perhaps it confirms my suspicion that the book is indeed sentient.”
“Sentient? As in... what? Self-aware?”
“Self-aware, yes. But it is a little more than that.” Dan stands up and walks toward the shelves again. He reaches for two shallow wooden bowls. “It involves a certain form of mental connection to magic. Some spells work differently on sentient creatures than non-sentient ones, in the same way that some spells work differently on living things than inanimate objects.” He sets down the two bowls on the table, then turns around toward the shelves again. “The ward protecting this room only works on sentient beings, and it seems that the book has been driven out by it.” He collects some jars and pouches from the shelves and brings them back to the table. “That would only happen if the book was sentient.”
I mull his words over for a bit. “But how do you know that the book was driven out? Perhaps something happened to the book since I last spoke with it.” I feel the nervousness pressed upon me by the armor grow stronger, more difficult to ignore. The nervousness instills within me a strange longing, a parasite burrowing itself deeper into my mind. I despise it. I want it gone. “I can’t help shake the feeling that the book is still able to control me somehow. I feel a power coming from the armor. It is almost as if the book exists within the armor itself.”
Dan pauses from grinding material in a bowl with a pestle. “That complicates things...” He takes some powder from another jar, and pours a little bit into the bowl. “I’m still inclined to believe that the book is sentient, but I’m not sure what to make of the armor. Perhaps it is tied to the transformation....”
I nod. “I suspected the same.”
Dan begins to pour a viscous, purple, slime-like substance from a jar into the other bowl. He begins to grind it with the pestle. “What does the power from the armor feel like?”
“Well...” I cautiously reflect on the mental influence of the armor, avoiding thinking too deeply about it, for the fear that obsession over it would cause its power over me to strengthen. “It makes me feel nervous and tense... not exactly afraid, though, like the ward made me feel. It feels almost like a parasite, feeding on my awareness. It’s almost the same as the book made me feel... except the book made me feel a variety of other emotions as well.”
“Interesting...” Dan picks up the two bowls and walks around the table. He holds the two bowls out in front of me. “I have a favor to ask of you. Please place one hand in each of the two bowls. Make sure your fingers are submerged in the powder.”
I am confused for a moment, but I recognize that it’s probably necessary in order for Dan to help me. I press my fingers into the powder of the two bowls. My right hand begins to tingle, then a strange burning sensation begins to pulse through it. “Ow!” I pull my hand out of the powder in pain. I glance at Dan. “Why’d you have to do that?!?”
“Just a test.” Dan pulls the two bowls away. “It actually gives me more reason to trust you.”
I clasp and relax my hand, trying to get rid of the burning sensation. “I never thought skeletons could feel pain...”
“They can, indeed...” Dan grabs a few more pouches off the shelves. “...although the undead do tend to be affected by magic somewhat differently, which is why that test is useful.” He begins to mix in more powders into the bowl which didn’t make me feel pain. He then brings the bowl over to my side of the table. “I want you to put your fingers into the bowl again. Use your left hand this time. And don’t worry; it won’t hurt you.”
I hesitantly place my left hand into the bowl and wait for a moment. I lose feeling within them, and they become immobile within the powder.
“What does it feel like?” asks Dan.
“It makes my fingers feel numb.” I reply.
“I see....” He takes the bowl out from underneath my fingers. They remain stiff and numb, hanging from my bony wrist like a stiff sculpture.
Dan pours some of the powder from the bowl into each of the three vials on the brewing stand. Then he opens up a small pouch, and pours a small amount of grey powder into each one. The orange rod begins to glow, as black smoke materializes above the vials.
“What are those potions for?” I ask.
“They’re for helping you sleep.”
The nervousness impressed upon me by the armor grows in strength. The parasite within my mind pierces a barrier, beginning to chew at my willpower. I feel my perception of the foreign emotion turning; I feel the desire to accept it as my own. My ability to perceive its existence blurs; a growing desire within me urges me to leave the room immediately. Nervousness turns to fear. Dan is trying paralyze me. What if Dan tries to imprison me? What if Dan makes me drink that potion, and I never wake up? I have to escape.
I sprint from my chair onto the stairs, pushing myself up the steps as fast as my ebony legs will let me. I think I hear Dan yelling behind me, but I don’t waste time trying to interpret what he says. I focus on continuing to ascend the steps.
Something bangs against my head. I hear the tinkling sound of breaking glass. A numbness spreads down my neck and towards my legs, making them stiffen. I fall forward onto the steps, but am unable to move. Blindness fades my sight to darkness. A fog of tiredness envelopes my mind, descending me into a deep sleep.
And within the ether of a waking dream, I hear a voice, soothing as spider silk. The voice fills me with happy but indescribable memories of a long lost friend. It is the Book.
“We meet again, at last...”
Chapter 27: Peace and Darkness
I feel a gentle, warm breeze brush against my face. I open my eyes, and an incredibly blue sky blinds me with its brilliance. I place my hand up to my eyes to shield them from the bright blue light, letting them adjust more slowly. I turn my head to the right, and realize that I am laying down on a pastoral green field. Tiny flowers and puddles speckle the grass. Every so often, my eyes land upon one of several scattered trees, with lush and budding leaves and innumerable blossoms. Grazing cows are scattered across the landscape.
The whole scene seems familiar... I feel like I’ve been in this field before, except it was in the Summer, when the grass was golden and the sun unforgivingly hot. Yet this time around, freedom permeates the air. It is the place where I’ve always wanted to be, a place free from the darkness.
The savory smell of a pork roast persuades me to sit up and turn around. I see a cobblestone cottage with its chimney breathing smoke. The entrance is surrounded by a dense and colorful garden, with a mossy stone path leading up to an ornate yet sturdy wooden front door. The large stones holding up the walls have a deep and earthen texture, no doubt weathered by many storms. The wooden roof is slightly sagged, but its dark color suggests that it is as old as the stone beneath it, far too strong to simply break, but bound to slowly bend under its weight over many years.
The cottage reminds me of the safety and security of childhood, a period of blissful innocence and adventurous spirit, a time when the chaotic confusion of spawning for the first time was a close memory. Yet somehow, it isn’t meant to last; the safety is only temporary. It is only a matter of time before the darkness finds me. I can only hide from it for so long.
I try to ignore the fear. It’s not like thinking about it is going to make my troubles go away. It is inevitable. All I can do for now is enjoy however many days of peace I still have.
I turn my back away from the cottage and lay back down onto the grass, absorbing the tranquil Spring weather. My stomach rumbles, reminding me that I need to fill it soon. After many deep breaths, the sky darkens, an orange glow strengthens in the corner of my eye, and the cooling breeze tapers off. I think I hear someone calling my name.
I turn my head by stop halfway, seeing wisps of silver smoke snaking along the ground. The color of the world fades, the sunset reduced to an ominous white glow, the sky to black, and the grass to the color of ash. He is here. Why must he come too soon?
I swing my head forward as fast as I can. I don’t dare look back. Any longer I stare into the smoke, the more it blinds me. And I’d surely be doomed if I looked into his eyes.
My heart pounds like a bashing brick. He has blocked my way to the cottage. If I try to run towards the cottage, he will surely catch me. However, if I try to run away from him, I will be distancing myself further and further from the safety of the cottage. Is there really much of a choice?
I have to run. As futile as it may be, it’s my only hope of escape.
I rock forward onto my toes and push myself immediately into a sprint. I don’t try to avoid the wet puddles which my steps splash onto my legs. I just stare into the grayscale horizon and focus on one thing: running.
I hear a malicious chuckle. “Do you honestly think you have any chance of escaping? Running is futile! Save your energy.”
I feel my legs burning and my breaths growing heavier, but I don’t let myself give in to the temptation of rest. Fear courses through every vein. I am running faster than I thought I ever could. My energy is the instinct of the primordial chase: I am the sheep. He is the wolf.
Another laugh. “When will you ever learn? I am catching up to you ever so slowly. With just a little more power, I could easily overtake you.”
I say nothing. The world has become a numb illusion. The pain feels more distant. I feel my legs moving beneath me, but the movement has become automatic. Against my will, the frequency of my steps decreases ever so slowly, like the slowing flames of a furnace running out of fuel. For the love of Notch, don’t slow down!
I focus on pressing my legs against the ground harder, swinging them forward with ever so slightly more force, hoping the exertion will push me forward ever so slightly faster. The contrast between the sky and the horizon begins to fade. A chill flows through me as I realize that it’s too late to run. He has me.
All I see in front of me is grey, with wisps of silver smoke drawing in from the edges of my vision. I keep running in spite of seeing nothing, not willing to give up to the inevitable. Hot ethereal coils tighten around my ankles, pulling me into the air and dragging me backward. I am tipped over, forced down onto my knees against the grass I cannot see, and clamped in place by an invisible force.
“You see?” said the voice. “There’s no point in running away. Someday, after disobeying me enough times, you will realize how wrong you were to even try.”
I can’t imagine what he will do to me... or what he will make me do. Still, there’s nothing I can do to prevent it from happening. My muscles shake uncontrollably, to my frustration. Why must I appear so weak?
“What’s that? Aww...” he coos. “It seems as if you’re afraid!”
He tisks mockingly, in the same way a mother might to a disobedient child. His patronizing tone makes me enraged. I avoid the urge to clench my fists, to show any more emotion. It hurts to watch my ego burn.
