by Jervis Pax
I am flying back to Kabul from southern Afghanistan on a Spanish CASA 295, a small cargo plane with aluminum frame and nylon webbed bench seats that run down either side of the plane. It is much smaller than the US C-130 that it emulates, and its two engines are fitted with six propeller blades each, twisted at the end at an odd angle that reminds one of a scimitar. The windows are small and round, perhaps 12″ across, and if you are seated, as I am, in line with the propeller, you can twist around in your seat and watch the dust and sand thrown constantly against the window by the churning blades. I must admit that I know nothing about the influences of microclimates on the movement of sand and dust particles, but I do know what distracts me from danger.
It is near dusk as the CASA prepares for departure. As the pilot reverses direction at the end of the runway to begin acceleration, the rear door gunners on either side of the plane pull themselves and their heavy weapons back inside for take off. They remove their heavy body armor and helmets, and strap into the side seats with us. As the doors seal, the buzzing whine of the engines is muted somewhat and I feel, more than hear the familiar silent sound of apprehension. We all wait for the plane to begin moving forward. With the door gunners sealed inside, and until we reach a certain altitude, there is more than the usual risk of enemy action. I sense the common concern on every face in the plane, and then I turn again to face the window.
Sand swirls across the glass like eddies in a swift moving stream and the dim green light from the wingtip backlights the individual crystals as they move and dance. I partly close my eyes and see the dim green light filtering through the swirling patterns in the circle before me. No longer a window threatening to shatter at any moment from a blast of enemy fire, the luminescent circle reveals itself for what it truly is, the long lost and forgotten mirror of the Blue weirder Jamshid.
Is that you traveler? Have you really returned to me so soon? Do the mysteries of Jamshid’s Mirror call to you so strongly? It has been so long since I’ve beheld this wonder that even I cannot remember all that it countenances. Do you truly believe yourself to be one of the chosen? I do not see it written thus at the moment, but perhaps, in time, it will be so. If you insist, then come with me and we will see what portends with this ill-crafted Mirror. Whatever it may be, I own it cannot be for good.
I turn around and look across the plane at Colonel Diaz, the Spanish Officer responsible for arranging this flight. It is too loud to be heard over the engines, so he nods and smiles, the universal sign for I’m ok, how are you doing? I smile back at him. He’s a good officer, very collegial and professional, but then I can’t help but notice how much he looks like someone I know…or is it that someone I am about to create will look just like him? My worlds seem to blur together, and just before I turn back towards the window/mirror, I notice Colonel Diaz gazing at me with a slightly puzzled look on his face. He can’t possibly sense what I am thinking. It’s far too out of the ordinary to apply in his reality, and yet I can feel the intensity of his stare on the back of my head. As the plane banks to the south to avoid a range of mountains ahead, I can see Diaz’s face reflected in the window, still looking at me in questioning contemplation. Can it be that the mirror has already begun to work its evil?
Jamshid was a weirder from the period of the six golden kings, long before Gustava attempted to conquer the central kingdoms and longer still before Ballaton the White crossed through the nexus and opened the gates between worlds. Magic was less controlled in Jamshid’s day, and an element of chaos coruscated through all of the great powers. Only in the weirding discipline, where ancient skills and secrets allow a mage to slip into the infinitesimally narrow plane between worlds and travel at high speeds from place to place, did order reign. In what many sages and historical commentators have alternately argued was either a lapse into madness or a brilliant display of genius, Jamshid crafted his mirror.
He believed that if he could look into and through the spaces between worlds, he might be able to better understand the inner workings of the multi-verse and there, find clues that would enable him to bring order to the other great powers. A highly skilled weirder in his own right, Jamshid enlisted the aid of three others who combined their four powers of weirding, scrying, object manipulation and augury to create the ultimate tool for viewing and manipulating the nexus. History tells us that creation of the mirror and the resultant linking of world-lines caused a cataclysmic event in Thraveon that cost the lives of Jamshid’s three co-conspirators and inserted an element of chaos into its core essence. Azsus Rey of Hakas has long theorized that the three were not killed, but are instead somehow trapped within the mirror itself, and it is their bitterness and wild magic that causes the mirror to work in unexpected ways. Whatever the truth of its creation; the mirror is, in no uncertain terms, a sign of great trouble to come.
