An Imperfect Solution

The door opened then closed. Several quiet footsteps indicated it was her attendant.

“Yes, Maire, what is it?”

“Excuse me, Miss. You have a visitor.”

“Who?”

“He refused to give me a name. Merely insisted I informed you of his presence.”

“Send him away. I am not here to be gawked at by anyone who decides to drop by.”

“Very well.”

A thought occurred to her, and she stopped Maire before she could leave. “What did he look like?”

“Miss?”

“His appearance. Describe it to me.”

“Older. His hair was unkempt and his face unshaven. A shabby overcoat. And I do not think he has had a bath in some time.”

“Very well. Bring him here, then leave us.”

“Miss, I must…”

“Just bring him, Maire. No arguments.”

It did not require sight to know that her attendant was glaring with disapproval, but Maire knew better than to voice it.

“As you say.”

Several minutes passed before the door opened again. The footsteps were slower and heavier this time.

“Why did you not give Maire your name? I almost refused your visit.”

“I prefer my comings and goings to be quieter than that. As you know.”

“Yes, well…”

“It is good seeing you again. How are you?”

“Was that a joke? Do not make me regret letting you in, engineer.”

“What? Oh, no. No joke. It is good to see you. I meant no offense. Indeed, it is your lack of sight that brings me today.”

“Is it? And why is that?”

“I may have a solution for you.”

“Do not toy with me. You work with machines. How could you solve my blindness?”

“Humor me. If it does not work, the only thing you have lost is a few minutes of your day.”

She thought for a moment, considering his reputation. “What does it involve? Describe it to me.”

“You only need to wear a special set of goggles I have constructed. They are connected to a box, which captures images and sends those images to the goggles. The goggles, in turn, stimulate the eyes, or the area around them. This should let you see the images.”

“And this works?”

“Yes. At least it should. It worked when I tested it, but I am not blind.”

“So you come to me to be your test subject.”

“I wanted to offer it to you, first.”

After another moment of consideration, she agreed. “Let us see how your contraption works, then.”

A sense of joy permeated the room as the engineer placed a pair of googles on her. She felt him adjust them and then listened to him throw switches, presumably on the box he mentioned.

“Are you ready?”

“Go ahead.”

“This may be disorienting for a moment.”

The first thing she noticed was tingling around the goggles. Then light seeped into her mind. She had nearly forgotten what it looked like. Slowly colors turned into shapes, and she could see her room. Her attention was drawn to her own body and the goggles strapped to her head.

“Oh!”

“Yes, disorienting. You are seeing from the vantage point of the box. It is not… ideal.”

“No, it is not. Still it works. You have given me quite a gift.”

“I am glad you think so.”

The engineer faced her – her body – and it was difficult to see his face from the perspective of the box.

“Is something wrong?”

“You cannot keep it.”

“I can afford to pay you for your efforts.” The thought of losing her sight, after reacquiring it, was difficult to bear.

“It is not a matter of payment. You know better than that.”

“Then what?”

“There are… imperfections in the device.”

“Such as?” Normally, it was impossible to stop him from talking for hours about his inventions. She was growing uneasy.

“For one, I need to make it all smaller. If I can get the mechanisms to take up less space, I can make it portable, fit on your head. That should minimize the perspective discrepancy.”

“But that is not the problem.”

“No.” He paused again. “My tests indicate that, over time, the machine will stop working for a given user. What remains of the sensitive powers of the eyes seem to burn out with too much exposure. In other words, this fix is temporary. And it would make your blindness immune to any other possible treatments. I am sorry.”

She laughed at that. “Sorry? My dear engineer, no other treatments have ever presented themselves. You rob me of nothing. And you have provided me at least one last opportunity to see the world around me.”

“I suppose that is true.”

“How long?”

“My best guess is six months.”

“Can I spread the time out by not using it continuously?”

“Perhaps. I believe so, but I cannot be certain.”

She chewed the inside of her cheek. When she saw how that made her face look, she immediately stopped and vowed never to do it again.

“Look at me.”

“I am looking at you.”

“No, engineer, look at the box, let me see your face.”

He bent down to the table where the box sat.

“Fix this device. Remove its imperfections. You have created something wonderful. Do better.”

“I will try…”

“No! You will. I demand it of you.”