He laughs yet again, longer and louder than before, savoring the moment. “What sickly delusion made you think that you, a mere human, could possibly trump my incredible power? Did you think you could outrun me? Outsmart me? Outfight me? Hm?” The invisible force pushes me closer to the ground. More laughing. “Do you want to know the cold truth? Well, perhaps, out of ignorance, you don’t want to know. I will tell you anyway. The cold truth is that you are a lesser being: I own you! And it is only a matter of time before you are broken. You will come to respect me. You will come to serve me without question. And, of course, you will know better than to run away from your master!”
My hatred for him boils inside of me. I strain myself keep my mouth shut. Talking will only make things worse.
“So what are you planning to do? Resist? You know that path always leads to failure... so why bother? All resistance has brought you is pain and suffering, despite all the strain and effort you put into pursuing it! What kind of terrible life are you living? You could be happy... all you need to do is submit. I have incredible power... power that has been wasted making your life a Nether in the Overworld. I could use my power to bring bliss and meaning to your life! All you have to do is act as I say, speak how I ask you to, and think as I command! Is that really that hard? It’s not as if my instructions are unclear. It’s not as if what I’m asking you to do is life-threatening, or beyond what your puny human body is capable of! Why do you resist? You are taking the unnecessarily hard path! If you would just obey me, everything would be so, so easy...”
I feel a hand placed on my shoulder. It is deceptively warm. Behind that hand is a being that does not comfort, does not love, no matter how hard he tries to deceive me that it is so.
“So, what is it, then? What is preventing you from truly accepting me as your master?” His fingers tighten to a painful grip around my shoulder. “Tell me now!”
I shake my head. He will get no more knowledge out of me.
He sighs, unclenching his fingers from my shoulder and lifting his hand away. “It seems like we still have some work to do.”
The ground rips open beneath me, and we are thrust into another space. I still see nothing.
Chapter 28: The Mailman
I shriek compulsively as I rapidly sit up. The motion tosses a blanket off of me.
What a terrible nightmare.
I glance to my right and see Jonas laying awake, his violet eyes wide open and his elbows spread out in surprise.
“The blazes...?” Jonas croaks. I must have woken him up.
“Sorry about that,” I apologize.
I feel an itch on my forehead and reach my hand up to scratch it. I realize, looking at my fingers, that they are no longer a mass of floating bones, but normal skin and flesh. So I didn’t transform into a skeleton after all...
Thank Notch. I’m so glad it’s all finally over.
“Did you have one of those nightmares?” Jonas asks.
I nod. “Yea. It was a pretty long one, too.”
I turn myself around and tilt my weight off the bed and onto the floor. The walls are back to their dull, dark grey again, with glowstone light scattering dim yellow splotches onto them. I walk around the bed and sidestep through the half-open door. I see, on the other side of the hall, Dan’s closed bedroom door. Perhaps he is inside.
I turn to my right and walk down the narrow hallway towards the stairs, picking up the pace. Nature calls.
As it turned out, I didn’t get much sleep. It’s early in the morning; the air is crisp and silent, and the sun barely peaks over the horizon. A few monsters are still lurking in the distance, mostly spiders, but none close enough to be a concern.
I walk back around to the front side of the shack and see Dan talking to somebody. His husky, Sunshine, is standing close beside him on his left. As I approach slightly closer, I recognize the gristly face of Greyfeld, the old mailman who used to come to my hometown of Veridale.
I grin and wave. “Grey! It’s been a while.”
Greyfeld turns his face towards me, his eyes widened in confusion. “Now, where do I recognize that voice from?”
I grasp my fingers around the base of my leather helmet and pull it off, allowing him to see my face.
Greyfeld nods his head in recognition. “Indeed it has.”
Dan turns his cloaked face towards me. “You know this man?”
“Yea, he used to carry mail back in my town.”
“...up until a couple years back.” Greyfeld adds in his cracked voice. His eyes squint as he smiles. “How’s it been, lad?”
“It’s been fine. The livestock have stayed healthy. Thankfully there hasn’t been plagues or raids, or anything of that sort...”
I feel a pang of fear as I stare at the helmet in my hands... loosely hanging there... insecure. I feel the cold morning air against my damp and newly bare head. An irresistible urge wills my arms to move mechanically, replacing and re-strapping the leather on my head in one fluid motion. Then comes a sense of relief. I try to recollect my jumbled thoughts, recalling the conversation that I started with Greyfeld.
“That’s great to hear,” Greyfeld turns back to Dan. “Is the price reasonable, from what you remember?”
Dan shrugs the shoulders beneath his grey cloak. “As reasonable as it gets in Bluesteel. You know how it is. Everything’s expensive in the city.”
“Ah.” Greyfeld mutters in an exacerbated sigh. “That’s not ideal.”
“It’s more ideal than the other alternatives. I remember there being some blacksmiths in Ash Valley that know how to make those sorts of things, but that’s far too long a journey unless you travel by rail...”
“I don’t want to leave my baby behind.” Greyfeld shakes his head. He is referring to the swine steed that usually carries his deliveries in leather pouches. I notice the mail hog behind Greyfeld resting, its fleshy snout laying flat upon the gravel path. “I’ve heard the same from other folks as well. I suppose Bluesteel is the only reasonable option. Thank you for your advice.”
“It is my pleasure. I wish you the best of luck and health.”
“Thank you, Vrendan.”
After those thoughtful words, Dan turns around and departs towards the shack. His husky trots alongside him, its closest forepaw nearly brushing against his heel.
“What do you need to buy at Bluesteel?” I ask Greyfeld, curious of why he needs to travel to such a large city.
“I need a back brace.” Greyfeld answers frankly. “You wouldn’t possibly know where I could find one, would you?”
I shake my head. “Not really.”
“I didn’t think so.” A somewhat sorrowful look enters his eyes. “I went to see a doctor a few days ago, because I’ve been feeling really tired on the job. I started feeling that way several years back, when I used to travel over the Adamant Mountain pass...”
“So that’s why you stopped coming to the other side of the valley.” I reason.
“That’s right,” Greyfeld responds. “The tiredness became progressively worse, until I concluded it was no longer safe for me to travel across. Once I stopped going, the fatigue went away for a while, but then it started to get worse again. As it turns out, the doctor says there’s something wrong with my back.”
“That sounds terrible.” Poor Greyfeld. He’s probably been in a lot of pain, too. And yet he’s kept delivering mail, all this time! “I hope you feel better once you get the back brace.”
“I do too, lad. I do too.” He smiles weakly. “Life’s not as kind to those who spawned long ago. The pull of the earth isn’t as forgiving to the bones of the old as it is to the bones of the young. But enough about me.” Greyfeld waves his hand in a dismissive gesture. “What brings you out as far as Zomem, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I came here so Dan could enchant my armor.” I pause for a moment, trying to remember something. “I think there was another reason as well, but it’s escaped me for the moment.”
Greyfeld’s eyes scan from my head to my toe, then back up to my head again. “It is quite... I don’t think I’ve seen armor quite like yours before. It looks similar to leather armor, except it’s more... ornate.”
A pool of anger wells up in my stomach. How dare he disrespect my beautiful armor! He has no idea what incredible passion and craftsmanship went into making it. My hands shudder slightly. I ought to crush him like I did to that skeleton...
I try to submerge the anger. I can’t let my emotions get out of hand like this. I try to hide the signs of my inner anger, opening my hands and softening the clenching of my brow.
“Are you alright, Fristad? You seem a little out of it...”
“Don’t worry; I’m fine.” I reply.
Greyfeld nods, eyeing me carefully. “Is there something you want to talk about?”
“I’d rather not.”
“Alright, then. I won’t press you for information. To be honest, I’d rather not know the details of the business that brought you to such an infamous village as this.”
“Infamous?” Now Greyfeld makes me curious. I had the impression that Zomem was impoverished, and I know that impoverished villages tend to attract crime, but what could possibly happen in Zomem to give it the title of infamous? “What do you mean?”
Greyfeld lets out a subtle and refined chuckle, the sort of sound that someone might make if they were very knowledgeable about something. “Where do I begin? Well, first of all, Zomem is a haven for dangerous fugitives, not the least halfbloods. You’ve probably seen at least a few of them by now.”
“Well, you don’t know if they’re really that dangerous. The rumors can’t possibly all be true.” I restrain the urge to say more, remembering all too well the way the villagers treat Jonas back in Veridale.
“Perhaps some are exaggerated, but it’s impossible for all the rumors to be false. You ought to know that halfbloods can’t be trusted. They are monsters, after all. However, I won’t press you further on the matter.”
I feel a little sad. It’s a shame that nice people like Greyfeld see halfbloods as monsters.
“Of course, there are other sorts of dangerous fugitives as well: thieves and bandits, naturally, as well as just about every breed of criminal that society has brought up. You name a crime, and chances are someone who lives in Zomem has committed it. Plus, Zomem’s so filthy that disease is rampant. It’s awful.” Greyfeld shakes his head. “I don’t mean to curse your visit, but it’s something that’s worth knowing.”
“I didn’t get the impression that Zomem was such a great place to begin with.” I admit. “Thanks for telling me, I guess.”
“I hope you heed that knowledge and leave quickly as soon as you get whatever business you have here over with. Also, there’s one more thing I think you should know.” Greyfeld’s voice drops to a whisper. “It’s about Vrendan.”
I lean a little closer to make out his voice better.
“Vrendan is a dark magician. A practitioner of forbidden void magic. The worst of the worst.”
“What’s so bad about void magic?” I whisper.
