The Summoner drew back her hood, and her eyes shone in the torchlight. Her stony green irises cracked at the edges into rivulets of ethereal purple that rippled with seemingly infinite depth. There is a trite cliche about being lost in someone’s eyes. You could certainly lose yourself in hers. For an ordinary person, trying to stare her down would be difficult; for a mage attuned to the natural flow of the ether, doing so amplified the eerie screech of the Void energy that splintered her aura into…something inhuman.
“I am aware you are having a quite serious difficulty with Bilgewater. I sympathize; they are an irritating upstart, are they not?” She let the question hang unanswered for a few seconds. “We feel similarly about the Lunari and their new Moonstones.”
“What if my associates could help make this troublesome business go away?” She swept her hand aside, as though brushing this pesky mortal quarrel away with a flick of her wrist. “Would that interest you?” She took a step closer.
“I’ve never had the knack for telepathy.” Her eyes narrowed, and the rivulets of purple swelled, filling more of the white space around them. “But it’s not hard to read your thoughts, at the moment. I know your skin is crawling. My associates unsettle you. Perhaps they should. Indeed they should.”
She grinned. “And yes, of course there will be a price to pay.” She leaned in. “But together, we can ensure that it is Bilgewater who pays it.”
She glanced over her shoulder, down the empty hallway of the Institute. It was hard to tell whether she was checking to make sure they were truly alone, or gazing upon an alien face across the dimensions. She tipped her head to the side, as though she were straining to catch a whisper from far away. It seemed that whatever words she caught pleased her. Or, at least, amused her.
“As a token of their profound appreciation, my associates tell me that you may consider your unfortunate entanglement with the League’s disciplinary committee…resolved. Think nothing of it.” She smiled broadly. “All we ask is that you…now that you are, mmm, free of those unfortunate and unnecessary entanglements…spare a moment to have a word with your contacts back home in Bandle City.”
The yordle Summoner hesitated. “What do you mean, resolved?” Her voice was even smaller than usual. She wrung her paws and looked up at the human.
“Dismissed.” The Icathian Summoner crouched down, bringing her to eye level. “Because you have had an exemplary record up until this unfortunate alleged incident on the island of Argyre. And because just before your hearing, a grateful villager will be featured in the Herald, describing your bravery during the recent nexus flux incident.”
The yordle glanced aside and tried to remember. “Oh. Um. But I just helped dispel some residual flux radiation from—”
The Icathian tapped the yordle on the forehead, stopping her like a hexcast recording. “You are too modest. You neglected to mention that, when you were suddenly attacked by a villager who had been possessed by a demon from the Void, you chose at great personal risk to refrain from deadly magic and to instead subdue him with nonlethal force, whereupon you risked your very soul by linking minds with him to exorcise the demon within.”
“No, I didn’t!” the yordle hissed, jerking her head back. “Are you insane? I’m about to be put under a truth-sayer geas! And you’re talking to me about a conspiracy to lie to the League?! This is going to light up like a Harrowing hearthfire!” She grabbed her head, wanting to somehow unscrew it from her neck and rinse it out with boiling thaumic bleach. This memory was going to destroy her!
She looked aside, as though expecting to see inquisitors sweeping in to arrest them both any moment now. Her fur was bristling. Stupid, stupid, stupid! She’d been so stupid! Talking to this maniac. It would have been alright. Just a reprimand, probably. A suspension, at worst. Now, she’d be likely to merely be expelled from the League.
Her guilty mind raced down the slippery corridors of panic. Maybe she could use a cleansing spell. Maybe she could go down to the Heart of Gold and drink every drop of alcohol in the place and forget all of this. Maybe then she’d keep her Summoner robes!
The Icathian laughed. Always laughing! The maniacs! The yordle’s eyes bulged, and she could feel the veins popping out to streak the whites with red. She wanted to tackle this human to the flagstones and throttle her. Mothership give me strength!
The Icathian did not seem to notice the yordle’s suddenly homicidal bearing. “Ah, but you did behave quite heroically! Or at least, there exists a you who did.” The Icathian held out a palm, and conjured a flickering sphere of purple light. Within the eerie glow, the yordle saw herself, robe torn and fur singed, wrestling a crazed young man to the ground and pinning him with a brilliantly executed Exhaust spell.
She remembered it now. Except it never happened! Except that it did, didn’t it? No. She was confused. It did happen. What didn’t happen was what was showing inside the sphere, which was her staying back in the safe zone, doing some trivial thaumic cleanup, and heading home in time for a long bubble bath. Except that also happened. She remembered the bath. But she also remembered the exorcism. And the way the man had cried and hugged her. So glad to be free.
“It changed!” she blurted out. It was the best she could do. Her head felt like it was starting to fracture on the inside.
The Icathian curled her fingers back, and the sphere melted through them and vanished. “Don’t strain yourself, Summoner. Not all puzzles can be solved. Not all chaos can be…” she spoke with disdain, “…ordered. Rather, simply accept that this young man will come forward just before your hearing, you will acknowledge what he says as true, and no truth-seeking spell known to the Council will reveal otherwise. Think of it like borrowing a cup of sugar from your next-door neighbor to make some cupcakes.” The Icathian grinned, visibly pleased as she came up with a turn of phrase. “You just borrowed a cup of heroism from your other self in a conveniently adjacent dimension. One where the dying screech of a Void-being opened up a little tiny tear in reality that my associates have…pried a bit wider. Wide enough to snake a little transreality connection through to…here.” She tapped her on the forehead again.
The yordle could only nod. The Icathian did not seem to expect or desire any more of her.
“Now go. Speak to the Elders about the…solution that we discussed. To the Bilgewater problem.”
And so she did.
The third vote is complete! We had a tie between the Shadow Isles and Bandle City, despite 150 votes having been cast. I broke the tie with a coin toss, which came down tails—naturally meaning the yordles, as few Shadow Isles denizens other than Mr. Chompers possess a tail.
Next up, we’ll be voting in an ally for Bilgewater.