A month ago, inspired by the wonder of it all, he returned to the story he'd been writing at the time, unruly though his characters be. But it wasn't really his story anymore, he had to admit; he was merely a conduit, it came from elsewhere. His characters had taken over, rebelled. He had no idea where they were going or what they'd do when they got there. It seemed he was with them, a companion who had only as much to say about their direction as any of the others. He was curious and interested in them as though they actually existed. Their well-developed personalities had motives for action that went beyond whatever he wanted; oftentimes, acting instinctively without warning or reason. At every fork in the road he'd tried to take the reins, only to be met with stubborn resistance and blank stares. It was no use, he'd conceded. But instead of finding the situation unbearable, he found it strangely liberating not to be burdened with the responsibility of authorship--the God perspective. His job was as secretary chronicling their adventures.
The day started early for him, the sun just topping the tall trees. His coffee cup sat on the table next to him; Mariah visited occasionally, taking breaks from watching the yard and investigating clumps of grass. She was sitting by the open doorway enjoying the first shaft of sunlight after three days cloudy skies. The air was scrubbed clean. The soft hum of the computer the only sound. Not even birds that were plentiful in the area sang their usual morning songs. Autumn had arrived in the countryside, leaves were turning, bushes, thistles, and tall grass had a bedraggled, weary look.
A break came, his people lost in a quandary. He sat back and waited. Nothing. He grabbed his cup and went over to the cabin to refill it. His stomach rumbled, bacon and eggs sounded good, but he wanted to continue writing, stopping for breakfast would ruin his buzz. A piece of raisin bread in hand he returned to the writing trailer. The door was closed. Predisposed now for anything weird, he stood facing it, recalling distinctly that he hadn't shut it. Not with Mariah around poking her head in. He held the knob and hesitated, the sun's warmth on his back gave him gentle encouragement. But in spite of it, he knew something was wrong. A bird cried a sharp, high-pitched call, then another; the sun grew hotter. He stood holding the knob, coffee cup and bread frimly clutched in the other hand. Suddenly feeling foolish, suspecting that he'd closed it out of habit while distracted by something else, he gave it a sharp turn.
Then all went black, black as the bottom of a coal mine. He was enveloped by utter darkness, weightless, floating. All sensation lost, he nonetheless knew he was fully awake, but that was all; otherwise, he was helpless. With an effort of will, he tried to move, to walk in this empty space, but to no avail. On the verge of panic, believing he'd had a stroke or something similar, he heard a light tapping sound as though someone knocking on a door. He listened intently, a sound to focus on, a lifeline in this sea of oily blackness. There it was again, noticeably louder. He heard, or rather felt, a door open and then soft footfalls coming nearer. With all his might and force of will, he tried to see, to hear, to sense his body. The footsteps stopped, all was quiet again, until he heard a voice.
"Jason," said someone in a soft, smooth tone. "Are you going to get your lazy butt up for breakfast or what? It's almost noon, we were worried about you." Then laughter that rang like warm throaty bubbles of light.
As though a switch had been flipped, a pinpoint of light opened before him, quickly expanding to fill the whole space. He was in a bedroom, a familiar one, lit by soft sunlight coming through the curtained windows. He lay in bed under a silk canopy. Beside him stood Joleanna, the black-haired, hazel-eyed sorceress. It took a moment or two, but he realized he was in her cabin at the back of the garden, the garden of swaying, talking flowers and bulbous-eyed insects. He sat up on the edge of the bed and stared at her, bewilderment in his eyes. She stepped back a bit to take him in, her face serious now. After several moments, she nodded, then said, "You've been gone." After another pause, she continued, "At least a month, maybe more. Something is going on, Jason. You're caught in a tug-of-war."
"A what," he said, and once again on hearing his voice he became fully immersed in her world. "A tug-of-war?"
"Well, maybe not actual war, but someone needs or wants you here for a reason, and someone else is afraid of that."
"I remember now. You were to wake me for breakfast. I've been here only one night. How can that be?"
"Time moves differently in different worlds. A month in your world is but a single night here. You must've had a dream in which you surrendered your will, tempted to do so. Then you were vulnerable. Dreamland is a dimension unto itself, a transition plane between realms, connecting to all like the axis of a wheel, it is timeless." She peered at him as though searching for some hidden truth.
"Come in for breakfast when you're ready. We'll talk." She left, but not before stroking his cheek. The fragrance of her so near made him tremble. He recalled the hug she gave him when she said good night. How could he forget, in any world?
His clothes lay on the chair next to the fireplace. A long-sleeve black shirt, brown leather pants, and a coat of some thick material, grey in color. Socks and boots laid beside them. The ones he'd been wearing that morning in his world were gone, all he had on was a teashirt and sweat pants, which was how he was dressed when he went to bed. The clothing had not been his from the beginning, they replaced what he'd been wearing when he stepped out of his trailer into the meadow. He never thought to question it at the time, so much else was taking precedence.
After dressing he washed up quickly, then walked through the garden, the flowers leaning towards him and whispering something as he passed. He had no idea what they were saying, but it sounded comforting and sympathetic. He entered the parlor, food was on the round table, its smells enticing. Nalina was sitting in her rocking chair on the table, her bright smile at his entrance charmed him, relieving the tension. Disarmed thus, he resumed the wicker chair he'd been sitting in the previous evening, rearranging the pillows. Joleanna brought plates and utensils from the kitchen, laid them in front of Jason and where she'd be sitting on the couch, then pulled Nalina's from her shirt pocket and placed them before her on a tiny table. She already had a cup of something that smelled remarkably like coffee. Jo poured him a cup, then took her seat.
Nalina flitted about and filled her plate with an assortment of differently colored food, her size. Jason helped himself and then Jo did likewise. Once again Jason had no idea what he was eating, but it tasted delicious. They ate in silence at first, savoring the flavors and aromas of the food. The ambience of the room and its contents brought back the experience of the previous day. He found it difficult to reconcile the month or more he'd been in his world with the single night here. Which was real, which his true identity? Or were they both? Of course they were, he said to himself. Two separate and different time rates-of-change. As though his world's density was so much greater, at least sixty times greater. And even that probably fluctuates. He was trying to be wholly rational about it, his mode of reasoning which, he suddenly recalled, he eventually had to abandon last time, deliberately so.
Lost in thought as the two ladies chatted, he took a sip of the coffee-like drink, the cup tingly to the touch. Almost at once, his sense of time passing seemed to lift itself out of the confines of his mind, the place where it lived. Taking with it his memories of that time in his world like a dream fading into empty nothingness. Compressing days into minutes, weeks into hours, and a month into a single night. For an instant he could see the transition between the two, the physical difference. The images from beginning to end squeezed together, folding in on themselves, blending the colors into a swirl of chaos, shrinking it all down to a single point. He was that point, or at least, he felt it enclosed him in empty limitless space, the essence of what he experienced, his identity. He watched as it expanded outward to touch other times. He saw the expansion as a funnel of increasing durations with him at the vortex. What they all had in common was the present, and nothing else mattered. He almost laughed at himself. Applying the natural laws of his world to anything that might happen here, attempting to uncover mathematical relationships in a world that denies their governance is futile.