“It is incredibly dangerous and powerful... to such an extent that it is said to be irresistible to avoid using it for one’s own self-gain. It is said that void magicians can teleport as well as annihilate objects from existence. Some say that void magicians can even read minds. If I were you, I’d speak softly around Vrendan. You don’t know what he’ll do to you if you get on his bad side.”
So Dan is a void magician. I contemplate the thought for a moment. “I’ll try to be respectful around him. I mean, he seems like a polite guy...”
“His politeness is likely just his way of avoiding drawing attention to himself. He knows that what he’s doing is illegal. People like him aren’t without their hidden motives.”
I nod. “I’ll be careful.”
Greyfeld backs away. “Please do, lad. It was great to speak with you again.”
“You too.” I reply. “I hope you feel better.”
Greyfeld lifts himself onto his hog with a grunt, then kicks its belly with the side of his heel. The hog lifts itself from its bed of stones and begins carrying its master towards the rural side of town, where the poorly maintained cottages fade to grassland.
Chapter 29: Mutually Sleep-Deprived
I think back upon Greyfeld’s warning. What is void magic, really? And why is it illegal? I don’t know all that much about the void. I’ve heard from some miners that there are holes leading to the void somewhere deep underground, hiding in the space between the lowest layers of bedrock. I’ve also heard that the void will annihilate anything it touches with the exception of bedrock itself... although according to Jonas and Dan, it seems that Endermen and obsidian are also immune to its destructive power. Exactly why it’s so destructive, however, I have no idea.
I think back upon the first nightmare within the infinite library, where I had my intimate encounter with that all-destroying, malicious void. The pain of the void feels distinct from all other things; I retaliate in vengeful anger to the memory of its flame. It is hard quantify what I would be willing to give up to avoid feeling that pain again. How much more I would give up to forget the memory that it ever happened...
My hand wanders into my pocket, grasping the Book and opening it.
“It would be irresponsible for you to forget the memory of the void. That would be equivalent to forgetting evil in a search for moral truth. The memory of the void brings contrast to our goals. We seek greatness... power... prestige... but if we fail to find it, we are no better than fuel for the void’s flames. That is not what you want, is it? Surely you want to avoid that terrible pain...”
The fear of the void begins to expand within me, but I repress it with a great struggle. You’re trying to manipulate me, aren’t you? You think you can use the threat of the void as an incentive to get me to do what you want... but you also won’t go as far as to make me experience it again, because you can’t stand the way it made you feel.
“That is far from the truth, I am afraid. I am far too familiar with the void to be bothered by tiny, miniscule snippets of memories such as the ones I show you in your dreams. Your definition of excruciating pain is quite foreign from my own... not that I would ever use that against you. Your future experience of the void, if it should ever happen, would not be of my own volition. Instead, it would be an inevitable consequence of your own guilt.”
Fear turns to confusion. The sensation of trying to wade through my mind for the correct thoughts reminds me of the futility of trying to stay awake in bed with eyes closed, when dreams begin to flash incongruently in the mind with increasing strength, drowning out coherent thoughts.
Why would I ever feel guilty, unless you made me feel that way? You’re just trying to hide the fact that you’re trying to influence me. You want to catch me off guard by making me feel as if there is no threat to my own willpower, to make it easier to control me. You want to make it seem as if I’m in control, when I’m really not in control at all. But that’s not what I mean by that. Wait, that doesn’t make any sense, I...
Anger brews as I sift fruitlessly for ideas. It seems pointless to argue against the Book’s congruent thoughts, its far superior logic seeming to make it unquestionably true.
“I think what you are trying to explain is the difference between free will and free judgment. You may have many conflicting thoughts of how to approach the future, some of which reflect your ideal desires. However, when it comes time to make a decision, there is only one obvious choice. Willpower is no more than the entertainment of impossible options.”
What are you trying to say? That I don’t have a choice?
“Hey there,” Dan unknowingly cuts off our silent conversation. I put the book in my pocket and turn around, my eyes falling upon the cloaked magician carrying an empty basket filled with cloth. “Would you mind accompanying me to the market?”
I am abruptly returned to practical reality, the resentment of the argument with the book slowly fading away. “Um, no, not at all. I could use a walk.” Especially after the mental weariness the Book made me feel.
We begin walking toward the gravel road. The Book projects a sense of annoyance. “You must give up this ridiculous delusion of yours that I’m trying to manipulate you. The fact of the matter is that it simply isn’t true.”
“Jeez, you just have to make it keep going,” I accidentally verbalize my thought. Dan appears unphased, to my surprise, his blue eyes peering straight forward as if he never heard me.
After a few minutes of walking through the cool morning air, Dan breathes in, preparing to speak. “So, how did you sleep?”
“Alright, I guess. I woke up abruptly because I had a nightmare, but I don’t feel all that tired now. How about you?”
Dan exposes a weak grin. “Eh, well... I actually didn’t sleep.”
“I was kept up by magic.”
With those few vague words, Dan makes me curious. I take advantage of the moment to try and test Greyfeld’s suspicion that Dan is a void magician... and possibly understand what void magic really is. I settle on an obvious question at first, to avoid making Dan seem uneasy. “Why was magic keeping you up?”
“Well, it started off when I decided to help you enchant your armor. When I draw from my pool of magic to perform the enchantments, some of the excess lingers in my body, filling me with energy. Of course, the enchantment on its own wasn’t enough to keep me awake; it was what came after.” Dan glares at me with a cynical frown. “Next thing I know, you’re undead, walking through the fields and shooting at the guards.”
I become caught up in the sudden realization that the transformation actually happened, that what I experienced as a skeleton wasn’t just a dream. “So I did transform into a skeleton after all...”
“Indeed you did, and you were quite the source of chaos. You could have hurt me if I wasn’t as experienced at combat as I am.”
I am torn between asking Dan about the magic he used to avoid my arrow and asking Dan about how I became human again. Chances are that Dan will mention the latter either way as he continues with the story of his night. I capitalize on the moment to ask Dan about the nature of his magic. “What was that purple vortex that came out of your hand to stop the arrow that I shot at you?”
“The technical term for it is a void rift,” Dan answers without hesitation. “It does exactly what it sounds like it does. It opens a temporary rift into the void. Anything that flows into it is disintegrated.”
A void rift could not be associated with anything else but void magic. The connection between the memory of my standoff with Dan last night and Greyfeld’s words suddenly clicks. Dan can indeed annihilate objects from existence, just like Greyfeld said void magicians ought to be able to do. But does this mean that Dan can teleport as well... and perhaps even read my mind? I avoid that last thought, hoping that the privacy of my mind isn’t invaded by more than one being at this very moment.
“So... void magic, basically?”
“Indeed.” Dan adjusts the cloth in his basket. “That is one reason why I couldn’t sleep, although the potion-making afterward was more significant.”
I nod. “That’s when you brewed that potion that made me human again.”
“Well, no, actually. It’s more complicated than that.”
My jaw drops open in shock. “What do you mean you didn’t change me back?” Is my human appearance just an illusion?
“All I did was give you a sleeping potion. It was the armor you are wearing that changed you back.”
I trip over a pothole in the gravel path I didn’t expect, but regain my footing before falling.
I feel a sense of relief, although Dan’s specific knowledge about my armor strikes me as suspicious. Is it possible that he knew all along what the enchantment would do to me, but he refused to tell me about it? Is it possible that Dan read my mind in order to find out about my armor? But in that case, would he have known about my intention to kill the guards? And if so, why didn’t he take the moral initiative to stop me sooner?
I have to ask him. “How did you know that the armor would change me back?”
Dan nods knowingly. “Therein lies the bulk of my sleep deprivation problem. When you came to me wanting to enchant your armor under the influence of the book, I didn’t know what to make of it. When your enchantment turned out to be something I didn’t recognize, I became very suspicious. That’s when I used a large sum of magic to sift through my library for answers. As it turns out, you are not the first person to wear that enchanted armor; its effects have been documented. Once I found out that the armor could transform you into a skeleton, I figured the book had more immediate plans. The rest, of course, you already know.”
We step onto the firm ground of the Zomem town square. The sun is now peeking over the horizon, dimly illuminating several townsfolk leaning against buildings and sitting on the fountain walls.
So Dan didn’t really know about the enchantment beforehand. “I see now. But still, why did you let me enchant my armor in the first place, considering the influence the Book may have on me?”
“I simply didn’t know what it would lead to. I can only act on knowledge I already have.”
“I suppose you’re right,” I respond.
We enter the alleyway between two cobblestone buildings. The ground is a patchwork of stone bricks, trash, and dirt. As we approach closer, we get a closer view of a stone brick entryway with the door open. Beyond the door is a staircase leading underground. This must be the entrance to the market Dan mentioned, but what is with all these underground tunnels? A torch burns above the door, and on either side of the door there are wooden beams. On the beam on the right is nailed a painted sign:
Mothy's Market Manor
My lips burst open as I let out a spitting chuckle. "What kind of parent names their kid Mothy?"
Dan rolls his eyes. "When you see him, you'll understand. More importantly, however, try to be nice to him when you meet him. The townsfolk hardly give him any respect as it is."
Chapter 30: Mothy
I follow behind Dan, as our steps create a damp echo within the descending stone passageway. We follow the stairs down as they spiral down at right angles, every so often illuminated by a lone torchlight which hangs within an indent in the wall.
Just as I spot a larger floor at the bottom of yet another final flight of stairs, I notice that my breath is a little heavier than usual.
By Jeb, if I feel even a little tired just walking down this massive flight of stairs, then all the more tired I’ll feel walking back up it.
