Ryan stretched the muscles in his neck as he walked over to sit on the bench lining the Dunsmith Amphitheatre. It had been a long day, and while Nalya had been taking care of business with Goose and Corpus, Bayne had decided to assist Ryan in some swordsmanship training. Unfortunately for Ryan, Bayne had disallowed the use of his obsidian sword, allowing Bayne the clear advantage of a lifetime of training.
The reasoning was simple. So simple, in fact, that Ryan could not disagree. If the time should ever come where Ryan was separated from the enchanted sword imbued with the skills of Rasshauer Flenn, Ryan would be helpless unless he learned how to handle a sword without the assistance of the Artisan’s magick present in the sword itself.
But the simple truth of the matter was that even with his magick sword, his muscles weren’t used to moving the way they were. As a result, he was consistently getting cramped up. Sure, he could fight through the pain, ignore it when it came time to leap into action, but he’d be paying for days afterward.
That, essentially, was what Bayne was trying to prevent.
“What, ye done already?” Bayne said, swinging his sword in the center of the Amphitheatre. He much preferred the park for training, much more for the audience that the training tended to draw than for anything else. Bayne was an exhibitionist of sorts.
“Just give me a minute,” Ryan said, cradling his sore neck. Bayne had struck him squarely on the back of the neck with the wooden sword he’d gotten from Fort Johnson near the border of Dunsmith and what used to be the Disputed Lands. An area that recently was becoming blurred as they started to bleed into each other. If not for the near-perfect ridge surrounding Dunsmith, you’d barely be able to tell where old Canada ended and New Canada began.
At least they were using wooden swords instead of real ones. Nonetheless, they really hurt when you were struck with them.
The people that stood around the Amphitheatre were beginning to disperse, the show that had drawn them around in the first place clearly having been put on hold. Bayne walked up and sat next to Ryan, and reached for the plastic water bottle that was attached to Ryan’s duffle bag and took a long swig, looking out over the ocean.
“Ye still have a lot tae learn, lad,” Bayne said. “But yer catching on quickly, I should say.”
Ryan wiped the sweat from his brow and took the water bottle from Bayne as he offered it. “Stop trying to placate me,” Ryan said, leaning back. “I suck.”
Bayne laughed. “Aye, but ye suck a little less today then ye did a week ago. There’s still work tae be done, lad.” He clapped his hand down on Ryan’s leg. “I figure ye’ll be able to hold yer own without Flenn’s sword with about a year or two of hard training.” He smirked. “Ye’ve got some work ahead of ye, lad.”
Ryan groaned. “Great. So in other words, get used to the bruises, right?”
“That leads me to another question,” Ryan said. “Flenn’s sword is going to be pretty damn recognizable to anyone who knows their history, right? As far as I can figure, unbreakable obsidian swords are in short supply. Nobody outside of our inner circle here really knows I have it, but in Vector, it’s going to be common knowledge. The second someone notices it, they’re going to know right off the bat. Unless I sleep with it, bathe with it and generally wear it at all times, it’s going to make a pretty tempting target. I’ve thought of leaving it here, but the time may come where I’m really going to need it.”
“Aye,” Bayne said. “I’ve thought of that too. I’d thought that we might hire an Illuminator, but there are none in the city yet that are good enough to keep up the illusion for very long.”
“Well, we may not even need to do that,” Ryan said. “I’ve still got a lot of supplies from work in the cab of my truck. I’ve got this can of spray paint that I threw in there last year; never had to use it, but it’s silver. Anyone inspecting it closely enough would notice that it’s paint, even a Vectoran, but from a distance, they’d think it was just a regular steel blade.”
Bayne stroked his chin for a moment. “Aye, that might work,” he said. He’d seen the effects of spray paint on the side of the Journeyman building in the days following the battle. Kayla Winder’s Anti-Magick group had made it very clear that they held little respect for magii, or public property for that matter. If Bayne had seen a group like them in Ourum as a Lawkeeper, he’d have imprisoned them in a heartbeat.
But not in Dunsmith. They had rights here. Regardless of those rights, it still didn’t mean they were allowed to vandalize public property, and many of the people responsible for the vandalism had been forced to clean up the paint. With a pressure washer. If Bayne had his way, he’d have made them lick it clean.
Bayne stood up and stretched his arms. “Right then, lad. Well, if ye’re as sore as ye say, then we’ll call it a day. My belly is rumbling and a bite to eat is just what I’d like to get right now.”
Ryan smiled. “You read my mind. We should see if Nalya’s done. She might be hungry too. What are you in the mood for?”