A smile slowly spread across his face, and she knew he would satisfy her.

“Now, do you not have things to see to?”

He nodded, his face already half vacant for being lost in thought. “Indeed. If you will excuse me.”

“Of course.”

She watched him hurry out. With great reluctance, she removed the goggles. The returning darkness seemed deeper, more ominous. Under her breath, she whispered, “Hurry.”

Negotiations (part two)

The next day, I sat in a hotel room with the representatives who had been negotiating with me. I had no idea what they might really look like, but they appeared human. The technology they had demonstrated at our first meeting was sufficient to prove otherwise.

The news was on the television screen; it was showing scenes from a factory somewhere in Eastern Europe where hundreds of people stood on the roof. Responding to some signal I couldn’t detect, the people all began to jump off, falling over fifty feet to the ground.

“I can’t believe they actually did it.” The one who looked like a human female said to me.

I nodded, still staring at the television, trying to seem shocked. “I knew Howard was a bastard, but even I didn’t think he would actually go so far. This is who you are dealing with.”

The other one, who wore a male countenance, asked, “And what did he say about this?”

“He threatened to kill more of the population if you didn’t give him everything he demands.”

The two exchanged glances I couldn’t interpret. Then she spoke. “And what would you have us do?”

“I think it’s pretty clear we have to stop him before more people get hurt or even die.”

“Very well.”

*     *     *

An hour later, we had all reconvened in the meeting room. All except Tucker. Just as I was about to ask Tess where he was, the negotiators walked in.

Howard spoke before anyone else had a chance. “Was that an acceptable display?”

“So that was your doing?” the female asked.

“Indeed, I …” Before he could say another word, Howard disintegrated. I didn’t even see her draw a weapon.

I was shocked. Yes, it was the result I had been working towards, but the perfunctory nature of the execution was unexpected.

Leslie slammed her hand on the table. “What the hell? We did what you asked! Why kill him for it?”

This time I caught a glimpse of the small device in the negotiator’s hand before she used it. Without a word, Leslie vanished into dust. I began to feel a genuine fear. I thought only Howard would be at risk. Would they kill us all? Had they already gotten Tucker?

As if in response, Tucker entered the room. And the female turned her attention to me.

“Is there anyone else to implicate in this crime?”

“Well…” I began, but her glare silenced me.

Instead, Tucker spoke up. “You already know everything. Just him.” He pointed a finger at me.

“Your sister wasn’t part of it?”

“Um… well… I mean, no. Of course not,” Tucker stammered.

“Tucker, what is going on?” Tess’s voice betrayed only the slightest hint of unease.

“What did you do?” I asked, before he could answer his sister.

He turned to me with an accusatory look. “I told them I thought their demand was absurd. That’s when I found out you had made the whole thing up. They never asked us to arrange a mass suicide.”

“WHAT?!” Tess was on her feet, her face bright with anger.

“You seemed fine with it at the time,” I shot back.

“That’s because I …” Tess vanished in a cloud of dust.

“No!” Tucker sobbed.

“You heard her. She admitted to going along with this plan,” the female negotiator said calmly.

“What about him?” Tucker managed to spit out through his grief.

“Did he agree to the plan?”

“Yes.”

“I thought you said he offered to come to us to try a different route?”

“Well, yeah. But if he hadn’t lied to us, Tess never would have agreed.”

“But he didn’t agree?”

“No, he didn’t.” Tucker slumped, defeated.

I exhaled a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. “Now that that is out of the way…”

Another look from her stopped me. “Your former colleagues were unworthy of sharing the planet with their fellows. But you have proven yourself untrustworthy. We are done with you.” She turned to her partner. “Have you arranged the next meeting?”

“Yes.”

“Then let’s go. I don’t want to be here any longer.”

After they left, Tucker stood and tried to look menacing. “I will ruin you for this. For what you did to my sister.”

I laughed. “Your sister did it to herself. You can do what you want, but we’re done.” I stood and left without looking back. I still had to finalize my take over of Howard’s empire. At least this hadn’t been a total waste of time.