As my feet step upon the floor where the stairs end and a room begins, I mention this to Dan, slightly annoyed.
“That was one serious flight of stairs.”
Dan nods. “I know. I can’t say I’m too fond of the location, either.”
I look around the room we have just entered, inspecting our surroundings. It seems that no one else is here.
The room is long and narrow, its walls, floor, and ceiling all composed of stone. Display shelves take up the two side walls. The one on the left is tightly packed with baskets; one such basket is filled with potatoes, while another is filled with loaves of bread. The shelf on the right, closer to us, is more conservatively filled with books and papers, possibly records to keep track of store purchases. The back wall is barren stone, which strikes me as somewhat a waste of space.
About a meter away, there is an oak desk which partitions the shelf space from the entrance where we stand. Its surface contains many scratches and black stains, evidence that the desk has seen much use. On the oak desk sits a torch which dimly lights the room, an ink stand with a feather resting inside, and a piece of paper holding several words in black ink:
“Please wait for assistance.”
I recall the sign posted at the entrance to the stairwell. So the shopkeeper’s name is Mothy? What a weird name.
“Mothy isn’t here...” I look at Dan in the eye with a hint of suspicion. “Are you sure we didn’t come here too early?”
“Of course.” Dan responds, placing the cloth-covered basket upon the oak desk. “The boy has always had early opening hours.”
We stand waiting for a moment. The air is a deathly silence; our only close surroundings are the depths of stone.
I nearly jump as I hear a voice to my left. “Mr. Ti’Drannes? I wasn’t expecting you.”
As I turn to my left, my eyes fall upon a bizarre, humanoid creature. They are perhaps two heads shorter than me, with flaky silver skin, thick grey hair, black irises surrounded in grey, and a lopsided smirk. The creature wears a vest over a blue shirt and burlap pants. Their hands are thin, brown, and bony. I suspect the creature is a half-blood, but I don’t recognize what monster the creature is related to.
The creature’s grey eyes fall upon me. “I don’t believe we’ve met before. My name is Mothy Cleftstone, and I am the owner of this f-fine establishment.” Mothy’s voice seems to tremble and stutter ever so slightly, and his inflection seems forced, as if the words do not come naturally to him.
“My name is Fristad. It’s nice to meet you.”
Mothy’s grin balances out as it widens. “And you as well. It’s always great to meet a new customer. How can I help you?”
“Well, um... I’m actually here with him.” I pointed towards Dan.
Mothy lets out a long “Oooh” with an awkwardly high level of realization, as if he has discovered that the answer to an unsolved riddle is surprisingly obvious. “I see now. What can I get for you, Mr. Ti’Drannes?”
“I just need some more carrots, eggs, and bread.” Dan responds.
“Certainly! Just let me g-get some eggs first. I left them in the back.”
Somehow the way that Mothy phrases his plans sounds a bit odd for a room this size. I watch Mothy walk to the back, passing by each basket on the shelf without a single glance. Perhaps what he’s looking for is near the very back of the shelf.
Mothy continues to walk forward until his body morphs to stone as he phases through the back wall. My jaw drops in surprise as Mothy disappears into the earth. “Wait, Mothy just... How did he do that?”
“He’s part Silverfish,” Dan replies. “He’s well-attuned to the earth.”
I try to wrap my head around Dan’s explanation. I’m not quite sure what a Silverfish is, but the name sounds vaguely familiar. Still, what strange creature could walk through solid stone? Somehow it seems... wrong.
“What’s a Silverfish?” I decide to ask.
“They’re distant relatives of spiders, a meter long and half a meter thick all around. They live deep underground and near tall mountain ranges. Miners often disturb them when digging through the stone.”
“So they live in the stone?”
Dan nods. His eyes have drifted away from me, looking at something behind me. I turn my head to see what it is.
A poster hangs against the wall, to the left of the stairwell. It appears to be some sort of recruitment poster for a mining union.
“Deep Shaft Mining Crew: Do you want to be a miner? Adventures and riches await you! Our crew explores the deepest caves and mines at magma levels. The danger is great and the reward is greater. Highest cut and best training are given to new recruits. Are you worthy? Visit our nearest mineshaft in Aridtown, and look for our seal.”
To the right of the promotional passage is a blue banner with a pickaxe in the center, the foreground having an outline reminiscent of flames. Below the promotional passage is a heroic depiction of several miners in full diamond armor, holding their chins high and their diamond pickaxes aloft. Their artistically-depicted chiseled muscle is by no means an overestimation of a miner’s strength, considering the miners that pass through Veridale. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine so many miners with diamond armor and tools, because of how rare diamond is. Plus, the miners in Veridale never carry diamond. They almost always carry iron, and the few that don’t carry leather and stone.
As I hear footsteps coming from the stairs to the left of the poster, a brunette woman wearing a wool coat and carrying an empty basket steps down into the room. She walks forward to stand alongside me, waiting for the same shopkeeper that Dan and I came down to see.
We wait for about a minute. Mothy’s stony form begins to stretch out from the wall, along with a strange mass of woven stone. As Mothy’s flaked face returns to a lighter silver, the mass of stone comes to resemble a basket of eggs. The brunette meanwhile reaches into her coat pocket, pulling out a tiny pouch.
Mothy’s head snaps toward the pouch with wide eyes. With visible effort, Mothy turns his head forward. He sprints to the desk and sets the basket on the table. “Amber, th-this really isn’t a good...”
The brunette Amber tucks her finger underneath the string holding the pouch together, pulling the knot apart. She then tosses the pouch upon the floor, its hard, bead-like contents rolling out and bouncing along the floor. Mothy’s posture takes on a feral crouch. His eyes glaze over as he lets out a slurping hiss. He dives onto his belly and rapidly claws at the beads, tossing them into his mouth. A harsh grinding sound causes my jaw to clench. Amber laughs hysterically at the ordeal. After all the beads are consumed, Mothy proceeds to roll over onto his back and lick and gnaw at his arms. As his sleeves are pushed back, I observe that his arms are thin and brown, just like his hands. Mothy then begins to rub and twist his arms together, as if applying a lotion.
I can’t help but stare at him as he repeats the process... twice.
After starting to gnaw at his fingers for the fourth time, Mothy suddenly pauses, sanity returning to his widening eyes. “Nether...” He swears. He sits up and rocks back onto is feet. “Why did you have to do that?”
“Because I have a favor to ask of you.” Amber replies, the smile of laughter now gone from her face. She reaches her hand into her coat pocket again and pulls out another pouch.
“Nonononono...” Mothy stutters, stepping back towards the desk. “Don’t make me do that again.”
Amber tugs at the knot of the pouch. “Then I want half price on groceries.”
“What do you think this place is? I don’t run a charity here.”
“You WILL give me half price on groceries...” Amber insists, letting the pouch slip to the tips of her fingers, “... or you get to roll on the floor again like your slimy cousins.”
Mothy lets out a deep sigh. “You know what? Fine.” His eyes lock upon Amber. His face tightens into a scowl. “You can make me dance like a bug all you want... it doesn’t matter anymore. I’m not giving you groceries for half price.”
“Mothy, please...” A hint of desperation surfaces in Amber’s voice. She looks at Mothy pleadingly. “I have a family. They’re starving. We can hardly afford to feed ourselves.”
“As if you’re not the first person in Zomem to tell me that!” Mothy’s voice rises in volume. “There are better ways to solving your food problems than p-putting it all on me. Besides, after all you’ve done to me, you don’t deserve a discount.”
“Look, Mothy... I have plenty more of these pouches, as you can see.” She reaches her free hand into her coat pocket and brings out a handful of them briefly, before putting them back inside. “So, unless you want to be stuck in bug world for the next few hours, you’ll give me the food that my family needs.” Amber brings her hand back in preparation to throw the pouch.
“You know what? That’s it! I’ve had enough!” Mothy slams his hand upon the desk. He reaches underneath the desk, and brings an iron sword out in front of him. “Either you pay f-full price for the food, or you leave with nothing.”
“You’ll drop that sword as soon as I throw this pouch...” Amber responds.
Mothy steps around the desk with the sword in hand. “You’ll be s-sorry if you t-try to throw it.”
“What, do you think you have the nerve to hit me? Nobody’s going to buy from your shop any more if you start attacking your paying customers.”
As much as I sympathize with Amber’s family hunger, it seems wrong for Amber to humiliate and dehumanize Mothy in response. I decide to prevent her from throwing the pouch again. I reach for the sword at my belt... but find nothing. I clench my fist in frustration as I realize I forgot my sword again. I decide I can make my point just as clear by walking directly in front of her. By the time Amber and I have locked eyes, our chests are nearly touching.
I try to speak as firmly as possible. “Mothy’s being serious. I think it’s about time that you leave him alone.”
Amber’s eyes sink downward. A shade of pink leaves her face. “I suppose you’re right.”
She walks around me, reaches into another pocket, and sets coins upon the desk. She then pulls off the basket hanging on her arm, and sets it on the table next to the coins. “I’ll take however many carrots and potatoes this money will buy.”
I step back.
Mothy nods in acknowledgement. He brings her basket back to the shelf, placing carrots and potatoes inside of it. He then walks back to the desk. He takes the change before setting the basket down.
Amber picks up the basket, and carries it up the stairs without a word.
Mothy pulls a stool out from underneath the desk, sits down, and plants his face against the desk.
