Strangers in Two Strange Lands
The midmorning sun shone brightly through the windows of the Castle of the Crown. Alexander, who had been up most of the previous night, was slumped over his desk, alternately staring at the nearly finished device in the middle of the desk and the ancient book that dictated how to complete it. He had tried to decipher the final instructions for hours with no success. Caliphim and Allaria were starting to grow genuinely concerned about him, and Alexander considered himself lucky that his own parents weren't there to worry over him as well.
He had stopped working on the device in the wee hours of the morning and tried to sleep. He didn't want to sleep, though. His dreams would be about Shadrack or Cassima, and he didn't want to dream of either – it would just remind him how short his time to find the sorcerer and bring his wife back was becoming.
He lay on his bed, still fully clothed and staring blankly at the canopy above, trying not to think of the empty spot beside him. He glanced over at his bedside table to see Cassima's heart-shaped locket resting by his other possessions. In the chaos of the previous day, he had nearly forgotten about it. He picked it up and began rubbing it between his fingers like a worry-stone, and the next thing he knew, he had woken up the following morning with the locket still clutched in his hand.
He hadn't let go of the locket the entire morning. Even as he was poring over the magic book, he still held the golden charm tightly in his palm.
"'From your love, take what you hold,'" he read yet again, "'And watch the layers of time unfold…' I don't understand! What is this supposed to mean? Does it mean to take my heart and somehow incorporate it into this device and…"
He suddenly looked up at the device. Its metal strips gleamed brightly in the sunlight, and the gems set in it sparkled. In the center of the contraption were several metal prongs surrounding an empty spot – the place where the last crucial element had to be placed. He then looked at the gold locket in his hand, then back at the device.
"To travel to the place you seek, for your other you must speak; from your love, take what you hold, and watch the layers of time unfold?" Suddenly, everything became clear to him. Cassima's locket had to be the missing piece to the device. It not only fit the cryptic description perfectly, but it would fit the apparatus perfectly as well.
I hope this works, Alexander thought as he slowly lifted the locket up and gently slipped it into the opening bordered by the prongs. The golden heart fit securely into the opening, then began to glow brightly. As soon as it did, Alexander knew that his efforts hadn't been in vain. He let out a shout of triumph as the device filled the room with a blinding white light.
Edgar didn't sleep well that night in Kolyma. The sound of the rain combined with the hardness of the slab he was lying on and the tempest of thoughts in his head kept him awake for several hours. When he finally did sleep, his dreams were fragmented and confusing, like the dreams from the previous evening, only worse.
As the morning began to blossom in the east, however, the visions in his head became calmer and less chaotic, and as sunlight came creeping into the cave, he began to have a real dream.
He was standing on an elegantly carved marble balcony that was covered with flowering rose vines. The landscape beyond the balcony was filled with enormous, billowing clouds, and a low sun painted everything a mellow golden color. Islands with ornate castles and towers constructed upon them hung suspended in the clouds, and Edgar knew all too well where he was. He also knew when he was, too.
He looked to his right. Rosella was standing there, looking as beautiful as she had been the first time he had seen her. Edgar's heart fluttered. He knew this scene all too well. It was shortly after Rosella and Valanice had helped save Etheria and Eldritch, and he was now taking Rosella on a tour of Etheria. He had just invited her to step out on the balcony of his parents' castle. It was a lovely view, and a private one as well…and he had something he wanted to ask her.
How nervous he had been then. He was so afraid that she would reject him, just as she had the first time…he had made up his mind to be less forward when asking her this time, but he was still so fearful of her saying "no" that he barely got up the courage to ask her at all…
"Rosella," he said softly, "You've been in my heart since the day I first met you."
Rosella modestly looked away. Despite her boundless bravery, she could still be just as shy as any fragile maiden at times. It made Edgar love her all the more.
He cautiously held out a hand. Rosella looked at it dubiously.
He gently clasped both of her delicate, yet strong hands in his.
"…could you give me the honor of…courting you?"
He looked into her eyes as steadily as he could while she contemplated the question. It wasn't as torturous a wait as it was the second time around, though. Edgar knew what would happen – she would say yes, they would kiss for the first time, then after much planning, break the news to their parents…
It was Rosella who had said that word. It felt like a knife in Edgar's heart. Something was wrong. This wasn't supposed to happen…
"I'm sorry, Edgar," Rosella continued, "But I hardly even know you. I told my mother I didn't want to marry yet, and I still don't."
The golden light covering the land seemed to suddenly grow slightly duller, and the clouds seemed to become darker and more turbulent. Edgar began to grow very worried. What was going on?
"And look at your history!" Rosella said scornfully, "You get kidnapped twice and get your mind taken over by an evil fairy twice as well! You even came close to blowing up your own kingdom! Did you think I'd want marry someone like that? Hah!"
She grinned menacingly as Edgar stared at her in disbelief. The surrounding lands became darker and more frightening. When Rosella spoke again, it was in her usual gentle, beautiful voice, but what she said in that voice cut Edgar to the quick:
"I'm really sorry, Edgar, but I just don't love you."