Looking through the mirror now I can see clearly into Thraveon, and into the face staring back at me. I am amazed and yet somehow assured at how much this Viodex looks like Colonel Diaz. A broad forehead under bushy brown hair hangs ominously over a nose somewhat large for his face, and a mustache that hides an upper lip continuously on the verge of sneering. Viodex stares back at me with a slightly puzzled look on his face. He can’t possibly sense what I am thinking, and yet he seems to know somehow that I am there. He moves closer to the mirror as if to pass through it and I back away as his face nearly brushes against mine. I am somewhat startled at the power I feel emanating from the mirror, perhaps I should not have let him find it. I could take it away with a thought, and yet, it might be the perfect tool to test abilities of the chosen. For now, I will let him believe that he has some control over his destiny.
Viodex looks directly into the mirror, as though he is staring straight into my eyes. While I know he is impotent against my powers of creation, I still feel a chill as he speaks to his reflection in the mirror.
“This world will be mine,” he says with no hesitation, sure of himself and his future. “First I will set the races and kingdoms of Thraveon against one another to weaken the power of the Chask while they sleep. Then I will find the Ur-chask and set them upon the world and each other. Finally, when Thraveon is decimated by the ensuing chaos, I will hold open the portals between worlds and let flow the great wonders that exist in the realm beyond. The Eldar cannot stop me, the lesser gods cannot stop me; even the creator will hold no sway over me once I control his precious chosen.” A thin smile begins to form on his lips, and he closes his eyes as if in meditation. “Soon, creator,” Viodex says, “Soon, I will have powers to rival yours.” His face seems to come closer…
I turn my head abruptly away from the window and stare into the eyes of Colonel Diaz. He has moved across the plane to put his face near mine so he can be heard over the engines. “Soon, my friend,” he says loudly, “Soon I will have a new phone to rival yours.” He shows me a picture of a cell phone that is very similar to the model I’ve been issued by the U.S. Government. He has long coveted my phone and never misses an opportunity to ask about it. “How much does it cost?” “Where do you get it? “Can it be purchased on the internet?” If he is getting one of his own, perhaps I will not have to listen to him go on about mine any longer.
“That’s great Roberto,” I nearly yell, looking briefly back at the window, uncertain which reality I am currently in, Diaz on one side of me, Viodex on the other. “That will be really great for you. I love my phone,” I lie.
In truth, I despise my phone. It is nothing more than an electronic leash that keeps me tied to local issues all day long and wakes me from sleep to deal with Washington based issues all night long. I take a deep breath, look down at the floor and I send a long puff of air out of my cheeks in a slow exhalation. Then I let my eyes close somewhat, the universal military signal for “what a long day, I think I’d like to take a nap, so please leave me alone.”
Diaz pats my arm and nods his head in understanding. He turns, fastens himself in next to me and holds the picture of the phone out in front of his face, turning it from side to side to examine the features elucidated in the margins.
I glance sidelong at him then close my eyes. Instantly, I am flying over the kingdoms of Thraveon, the capital cities and large towns illuminated in the night sky beneath me. I am headed to the Valley of the Ancients to check on…an important detail. I am certain that it has already been taken care of, but something about the confidence in that Viodex’s eyes makes gives me pause. I could be there in an instant if I chose, but flying allows me to check on other issues as I progress.
Watch fires along and on both sides of the borders of Karak and Dirlon tell me that the inter-kingdom still rages as I had planned. A host of lanterns far out on the Sea of Ormarra indicate the approach of the massive force that will soon land on the western coast of Karak. Wind swept peaks of the mountains north of the Azure City glisten with more moonlight than is usual for this time of year. I pause in flight and wonder if I should turn up the light a shade or two. What if the chosen do not notice? What if they pass this vital clue without even a pause?