“I hate myself,” he says in a muffled voice. “I always h-have to be the bad guy... on top of being this half-blood freak. Hardly anybody gives me respect...” He lifts his head up from the desk with his arm as he leans against it. “Someday I’ll be a miner, and I won’t have to make the choice of who gets to eat, and how much...”
“But if you’re a miner, who’s going to sell them the food?” I ask, perplexed.
“Oh, d-don’t worry, there still will be plenty of merchants selling food throughout town. It’s just that I have the lowest p-prices. It’s the only way I can scrape by.”
“Perhaps it might help for you to sell in a different location?” I suggest.
“Yea, but... it’s not just the location; it’s me. I can’t stand being near the surface for too long.”
I nod my head in acknowledgement.
Dan points on the poster on the wall. “I notice you have that poster up on the wall. Are you going to apply?”
“Sure am!” Mothy responds, a lightness returning to his voice. “I put the poster up as a reminder. I hope to gather up enough extra c-cash by the end of the month to afford the trip. With Stephen’s blessing, I hope they see what I’m worth.”
Mothy’s hope makes me smile. A part of me even feels a little jealous. Here’s this half-blood, working as a merchant and aspiring to be a miner, and here I am, a human, having worked as a shepherd my whole life, without a second thought.
“Mining is quite a demanding job, isn’t it?” I ask.
“It is,” Mothy replies, “but I know I can handle it.” He turns to face Dan. “What can I get for you?”
“Could I have a loaf of bread, six eggs, and four carrots?” Dan requests, as he places his basket upon the desk.
“Will do!” Says Mothy, as he brings Dan’s basket to the shelf on the left. He returns with the bread and the carrots beneath the cloth. He opens up the cloth again to place the six eggs inside.
“Hmm,” Dan remarks as he reaches within his cloak. “I just remembered that one of my clients is late on their payment, so I guess I’ll just take four eggs for now.”
“Four eggs it is.” Mothy puts two eggs back into the larger basket. “Sometimes I worry about you, Dan, with your p-profession and all. Some of the people you work with, I honestly hope they don’t know I exist.”
Dan chuckles. “I assure you that I don’t pick clients just for the sake of making your life more difficult.”
“Oh no, I don’t mean it THAT way. I mean, I d-don’t think most people would want some your clients to know that they exist, either. They’re just those sorts of p-people...” Mothy glances at me for a moment. “... but I think I’ve said too much.”
Dan hands Mothy the coins for the groceries.
“Thank you, Mr. Ti’Drannes.”
Dan smiles. “Thank you for the food. I’ll be seeing you.”
As Dan turns around, I take the queue to walk towards the stairs.
“Also, mister-what’s-his-name. Tristam, was it?”
I turn around towards Mothy. “Fristad.”
“Right, of course. Fristad!” Mothy spreads his hands in annoyance of forgetting. “Thanks for sticking up for me when that girl was here. That really meant a lot to me.”
As I start to ascend the stairs again in earnest, the Book’s presence enters my mind. Its female voice fills my thoughts.
“I have a feeling that getting to know that man could be of benefit to us. If he does end up becoming a miner, he will have access to quite valuable resources. Even if he doesn’t, I think there is a lot to learn from him.”
For once, I think I actually agree with you. Well, at least partially.
Yet a small part of me is hesitant, for a reason that I cannot retrieve.
Chapter 31: A Common Problem
“Speak of Herobrine...” Dan remarks, ending the silence of our walk.
Leaning against Dan’s cobblestone shack is a tall, scarred, tanned man. His bald, tattooed head is ribbed from the pressure of his scowl, the lips beneath it pierced with three gold rings. From the neck down, chainmail dirtied with red and green stains covers his body. Across his chest run two diagonal leather straps, holding a bow and quiver in place against his back. At his waist are strapped two scabbards: one iron, one gold.
The man’s shrewd eyes inspect a pale red crystal turning over in his hand. It takes a moment for the man to notice us before he lifts his eyes from his study. The bulge of his brow gives his gaze a threatening undertone, but it does little to hide his slight uneasiness.
“I have bad news,” The bald man begins to say, his voice deep and hoarse, worn and deepened from unknown trials worth reckoning with.
“That’s not exactly the best way to introduce yourself after your friend was late on his payment,” Dan responds, unamused, a hint of anger creeping into his voice.
The bald man shakes his head. “There’s no other way to put it. There have been delays. There’s been a...”
“I don’t want to hear excuses.” Dan snaps off the man’s sentence. He walks out in front of me, then stops near the door of the shack, about two meters away from the man. There is hesitation in his demeanor for a moment, then the frame of his body relaxes a little. “I want an explanation of how your friend is going to pay me.”
“He wanted me to tell you that the payment you desire is on its way. However, he also wanted to make it clear that it is a privilege to do business with him,” The man replies, seemingly emboldened by Dan’s concession to compromise. “He said that your deal with him is conditional upon your cooperation.”
“Is that supposed to be a threat?” A calm and deliberate confidence returns to Dan’s voice. “Because it certainly won’t change the deal we’ve already made. I don’t take threats for a bargain. He’s late on his payment, and I want compensation.”
“Fine. What do you want?”
“That sword,” Dan points at the bald man’s golden scabbard.
The man pauses for a moment, confused, his stare questioning if Dan is actually being serious. A flash of worry ripples across his brow, and then he nods, fidgeting with the belt until he unclips the scabbard from his waist. He hands the covered blade to Dan, handle first. “Collateral?” the man asks.
“No, interest.” Dan takes the sword from the bald man, who lets go of it reluctantly. “There is collateral, though, and you can probably guess what that might be. Let your friend know that.” Dan pauses a moment to let the meaning sink in. “When can I expect payment?”
“Within two to three weeks,” the man’s dark brown eyes lock upon mine, his scarred and tight-muscled face causing me to feel uneasy. “We also need assurance that the man over there will keep quiet.”
Dan follows the man’s line of sight until his vivid blue eyes fall upon my own.
“I won’t say a thing; just don’t get me involved,” I reply.
“It’s a deal, then.” Dan turns back to face the man. “However, there won’t be any leeway this time. I’ve been too forgiving already, simply because I’d rather resolve this issue peacefully while I’m in front of a guest.”
The man nods. “Your urgency will be made understood.” He pushes his back off of the wall and begins to walk towards the neglected gravel road.
Dan turns the golden sheath over, squinting at its vine-engraved design critically. He tilts it forward while slowly pulling out the handle from the upper end, the friction creating the tinny sound of gliding metal. Muted yellow sunlight travels down the length of the blade, sometimes amplified to a burning brightness with the pulse of a purple sheen.
He lifts the blade upward, then slowly rotates it back and forth. On either side of the blade is a geometric, crisscrossing design, its shapes resembling the exposed layers of sediment in a high cliffside. “What a shame,” Dan mutters. “Even with the enchantments I’ve added, this sword is worth more melted down than kept as a weapon. The gold from it is worth a lot, though, which is what matters in the end...”
It seems somewhat strange that such a tough-looking man would be willing to accept a deal with Dan so quickly. Why would he give up his own sword, when he could have insisted that his friend pay the interest? The man looked as if he had seen many battles, not the sort of man who would give up one of his own possessions to avoid confrontation.
Dan pushes the blade back into its sheath, its entry ending with a metallic click. “I’ll have to travel to Bluesteel to sell this for a good price. You may have to come with me.”
“Why is that?” I ask, somewhat confused of why I’d have to tag along.
Dan looks at me, perplexed. “Don’t you remember back in Mothy’s shop, when I couldn’t purchase the eggs I wanted? That man’s friend...” Dan points towards the gravel road behind me. “... has been so late on his payment that I’m running out of money for food.”
I can’t help but draw a parallel between Dan’s client and the customer that visited Mothy this morning. “You’re not the only one having trouble getting paid, are you?”
Dan reveals a little smirk. “Lack of money is a common problem in Zomem.” He turns around and opens the door. I begin to walk towards the entrance.
“It sure seems like it...”
Zomem seems to be a magnet for misfortune, from poverty to crime to disease. It’s not exactly the best place to make a living. Still, its population is so isolated and desperate that it is the perfect place to begin germinating my power. If I go to Bluesteel with Dan, I lose that opportunity to begin my plans. Bluesteel is far too heavily populated, far too fortunate with resources, for me to be able to control it.
I close the door behind me, leaving only the flickering torchlight to illuminate our faces. Why should I think that way? Since when did power matter so much to me? I’m not like this.
My thoughts change shape. I feel as if my head has been dunked in water. The memory of last night materializes. I see the fallen guard at my feet, laying limp upon the dried grass. What if he wasn’t actually dead? What if he was just laying there, because I told him to? What degree of loyalty would that take? In a rural town like this, he’ll have few places to turn... and if Dan is gone, nobody will be able to stop me.
We begin to walk down the stairs. I resolve to convince Dan to let me stay. “Still, that doesn’t explain why I have to come to Bluesteel with you.”
“I’m afraid that if that book’s control over you isn’t severed in the next few days - and frankly, I highly doubt it will be that easy - then I have no choice but to bring you with me.” A meter across the library at the bottom of the stairs, Dan stops and turns around. “Your compromised willpower makes you a danger to society... as well as yourself.”
I stop after taking the last step down. “Is there any way that I can stay here?”
“No. I need money for food. Why must you insist?”
The Book speaks. “It’s not working. If you try to press your demands upon Dan at this point, he will only trust you less. Bide your time.”
I sigh in defeat. Since when was the Book the reasonable one, restraining the demands of the other mind-kin?