There was a cataclysmic explosion off in the distance. Edgar whirled around to see the volcano looming in the distance. Its crater was bubbling with white-hot lava and streamers of molten rock were streaking into the sky. It was erupting.
Suddenly, an earthquake that made every brick in the castle's foundations tremble almost knocked Edgar off his feet. In the shock, he let go of Rosella's hands. The next thing he knew, he had lost his balance and toppled over the side of the balcony, unable to keep from screaming as he did. He was falling…falling…falling…
Cassima was awakened by a loud cry that reverberated through the small cave, reaching a tremendous volume. It halted abruptly as a loud thud cut if off. She sat up and whirled around to see Edgar lying in a heap on his back on the floor of the cave. It looked as if he had just fallen off of the rock slab he was sleeping on.
Cassima leapt off her own slab and hurried over to his side. Edgar was still screaming, his eyes darting wildly around the cave.
"Edgar!" Cassima exclaimed, "What's wrong??"
Edgar stared at the ceiling, his breathing quick and shallow.
"Rosella…" he murmured. "She said she didn't love me…she kept on talking…everything shattered…"
Cassima might have guessed a nightmare to be the cause of his consternation. She knelt down beside him and put a hand on his shoulder.
"It was only a dream, Edgar," she said consolingly. "Don't let it destroy you…"
"But she's right!" Edgar cried. "I hardly know her, I end up in trouble all the time, she's so much braver than me…she's…"
Cassima firmly clutched Edgar's hand in hers. He stared at it, then at her, looking as if he still wasn't entirely awake.
"Edgar, in the time that I've known you, you've shown me someone who is just as courageous and intelligent as Alexander and his sister. Rosella loves you, even if she doesn't want to marry you."
"She doesn't love me," Edgar babbled, "She never loved me. She just feels sorry for me, like everyone else – Edgar, the pitiful prince of Etheria who gets changed into a monster twice in his stupid life, the idiotic weak-willed son of the king and queen of the fairies…stupid, stupid, stupid…"
Cassima had never seen anyone look as frightened and anguished as Edgar was. His brown eyes were wide and darting about, and the light stubble that had grown on his chin added to his delerious, abandoned appearance. She felt utterly helpless seeing him in such a tortured state of mind, when nothing that she said or did seemed capable of calming him.
For a moment, she silently watched as he continued to mutter incoherently to himself, then she did the first thing that came to her – she quickly but firmly kissed him on the cheek.
Edgar fell silent immediately, staring at Cassima with a frozen look of shock on his face, looking as alarmed as if Cassima had bitten him. Although her pride wouldn't let her show her feelings outwardly, Cassima felt just as horrified.
She had just kissed a man who wasn't her husband. Why? What had possessed her to do such a thing? Was she out of her head? Had her proper upbringing suddenly abandoned her?
After several endless seconds, Cassima took a deep, shuddering breath and spoke:
"If Rosella were here now, she would have done that," she said, unable to suppress the tremor in her voice. "Pretend that was from her."
Edgar remained mute, gaping at Cassima with a mixture of horror and astonishment.
"Besides," Cassima continued, "I wanted to show you how grateful I was for your help last night."
She showed Edgar her arm. The mark of the wyvern's bite was almost completely gone, leaving nothing but a slight bumpy area on her skin and a few dry flakes where the poultice had not been rubbed off. In the excitement, Cassima had nearly forgotten what had happened to her the previous evening, and now there was hardly anything to show for it except for a indistinct mark on her flesh. Edgar's poultice had certainly exceeded expectations.
"Now on your feet, Edgar," Cassima said, rising to her own feet as she spoke. "We have a pair of pendants to test."
"We do?" Edgar asked, his silent spell finally broken. He paused, recalling what he had related to Cassima the previous afternoon about combining their pendants.
"Oh, yeah, right. Let's go."
Cassima turned and began walking towards the cave entrance, through which golden sunlight streamed. She paused only to gather up the bundle of clothing that had served as her pillow the night before.
As Edgar got up, he absently touched his hair and discovered that not only was it still unpleasantly damp, but a lock of it was sticking almost straight up – he must have slept on it at an awkward angle. Embarrassed, he raked the offending cowlick down. He would definitely have to do something about his hair's length once he returned home.
Edgar quickly gathered up his now much-dirtied cloak and refastened it about his shoulders. Scrimshaw dove into the hood of the cloak almost immediately afterwards, then Edgar followed Cassima towards the cave’s mouth. By the time they left the cave, they were walking side by side.
They stopped in the middle of a wide clearing near the center of the large plateau. The sun was shining cheerily, but the grass around their feet was still wet from the previous night's rain.
"So you think that bringing these pendants together will somehow bring us together and send us to the exact same place and time?" Cassima asked.
"Yes," Edgar replied, "But it's just a guess. If they do work, it's just a matter of us thinking of the right destination."