He'd been staring at the swirling patterns in the rug. Lifting his head he saw the two of them smiling knowingly his way. Finally Nalina said, "Jo tells me it's likely someone wants you here. For what reason, we have no idea. But, she thinks we can find out."
"Yes," Jo said. "Like I said last night, I don't see the council having anything to do with it. So it's probably people who operate outside the bounds of the council's oversight. Like the Keepers. They're immune to scrutiny. They abide by the rules of the magical community but are themselves removed from its functioning. They live apart and have a duty to perform that goes beyond the council's authority and is recognized by all."
"The Keepers?" asked Jason.
"Yes," she replied. "The keepers of all knowledge and legends in the patchwork of kingdoms. They work tirelessly and diligently recording significant events like wars and transitions of magical forces and chronicles of heroic figures throughout history."
"Biographies of luminaries and those with special talents and abilities," chimed in Nalina. "The story of Ingwald the Wizard is particularly engrossing, I thought."
He peered at Nalina, a question on his mind he was having trouble retrieving. Finally it surfaced. "I found your wine glass on my table. How did it get there? Did you put it there?"
Nalina was surprised and taken aback. "Why no, I didn't know you were gone. If you'll remember correctly, I had a little bit too much to drink last night, I slept like a stone."
"It was a facsimile, I'm sure," stated Jo. She went into the kitchen to check, came back and said, "Yea, Nal's goblets are all here. It was a copy. Now that's something the Keepers would do, know how to do--track resonant vibrations. I'm convinced now that they're behind this, what's been going on with you and why you're here in the first place. Believing it was all true put a hold on you, allowing them to counter the incantation, to break the binding spell of transition that sent you back. Like the end of a tether, resonating, keeping alive your spirit's and mind's connection with this world. The Keepers could do this.
"They found you here, tracking your known vibration, your genetic signature, and saw something unusual, something that stood out in your mind, something significant--Nalina's glass. They knew where you were here, in my cottage, and may have thought you safe for the time being. But when the spell was cast by whoever doesn't want you in our world, they knew you'd returned. They then projected thought energy of an object of meaning to you, something unique you would recognize, something to keep you believing. When thought energy passes through the threshold, across the black emptiness into your world, it materializes.
"My father worked at the library as a researcher. He told me stories of how characters from the crystal records could reach out from their confines in search of a family member or someone close. Their consciousness could track through the resonant vibration on the psychic plane to a particular person and communicate with their mind. The people you've been writing about. That must be it, Jason. It all fits together. Don't you see it, the pattern?" Jason wasn't sure. She had background information he wasn't privvy to. Plus, another way of reasoning that concluded with a sense of knowing based on a magical template, not one of human cause and effect.
"The Keepers found you by tracing the essences of those you write about who once lived in our world. Their exploits must be archived. They sent you the crystal glass through the same psychic current with which your characters possess you. It must be very strong."
"We need to see them, Jo," Nalina said, fidgeting on her rocker. They held up their cups and tapped them together, smiling.
"Wait a second," Jason felt the need to slow things down a bit. "Tell me more about these Keepers and what's this story I'm writing talking about? Who are these characters who possess me in some way?" He drank more coffee, trying to catch up.
Jo sat up straight on the couch and adopted a self-absorbed air. "The Keepers can explain it better than I can but the archives are a living record of the people they're about." Jason squinted, she moved on, "Their consciousness is embodied in them through magic. Caring for them takes a special kind of person. It's the most sacred duty in the Land. The story you've been writing is the story of them, whoever they are, people from the archives. Somehow or for some reason they've chosen you to give expression to their experience. The story in the record is just that, a narrative of events. What you're doing, however, is reliving it for them with dialogue and personalities, action and detail. They're experiencing it all over again with you as a witness and medium."
"But why me and why relive it? What's the point? A fantasy story I'm writing in my world has nothing to do with yours. Suppose I come to the end, get lucky and have it published, so what? Your record keepers already have it."
"I don't know that, any of it," replied Jo. "Why they're doing what they're doing. But what we do know is that you, Jason, hold a pivotal role. There must be something about you that drew them to you. Some resonance, something recognized." She gazed as though looking at an invisible sphere around him, examining different areas, not looking at him directly. "I can't see it," she declared. "You have many admirable qualities, Jason, but I don't see magical ones. Perhaps the Keepers can."
Jason stood, cup in hand as was his habit, and walked over to the fireplace. Turning around to face them asked, "Well, if the Keepers brought me here last time and this time, who cast a spell, as you say, and sent me back? And for what reason? Why this tug-of-war with me in the middle?"
Nalina and Jo looked at one another, communicating in magic terms. After a time, Joleanna said, "We must prepare ourselves. Outside of town is a compound where sits the massive library of the Keepers. Behind it is their living quarters. To commune with them we must all be of one mind with nothing hidden. They will see and not trust us, suspecting corruption. They apparently want you Jason, but they're very protective of their charge.
"We'll enfold you with a cloak of darkness so those who seek to send you back can't find you. It's up to you to will to be here, witholding nothing. To be open and assured."
She waved Jason over to sit beside her and the three of them held hands, Nalina holding his little finger. Jo held him firmly, feeling every contour of his hand until she found the perfect grip. Smiling demurely as though discovering something pleasurable, she spoke in a language all her own to no one in particular. The touch of Jo's hand and fragrance of her body and Nalina's grasp of his pinkie were all the incentives he needed to abandon himself to the moment, to want to know it, his mind perceiving more and more vividly with each word she said. Whatever was being transmitted was much more than the already exhilarating touch of her soft, warm skin.
Jo, with Nalina's guidance, of course, placed fruit and hard bread into a sack with a container of that dark liquid and two regular-size cups. Jason was given the honor of carrying it. The compound was only half-a-day's walk, but they might find a suitable place to rest along the way. Time had little meaning in magicland. To rush with excitement is one thing, to surrender to haste and anxiety belies the nature of the world. However, a sense of urgency propelled them along, an urgency for what they had no idea.
At the bottom of the mild slope they turned south at Ingwald the Wizard's bronze statue, his eyes still burning bright. Rows of houses, each unique in build and personality, stood on either side of the main road out of town. The two magical beings stopped briefly to chat with others of every conceivable configuration: the familiar characters from stories in his world like dwarves, brownies, and sprites, but also creatures indescribable who walked, crawled, and flew. Some were very large, others very small including those of Nalina's kind. They all seemed to share something just beyond Jason's reach. A thread that ran through them, a strand of nature that set them apart, what they held in common.
By the time they reached the south entrance and headed out into the country, the sun was above them. A grassy plot surrounded by large, smooth stones looked inviting; they decided to stop. They were only midway, but without friends with whom to socialize, Jason thought gratefully, they should make better time. Jo retrieved a checkered cloth from the sack and laid it on the ground, placed some fruit and bread on it, and opened the container of brown liquid. She poured Jason's and hers, then pulled a tiny cup from an unseen pocket at her waist and handed it to Nalina, half-full.