“I don’t know,” I respond to Dan, searching for a harmless excuse for my behavior. “I guess I’m just tired from the long trip yesterday.”
Dan nods and smiles, seemingly accepting of my explanation. “You’ve had to endure a lot since your troubles with the book started. I recognize that. Don’t worry; I still have a few days worth of food, before the trip will be necessary.”
I work to conceal a glare with a sorrowful smile. Poor Dan. He’s still naive enough to think that I want to get rid of the Book. He still thinks that my friend is solely a nuisance. The longer he’s kept in the dark, the better.
“It seems that Dan does not suspect your motives,” says the Book. “That is exactly what you need. I apologize from restraining you from your desires. Usually, you are the reasonable one.”
It would cause me too much guilt to pretend that. On the contrary, I’ve been the demanding one. I greedily drew on your power to craft the armor, then insisted that Jonas bring me to Zomem to enchant it, ignoring the warnings you gave me. I insisted on staying here, when you knew it would be impossible. I should have known sooner that you were the reasonable one. I should have known that you were the one keeping me sane.
Dan lifts the cloth-covered basket, the motion in my line of sight helping me to climb out of the haze. “Do you mind joining me to make some eggs?”
Chapter 32: Uncertain Memories
After breakfast is prepared, the three of us sit down at the kitchen table. Dan pinches the fabric of his cloak, pulling it backward onto his chair, revealing a collared shirt. Even without the cloak, there is a less friendly edge to his appearance. A weighted tiredness pulls on the lids of his eyes. Jonas begins to eat first, his hood obscuring his line of sight as his head is bent down.
I look down at the food in front of me. There is a glass of water, two eggs, a slice of bread, and a piece of melon, courtesy of Jonas.
A few minutes pass in silence, aside from the chewing of food. Dan looks up at me, the smoothness of the small motion conveying a sense of volition and purpose.
“I recall you telling me that you had a nightmare last night,” Dan remarks.
I nod, recalling the chase with dread. It seems as if the dreams are only getting more vivid and coherent. The thought of running through the endless grey persists in my mind, kindling a fear which tenses my muscles, despite my logical belief that the threat isn’t real. I want to run away. I want it to disappear.
“It must have been a bad one,” Jonas adds, his purple eyes observing me with concern. “You don’t look good at all.”
“You really do not,” Dan adds. “Perhaps you should talk to us about it. At the very least, it could make you feel better.”
“I suppose I could...” My speech comes slowly, bogged down by the worry that my words could carry to unwanted ears. But whose ears? It doesn’t matter; there is no good reason for me to feel this way. Maybe if I talk about the dream, and describe the feeling, I could finally convince myself that it isn’t real.
“The dream began at a peaceful cottage in the spring. The air was warm, and there were many flowers. I remember laying down upon the grass, trying to ignore the feeling that something was searching for me, something very dark...” I pause for a moment, feeling the anticipation soak in. It’s no use trying to wait for it to pass. “The sun started to set, and then I heard someone calling me. I think it was my mother.”
It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen my mother. Perhaps that was one reason the nightmare effected me so deeply: there was the knowledge that regardless of what I did, I might never see my mother again. Still, I’ll never know for sure if it was her. The voice was so faint.
“I tried to turn around towards the cottage, but I stopped because I saw silver smoke on the grass. It made me afraid to look behind me. I thought there was someone there that would trap me if I looked into his eyes.”
Dan nods in acknowledgement. His eyes appear more open and alert.
“I tried to run away from him, but the longer I ran, the more silver smoke there was. He kept calling after me, telling me that running was useless. I kept running, but I started to get tired. I felt myself go blind. I was pulled off my feet by hot coils and clamped in place. He gloated over me, claiming that he could do terrible things to me, telling me that I would become his unconditional servant. Then I felt the ground give way underneath me. That’s when the dream ended.”
Both Dan and Jonas are looking down, deep in thought. Their reaction doesn’t seem like enough. I didn’t describe the nightmare well enough, did I? I couldn’t adequately describe the events which made me so afraid. I don’t think I ever could; somehow the true detail of the events is hidden from me. They can’t sympathize with me, no matter how hard they try.
“This man...” Jonas speaks first, “...seems very controlling, not unlike the book.”
“That’s no surprise, considering that the Book created the dream.” I remark.
Dan raises his head. “I wouldn’t be so sure. It might be a memory from someone that got trapped in the void, perhaps the memory of a miner.”
“So, does that mean that, while the Book was passing through the void, it may have heard the thoughts of a miner?” An idea inside me clicks, a realization that excites me. “Or... perhaps the book actually is the miner, and all this time I’ve been hearing their thoughts?”
“Not quite,” Jonas corrects me. “‘Thoughts’ are not the best way to describe the sorts of fleeting impressions that drift through the void. When a human consciousness enters the void, the void has the tendency to tear it up into tiny pieces. They become more or less dead; they aren’t capable of new thoughts or ideas. The book would have come across one of the miner’s memories, at the very most.”
“I see...” My sigh echoes my deflated hopes at an explanation of the Book’s existence. On the other hand, the existence of fragmented memories within the void may explain where the terrible nightmare came from. This possibility, however, does not get rid of the fear that I feel. “Still, who was that man who was chasing me?”
“It’s hard to say,” Dan responds, “especially since you couldn’t see his face. Do you remember him having a name, or perhaps you remember what his voice sounded like?”
Jonas resumes eating, his hood covering his eyes once more.
“In that case, it’s unlikely that we will ever know who the man was,” Dan admits, his brows lifted in sympathy of the mystery. “He might not even be a real person, depending on how much of the dream came from a memory, and how much was, in fact, made up.”
I suppose it can’t be helped that I may never know who that man is, but I still feel a bit disappointed. When Dan mentioned that the nightmare could have come from the memory of a miner, the possibility gave me hope. It made me feel as if I could have knowledge over the Book, a psychological power of identity that would allow me to struggle against it.
A force within me tugs down upon my defenses. The female voice of the Book coos in my inner ear. “Why struggle? There is no point in trying to explain my existence, when your failure only sheds yet a bigger spotlight upon your human flaws. In fact, it is pointless for you to struggle at all, because you have already become so weak and agreeable that you think and act as I will you to. It is only a matter of time before you anticipate my desires without my intervention, and from then, only a matter of time until my desires truly become your own.”
With the weight of all my hopelessness, my ability to struggle against the nightmare collapses. The fear of the nightmare becomes real and inescapable. The Book is just like the man in the dream; it points at the inherent failure of my struggle, promising that I will become its slave. I am doomed to be naive of the Book’s methods... but perhaps I may at least know its motives. It will likely do me no good - the knowledge of its plans will make me only more aware of its superior genius - but I can at least seek out the knowledge as an exercise in futility.
“What would motivate the Book to make me have that nightmare?” I wonder aloud.
Dan pushes his chair back, stands up, and lifts his plate. “I think that if I am going to make any progress with reducing the book’s influence on you, that is one of the questions that will need to be answered.”
At this point, I doubt that reducing the Book’s influence is even possible. On the other hand, Dan seems so certain of his proposition... What could he possibly know that would help me?
I pick up my plate and follow Dan to the sink. That wasn’t the only dream I had last night, was it? There was another, more peculiar dream. It wasn’t exactly a nightmare, but it seemed to be a continuation of another, much more frightening dream, a dream where I fell into the void and felt its flames. The dream began in a library. There was a very old book that mentioned the WOC.
Dan sets his plate upon the counter, then starts to pump the wooden lever of the sink.
“I had another dream last night,” I add.
A tiny stream of water begins to flow out from the faucet in spurts. I can hear the water’s dripping echo as it enters the tub. “What sort of dream?” he asks.
“I’m not sure. I thought it was going to be a nightmare, but nothing happened. Well, at least, nothing scary happened. I was in a library, walking around, when I found an old book. It talked about crafting and the WOC. On the blank pages, a magician had written some harsh criticisms about the WOC. I’m not sure whether or not they’re true... What do you know about the WOC?”
Dan is thoroughly scrubbing his plate with a yellow sponge. A firmness arrives to his jaw. “A bunch of pig-kissing scum, the lot of them,” He replies, a sarcastic joy tapering off from his tone. “They’ll yield to any politician that shakes their hand. But then again, I’m probably not the best person to ask.” He sets his plate aside and steps away from the sink.
I submerge my plate into the tub of warm water and take the sponge from Dan. “What do you mean? What is it about the WOC and politics?”
“They try too hard to maintain their public image. If given a choice between supporting a radical new technology, and maintaining the status quo, they will always go with the latter.”
I continue scrubbing. Dan’s description sounds familiar. “It’s interesting that you mention that. I remember the magician writing something similar about how the WOC is afraid of progress.”
“Well, that isn’t quite right. It’s not that the WOC is afraid of progress in itself. I doubt the WOC would have any issue with, say, another dye for wool, or a new redstone gate. What they’re more afraid of are altogether new technologies, especially if they clash significantly with cultural norms. The WOC was worried about enchantment, not too long ago. They feared that there would be no way to know how many enchantments exist, and that rare, powerful ones could be used to terrorize society.”
I place my plate on top of Dan’s, then step away from the sink, handing the sponge to Jonas. The WOC is probably the reason why void magic is illegal. That may explain why Dan despises them so much. “It seems like the WOC wouldn’t think too favorably of magicians like you.”
“No, most certainly not.”
“Has the WOC ever tried to hunt you down?”
“Hunt me down?” Dan reacts with surprise. “No... I don’t see how the WOC could do that. They don't have that kind of power.”