“Pizza,” Bayne replied. “With pepperoni.” He patted his stomach. “And capicoli with pineapple.”
Bayne had really grown to love pizza. Not just Bayne, in fact. Pizza was becoming so popular among the Freemen and Halish soldiers that the owner of the one pizza shop in town had to start making pies out of his home just to deal with the inflow of customers. He had even been overheard mentioning that he was thinking of opening another shop in Stone’s Mouth.
The two of them gathered their things and started the ten minute walk up the road from the park toward downtown. Ryan was growing used to many of the sights Dunsmith now offered. Processions of Caeden traders were utilizing the road to Transfer Beach with growing regularity. Their particular brand of religious observation and commercial interest was becoming commonplace among the people of Dunsmith. The Caedens were so pleased with the way they were being treated by the people of Dunsmith that they’d even rented out a warehouse along the industrial strip near the government wharf.
“So, you’ve been to Vector before, right Bayne?” Ryan asked.
“Aye,” Bayne replied, taking another swig from the water bottle. “I spent nearly three dreams in Las Drui, before I became a Lawkeeper studying under the great sword master Hairn Steele. Then, about twenty years ago I took part in the Engagements in Nostra.”
Bayne nodded. “Aye. Every midsummer there’s a contest. Men and women come from all across the Pactlands. Swordsmen, magii, scholars. They compete for the right of declaration.”
“The right of declaration? What’s that?”
“Lad, d’ya not have contests of skill back on Earth?”
“Well, we had the Olympics. We had athletes from all the different nations around the world get together and compete in various sports.”
“Aye, and what did the winners receive?”
“Medals,” Ryan explained.
Bayne stopped in his tracks. “Medals?” he asked. He shook his head. “To prove themselves the best at what they do, and all they get for their troubles is a piece of finery?”
“Well, that and endorsements,” he replied.
Bayne shook his head. “I’ll not even pretend tae know what that means. The right of declaration, lad, allows a man or woman tae be presented with lands and servants for the space of a year, at the cost of the host’s nation. It takes place in Nostra again this year.”
“Really?” Ryan thought about it for a moment. “So it’s going to coincide with the mission?”
Bayne nodded. “Aye, I suppose it will. It’s good, though. As diplomats, I’m sure ye’ll be invited.”
“Might be interesting. What kind of contests are there?”
“Battles of steel, battles of magick, battles of wit and strategy. There are all sorts of contests, really.” Bayne considered the thoughtful look on Ryan’s face for a moment. “Don’t be getting ideas, lad. Ye know what Nalya would do?”
Ryan looked back at Bayne. “Yeah. She’d have me by the short and curlies without a second thought.” He smiled. “No worries, Bayne. It was just a thought.”
The basement was musky. It had always been musky, as far back as Terra could remember, but in this particular case, she was sure it was because of the rats that had once plagued the place before her stepfather had finally gotten rid of them. Gone though they might be, the evidence of their once having inhabited the basement of her parents Whitepoint home was clear. Boxes were chewed into, old stale droppings were hidden in secret corners, and the bases of the walls themselves had telltale signs of tooth and claw marks.
She’d been at her parents’ home since she’d left Goose’s office earlier in the day. She’d pulled her bicycle out of storage and set out to do what she’d been putting off since she got back from Halen. It was one thing to drive to Whitepoint, but another to ride her mountain bike. Still, since she’d spoken to her mother about the suspected origins of the prophet Wendael Maer, she’d been meaning to go through the boxes in the basement full of at least a hundred and fifty years of Murphy family history.
Some of which, she’d been told, had featured journals and letters written by Wendell Murphy, her great-great grandfather himself. If she could just find the box that it the letters were in. Her mother was busy upstairs making dinner, which left Terra by herself to search through the boxes.
After her tenth box of finding Murphy family heirlooms, newspaper clippings and other such papers, she finally settled on a large green trunk that had been obscured by said boxes. It opened with a loud creak, a telltale sign that hinges were on their last legs.
It was clear that the trunk hadn’t been opened in years, perhaps for as long as Terra had been alive. Along the top, a number of smaller shoe boxes covered with aged newspaper that looked like it was from the sixties lined the trunk. She pulled out the first and opened it up.
Inside were documents from the twenties with the name of James Murphy, her great-grandfather, who would have been in his late fifties at the time. She was getting closer. She pulled out the next box and opened it.
And there it was. Right on the top were immigration papers for Eleanor Murphy from when she came to Canada at Newfoundland. It would have been another twenty years before her son, James, had made his way to British Columbia. It was dated for March, eighteen-seventy. She pulled the contents of the box out and started to sift through the papers.