Everyone got comfortable on the soft grass, wild flowers off a ways were busy discussing the new arrivals, a few insects flew over to investigate. "What do you do with your spare time, Jason, when you're not channeling beings from another realm of existence?" Jo asked, a mischievous grin on her lips.
"Not much, I'm afraid. I have a few friends, we go to bars and restaurants. Otherwise, I like to read most everything. Historical novels and history in general. Science stuff, science fiction. Non-fiction that mainly has to do with the nature of reality and our relationship with it. How we perceive, feel, sense. How we connect to the rest of the world and how we don't. Museums, art openings--they usually have wine and cheese. And there's my cat friend, Mariah. I don't know what I'd do without her to keep me company." Jason realized he'd begun to freely talk about himself and his interests without feeling the least bit embarrassed like he usually did. The people he knew just didn't care about such things. He'd never felt so relaxed, so open. He suspected it had to do with the holding of hands, what force of magic was twined with his sense of self, helping him get outside his earthbound reservations. But he was also convinced this peculiar coffee had something to do with it.
The conversation ambled. Nalina talked about her life on the other side of the waterfall, where she was born, her travels, occasionally visiting home and family to stay for a while. She wanted to experience the world and meet new people, like Jo. Joleanna was trained in the art of sorcery by her parents, enhancing and honing her talents and gifts. The plush homeyness of her parlor, however, its sensuality, spoke of other things.
Having mentioned Mariah, she was on his mind. Jason broached the question, "What about time passing? The time I've been here already, a week or more must've gone by in my world. Mariah probably ran away looking for me. She would do that. And my friends would've reported me missing."
Joleanna took a bit of fruit, then while munching away replied, "No. Did that happen last time?"
"Why no, it didn't as a matter of fact. I woke up in my own bed just about the same number of hours after I left, so to speak. It was late afternoon, not quite dusk. The computer was still on with my story."
"Our world is closer to timelessness," she began, her tone serious but also casual. "When here, time passes in your world at the same tempo; it's when you're there, in your world, that it stretches. Now that you're here again..." She could see he was having trouble with it; she filled his cup. "When home, you experience time at its normal flow. It all has to do with where you are how fast time passes for you."
A clatter on the road drew their attention. A man and woman were leading a large, furry animal with tusks pulling a two-wheeled cart filled with dried grasses. Spotting the trio picnicking they asked them if they could use a ride as far as the compound; they were bringing feed for their stock. Gladly accepting, they gathered everything up and climbed in, Nalina clutching Jason's collar. Once onboard, she flew to a pile of grass and made herself comfortable. The speed wasn't much better than walking, but they could rest for their meeting with the Keepers.
Jo and Nalina elaborated on their history and work. They reside in their country, Keshmish, but scholars and visitors come from all over the world to see them and ask questions, to explore the archives, to learn. It wasn't just history they kept, but tales of magic the likes of which few are capable of nowadays. A time of dragons and shapeshifters and great wizards who warred with one another. Practitioners search for clues to recover the secret spells and incantations of the bygone ages when magic ran wild.
After a time of quietly watching the scenery go by, Jo and Nalina stretched out on the dry bed and went to sleep. Jason was tired, more from the wear on his nervous system from being here again than the hike out of town, but, in spite of Jo's assurances, he dared not sleep. He had no idea what he was in for, but wanted more than anything to find out why he was in the middle of something two very powerful forces were deeply concerned about. And what was that concern.
He tried to remember how it all began, though once again he found it difficult. Every time he thought of something, some image or what he did, it was whisked away like leaves blown by the wind. Nonetheless, he was able to at least piece together the salient points. He started his story in mid-summer. He'd been concentrating on science fiction up to that point, but it was a strain to come up with plausible explanations for how things worked--quark drive and minerals with strange properties, for instance--and for each problem he got his characters into, and how he got them out of it. He thought it would be relaxing to write a small piece of fantasy. Wasn't that his motive? he asked himself. Had something else encouraged him?
It was the middle of July, the weather was hot and sunny. He was playing with Mariah out in the yard. A small bird flew up and landed several feet away, taunting Mariah with chirps. She hunkered down and chased it, it flew a little ways and landed again. This went on a few times until Mariah was at the end of the path where it meets the driveway. He was alone, behind him sat the computer trailer, his writing room, the door open in the heat. A fluttering sound as of bird wings came from it. Occasionally, a bird would fly in and get stuck in the curtains trying to get out through a window. He went to rescue it but when he entered, there was nothing. No bird or anything else that could make that sound. Mariah was busy and the trailer, in the shade of a cedar, was cool. He sat down in front of the computer, his mind blank. Then... it was just below the surface when Nalina squealed.
She was awake and fluttering above the cart. "It's the library, isn't it magnificent?"
They'd come to the top of a hill, the compound could be seen a short distance away. Indeed it was, thought Jason. It had the ground dimensions of a football field with several stories above. Made of misshapen rocks that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, they were interwoven with wide strips of some glassy-smooth black material that seemed to vibrate in the sunlight. Its corners were cylindrical towers two-stories high topped with a pointy roof of flat, red, dull slate. The main building itself had a peaked roof covered in gold-plated slats. Vines clung to the first few stories; tall windows, much longer than wide, were spread uniformly, shifting row by row by half the intervening distance. Vertically, they were lined up perfectly.
Jo was awake pointing out different features and describing how they were constructed. She poured coffee for them all as the cart turned left down the hill. They sat and drank and wondered at the structure. Back into the forest the trees blocked their view, but as they came around a curve, the main gate stood before them; its tall, wooden doors open, no one on guard. The couple dropped them off there at a stone path that led up to the library, they went on ahead to the back where the Keepers lived. The path wound its way through an orchard of plum trees; a few workers were busy harvesting. No one spoke, they were all in the same mood. What were they about to find out, if anything? How would they be treated? Were the Keepers truly the good guys?
They entered by a side door and proceeded across the main floor. Its immensity was overwhelming to Jason. The ceiling, covered in bizarre yet beautiful paintings of creatures and landscapes, appeared to be higher than it looked from the outside. They stopped in the middle to gaze at the rows of what appeared to be ordinary books to Jason's eye stacked on either side. A man dressed in a long, black, hooded tunic tied at the waist with a cord approached them. A monk, thought Jason. Such similarities with his world can't be a coincidence, it was just too obvious.
Had they reached into his mind and retrieved this image, understanding its possible affect? he wondered. A compliant attitude, a willingness to submit to a higher authority? If he was back on earth, he'd figure somebody was running a con with him as the mark. Is there some basic, equivalent mindset that transcends planes of existence? An austerity that hones the mind for the work at hand and is reflected in attire? The whole affair was taking on a religious overtone. Or was it simply his perception of the devoutness with which they accorded the records of their people? He was beginning to wonder if he was doing the right thing, or even what that meant here.