It is enough, I decide to myself, continuing northwards. Everything is a clue to something, isn’t that what I always tell them? Of course, everything is also a clue to nothing much in particular. I tell them that too, but they never seem to listen. “Why would the creator have put this here if we weren’t meant to find it?” they ask. But, if they are truly the chosen, they will be able to tell the difference. I slow as I fly past the mountain in which Khelek’s empty lair awaits his return. The mountain breathes and there is a light emanating from upper cave on the precipice. I stop in mid flight and focus on the cave entrance. This is not right. Something is not right. I put no light here. No one dares enter Khelek’s demesne. Where are the guardians? Who could have entered the upper sanctum?
I move my focus to inside the cave, but keep my essence hovering far above. I am in no danger here and yet, this is an anomaly I cannot explain. Perhaps I have become forgetful. Did I leave Hill Bandits climbing in search of treasure? Did I send Ironfist’s Dwarves in search of the Dragon Prince’s burden? I do not recall setting any story line in motion here. My focus moves slowly into the back of the cave, past the ominous dragon statues at the cave mouth, beyond the cavernous entry hall and down the massive steppes towards light that should not exist.
Men! Dozens of men in livery I do not recognize! They are waving torches about and shouting to each other in a language I do not speak. They seem to be searching frantically for the hidden doorway down to Khelek’s chambers. Down? How could they have come to the upper sanctum without passing through the principality below? How came they to be here at all, these strangers? How often have I said this world creates itself? Can it be that it is truly happening?
My heart begins to race and I feel a slight panic. I speak all the languages of Thraveon and the worlds beyond. I created all that exists here. I know every heraldic device in the several kingdoms, in fact, I personally approved each one. Yet these men are unknown to me. I do not understand their words. I wave my hand to erase them, but they do not vanish. I attempt to use the force of my mind to turn off their light but it seems to glow brighter. It dances across the roof of the hall as the men continue their search for Khelek’s passage and in the shadows the light creates, I think I see a future that I did not create.
I do not like to change what has existed since the beginning of the world, but I must protect Khelek’s interests in his absence. If I cannot keep these men from the mountain, I will keep the mountain from these men. I take a breath, and the hidden passage is gone, erased from the world as though it never existed. Let them search forever, I think, there is now nothing to find.
A sharp pain behind my eyes and an “Oh sorry,” muttered in a French accent jars me from my thoughts. Devereaux, the French lieutenant colonel has accidentally flashed his light in my face as he waves it about looking for something. Ahah! I think. It was his flashlight and my lack of sleep. All is well.
I close my eyes again but the light remains. The men are pounding on the walls of the cavern with sledge hammers, trying to find what no longer exists. This is serious, real serious. Perhaps you shouldn’t be here traveler. Perhaps there is danger after all. If you stay, I take no responsibility for what happens. It’s your choice alone.
The mountains pass swiftly beneath me as I race back southward. I will have to check on the Valley later, right now there is an even more important task. I flash forward to Derrawood and hover for a moment above the town. All seems as I left it. Nothing is out of place. No anomalies.
I drift slowly down to Torin’s shop to check the water droplets hanging over his anvil. Water is the first element to change of its own accord. It took me some time to master the art of water creation and keep it believable. Too many bodies of water are flat and lifeless on a map, so I gave mine some small degree of independence. Water drops however, I hold in perfect control. I move one droplet slowly up, then quickly back down, checking the drop’s shape and alignment. Nothing changes. Every detail remains as I left it. Everything seems in order.
“Not everything,” a deep, familiar, and warm voice behind me says. I turn quickly and head towards the voice. “What are you doing here my old friend? You don’t often venture this close to the created. Are you taking a turn at adventure?”
I stare in awe at Bellzon, Primus Equinus; the first great horse of Thraveon and miraculous steed of Etags past. His eyes twinkle at me as I slowly approach and the edges of his mouth turn up in a small smile. No matter how often I have seen him, I still stand in wonder at the first and best of all my works. I have questions to ask, but I sense he has more to say, so hold my tongue.