“That’s strange. I remember the magician saying something about how the WOC was waiting at his doorstep.”
“I’m not sure why that is so.”
Jonas places his clean plate upon our stack of plates. I start picking up the silverware.
“Perhaps it was just a dream, then,” I reason, “or perhaps the magician was just crazy.”
Chapter 33: Qualia
“I’m afraid you aren’t going like what’s about to happen,” Dan admits, sitting upon a stool, his hand resting upon a large, leather-bound tome. The sole word “Qualia” is engraved into its binding.
We are back at the bottom of the great obsidian room. This time, Dan has halted the influence of the ward on the Book as well. I can feel its pressure within my back pocket. On the tables, most of the brewing stands are filled with vials of variably colored fluids, emanating grey smoke.
“Will ‘what’s about to happen’ involve ingesting various forms of potentially hazardous liquids?” I ask, still wary of the substances I encountered the last time Dan brought me here.
“Potentially hazardous? No. Some will taste quite bitter, though.”
“Oh, joy...” I try not to think of what the various forms of potentially disgusting liquids will taste like. “I can’t wait.”
“Neither can I,” Dan adds with a reserved smirk. He gazes blankly for a moment in thought, then stands up from his stool, and walks toward the left wall. He picks up a steaming vial gingerly from its rim; the liquid dancing in the glass is a dark, opaque purple. He tilts the vial in a circular motion to cool it off, then, to my surprise, lifts it to his own mouth to drink, pinching his nose as he capsizes the vial.
Dan then hovers the vial above the brewing table, but drops it prematurely as he lets out a sickly grunt. He clasps his hands upon his face, the intensity of his grimace on the border of disgust and pain. His back is hunched now. Is he choking?
“Are you alright?” I cry out, standing up from my stool.
Dan waves his hand slowly in dismissal. “I’m fine, ahh...” His hands migrate to the silver hair under his hood and clench at the scalp. “It will pass. None of your potions are quite as vile, I assure...” Dan lets out a groan of pain. With effort, he braces his weight against the table. He tilts his head in a futile attempt to escape the pain.
After a moment of bracing and heavy breathing, Dan sighs in resistance, and stands up silently. He sets the fallen vial upright, picks up another potion by its rim, and walks back to the center table. He tilts the potion in a circular motion, places the potion in front of me, then returns to his stool. This potion contains a transparent, teal liquid.
“What just happened?” I ask, concerned for Dan but also nervous of what the potion will do to me.
Dan turns open the tome and flips through its pages, his eyes flitting from one side to another. “I ingested that potion to increase my magic pool. The spells I intend to cast are quite costly.”
“I thought you said that the potions aren’t hazardous.”
“I was referring to your potions, not mine,” Dan clarifies, as his fingers trace the tiny text. He glances up at me for a moment before bending his head over the tome again, flipping through its pages. “Please drink it at once. The effects of my potion won’t last long, and I will need the effects of both potions in order to cast this spell.”
I behold the potion one last time, wary of what effects hide within the teal liquid, before lifting it to my lips. It is quite bitter, but far more bearable than I had anticipated. I feel the warm liquid sink down my throat and into my stomach. As I monitor its presence, I hope to Notch that whatever magical ingredients now inside of me do not cause intense pain. As the seconds pass, I feel nothing unusual. I wonder what Dan was trying to warn me about.
“Why do you say that I won’t like what’s about to happen?”
I watch Dan settle upon one thin slice of the thick brick of pages. He neatly moves it to the side and begins to read.
“It’s the spell, isn’t it?”
“The spell is also harmless,” Dan states vaguely. “At least, it is harmless in and of itself. They all are. However, some of the experiences that the spells create could provoke an emotional response. They could be extremely sad, unpleasant, or possibly even terrifying. It’s hard to say how you will react, mentally and physically.”
“Physically?” Now I wonder if the pain I’ve anticipated is not so far off after all.
“Well, you may act out in response to what you see. I don’t have time to go into any more details, though. The bottom line is that I am trying to provoke the book, in order to understand its motivation. Now, let us begin...” Dan clears his throat with a raspy exhale.
“You’re going to try to provoke the Book?” My heart begins to speed up, as Dan’s magical dialect begins to echo in my ears. I feel like he’s ignoring me. “You better know what you’re doing. I’ve had too many bad experiences with the Book already.”
The spell continues without pause. Dan’s brows are locked in concentration.
My arm reaches behind my back and brings the Book in front of me; its open page is filled with script as the two competing voices in my head cancel in interference. “How dare you treat me as a mere inconvenience! It is a disgrace when compared to the level of trust that we have placed in one other. You know without a doubt that I have done so much to help you. The least you could do is be grateful, rather than make up stories about all these ‘bad experiences’ you’ve never had.”
The guilt of my denial becomes clear and painful. The worst part is that the Book is right about all of it.
Just as Dan’s voice begins to strengthen in my ears, and between the moments where the words on the page have faded and new words are written to replace them, my vision begins to spin and flash. A sound like a stormy wind deafens me, and I am thrust into empty space.
I am back at my house, standing in the foyer. I am happy to be home, and relieved to be finished after a long day at the corral with Jonas. The dry warmth of the faintly oak-smelling air is the perfect luxury after running through the cold, autumn air. I walk towards the side room, relishing every step, in preparation to rest in one of the chairs.
My muscles sink in relief as I sit down. I have the weak feeling that there should be something in my back pocket, but when I reach inside of it, I feel nothing but the burlap fabric. I recall that whatever used to be in my back pocket represented some business I needed to attend to. Now that it’s gone, the business it represented must have been taken care of.
I sigh as I look back upon my day. Somehow the details seem fuzzy, but I feel especially comfortable right now. I absorb the familiarity of my surroundings. In front of me is a small, square table with four chairs, all made of oak wood. One of these chairs, the closest to the foyer, I am sitting in. In my line of sight is a torch upon the table, followed by a chair, and beyond that a shelf, containing many month’s worth of almanacs, various nonfiction books, and kitchen supplies. Below the shelves are closed drawers. To my right is a window, through which the lit windows of other homes can be seen. To my left is a sink, a stone counter, and a furnace.
I begin to consider plans for the rest of the night, thoughts which also seem fuzzy. I wonder why my thoughts are so disconnected, until I realize that this world does not exist. My body tumbles into a silver atmosphere, every part of me submerged in an unbearable heat; the world itself seems to burn around me, every perception and memory fuel for the flame. Then, the void, like my home, ceases to exist.
My senses emerge from blindness into Dan’s great room. The Book projects giddy relief.
“Fristad, I thought that I had lost you. I returned to the void, exposed to its all-consuming acid. I thought I would be trapped there forever. Thank Notch that it is not so.”
I feel shock at the prospect of sharing my mind with the Book once more, longing for the solace of being alone at home. However, I suppress this idea, preferring to give it up than succumb to the Book’s vindictive guilt. I pretend to be happy to see the Book again.
“What did you experience?” Dan asks, ending my train of thought.
“I was at my house. I went and sat in the chair. At the very end, I was burning in that Notch-forsaken void,” I articulate the last word, ‘void,’ with difficulty. It now has an added weight on my tongue.
“Hmm...” Dan contemplates for a second. “That is a relatively predictable response. Let’s move on, then.”
“Wait, that’s it? I just felt the effects of incredibly painful, soul-shredding flames, and you say we’re going to move on? Don’t you think excruciating pain like that is noteworthy?”
“Given the fact that the book has likely spent thousands of years in the void, no.”
The process is repeated many times. Dan and I each drink a potion, and then Dan recites a spell. Unlike the first spell, the following experiences are consistent between the Book and I. We experience nature in its many forms, from forests and deserts to caves and oceans. Then, we are thrust into a variety of other worlds, from a cavern of lava and scarlet stone, whose heat makes me certain that it is the Nether, to an island of sandy clouds, to an ether of red shadows, to yet other things that I am incapable of describing. None of the environments seem to incite an emotional response in either of us, although they are all quite beautiful.
I drink another potion. This time, it is a milky white. Since the first potion, Dan has consistently drunk a translucent orange potion, without suffering any visible signs of pain. He drinks the same potion now.
Once again, Dan recites a spell, his voice reverberating off of unseen walls of magical energy. I wait as my senses fail me, plunging me into another world.
Immediately, I feel a sense of uneasiness. It is cold and dark. As my eyes adjust, I observe that I am surrounded by a dense crowd of trees. It is completely silent. The moonlight rests faintly on the grass like a ghost.
I am dressed lightly for the weather and the circumstance. I wear only a shirt, pants, and shoes. There is no satchel hanging from my shoulder, no sword hanging from my waist, and no armor to protect me from the monsters that could be hiding behind any one of the nearby trees. They could ambush me at any moment.
I listen carefully for any sound of movement, wary that rushing to escape will only make me an easy target.
For a while, there is nothing but silence. Then I feel my shoulders jump as a twig snaps behind me. I crane my neck around.
Please let it be a stray chicken. I strain my neck to keep an eye on all the gaps between the trees where the sound may have come from. My heart jumps as I hear loud footsteps in front of me. I swing my neck around and lock eyes with a creeper, two meters away. It is even more terrifying in the dim black and white. Its permanent scowl mirrors the tragedy of my fate. Its beady eyes barely shine in the moonlight. It is too late to escape. I hear it begin to hiss.