 

fin

Negotiations (part one)

Four people were waiting for me when I walked into the meeting room. The man at the head of the table was also easily the oldest person present. Howard Massey had become ridiculously wealthy selling weapons to anyone who could pay. To his right sat the twins, Tess and Tucker van Auk. They had made their billions in the tech sector, though no one quite understood how. I’m not even certain they knew. Finally, across from them was Leslie Switt. Her financial firm had its hand in nearly every market.

I sat down next to Leslie. I was there because I had inherited control of so many patents, money was always pouring in. Also, I had something everyone else in the room lacked, charisma. I was our spokesperson.

Howard spoke up first. “How are the negotiations going?”

“They have agreed to our terms,” I said. I paused long enough to let everyone relax and begin planning their own celebrations. “But there is a complication.”

The scowl on Howard’s face was priceless. “You just said they accepted our offer.” He didn’t try to hide his disdain for me. Every chance he got, he made clear that only he had ever made anything to earn his money. It was a wonder to me that the others never objected or crossed him in any way. I, on the other hand, was constantly on the lookout for such opportunities.

“They did, but they want proof that the population is docile, that it is as easy to control as we’ve represented it to be.”

Howard began to rise to his feet in order to launch into one of his tirades when Leslie put her hand on his arm. She was the only one he showed even the slightest bit of respect to. She turned back to me. “What did you tell them?”

“I asked them what sort of proof they wanted.”

“And what did they say?” I had seen Leslie be abrasive on countless occasions, but she was only ever pleasant toward me.

“That’s why I called this meeting. I needed your input and agreement. They want us to arrange a mass suicide. At least a hundred people.”

“How the hell do they expect us to do that?” Howard screamed.

“They said it was up to us. If they are as easily controlled as we’ve said, it shouldn’t be a difficult feat.”

“Still,” Leslie spoke again, “that is a rather brutish approach.”

Tucker nodded with more energy than I think I’d ever seen from him.

Tess, who was almost always the one to speak for them both, sounded rather matter-of-fact. “And if we do this, we have a deal?”

I nodded. “Yes. Passage to another planet that meets all of our requirements as well as the resources to live as comfortably as possible.”

“And access to the bio tech they showed us?” Howard had calmed down as soon as he was reminded of what we stood to gain.

I nodded again. “In exchange for Earth, we will have everything we ever wanted. We just need to to prove the malleability of the people. So what do you all think?”

Tucker gave his sister a worried look, but she avoided turning his way. Leslie was chewing the inside of her lip, which she always did when she was weighing out risks and rewards. And Howard, uncharacteristically, was lost in thought.

“I can tell them no. See if there is some other way forward,” I offered.

Howard shook his head. “We would look weak, not in control. They came to us; if we started showing hesitation, they might think we weren’t the people they should be dealing with.”

Leslie indicated her agreement. “No sense getting squeamish now. The planet is doomed. We ought to see this through.”

Tess had to push Tucker off of her arm. “We, too, support going ahead.” Tucker seemed about to speak, but a look from his sister stopped him.

“Okay, so how do we proceed?” I stared at Howard, knowing he would have an idea.

“I will arrange it,” he said on cue. “Tell them to pay attention to this location,” he wrote down a place in China, “Wednesday, 4:00 pm local time. That gives me a little over 24 hours to set everything up through my contacts. Will that satisfy them?”

“It should. I’ll make sure of it.”

“Fine. I have work to do.” Howard stood and left the room without another word.

Everyone else sat quietly for a few moments until Tucker finally found his voice. “I can’t believe you’re all okay with this.”

Leslie sighed as Tess looked him in the eye. “Do you want to stay here? When they take over?”

“Well, no, but…”

“No buts. This is what we have to do, Tucker. This is how we survive.”

Tucker’s courage gave out, and he slumped back into silence.

“Well, as much fun as this has been,” I said, standing up, “I should go update the other side.” I looked at Tucker. “This will all be over soon.” I didn’t bother looking at anyone else as I left.

The Spell 2 (part five)

John woke first. He seemed to be floating in mid-air, a bright grey nothingness spread in every direction around him. His two friends floated nearby and had also begun to stir. There didn’t appear to be any ground under them and no landmarks to orient himself to. The boatman stood nearby.

“You are not used to the Astral Plane.”

“No, I guess I’m not,” John replied. 

“Well, you are delivered. My job is done.”