The monk asked if they needed help. Jo told him who she was and that they wished to talk to the Head Keeper. "Tell him Jason is here," she said with finality. The monk looked dubious but went off to do as she requested. Jason glimpsed another side of her. She was no nonsense, she took charge, knew who she was; others needed to know that as well.
Down the center of the floor were sculptures encased in a clear mist, they were of human-looking people and also animals standing on their hind legs, dressed in finery, adopting a scholarly pose. They held books and a few wore glasses. They studied each one briefly, the detail remarkable. When they arrived at the end, the monk greeter hurried up to them and told them to follow him. They went through a doorway off to the side and down a long hallway, paintings on either side. At the end of it, the space opened up considerably, allowing for three separate rooms facing them. The middle one was the largest, there was no name on the door, just Head Librarian. The monk tapped lightly, then opened the door for them to enter. Inside behind a huge desk covered with thick rectangles of clear crystal sat a very imposing figure. He was also wearing a tunic, only his was embossed with gold embroidery. His beard was long and mostly grey, his eyes intense yet mild. Behind him was a painting of someone apparently of some importance to the director, the Keeper in charge. On either side were long, narrow windows that went the length of the room. Around its walls were shelves of these crystal rectangles encased in leather bindings. The rug was plain burgundy with gold fringe.
He stared at Jason, his countenance as still as stone. Then he rose and came around to the front. "Joleanna," he said smiling. "How you've grown." He kissed her on the cheek. "I remember how we use to chase you out of the stacks to get you to go home. Your father was a great man and a brilliant researcher. He was very helpful to us, I was sorry to hear of his passing."
"Yes," she said. "He enjoyed the challenge of being involved with the library. And especially working with such gifted scholars." She introduced Nalina sitting on Jason's shoulder. Nalina's face was one huge smile and slightly red. "I am so pleased to meet you, lord Keeper," she said as politely as possible. Then put both hands over her mouth and smiled even more.
"Oh no, my dear," he said. "We've grown beyond that title. Now it's simply, your majesty." Everyone laughed, even Jason. "My name is Fraelick, but you may call me Keeper if you prefer. Please, let's get comfortable; you must be tired after your long walk from the city." He indicated a sitting area off to one side next to a fireplace. A couch and three chairs, well-cushioned, with a dark wood, oval-shaped table at the center. The Keeper and Jason sat at opposite ends, Jo plopped down on the couch. Nalina, recognizing that Jason was the center of attention, flew over to rest on a pillow next to Jo. The Keeper gestured towards the table and a pitcher of a blue-green liquid and three glasses plus one tiny one appeared on a silver tray. Jason was surprised but not overly shocked; after all, this was magicland. He did the honors, half-filling all the glasses. He handed Nalina's to her, Jo did the same for the Keeper sitting immediately to her left. They all sipped except for Jason, he was too nervous. Jo commented on the fruitiness of the drink and how refreshing its taste.
This was how things were done in this world, thought Jason. The approach was everything. A method and a custom probably learned from unpleasant experiences. He had a million questions, but out of respect, decided to shut up for now and let the Keeper do the talking. Besides which, he didn't know enough about what was going on to ask the right ones. He had no idea what was important and what wasn't. He hoped for clarity when the meeting was over and for some degree of understanding and direction.
Sitting back in his chair, Fraelick, the Head Keeper, started right in, "We sought you out as soon as we were aware of the connection. The crystal records we care for are of a special kind. Imbued with the magic of transcendence, they possess the consciousnesses of the characters in the stories. Legends and myths have truths at their core. The individuals who took part, however, stand in the background as the narrative runs its course. This occurs at the mind level of the crystal, unique frequencies of separate consciousnesses. Their being, however, exists on a dimension that includes time and space, beings of timelessness engraved in space itself. Mute witnesses only, watching for authenticity and the veracity of the account. Any mistakes or misrepresentations are corrected by them on the physical plane within the crystal itself. For some reason, the characters of one particular account have chosen you to channel their story as it happened. The record has only the narrative form; the actual words they spoke and actions they took you have been expressing in your story."
He gestured again at the table and a plate of cheese and bread appeared. "Three generations ago, the great wizard Sanguinon ruled over all the lands between Leewrashal and Begelesta, a vast empire encompassing all of civilization with its diversity of kinds of beings. When old and sickly he saw the chaos that would ensue at his death. Being the wise man that he was, realizing he could no longer manage such a vast empire with its increasing complexity and number of people spread across half the world, he carefully and not capriciously broke it up into twelve kingdoms to be ruled and administrated by the best of magical beings. People of impeccable character with profound intelligence and broad knowledge of the arts and the world. How things functioned, the internal workings of day to day living. They were practical men who put the welfare of their people above themselves. At least, that was what we have been able to piece together.
"One of our researchers discovered that several accounts, historical in nature, led up to that time and then mysteriously ended. Including, most importantly, the story you were writing. You haven't reached the point yet where they involve themselves as representatives and envoys of chiefs of their region to be present when Sanguinon signed the proclamation. On it are the names of the twelve kingdoms, including Keshmish, and those who were to rule each. Many such dignitaries and magic beings of prominence attended, signing it as witnesses. We know that to have occurred through references in other records that begin after the formation of the kingdoms. There is a gap, you see?
"Shortly afterwards, a faction of wizards and warlocks conspired to assassinate Sanguinon and his family and all those who knew of his proclamation. The names of the leaders of the twelve kingdoms were to be ceremoniously revealed and their monarchies ratified by Sanguinon himself, but after his death, they replaced it with their own, appointing people from their clan to rule instead. The people who attended were blamed for the assassination--an absurd notion--and so their deaths were not met with questions. All the records, as I said, that lead up to that event have been deliberately tampered with by someone or other who could access them, first of all, and had the know how to unbind the living words within and send them to oblivion.
"In the beginning of these usurped monarchies, unrest overthrew their choice for Keshmish and its neighbor, Caladshen. Turmoil erupted into rebellion. Ingwald took the reins, a powerful and evenminded wizard; he brought peace and stability and prosperity to the kingdom. He was well-loved by his people and still revered. The other ten, however, have remained in the hands of the usurpers and their families and clan. This is what we have deduced."
He stood to walk to the fireplace where he poked a log with a metal rod. There was no fire, it was a warm day. He was trying to collect his thoughts, trying to find the right words. He turned to speak directly to Jason. "The record you transcribe will come to an end before the event of the emperor's pronouncement. The people in it signed it and knew the names Sanguinon had chosen to rule his dissolving empire. The kings of all the lands; their families still exist, no doubt. They were ignorant of proceedings and so posed no threat. Why instigate a war with another clan, or clans, without suitable cause? But your people and their closest relatives, their families, were probably assassinated along with all the others who attended, those who knew the names of the true ruling families."
Your people? wondered Jason. A slip of the tongue, a mistake in semantics, a way of speaking here with which he was unfamiliar?