And finally, she came to what she’d been looking for. It was a letter, handwritten and dated two years earlier. The name on the bottom read quite clearly, Wendell Murphy.
She gently removed the letter from the box and walked over to the desk against the side wall and took a seat. She laid it out flat against the desk and started reading.
My Dearest Eleanor, it began.
The days here in Oslo are long, and the sleeps short. The work is hard, but it is the thought of being in your arms again and to see young James’ smiling face that keeps my spirits aloft. I have wonderful news to share! I have just been informed that our work crew will be returning to Newfoundland upon the next sailing, aboard the HMS Saveur. After a brief stop in Bruges to stock supplies and passengers, we shall carry on to Newfoundland. I have had the good fortune of making the acquaintance of a surprisingly charming Irish by the name of Russell Flynn who I’ve been bunking with and working with. He intends to journey onward to Newfoundland to start his life anew, and I have invited him to stay with us. You will like him, Eleanor. He is not like other Irish. I would count him a good friend and we have seen each other through much here in Oslo.
I regret I do not have the time I wish to write and send you my love, my eyes already grow weary, and the light painful. I must sleep soon.
The week after next we shall depart, and only the Atlantic shall separate us. I await seeing you and James eagerly.
Your love, eternally,
Terra read the letter over again. She couldn’t imagine what it would have been like to be her great-great grandmother. To have the person she loved a half a world away.
She reached for her pack and opened it up as she scanned over the letter a third time, and pulled out the thick leather-bound book within. It was the book that had been given to her by Orynn, the strange old Herbalist that lived deep in the Disputed Lands. The book that had been written by Wendell Maer.
She opened it up to the first page.
There was no question.
The handwriting was identical.
Her great-great grandfather was Wendell Maer.
And that meant it was certain. The Blacklight Event wasn’t the first time their two worlds had met. In fact, Terra was almost convinced that it may have happened more than twice. Perhaps many times, only not as large in scale as with the Blacklight Event. And that meant it could happen again, perhaps opening a clear pathway back to Earth.
Terra needed to show this to Nalya. She folded up the letter carefully and placed it between the pages of the book, and gently put it back in her pack. Not that she needed to be gentle with the book. It was enchanted by a master Artisan, she’d been told. The book was probably going to last longer than Terra herself.
Still. She needed to make sense of this.
By the time morning had rolled around, Boomer had already grown far too impatient to wait for this Maya person, who was apparently the best suited to help him find Arie. Boomer had asked Tremain about her the next morning, and all he could tell him was that Maya would be along when she was available. Word had already been passed to her, apparently. He’d suggested he go out and see the sights of Telemenn.
Boomer had little interest in the sights. His muscles were sore from his week of hiking, but he had no intention of sitting in wait. Instead, he decided to go and check the shipyards, inquiring about ships to Shavi and scanning their surface thoughts for any sign of Arie or Tome.
He got nothing. After hours of asking around, by the time evening had rolled around, he finally gave up and returned to the Wanderer’s Canvas. Hopefully Maya would be there.
He walked in to see Tremain speaking to a young woman. She had a darker skin tone than most he’d seen in the Pactlands, similiar to the Pacific Islander-appearance of the travelers he’d met on the way to Telemenn. Tremain motioned toward Boomer as he walked in, and the girl turned around. Up close, her features appeared to be more Indian in nature, although she was dressed no differently from anyone else. She took little time in striding across the room and gave Boomer a strange look.
The look immediately put Boomer on edge. It was very similar to a look he’d seen before in his father. The type of look he would give someone only after he had figured out their worth. It was smug in nature, as though she felt Boomer should be thanking her for deigning to take the time to lower herself to speak at his level.
“You are looking for me, I hear,” she said with an accent that sounded oddly Latin-American in nature.
“You’re Maya?” Boomer asked. He took a step forward, giving her a look that indicated he wasn’t to be trifled with.
“I am,” she said. She cocked her head to one side, throwing back another look that seemed to indicate that she wasn’t about to back down. It was a strange game they played. “We should have some privacy before we speak. You have a room?”
Boomer took a brief moment to listen to her surface thoughts, but found them oddly silent. It was as though she weren’t thinking of anything at all. He found that odd. Even more odd, perhaps than the girl’s communicative looks.
Finally, he nodded. “My room’s upstairs,” he said, and beckoned her to follow.