“Wait! Can you give us any advice? How do we find our way around?”

“Your companion asked to come here. I assume he knows how to get on. In any event, I did what I was paid to do. Good luck.” With that, the boatman stepped through a disk of swirling white and disappeared.

Jason and Kevin were now fully alert and looking around. Jason slowly stopped turning as he floated and settled into a standing position.

“How did you do that?” John asked, with more than a little surprise.

“Don’t you remember our last visit here?”

“No. What am I supposed to remember?”

By this time, Kevin had also righted himself. “Movement here is best accomplished by concentration. Just think yourself standing. When we move, just think about moving. Takes a little focus, but it’s not hard.”

“Says the mage,” Jason muttered.

John thought about standing upright and his body reoriented itself to match his friends. Feeling less out of sorts, he looked around again. It felt like he could see forever, but there was nothing to look at. “Why did you want to come here, Jason?”

“Because we should be able to find a way back home from here. Unlike the Ethereal Plane, there is only one Astral Plane. All the various Prime Material Planes link to here. We just have to find the doorway to ours.”

“How do we do that? There’s nothing around.”

“Do you see that?”

John followed Jason’s finger as he pointed. For a moment, he didn’t see anything, but then he caught a glimpse of a blue circle. It nearly blended in with the emptiness around it. “What is that?”

“It’s a portal. Those are going to be all around. We just have to find the right one to take us home.”

“Could that be the one?”

“No. That goes to… I can’t remember. But we’re looking for metallic colors. Our home should be behind one of them.”

“Well, let’s get started,” Kevin said.

The three began exploring, looking for color disks. They found several, unevenly spaced and appearing at odd angles. It took finding many different colors before stumbling upon a silvery one.

“This could be it!” Kevin shouted.

But Jason shook his head. “No. Silver represents the plane we came from. It would be the necromancer’s world. We’re looking for a different one.”

“Are you sure?” John asked while staring at the circle.

“Yeah. I remember that much. Silver is always the players’ home plane. That’s the necromancer’s plane.”

“That’s the home plane for our characters,” John said. “But it isn’t our home plane. Look.”

Jason stared at the circle until it cleared. On the other side appeared their school building. Before he could react, John was already through the portal. Kevin stopped before following suit.

“Come on, Jason. We’re finally home.”

He wasn’t sure he believed this was all over, but he went through the portal after his friends. They stood in front of their school in the late afternoon sun. Everything seemed back to normal, except…

“Wait!” Jason yelled. “Where’s Matt?”

The other two looked around, each of their faces betraying guilt for having forgotten about their friend.

“Did we leave him behind?” Kevin asked fearfully.

“When was the last time we heard him?” John added.

“Just before we left the Ethereal Plane,” Jason said.

“We have to go back for him.”

John gestured helplessly. “How do we do that, Kevin? I don’t see the portal anymore.”

“No. They’re usually one way,” Jason said.

Just then a police car pulled up and an officer got out of the driver’s side. “John? Kevin? Jason?”

“Yes, sir,” John answered.

“You’re parents have been worried sick. Where have you three been?”

“We…” John tried to think of an answer that might make sense. “We don’t know. We just woke up here.”

The officer gave them a skeptical look. “You don’t know where you’ve been?”

“No, sir.”

“You’re friend Matt said that you were together after playing a game, but that he didn’t know where you would go.”

“Matt? Matt’s here? Where?” Kevin asked.

“At his house, I assume. But we need to know where you were.”

“We told you, we don’t remember. But we need to go check on Matt.”

“Matt is fine. He didn’t disappear. You three did.”

The three friends looked at each other, confused.

“Matt didn’t disappear?” John finally asked.

“No. Now come with me to the station. We’ll call your parents from there.”

The end. For now.

The Spell 2 (part four)

“It’s a demon!” Kevin tried to whisper and yell at the same time.

Jason drew his sword.

“You guys don’t want to talk to him first?” Matt asked, uncertainty running through his voice.

“We don’t talk with demons,” Jason said.

The figure hadn’t moved. It simply continued to stare and grin, making them feel more unsettled with each passing moment.

“Who are you?” John asked loudly.

“What are you doing?” Jason whispered.

“It hasn’t attacked us. Maybe it can help.”

“A demon?”