"But because they have chosen you, Jason, as their speaker, we believe that once the story comes to an end, and they are freed from the confines of the crystal matrix, you will be able to communicate with them. That seems to be their intention. They will then tell us through you about the names Sanguinon chose and also the authors of his death and that of his family. Not to mention, their own."
After a deliberating pause, he said, "No. That's not correct. It is true that when they come to the end they'll be free and that would ordinarily be the case, or one must think so, based on the rules we know and have reinforced with magic. They are bound, their consciousness, by magic within the crystal record. However, and this is incomprehensible to me I must admit and why I hesitate, the very fact that they broke through the spell themselves would indicate that they have no need to come to the end. They have stepped off the page, so to speak, by their own volition, exerting their will from the spirit realm. Powers and forces exist that lay hidden behind the veil until a certain time, until a certain need arises. Forces that may not have even existed until then, emergent. "
"The ten kings vary in skill of wizardry and each has special talents, but they all come from the same clan. We suspect, therefore, that their forebears are the culprits, but accusations are common and meaningless without proof."
He stared into the burnt logs and ash of the fireplace, thoughtfully. Then said, "Unrest is destabilizing countries, has been for some time. Magic against magic. On the other side of the mountains in Rhaldsorn there is open rebellion, families migrating here for sanctuary. All that holds most kingdoms together is faith in the monarchy, belief that who rules was meant to be. But if the word is corroborated through the beings who lived that event, that their monarchies were falsley obtained by usurping the rightful heirs and are descendents of conspirators who assassinated Sanguinon, rebellions will break out over all those lands."
Jason had been following as best he could. He definitely understood that last part. "But do you want that? I mean, I know nothing of your world, but I do know what you're saying. Wouldn't it be far worse for that information to get out than how things are now? Think of the people who'd be killed in a rebellion, and what chaos and suffering there'd be if all the kingdoms were to fall into open warfare simultaneously? Do you want that?"
Fraelick sat back in his chair. "No. Of course not. We seek to avoid that. If we had the evidence before us, the names of who the emperor intended as rulers of the separate kingdoms and also those of the conspirators and their treachery and manipulations, we could approach them, the kings and the leaders of their clan, try to persuade them to abdicate and appoint a new ruler, one from the rightful clan. Under threat of death for their crimes, they may concede. A war of magical beings is not a pretty sight."
"I still don't understand how I got into this. What am I doing here? Why me?"
"Erasing thought energy configured by a magically infused crystal of the kind we use without detection is simply not possible. It leaves traces, fragmented ends, partial sentences and half-written words. The telltale evidence was obvious. After we discovered the shortened records, we enwrapped the libray in a spell of protection, a barrier of light energy. Any attempt at an intrusion initiates a counter force. It also detects any outgoing break."
Fraelick pulled on his beard as though wondering just how to put this. "We were able to find you by tracking the link they have with you. Actually, it's more than just a link. Through the multiple universes and intersticed dimensions that originate along the timeless axis, there are, how should I say this, conduits or passageways, tubes, ducts, whatever they may be called in your world, that link thought energies of similar... persuasions. A resonance, an affinity across any and all planes of reality and existence. Once entangled, consciousness can travel through.
"The characters, or at least one of them, their leader, Helmdrin, a very charismatic figure in his day, crossed the void between worlds and locked onto your essence, your identity, your soul, if you will. We were able to find you by tracking that connection. We brought your here, or tried to. Someone interfered, trying to thwart us, disrupting the transfer, and you ended up where you did."
"That still doesn't answer my question," Jason pleaded. "Why me? You must have story writers closer to home. You called me a speaker. What does that mean?"
"A speaker is a focal point between the memory energy of beings who once lived and are now enmeshed in the psychic plane and the world of physical manifestation, whether of the denser kind, like your universe, or that of magic. The crystal record is also a focal point. You must share something with him or them. He sent out a notion, a feeling, an inspiration to you, specifically, intertwining with your mind, through the record of intermediate manifestation and onto you, living on your plane of existence. What would be the nature of such a sharing? Family? Blood? The melding must be of equal resonance for them to sustain communication in order to tell you their story as it appears in the record. With them freed, we'll hear the true end of the story as told by all. What they know of the proclamation and the people involved in the assassination."
He said all that quite matter-of-factly like they did it every day, thought Jason. He seemed to have missed a point, like, how will they hear this? He had doubts, and, to his mind, the Keeper was being evasive about the reason he was chosen. Family? Blood relation? Impossible. And what did he mean by melding? It made him feel a little squeamish, sounding a bit too intimate for his taste.
"Once in contact with the spirit realm through Helmdrin and his associates," the Keeper continued, "we can commune with other personalities from other records at that time. All those that've been tampered with."
Joleanna and Nalina had been sitting patiently all this time, listening. Finally, Jo said, "If they have stepped off the page and you and the other Keepers are able to communicate with them, what role does Jason have to play?" She found herself getting annoyed at the off-handed way Jason was being dealt. Keeper or no, she intended to protect him, and she had the means. The Keeper for his part knew of her fiery nature and bold assertiveness, so he had no doubts that the undertone he felt was genuine.
The Keeper leaned towards Jason and said, "We need you to bridge the divide. We can enter your world and bring you here, but not so with the spirit realm. We would have to forgo our corporeality, leave it behind. Shamans and wizards transit through it and into it seeking aids for incantations and phase shifting. But even they cannot establish a rapport with a spirit being. They are in touch with you, freed from the magical constraints of the crystal matrix. We can't let this opportunity go by."
Jason, spurred by Jo's support, said, "Well here's what I'm looking at. You've abducted me against my will, twice. You've put my life in danger and you've put me in a situation where I can't refuse as well. I would've liked to have been asked first, whatever it is you expect of me. You don't need me to continue writing their story; they don't need me to do that in order to separate themselves from its binding spell." He understood that much. "So what the hell am I doing here?"
"They expected us to track them and, we surmised, retrieve you. However, I do apologize for the rough treatment. But you see, we had no choice. How, pray tell, could we have spoken to you to explain what I have thus far in your world? Appearing as what or who? Would you have believed me without ever visiting our world? That the universe of magic exists for real? Even if you did, you'd still have to be here for the process to work."
"The process?" asked Jason, squinting sideways at the Keeper. An image popped into his head of him seated and strapped down at the wrists in a large chair, a metal helmet with probes sticking out everywhere connected to wires. "What do you mean by process?"
The Keeper smiled and leaned forward. He quietly said in confidence, "Don't worry, young man. We won't turn you inside out or hook your larynx up to a crystal filter or anything like that." He sat back. "We used to do that in the old days, but we've matured with the times." He laughed in a way that reminded Jason of when the dentist told him the root canal wasn't going to hurt. Not exactly reassuring.
Jason let it go. He didn't feel threatened or in danger. His instincts in that regard were usually right on, but then, Jo's magic could be giving him false confidence. And, the person before him wasn't exactly human. Nonetheless, he moved on. "Why haven't they done this any time before? Why now?"