There was something strange about the girl, from the way she carried herself, to the emotionless way she studied Boomer that set him even more on edge. He couldn’t quite peg why she set him on edge, only that she did. Boomer was confident that he could handle himself; the last thing she would be expecting was that Boomer was a psimagi, after all, but still. It paid to be careful.
He led her up the stairs to his room and used the key he’d been given, then opened the door and walked inside.
And suddenly, he felt his knees buckle from underneath him, as though he had lost all strength in his joints. He fell to the ground with a sudden thud, and was only briefly aware that Maya had gently closed the door behind them.
Why had he fallen like that? He tried to move, but found that he couldn’t. What was happening? It was like he had been robbed of every last ounce of strength that he had. Had he been poisoned? His mind reeled. No. She hadn’t touched him. How had–
“Idiot,” Maya said, kicking him in his side. Boomer grunted in pain as she climbed on top of him, holding a silver dagger to his throat. “Did you think me a fool? That I wouldn’t know? Who are you?”
No matter how much he tried, he couldn’t budge. He tried to push her with his mind. It had no effect. None whatsoever, as though he power passed right through her, much the same way that it had with Ajjiro Ryde in his enchanted armor. There was only one opportunity. He clenched his eyes shut. His bag was next to his bed. If he could only see it with his mind’s eye. He hadn’t had the inclination to practice his telekinesis, not since he’d had to escape from Anastae. Not since Arie was injured, and Andy had been killed by the Summoner Shalo Cahl. He saw it, clearly in the side pouch of his bag. Now he just needed to coax it out of the pack. His mind wrapped around the shape of the gun. It would be too difficult to coax it out, but if he could point the barrel at Maya, pulling the trigger would be the end of it. He could hear the pack fall onto its side and swivel along the floor.
“Stop that,” Maya exclaimed, pressing the dagger even harder into the side of Boomer’s neck. “I assure you you’ll draw your last breath if you do not stop.”
Boomer’s resolve faltered, and he released his hold on the gun. He knew she was serious.
“Now, answer me, or so help me—“
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Boomer exclaimed.
“Lies,” she yelled. “Who told you where I was? Who are you working for?”
“I’m not working for anyone!” he argued. “I’m just trying to find someone.”
“And you just happen to come to the one place where I can be found. Do you honestly expect me to believe that? I should slit your throat and send your head back to your masters. I’ve said it before, I will not—“ she began, and then stopped as suddenly as she began. A moment later, he felt the dagger’s move away from his throat.
Boomer opened his eyes. He still couldn’t move, but the look she gave him had changed. It had gone from brutal determination to… Boomer could only call it amazement and wonder.
“Where… where are you from?” she asked, her voice now more curious than anything else.
“I’m from Dunsmith, okay? I’m not here to hurt you.”
Maya stood up now and continued to look upon Boomer. “Dunsmith,” she repeated. “I’ve… heard tales. But… I never thought. It’s true, then?”
“Yes, yes,” Boomer exclaimed. “It’s true.”
Maya wore a look of relief. “Then you are telling the truth,” she commented. “You’re not here to hurt me. You… really are just an idiot.” She laughed.
Suddenly, Boomer began to regain the use of his limbs, and in a split second, he scrambled across the floor, sitting with his back against the bed, breathing heavily. He felt his throat, where she had held the dagger. He looked at his hand. There was a little blood, but it wasn’t as bad as he’d feared.
“What the hell?” Boomer exclaimed. “Who the hell are you?”
Maya walked over and sat on her haunches, facing Boomer with the dagger still in her hand. “I apologize,” she said. “When I felt you in my head, I’d thought you were working on behalf of the Combine.”
“Combine?” Boomer asked. “I’ve never heard of any Combine.”
“No, I see that now,” she said. “But you are Psimagi.”
“How could you know that?”
She frowned. “You really are a fool, aren’t you? Use your head.”
Boomer could only look back at her in revolted confusion. What was she—
Suddenly, he pieced it together. From the first moment he saw her, he could feel it. A slight buzzing sensation in the back of his mind. A numb feeling at the base of his skull. When he was trying to listen to her thoughts, she was doing the same to him.
Boomer had met another Psimagi.
“A Psimagi, yes,” she confirmed. “You honestly could not tell? You had no inclination? You never thought, when you couldn’t see my thoughts, my memories, that something was off?”
“I… I didn’t know. I’ve never met another Psimagi.”
Maya smiled. “We can’t see each other’s surface thoughts. Even with deep penetration into each other’s minds, all we can bring to surface are fragments,” she explained. “I had wondered why it had been so easy to subdue you. It felt like a trap. I am… sorry for attacking you so quickly.”