“We don’t know that. Kevin was just guessing.”

“If you are done bickering amongst yourselves, I would be happy to answer the question.” The voice was the sound of an arid desert wind. It wasn’t frightening, not exactly, but it spoke of death.

John waved angrily at Jason to keep him quiet. “Apologies. My friends and I had not expected to meet anyone here. Please go ahead.”

It was impossible, but the smile got bigger, as though the bone of the skull itself changed shape. “Your friend is not correct. I am a daemon, not a demon. Your kind often ignores these distinctions. You can tell the difference because I am not currently chewing on your bones. I can offer you travel around the planes. For a price.”

“What’s the price?”

“What do you have?”

John turned back to his friends. “Do you guys have anything?”

Kevin and Jason both just looked at him, shock on their faces.

“What?”

Kevin answered. “You are acting like this is normal. How do we know we can trust… it. A daemon? What is that even?”

“Look, I don’t know if we can trust it, but if it can get us closer to home, isn’t it worth trying? We’re stuck, with only a vague sense of where we’re going. This is the first help we’ve come across. I’m willing to give it a shot. Now what do we have?”

“We’ve got Rob’s ring.” Jason glared at John.

“What? That’s mine. I found it.”

“Well unless you found some pricey gems, too, that’s what we’ve got. We didn’t arrive here with any of our characters’ money. The only other things of value we have are our weapons, which we need in order to have any hope of surviving this nightmare. The ring is the only thing we can spare.”

“But…”

“Jason’s right, John. We’ve got nothing else. You want to see if it can take us home? Your ring is the price we can afford.”

John looked from Kevin to Jason and then back at Kevin. “Matt, any help here?”

“I don’t know, John. I can’t think of anything else you could use.”

The creature spoke again. “If you are not interested in my offer, I will take my leave. Good luck.”

John quickly turned back to him. “Wait! I have a ring of protection. Will it be enough to take all three of us?”

“Show me the ring.”

John took several steps forward as he held out the ring. Nearing the daemon, he noticed that the fog on the ground had almost completely hid a river. The creature stood on a flat craft floating on the surface. Faster than John could see, it snatched the ring from his hand and studied it carefully.

“Very well,” it said upon concluding its inspection. “All three of you. Get on the boat.”

Kevin and Jason hesitated but finally followed John in getting on the craft.

“Where do you want to go?”

Jason spoke up. “We’re headed to our native prime material plane. Can you take us there?”

“No.”

“What?” John sounded incredulous. “But I gave you the ring.”

“Indeed. But finding the correct plane for you would take too much of my time. The ring is not sufficient. Unless you have something else…”

John shook his head.

“Then get off my boat.”

Jason spoke again. “We paid you. Take us to the Astral Plane. That should be simple enough.”

The daemon looked at him for a long moment. “Oh very well. I can take you that far.”

Using the pole, it pushed the craft toward the middle of the river, and the current moved them swiftly along. No one spoke, though both Kevin and John kept giving Jason questioning looks. Jason ignored them and watched the boatman as well as where they were headed. The boatman was focused on steering his craft and paid no attention to any of them.

“What’s that?” Jason asked after they had traveled for a while. His friends looked ahead and could only make out an indistinct darker area some distance off.

“That is the entrance to the Astral Plane, as you requested.”

“It doesn’t look much like an entrance.” Jason squinted to see more detail.

“Few things appear as they are here.”

“It’s a tornado!” Jason exclaimed.

“A cyclone. But that is what I said. It is the entrance we seek.”

“You’re going to kill us!”

“Do not be ridiculous. It is not my place to kill. I simply deliver people where they need to go.”

“Using tornadoes?”

“Cyclones. They are more expedient than the curtains or other gates.”

They had gotten much closer to the violently swirling column of mist. Kevin and John had both sat down to make themselves more stable. Jason tried to judge how far the river bank was and whether they could make it.

“I would not leave the boat. If you do, I cannot say what might happen to you.”

Jason looked for anything he might hang on to, but there was nothing. He sat down next to his friends and put his head between his knees. The boatman began to laugh. They entered the cyclone, and the world turned upside down.

The Spell 2 (part three)

“Kevin, have you seen this ring before?” Jason was pointing at John’s right hand. On his ring finger was a plain silver band, glowing with a faint bluish light.