"Perhaps the procedure to edit the documents caused them to recoil. Or perhaps they couldn't find anyone to act as speaker. Their progeny were killed along with them. Some may have escaped, but not as far as we know. If that's the case, there are no descendants to link to. No... family.
"Why now is a good question. Perhaps a critical point has been reached. Perhaps the opportunity finally arose. Perhaps they have been trying all this time but in vain. Perhaps they only told you their story to attract our attention. I don't know yet, they might explain."
"But why me," Jason repeated. "How can I be family? That's absurd."
"I don't know," said the Keeper sounding tired. "When you talk to your brothers, you can ask them."
So he didn't have all the answers; he wasn't all-knowing. "I have a question. How do you know what their real purpose in contacting me is? Aren't you making an assumption? That would explain why they haven't done it before. Something's happening right now, your right now. What else would warrant reaching out?"
A long pause ensued. "I may have misjudged you. Beings from your world are usually so... dense. Alarms went off when we detected the resonant stream. They knew we would trace it. They knew we would bring you here. They knew that a vital part of their story had been deliberately erased, as well as those of others who witnessed the emperor's proclamation. But it's true: timing is everything. We searched for other reasons wishing to be thorough. Could there be something more important going on right under our noses that we're missing? Possibly. But until we're able to commune with them, we don't know."
"Okay," Jason said resignedly. "What do I do?"
The Keeper smiled and said, "Do not fear, my son. You are a speaker. We have nothing but the deepest respect for you. To be selected is a great honor, especially for what it may imply." He stood and said, "I'll be right back, I must make preparations." He strode from the room.
Jo stood to walk around the large room, stopping here and there to look at things. He knew what she was doing intuitively and from being here for as long as he has. He put it into terms he understood. She was infusing the things of his office with her energy signature, her reality. It reinforced her own strength; material allies reverberating frequencies attuned to her will. What was she preparing to do? wondered Jason.
He imagined the Keeper was organizing an elaborate magical ceremony reminiscent of movies he's seen, complete with incense, a potion or two, and incantations spoken in an unknown language that always mysteriously sounded like Latin, calling forth spirits from the other side, a lost soul perhaps. Or a seance around an altar of primordial rock with all the Keepers dressed in hooded tunics holding hands and chanting in a crescendo of deep rumbling sounds. Candles would be everywhere, of course. He always wondered who could find the time to light them all.
So he was surprised when he returned with a small sphere of clouded crystal resting on a plain wooden stand. He resumed his seat, as did Jo, and set it in the center of the table, now cleared of everything but it. He informed them that the other eleven Keepers had retired to their separate chambers. Their job was to assist in opening a doorway to the spirit realm using their powers of transference between dimensions. And specifically, to Helmdrin and his group. Their unique features were embodied in the crystal record; they had to seek out the equivalence on the spirit plane. They would all be in tune and yet each would concentrate on a different consciousness frequency across the spectrum. The technique they employed to locate and retrieve Jason. The link between Helmdrin and his people and Jason was still alive and active. Its origin was the psychic plane and its termination was Jason's mind and the prism through which it traveled, the magically-imbued crystal record. They had but to use that as a conduit.
"Am I expected to fall into a trance or something and have this Helmdrin guy talk through me? Is that it? Should I lie down on the couch or something?" asked Jason
The Keeper smiled, then said, "Relax, Jason. All the way. What I want you to do is simply recall the story you were writing. Bring the characters you created, their personalities, what they were doing last, how you envision they appear physically, bring all that, including your state of mind when chronicling their exploits, to the fore. Let nothing else preoccupy you. It won't be the same, knowing now that it's not just your imagination but real people from a bygone age in another plane of existence will most definitely alter your perception. I'm hoping for that, in fact. It'll flesh them out and render them real enabling them to come forth more easily. Being here will intensify the connection, no reservations will impede you. You are a speaker for the dead inside the library of the Keepers. Nothing can harm you here."
Jo asked, "Should we go, Fraelick? Are we a distraction?"
"No, my dear. Please, your presence and that of your friend, your magic, will be helpful as a controlling influence. No, stay."
Jason and the Keeper sat back facing one another. All was quiet. The Keeper instructed him to focus on the crystal ball and spoke a few words in a strange language that didn't sound at all like Latin. Jason's mind, his entire being was immediately and completely one with the world and characters of his story. He was there as he always was when writing in his small computer trailer; only now, he could reach out and touch the surroundings, smell the warm, soft air and feel the ground under his sandled feet. He was on a trail in a wooded area, the sun not quite above the treetops. He heard birds singing and voices, voices talking.
This is where he left off, he remembered. Where he left his people, walking down a road in a forest. "Jason," he heard his name. Had the Keeper just called him? He thought to look up but couldn't. He was mesmerized and held in place by the crystal's resonance with his mind. Again he heard his name, "Jason, look at this, over here." In his mind's image he turned to see his characters assembled on the road standing around a body of some creature. He approached, it was a gresling like the one the dwarves had killed. "Looks like somebody speared it to death and then just left it here in the middle of the road," someone said. They dragged it off to the side and laid it in the grass. Then one of them with a short brown beard, Jason's height and build, walked up to him, the others hung back anticipating.
"I am pleased you're here, Jason. I am Helmdrin. You must be wondering about all this, your presence here." If that isn't the understatement of the year, thought Jason. "During our time, there was much turbulence in the land. Sanguinon, the Emperor, wisely decided to break his vast empire up into kingdoms to be led by those of his choosing." Jason had that down already, he was waiting for the punch line. "Conspirators replaced his proclamation with the names of his choosing, witnessed by many delegates to the occasion, including myself. Afterwards, when all had left to go home, pleased with the choices Sanguinon had made, the conspirators proceeded to assasinate the emperor and all those who signed it, the witnesses."
He paused to glance at his companions who walked over. Helmdrin continued, "My family and I were set upon in our home while we slept. I fought but was overwhelmed. Grandfather somehow escaped the mass killing and carried with him a baby who'd been hidden and slept through it all. He was my brother's child, my nephew. He took him to the powerful wizard Anestolsh of our clan for sanctuary. But the assasins, wizards and sorcerors, tracked him down. Before they could do him harm, Anestolsh first bound his magic so it would not be detectable and transported him to your realm, your world, your plane of existence. With him to care for the child two who had been servants of my father and knew the boy from birth went with him, to act as his parents."
For the time being, Jason chose to ignore that last part. "Why would they want to kill a harmless baby? He didn't know anything, what threat was he?"
"It's of the nature of our kind, our gift, to be able to resonate with our dead family members in the psychic universe, the spirit plane of existence. They feared that if he was allowed to grow to manhood, he would find out the truth. They were ruthless and cared not for anything but themselves."
Helmdrin began to walk down the road, past the dead gresling, through the forest. "Because we appear human-like, Anestolsh chose Earth in your universe. The human psyche closely resonates with that of our world, for reasons unknown. That was almost four thousand years ago, earth time." He smiled. "It was easy to get lost then."