Boomer suddenly understood. He understood why Tremain had suggested she be the one to help. As a Psimagi, she could see the face of Arie, and search the minds of others for her.
“How did you know to ease off, then?” Boomer asked.
“It was a memory of yours, I think. Buried deep, but it was of… a different place. A place I’d never seen before. There were brightly colored contraptions on black wheels rushing down a road of stone. And massive buildings of silver and glass and stone all around. It was a city of some kind,” she explained. “I’d heard tales of Dunsmith, but never from one who had seen it with his own eyes. They said it came from another world. It was the only solution that made sense. You’re not a danger to me; you’re only a danger to yourself.”
“What are you talking about?”
Maya smiled. “The Combine would kill you if they knew you existed. They have been trying to kill me for years, but I know how to hide. I have… help, you see?”
“Who are the Combine?”
“Pactbound Psimagi,” she hissed. “They’re loyal to the Council and work to achieve their ends. They do not suffer wild Psimagi like you or I. If we are discovered, we are either conscripted or killed.”
Boomer finally managed to bring himself to stand, and then sat on the bed. “What did you do to me?”
“The only weapon a Psimagi has against another,” Maya explained. “I took the strength from your limbs.”
“Our powers. When we move things with our mind?”
“Ah, yes,” she said. “The hold. Precisely, although… slightly different. Think of it like… interrupting the messages your mind sends to your muscles.” She observed him for a moment. “So then, Tremain told me true, then? You truly are looking for someone?”
Boomer nodded. “Arie, she’s my… friend.”
Maya smiled. “A friend? If you have to pause before naming your relationship with her, then she is more than merely a friend.”
“She was supposed to come through Telemenn to Shavi,” he said. “I don’t know if she has or not yet.”
Maya frowned. “Shavi?” she asked. She shook her head. “I would not go there, if I were you. The Combine line the streets there. You are untrained. You would last seconds before they discovered you. You’d be dead within a minute if you resisted.” She stood up. “I’m sorry you wasted your time on your journey. You should just go home and accept… she is lost to you. No… friend is worth your life.”
Boomer looked back at her in confusion. He moved his jaw, seeking to find the words, and then suddenly exploded. “To hell with that,” he said. “I didn’t come all this way just to turn back now.”
Maya looked back at Boomer with a mixture of apprehension and anger at his outburst. “If you wish to throw your life away on behalf of a girl you cannot even admit you love, then go to it! I will not stop you, and do not assume for a second that I will suffer your anger!” She clutched the dagger in her hand. “Strong though you may be, you are weak in control. Like a child playing with fire. You will burn yourself, and you’re welcome to it!” She turned away and started to walk toward the door. “Go and give up your life for all I care. I’ll not be party to it.” She reached for the handle.
“Wait!” Boomer exclaimed.
Maya stopped, and turned to face Boomer. Silence reigned in the room.
“Well?” Maya asked.
“Just… just wait,” he said. “You said… you said you had help. That you could keep yourself hidden from the Combine, right?”
“Where could I find this help? What if I wanted to make sure the Combine didn’t mess with me? How would I do it?”
Maya sighed, and looked upon Boomer for a moment before speaking.
“I do not know that you can be helped,” Maya said. “You are headstrong. Egotistical. You believe you have all the answers, and yet you know nothing. Like an infant, reaching out for his mother’s breast in fear. Your head is full of falsehoods. Even without being able to see into your mind, I know these things, because they are written upon your face. From the moment I first laid eyes upon you, you believed you had me figured out, and look how wrong you were. These things are not easily forgotten. You’ve lived your life thus far believing as such; that you were right, even when you were wrong.” She shook her head in dismay. “A cup must be emptied before it can be filled again.”
“Then help me,” Boomer pleaded. “Show me. You’ve had this power much longer than I have. You must know of some way.”
Maya sighed, and looked back toward the door. Boomer could sense that she wanted nothing more than to exit through it, and never look at him again. Just when he’d resigned himself to the idea that she was unwilling to help, she turned back.
“This friend of yours. Is she safe?”
“I don’t know,” Boomer said. “I’m told she is, but it’s hard to say.”
Maya wore a thoughtful look on her face. “You have money, then?” she asked.
Boomer nodded. “I have lots,” he said.
Maya gave a long sigh of resignation. “Very well,” she said. “I will help you empty your cup. But you will listen to what I say, and you will do as I say, without question. Do you understand?”
Boomer nodded. “I understand.”
“Good. Now,” Maya said. “Tell me your name.”
“Boomer,” he said, formally introducing himself. “Everyone calls me Boomer.”