“No. I don’t think I have.”

“Me either.”

Just then, John began to move. He coughed once, and then again, before his eyes fluttered open.

Jason leaned over him. “Are you okay?”

“I… I think so. Where are we?”

Jason sat back and looked around as though he were trying to figure out how to answer. John sat up and followed his gaze, looking for clues.

“The Ethereal Plane,” Kevin finally answered. “You got hit with the dragon’s breath attack. You’ve been out of it for awhile.”

“Matt, why didn’t you do anything?”

“Matt’s not there,” Jason replied. “We haven’t heard from him since we went through the portal.”

John looked at Kevin who nodded. “So what do we do now?”

Jason shrugged. “We were trying to find our way to a portal, but we haven’t gotten anywhere.”

“We have to go back.”

“I said we were trying, but we can’t find an exit.”

“No, we have to go back to the necromancer’s castle. We have to find Matt.”

“Are you crazy?” Jason’s voice began to rise toward hysteria. “We just barely go out alive. You especially.”

“I think John might be right, Jason.”

“Not you too! I thought you wanted to get out of here as much as I did.”

“I do. But I don’t feel right leaving Matt behind.”

“You’re leaving me behind?”

“Matt!” Jason shouted. “Thank God. These two wanted to go back to the necromancer.”

“Matt, where were you?” Kevin asked.

“I… I guess I got a little lost. It’s harder to get around here. But you all seem to be okay.”

“I’m just glad you’re back,” Jason said. “Now you can help us find the entrance to the Plane of Air.”

“Air?” John sounded confused.

“Yeah, we probably wouldn’t survive the other inner planes,” Jason explained. “We can get through Air and find our own Ethereal Plane from there.”

“Oh. Yeah. I guess I forgot how this was supposed to work.”

“Well, you were out for a while,” Kevin reminded him.

“So what are you guys doing?” Matt asked. “How are you going to get to Air?”

“Well, we’re at a curtain, but we can’t tell what… color…” Jason trailed off.

“Turquoise,” Kevin said with surprise. “I swear we couldn’t tell what color it was just a minute ago.”

“Well it’s got a color now.” John looked at the curtain for the first time. “What’s it mean?”

Neither Kevin nor Jason answered. Matt finally spoke up. “On the other side is the Prime Material Plane you just came from. The necromancer.”

“So what color are we looking for?”

“Blue. Air should be blue.”

“Well, let’s get going then.” Kevin and Jason were still staring at the curtain. “What’s wrong with you two?”

Slowly, Jason turned away. “That color wasn’t there before.”

“So?”

“So how did it change? Why did it change?” Kevin had turned around as well.

“Guys. We’re in a different plane. The rules aren’t the same here. Tell them, Matt.”

“He’s right.”

“Thank you. It’s always weird here. We’re just not used to seeing it first hand. It’s been Matt’s description before.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Jason conceded.

“Of course I am. Now, which direction do we go?”

“We don’t know,” Kevin said. “We were hoping Matt could tell us if he showed up.”

“Matt?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t map out the plane. I just figured the necromancer might use it.”

“Okay… I guess we just start walking and look for blue.”

John started following the curtain. Jason and Kevin fell in behind him. Kevin kept looking at the curtain to make sure they were actually moving. They were. John’s explanation made some sense, but Kevin wasn’t sure. It wasn’t just a change from one weird thing to another. It was like everything had been in stasis, and now it was alive. There had to be some kind of explanation for it, but he couldn’t think of anything.

They traveled without talking for what seemed like hours before Jason broke the silence.

“John?”

“Yeah? Why can’t we find any blue?”

“It’s a big place. What’s that ring on your finger?”

“What? What ring?”

“On your right hand.”

Kevin stopped puzzling over his mystery to listen to his friends’ conversation.

“Oh that? It’s just my ring of protection. You remember. I got it a couple of adventures ago.”

“Oh yeah…” Jason was trying to think back.

Kevin remembered right away. “No, you didn’t. Rob got the ring.”

“No. Rob got a dagger.”

“Wait. Kevin’s right. Rob is a cleric; he can’t use a dagger. You got the dagger because you said you needed it for backstabbing. It is Rob’s ring.”