What is he telling me? wondered Jason, bewildered and uncertain. Helmdrin laughed, but with kindness. "What I am telling you, Jason, is that you are a descendent of that child. The conspirators, though old, yet live, most of them anyway. They watch the library, fearful of revelations that could bring the downfall of their clan and its hold on the kingdoms through their surrogates. The story of that time was removed from all the records of those who witnessed the signing. After that, the Keepers placed a spell of enclosure over the library, impenetrable by magic alone, so no more could be removed, but it was too late. All evidence of their treachery was gone.
"We reached out from this plane, searching for the lifeblood of our people we hoped were still alive on Earth. With time, we found you. But in order to connect with your resonance and fill your mind with our presence, we had to channel our thoughts through the record, the portal of our consciousness in the phsyical world. As soon as we broached the protective spell encasing the library, the conspirators followed. They didn't try to bring you to them, as long as you were in your world, you were no threat. It's when the Keepers sought you and transfered you to their world did they act. Between the two forces of transition tugging at your essence, you ended up in neither place, somewhere in the middle."
Jason recalled his meeting with Nalina and the two dwarves on the road that began nowhere. Otherwise, his mind was blank, stilled beyond comprehension. Helmdrin said, "We have much to talk about. The Keepers want a copy of Sanguinon's proclamation and the names of the conspirators. You are our speaker. Through you we can record all onto the crystal that contains our story. As well, the Keepers can commune with us and all those who were present at the witnessing. They are here on the spirit plane with us and are anxious to be revenged and to set things right. They and their entire families were killed in the purge, they have no fear of retribution, even if it were possible. We will all restore our records. Our stories will reveal the truth of Sanguinon's good intentions, and of the evil that replaced it."
Finally Jason found his voice. "What am I to do?" he asked as they ambled down the dirt road, heading for who knows where.
"Just walk along, brother, enjoy our company while I tell you stories of your true father, my brother, and the times we lived in."
As Jason sat in the chair peering into the globe of fuzzy crystal, he acted as a portal through which all that Helmdrin and the other witnesses spoke of was transmitted through the orb and onto the many records in the library that contained their truncated narratives. Jason had but to sit and remain open to the proceedings.
He asked, "If I accept the story you tell about being from the world of magic, that I am a magical being, not of Earth, not truly human, then what of these powers I supposedly have that this wizard bound?"
"You are here, living as we are, that is one such power. As far as the others go, that is up to you to discover. I will tell you, however, of what we were once able to do."
Time passed, Helmdrin and the others spoke of bygone times. Laughing at predicaments they got into, their many strange and exciting exploits, and recalling how the world was when great magic held sway over the land. They walked down the road, the warm, soft air was fragrant of foresty things. Wildflowers spotted the edges, buzzing with delight as the group passed. Birds of indescribable colors flew by and landed on branches to sing and gawk. They walked for the sake of walking, Helmdrin and his friends glad to be able to communicate with Jason free of the constraints prescribed by the crystal record. They thanked him, but for what he wasn't sure.
He'd just been told his life's identity wasn't what he thought it was. That he wasn't truly human but a magical facsimile thereof. And that he had magical powers. To do what, exactly? Transport to another place? Materialize food and drink out of thin air? Turn people into frogs? What did it mean to be magical? Incantations, spells, potions, charms of protection and invisibility?
"You have learned much about yourself, Jason," the Keeper said from the shadows. "We have all watched and heard as it transpired, reflected in the globe of crystal. Do you believe what Helmdrin told you?"
"I don't know what to believe," he said distantly. "Am I to doubt now my basic identity as a living thing? Everything I understand about reality is in those terms. Human terms. Is all that now meaningless? My entire world is structured from that point of view. If I am truly a magic being, then everything that pertains to a human being no longer applies. All the ingrained customs and beliefs and histories of people and that of the human race itself. The collective consciousness, the many different cultures that make it up. I am a part of that. It resides in me and expresses who and what I am. To feel myself to be a being from this world is to enter a state of blankness where nothing is written on my soul. To leave behind my human reality as not my true self. How do I do that?"
Jason stopped talking, his face contorted in disbelief. He looked lost and forlorn. His whole world had been taken away, rendered meaningless.
He was teetering on a razor's edge. He needed help, he needed to be pulled out before he withdrew into the middle of nothingness. The Keeper tried to focus his mind on what they'd accomplished, telling him that it could never have been done without him. "The Keepers are transcribing the stories of the others, replacing what had been obliterated, recounting the events of Sanguinon's dissolution of his empire. They are in touch with the spirit plane, thanks to you opening the door. We will conceal it from view and use its exposure as leverage."
The Keeper could see that Jason was having trouble understanding. He leaned forward into the light. "All your life, Jason, I can see you've always felt constrained, that you could be much larger, that you were holding back. Limitations envelop you like a membrane, like a physical force. I believe that is the effect of your magic being bound. Here, drink this." A glass half-filled with an amber-colored liquid appeared before him. Robotically, he did as he was told. It helped, he felt more stable, his mind slowly clearing, his concentration returning. He looked at his body as though for the first time, not knowing what to think of it. "Your sense of self is still your sense of self. Please, come with me."
Unsteadily, Jason got to his feet. Jo and Nalina remained on the couch, drinking something no doubt stronger than fruit juice. Jason followed him into an alcove in a room adjacent. There were two chairs, Jason plopped down, exhausted or just rattled, he couldn't be sure. The Keeper stood by a shelf on which were small glass vials, each of a different color. "Jason," he began, as sympathetically as possible, "if you accept being who you truly are, I can unbound your magic here and now. I have the means and the gift to do that."
"But," Jason stammered, "how can I know what that is? What magic I possess, if anything?"
"We, the other Keepers and I, as well as Joleanna and Nalina, can help you find your talents and your birthright."
Birthright, thought Jason. A million years ago a being from this world was transported to Earth, and I am his descendent. Why don't I believe that? Why can't I? Is it just too preposterous? Too absurd? But, I know what I experienced, talking to Helmdrin and the others. I was not hallucinating. As proof of it all, here I am.
He looked at the Keeper who was standing patiently, watching his thoughts. He felt much steadier, he'd come to a decision. The amber drink helped, no doubt. "Do whatever you think is best, Keeper," he said in a willing yet serious tone. He was about to embark on an adventure that he only dreamed of in his stories. He felt strong and focused, confidant.
He handed Jason a purple vial. "I want you to drink this, all of it. At first you'll feel a lightness as your body adjusts to the unbounded magic within you. You'll feel as though you're expanding without limit. Don't be afraid, don't try to control it, let it go, trust that it is unlocking your potential."
Jason did as he was told. The Keeper spoke words in that strange language, not Latin. The candle lights stretched away from the candles. The alcove glowed with light that twirled in thicknesses like paint, breaking up into different strands and bands of colors. Then coalesced to embrace Jason, to envelop him completely, to rest on his body like a thick, weightless liquid of shimmering motes. It worked its way into his skin and bones and sinews and finally his mind; he let it.