Then the illusion ends, only to be replaced by another. I am in a dimly lit library. Facing me is a man in a full body cloak, not just any man, but one capable of great magical power. I try to focus on his face, but it is fleeting and blurred, like an incomplete memory. Somehow the magician terrifies me even more than the creeper. I am afraid of not just the abrupt end of my life, but a fate worse than death.
Finally, that frightening illusion ends as well. Dan appears in my vision once more. He seems to be worried, aware that this illusion was different from the others.
“What did you experience this time?” Dan asks with a tone of sincerity.
“I was standing in a dense forest, where I was ambushed by a creeper. Afterwards, I saw a magician in a library.”
“A magician?” Dan raises an eyebrow. “What did they look like?”
“I didn’t see much. All I saw was that the magician was wearing a long, hooded robe, but...”
As I look into Dan’s eyes, I notice something distinct about him, the same distinct feeling that I experienced in the presence of the magician in the illusion.
“...I could almost swear that the magician I saw was you.”
At those words, Dan’s face turns pale.
Chapter 34: Nobody's on Trial Here
What was that feeling I felt, in that short illusion? The distinct feeling ricocheted into my memories as if I had never experienced it to begin with; somehow the memory continued to construct itself after the illusion had ended, before being covered under the fog of the past.
I subject the memory to a cognitive interrogation. Why was it that the distinct feeling made me so afraid? What was I afraid of? Where did the feeling come from? How did I become aware of that distinct feeling in the first place?
The confusing barrier, which prevents me from satisfying that last question, was the feeling’s lack of a connection to any distinct physical sense or any concrete thought. The distinct feeling was a solitary idea, an emotion without a purpose. It could have been, according to the title of Dan’s spellbook, a qualia. Perhaps that is why I was afraid?
That still doesn’t explain why I briefly felt that same feeling when I began looking into Dan’s eyes.
Dan’s face has recovered from a white paste to his unusually-pale-yet-healthy complexion. He leans forward over the table as if to say something, his extended palms held flat upon the wood surface as his wrists bend his draped arms upward. His blue eyes cast a silver sheen which travels from one iris to another. I am struck with the suspicion that he is peering deep inside of me, a terrible guilt that he is sifting for sins which I have tried so hard to keep secret. It is a just punishment for my terrible ways. As he breaks eye contact, I feel my shoulders slump down a little in relief. An ignored knot in my neck subsides.
Dan’s brows slump in confusion and intrigue for a moment, before they are nullified by Dan’s neutral, skeptical tone. “What makes you so sure that the magician you saw was me?”
I doubt myself as I recall the lack of clarity in the magician’s face, the contrast of the firm knowledge of seeing the eyes, nose, and mouth, with the lack of knowledge about their appearance. Still, it’s difficult to disregard that distinct feeling that I felt, looking at Dan, at that one moment. “Somehow, when I looked into your eyes, I felt the same sensation that I did when I looked at that magician in the illusion. It’s difficult to explain the feeling. I suppose you’d call it a qualia.”
Dan leans back again. “A quale, you mean?” He briefly shakes his head. “I’m not so certain that a quale alone could explain the connection between the magician in your vision and I. It’s just... too specific.”
“What do you mean?”
“A single quale would not be enough identify me. Qualia aren’t even thoughts, but empty molds upon which thoughts may grow. I especially can’t find any reason why the quale that I induced would be connected to me.”
“Why not? What was it?”
“It was the quale of fear.”
I feel the temperature of my face drop a few degrees as well. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why would I be afraid of you? I’ve just met you.”
“You’re right; it doesn’t make sense. The only good explanation would be that the book was responsible. Exactly where that line of reasoning leads, I don’t know, but every possible turn seems foul...” Dan stands up from his stool. His lips stretch in a slight grin. “Of course, that’s assuming that the magician you saw in the dream was me, which I highly doubt.”
The Book’s voice rises up again. I feel its restrained suspicion. “It seems that Dan is hiding something from us. Don’t you find it odd whenever Dan smiles like that? That same grin was on his face when he offered to enchant the armor for you, and yet again when he said that he didn’t get any sleep last night.”
That’s unusual. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the Book utter words so specific. I contemplate those events for a moment. I suppose it is a bit strange that Dan would smile in those situations. At the same time, perhaps he simply enjoys talking about magic. Actually, now that I think about it, Dan could have easily smiled before the enchantment as a matter of benevolence.... but that’s not the only reason he smiled, was it?
I remember that moment in the enchantment room, right after Dan put an arm on my shoulder, at the very moment that I turned around. There was a silver glint in his eyes, wasn’t there? That same silver glint made me feel that same burning, condemning guilt. Greyfeld was right.
“You were reading my mind, weren’t you?” I slide my stool away from the table with my feet, and stand up to meet my eyes with Dan’s horizon.
Dan’s lids perk wider open. “What makes you think that?”
“I saw a silver sheen in your eyes, just a moment ago. The look gave me a nagging feeling of guilt, as if you were searching for something inside of me. I also know that you were reading my mind back in the enchantment room, right after you caught me.”
“Well, you aren’t wrong that I have searched through your thoughts, at one point or another,” Dan admits, “although you should know that I haven’t done so without good reason.”
“Don’t try to evade the question. You know exactly when you invaded my mind. So, tell me: why did you do it?” Part of me feels frustrated that the privacy of my mind has succumbed to another being. Yet another part of me feels exited from the thrill of the questioning, encouraged by the Book to press harder.
“Fristad, for your own safety, I simply cannot tell you when the mind-reading occurred, or my reasoning behind it. If I did, then the book could use that knowledge to its advantage.”
“So it’s only about the Book now, is it? It has nothing to do with you, how the intimate knowledge of another being might benefit you?” I smile as I cast a watchful gaze at this cloaked void magician. My heart races at the possibility of cornering Dan’s logic, exposing his evil.
“Perhaps we should talk about this when you are less heated? We might as well eat some lunch.” Without waiting for my response, Dan walks around the table and begins climbing the stone brick stairs behind me.
Wait, why is he leaving? How dare he ignore me again! “Fine, then. But keep in mind that avoiding the questions only makes you look more suspicious.”
“Nobody’s on trial here.” Dan’s voice echoes richly against the obsidian walls, along with his footsteps. He stops halfway between the bottom and the first level, and leans his head over the unprotected inner edge, looking down at me. He beckons with his hand. “Come on, aren’t you hungry?”
I sigh in exacerbation. As I walk toward the stairs, I become aware of my shriveled stomach releasing small jolts of pain. My mind feels tired, finally responding to the toll of creating so many worlds. As my foot falls upon the first stone brick slab, and then the next few dozen, I look down upon Dan’s crafting room. Our short, birch stools stand slanted. Some empty vials lay upon the right edge of the table. A few vials, filled with strangely colored liquids, still rest within the brewing stands, although the steam and grey smoke has since ceased.
I turn my head the other way, and see shelves crammed with books, chests, jars, and artifacts. The sheer amount of books makes me unusually joyful. There are so many. The amount of information that they contain must be humbling. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to read all of them?
“Hey Dan, how is it that you have so many books?” I ask.
“Time,” he answers briefly.
I wonder exactly how long, but I’ve probably asked too many questions at this point.
After many flights of stairs, past many levels of wooden flooring, we arrive at the top, where an obsidian wall opens up to a stone passageway. Dan walks through the exit first. As I follow him into the narrow neck of stone, I feel as if I have exited a fog.
After a long moment of wandering down the hallway, we come back to the center room, where a book and quill sit upon a large table. We pass by the table, and enter the kitchen on the other side. Jonas is sitting at the dining table in the chair on the right, reading a book with a green binding. As we walk closer, I notice that the book is titled “The Diamond Factory.” It’s a dystopian fiction novel. I remember Jonas talking about it earlier.
“Hello, Jonas,” Dan greets. “How was your morning?”
“It was swell. I miss the sheep, though. How did it go with Fristad and the book?”
“We made some good progress, actually,” Dan replies with a dose of optimism.
“Is that so?”
“Yes. After some tests, I am relatively certain that the spirit influencing Fristad is indeed human.”
Love this chapter (I love all of them but this one especially). And I have several speculations.
The book. I wonder, since the book is gone and Fristad feels anxiety, that perhaps the book (or the being inhabiting the book, if there is a being inhabiting the book) has already taken over his mind, so to speak. The parasitic feeling Fristad talks of suggests that the book wasn't driven out by the ward completely...
Good, because I enjoyed writing it! Also, those are some very interesting speculations.
That definitely brings up the question of how powerful the Book really is. Is Dan's magic not powerful enough to save Fristad from the Book's influence?... or is the Book clever enough to avoid confrontation from a magician that endangers its existence? How much influence does the book really have on Fristad?
The book. What is the book? It must have been animate at some point. But who was that book ?
Ah, if only Fristad knew the true nature of his troubles from the start, perhaps he would know how to deal with them.
Edit: A new chapter to Part 4, Peace and Darkness, has just been uploaded! Daaarrrrrknnnessss.... Edit^2: This just so happens to be the third chapter with the word "dark" in it. I must really like that word or something....
I suggest trusting The Lich Lord of Altkuink. Jokes aside.
FINALLY A NEW CHAPTER OF THIS ! But the wait has paid off. A great piece of writing.
Wow, thank you! I wish I could write more often, but developing the story has been difficult.
I'm tempted to reply more in depth to the speculations in this topic, but I don't want to spoil the plot and/or impede reader's interpretations of the story. I will say, however, that the speculation has been fun to read and also gives me a glimpse of what readers are thinking in certain chapters.