“I’ve sensed it for days,” he says. “There are changes in the world lines that do not bear your mark. Something is wrong, if I am not mistaken.”
I stroke the side of his ancient head and run my hand through his mane as I have done a thousand times before. He looks at me calmly, awaiting an answer. “You are not mistaken old friend. There is great mischief in Thraveon and I do not know the cause.”
“Did you set Khelek on a quest?” he asks, some incredulity slipping into his voice. “I thought it odd to see him out so close to Orthreus, and with these wars underway, but you are master weaver, so I didn’t question your works.”
“No Bellzon, I didn’t set him loose. I suppose I should have pondered his flight more thoroughly, but as he is like you, a first-woven, and long since worthy of some degree of independence, I thought nothing of it. But there is clearly something amiss.”
“What can it be do you think?” Bellzon asks me, though somewhat rhetorically, as if he already knows the answer.
“Only one thing it can be,” I reply, “and only one solution for it.”
“Do you want me to leave off this task and assist you in some other way?” he enquires, turning his head to look back at the green liveried lord in Thorin’s shop.
I briefly consider his offer, and then I shake my head in reply. “No, old friend,” I say, “best you stick to my current plan. I will begin to gather in the stray world lines and weave them into some semblance of order. Khelek is strong enough to take care of himself for a time, and I will just have to check on the other firsts as I find the time.”
“Perhaps you should have them report in,” he suggests. “They still answer to you when you call, even the Ur-woven.”
“I know. But I don’t want to pull them from their current lines. This is confusing enough as it is.” I pause and look him in the eyes, considering whether I should tell him.
“Tell me what?” he asks. I still marvel at his abilities. I made him, yet he knows my thoughts before I do.
I pause again and wonder whether I should admit my lapses. Talking about it may help however, and Bellzon is after all, Primus, my first creation, older than all else in Thraveon save Thraveon itself.
At length I sigh and tell him, “I’ve been having intersections.”
He looks at me with some concern, the smile disappearing from his equine face.
“Sometimes two or three a day,” I go on.
He continues to stare at me, knowing there is more. “Overlaps?” he asks.
“Several,” I reply.
He turns his head to look at the boy. “What of him?” he asks directly, “I sense chaos in his nature yet there is innocence and light. Is he yours?”
“He is,” I reply.
“The focus of a yet undiscovered prophecy?” he asks with a small snort of derision.
“He is,” I again reply. He sees through me so quickly. Bellzon must sense my embarrassment at his question, but he says nothing. Am I so old that the earliest and most time-worn devices must be repeated again and again? Will this boy be the one to put back the threads that are unraveling?
“No sense changing what works, I suppose,” he replies, though I suspect he is really just being kind.
He looks behind me to stare intently into your eyes. “This is new!” he exclaims. Looking you up and down and appraising your soul. “Since when do you let travelers in, especially ones with such strong auras?”
“This is a first,” I say, trying to sound convincing. “And as to the aura, I agree. It is very strong indeed. Look at the curiosity quotient in the upper quad. See how it compares to the adventurousness in the center? I think this one may be chosen, but it’s likely too soon. I didn’t think it would hurt to show off a small portion of the weaving, a nd besides, if these overlaps continue, I could be killed at the nexus, so I might as well share some secrets before I pass.”
Bellzon jerks his head abruptly away from me and stamps his hooves in response to my words. He bucks and tugs away from me at the thought that I might die. I feel the ground shake under my feet as he stomps and I try to hold on to him to calm him down.
“Whoah,” Colonel Diaz says, “That was a rough one! We usually come in smoother than that. But still, it’s not good to be asleep when we land, because you have to hold on to something. Did you have a good nap, my friend? You slept so soundly I could have killed you in your sleep and you would never have known.” His fixes his eyes upon me in question, but doesn’t expect an answer.
I stare back at the face of Viodex-Diaz and wonder what is real and what is fantasy? For now, I have to move to my armored vehicle for the next leg of my journey, but I have to get back to Thraveon soon before it all unravels. Bellzon noticed you? That is uncommon beyond words. I hope you come back.