The Keeper stood before him, watching intently, monitoring the transition. Jason saw him as an assemblage of moving molecules held together loosely by sheer force of will. He was all there, yet some essential part was missing, was in the background, was intertwined with not only the room itself but seemed to be beyond it, outside of it. He drifted along dreamily, reveling in this new sensation that engulfed him. He could see that fundamental nature in the Keeper that had eluded him in town. And as he felt the changes coming over him, he could also see that he was now a part of the background, growing ever more intimately mingled. That in fact it wasn't the case of parts connected, but rather the whole disconnecting to form separate entities. After a time, his mind settled in to the new reality. His focus renewed, the Keeper was once again a whole, solid person and the room took on its former definition. Only difference was, he could see everything from within.
The unbinding process over, Jason sat immobile, his body tense. The Keeper spoke, his voice like fingers shaping Jason's mind. "Magic is the ability to channel unseen forces of nature. But more than that, it's a way of seeing the world around you, how it fits together, the entanglements beneath the surface. Magic is access to the mind level of nature. There's the art and there's the craft. And here's the difference."
He continued, explaining the generalities of practical magic, the moral responsibilities, the need to pay attention to details. Jason was an empty vessel, the Keeper prepared him with information, a context, a perspective. Understanding would come with time.
When they returned, the two ladies were busy chatting away, a new bottle of something sat on the table. The sun was fading, streaks of light glimmered off surfaces, stilling the tableau. He instructed Jo on what she must do and where Jason stood at present, none of which he disagreed with. He also told Jason to visit him whenever he chose for assistance in discovering what magic he possessed. The Keeper would have his researchers find out what his people could do, were capable of, besides communing with their dead relatives. They would then know what to expect, what to bring out and how to do it. It would take time and much effort, but if he wished to know this new identity, he would have to work at it.
The Keeper thanked him for his invaluable help as the speaker. He was overjoyed. He saw them out, past the sculptures and rows of shelved crystal records to the front door, and wished them safe journey.
In a few hours they were in front of Jo's house. She thanked him, they all thanked him, and with that he instructed the driverless team to go home.
They hadn't talked much in the carriage. The monk had kept them entertained with stories about the Keepers that they probably wouldn't find very flattering. They collapsed in the parlor, Jo removing her shoes and curling up on the couch near Jason with a glass of wine. Nalina flew from his shoulder to a pillow at the other end. She'd had enough excitement for one day and lay down, pulling her blanket over her. Jason poured a glass for himself and quietly sipped. It was all too much to digest at one sitting. He'd made a decision and was sure about it; nonetheless, he hadn't had time to weigh all the consequences. Should he return to his world, have the Keeper rebind his magic and send him back to continue his earthly existence? Knowing what he knew now, that decision would be hard to make. But he had possessions. His computer with all his stories on it. His clothing, such as they were, memorabilia, special books he treasured as friends. He sat up straight suddenly, spilling wine on his pants. "Mariah," he cried. "Oh my God, I completley forgot about her."
"Don't worry, hon," said Jo drowsily. "It's all been taken care of. Whatever you want from there can be brought here. And one thing already has." From the back porch he heard a distinct "Meowww." At the sound of his voice, Mariah strolled in, a mischievous glint in her eyes. She jumped onto his lap and made herself comfortable.
"How...?" he began to ask.
Jo put a finger to her lips and shushed him. Mariah purred contentedly as he pet her and scratched her neck. Night had fallen. Jo made a casual gesture with her hand and the rest of the candles took flame.
Jason knew he had a lot to think about, to settle into, to learn, absorb, and discover. And mostly to adjust to. But something told him it was going to be all right. Perhaps he felt the encouragement of Helmdrin. Jo smiled, her hazel eyes sparkling in the candle light. He was now one of them, he thought, he could approach her on a more even footing, albeit not quite yet. What sense of constraint, of limitations he still clung to by physical habit--his shoulders clenched--dissipated in the simple yet elegant surroundings. He drank it all in, his new identity in this new world.
He looked at the fireplace and wished for a small fire against the night chill. At once, the few chunks of wood burst into flame. Surprise was followed by an awareness of the need for control; that would be part of his training to come. Jo nodded approval. Nestling in, Mariah's purrs faded as she drifted off to sleep. He settled back in his chair, staring at the flickering flames, feeling freer than ever he had before. He looked over at Nalina asleep on the pillow with her tiny blanket pulled over her and then at Jo. She lazily waved a hand to and fro, the flames intensified.
With a knowing curiosity, he recalled how he use to visit places where he and his parents lived for a time. Not being terribly affluent, they were always trying to find a better deal on a house to rent, so they moved a few times in the same area. He would drive to those he grew up in and stare at them, searching for that feeling of home, a sense of home, an essential ingredient and a state of mind that proved to be hopelessly elusive. He felt it as something lost, something he would never know. Now, that yearning had ceased without him even realizing it.
Jo, Nalina, and Mariah were fast asleep. The flickering fire drew his attention. He could feel his mind gradually changing, shifting to a whole other way of interpreting and understanding. The fire popped, once, twice, three times in rapid succession. Suddenly, his mind cleared and he was standing above himself. He could see a deeper reason for the inner conflicts and uncertainties, the dissonance and detachment, the estrangement from his fellow humans he lived with all his life.
The person he had imagined himself to be on Earth had a human-like personality, a set of behavior patterns he ascribed to, but that wasn't who he truly was. In spite of his magic bound he was still a magical being, but he perceived and internalized that self in human terms. Not possessing a specifically human psyche, he was not able to draw on the human collective unconscious and its raw material of archetypal energy, its creative potential, as a natural wellspring. His source of psychic energy was, or is, the magical version. His collective consciousness, however, was human insofar as he'd been immersed in human culture and ingrained with human customs and rituals. His unconscious mind filled him with thoughts alien to that collecive consciousness. He perceived the world as human, yet his inner self struggled to break free.
His intuitions sought out elements that weren't there, colors where only black and white existed, aspects of something missing that should be there but weren't. His instincts as well, though constrained and shaped by human experience, seemed to be out of phase with what was generally expected, the human profile. Projections of archetypes into a world that has no proper receptors, that has no use for them, that simply absorbs or ignores them.
He listened to the fire crackle and the sweet sound of night birds in the garden. He could now hear the fragrances of the flowers: they were singing of their lives, of their natures, of their joy. A profound peace descended. He was at home in a world that had once existed--for him--only in his imagination. Thoughts and images had transformed into a real world with real people doing real things. He was starting from scratch, off on an adventure he never could've dreamed. That sensation of going forward, of nothing holding him back, of living completely in the present was exhilarating and deeply satisfying.
He roused Mariah and together they walked through the garden in the dark to the cottage at the rear. They lay in bed, Mariah curled up next to him, listening to and feeling the subtle sounds of night. He was free to be himself, whatever course that may take. He closed his eyes and let sleep take him, unafraid now of where he might wake up.