“Uh, guys.” Matt’s warning went unnoticed.

“I’m telling you, it’s mine.”

“And I’m saying you stole it from Rob.” Jason sounded angry.

“I didn’t steal it from Rob.”

“Guys!”

“Okay, fine, it’s Rob’s, but I didn’t steal it. I picked it up when I found our stuff…”

“GUYS!” Matt’s yell finally got their attention.

Standing about twenty feet away was a dark robed figure. The hood on the robe was up, and only the lower part of the face could be seen. The figure held a long pole in a hand that was little more than skin stretched tightly over bone. The face, too, was gaunt and skeletal. It wore the terrifying smile of a skull as it stared at them.

The Spell 2 (part two)

Kevin looked around. They had moved deeper into the Ethereal Plane away from the portal. Now they were near several very large sheets hanging from above. They seemed to stretch off in either direction as far as he could see, billowing in a wind he couldn’t feel. Colors and lights moved in the sheets, though he couldn’t detect a pattern to it.

“Are we safe here?”

Jason looked up at the sheets, too. “Yeah, we’re deep into the plane now. The necromancer shouldn’t be able to find us, at least not easily. Those curtains mark the boundary between this plane and the inner planes.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I read the books.” Jason’s voice took on a superior tone.

“I read them,” Kevin said, defensively.

“You’re mom won’t even let you have them. Anyway, they put out a book last year on all the plane stuff. It’s why Matt ran that adventure.”

“I guess it’s a good thing you read them. So where do we go now?”

“Shouldn’t we wait for Matt? John’s still not awake.”

“Is he still breathing?”

Jason put his hand near John’s face. “Yeah.”

“Well, maybe we should wait.”

They sat in silence for what seemed like hours, hoping to hear Matt’s voice. John never stirred the entire time. The fog around them swirled according to its own rhythms, but no other creature came near them.

“Jason, aren’t there inhabitants of the Ethereal Plane?”

“Yeah. And other creatures use it to travel to other planes.”

“So why haven’t we seen any?”

“I… don’t know…”

They looked around, but there was nothing other than the fog and the curtains. “This place is giving me the creeps,” Jason finally concluded.

“Yeah. But you said we should wait for Matt.”

“Well where is he?”

Kevin shrugged. “Maybe he’s stuck back where we came from. He created that world. Maybe he can’t leave it.”

“We can’t stay here forever. If we get out, we’ll try to find Matt, but I think we’ve waited long enough.”

“What about John? He still hasn’t woken up.”

Jason picked up their friend easily. “Everything is really light, like it doesn’t have any weight. I can carry him.”

Kevin stood. “Okay, let’s go. Which direction?”

Jason looked at the curtain. “I’m not sure, but we want to find a stretch of blue. That should be an entrance to the Plane of Air. The other 3 elemental planes would kill us almost immediately.”

“Plane of Air it is.” Kevin started walking alongside the curtain. It was an odd feeling. He was moving, but his feet weren’t actually touching anything. He’d never felt anything like this before. As they went, though, he felt more and more disconcerted. Several minutes passed before he realized why. No matter how much they moved, the curtain never changed.

“Is this supposed to happen?”

“What?” Jason replied from behind him.

“The color on the curtain, the lights, they never seem to change. We don’t seem to be going anywhere.”

“No. That isn’t supposed to happen.”

Kevin stopped moving. “What are we doing wrong?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. What I remember, we should just follow the curtain. It can take awhile, but we should get somewhere.”

“Maybe the color doesn’t change for awhile?”

“That’s possible. I’m really not sure.”

Kevin nodded and began moving again, determined to find some difference. Maybe this color went on for miles, but it had to change eventually. He looked closely at the curtain and stopped abruptly. What color was it? It had a color, certainly, but he couldn’t make it out.

“Jason, what color is this?”

“Seriously? It’s obviously… Huh? I can’t tell.”

“Me either.”

“But we were just talking about it.”

“Yeah, that’s what made me think about it. We never said what the color was. You said we were looking for blue, but I can’t even say what color it is now.”

“We really are stuck, aren’t we?”

“It looks like it.”

“And John’s still out. Matt’s still gone.”

“Yeah.”

“Kevin, I’m scared.”

“Yeah. Me too.”