"Which I think should be Daventry," Cassima replied. "Yesterday I met an oracle who was able to let me speak with Alexander, and together we surmised that Shadrack…"
"…Is going to kill the king who ruled before Graham?" Edgar interrupted.
Cassima was taken aback, but she continued her speech nonetheless.
"Yes. It's the only explanation that fits that paper I found and you deciphered. If we focus on Daventry and Shadrack, we should be able to get there in time to stop him."
"But how do we stop him?" Edgar asked. "Did you find any way to do it?"
"No," Cassima admitted, shaking her head. "But we should find a way. We've been successful with everything else so far, haven't we?"
"I certainly hope you're right," Edgar muttered. "But how can we visualize both Daventry and Shadrack? We've never seen either of them."
"We'll just have to try," Cassima said. "It's all that we can do now. Now let's stop stalling and do it."
Edgar nodded in agreement. He removed the pendant from around his neck and held it in the palm of his hand. Cassima did the same and held her pendant out towards his. With his help, she fit it into the negative space formed by Edgar's pendant. The two interlocked perfectly, forming two blue-green lengths that wrapped around each other like a stylized whirlpool.
There was a heavy pause, then a low, pulsing sound seemed to resonate from the twin spirals, and at the same time, the space around them seemed to ripple and flex. Then a pure, white, swirling light that almost outshone the sun burst forth, bathing Edgar and Cassima and everything that surrounded them in the blinding glow. As brilliant as the light was, Edgar and Cassima could still see each other clearly. Both were mute with astonishment, and for a moment, both were unable to even think in the presence of this awesome occurrence.
Then simultaneously, they began hearing faint, barely coherent whispers, coming not from anywhere around them, but from within them. Gradually, the voices became louder, clearer, and increasingly familiar.
In a flash, the two suddenly realized what was happening, and each one knew that the other had in that same instant. Edgar's hypothesis had been right, but neither of them had considered the implications of it. They were being combined. Not physically, but mentally. Some force was causing their minds to unite and think as a single entity, twining them together, just like the twin stone spirals, and the whispers they were hearing within their heads were each other's thoughts.
The sensation was almost impossible to describe. It was as if they were trying to touch hands through a sheet of gauze – though they could feel the warmth and the shape of each other's fingertips through the thin, porous fabric, there was still no real contact made between them.
The realization of what was taking place made both of them recoil slightly. The concept terrified both of them. It was a primordial, instinctual fear of the unknown, yet at the same time, they both suspected that they knew just what would happen if their minds met completely, and that made them fearful as well.
There was still wariness that each felt regarding the other, which made them fight whatever was trying to bring them together. Cassima and Edgar struggled against the force, keeping their minds as far apart as they were able, which was still close enough for them to overhear each other's thoughts. However, the thoughts they were hearing were only those on the surface of each other's minds. It was the thoughts that lurked below the surface, deep within the dark, seldom-visited corners of their minds that they were afraid of hearing…and of being heard.
What's going on? Cassima.
I think the pendants are working. Edgar.
What should we do now?
Try to visualize Daventry and Shadrack, I suppose.
They tried, but the persisting power attempting to unite their thoughts interfered with their concentration. Not only that, the murmur of the swift-moving thoughts that kept running through their heads was almost deafening. Edgar found himself remembering Cassima's conversation with Neptune's Channeller, and Cassima was recalling the talk Edgar had with his reflection. There was no way they could keep each other's thoughts out of their minds. It was all they could do to try and remember what Daventry looked like, based on the descriptions of it given to them by Rosella and Alexander, and picture Shadrack, based on all they knew about him from the people they had met on their journey.
The mental descriptions of the land and the sorcerer bounced back and forth between them, gaining more detail as they passed from Edgar's mind to Cassima's mind and back again, until it seemed that both of them were thinking the exact same thing. Seemed. No matter how much they focused themselves, however, neither of them began fading away.
Maybe it doesn't work when we're not wearing the pendants, Cassima thought.
But it has to work somehow, Edgar protested. Wait…maybe if I…
He slowly raised the hand that wasn't holding his pendant and held it motionless in the air in which the blinding light still spun. Then he began lowering it, and as he did, a tiny vertical black slit began appearing in the air, forming just above his hand and growing larger as he continued to lower it. Cassima stared at the growing opening in astonishment. It was as if Edgar was slicing a hole in the air itself.
I guess my magic isn't limited to conjuring balls of light or rejuvenating shrubs anymore, Edgar thought. Practice makes perfect.
He continued enlarging the slit until it was about four feet tall and stopped just a few inches above the ground. Peering cautiously through the slit, Cassima was startled to see not a flat blackness, but a vast twinkling of stars – more stars than she had ever seen in her life.
What is it?
I'm not certain myself, Edgar confessed, But at a guess, I'd say it's merely a representation of possibility. Just as there could be anything out among those stars, there could be anything waiting for us on the other side of this opening.
But we know it's Daventry, right?
If we visualized it strongly enough, it is.
Then let's go…but what should we do with our pendants?
I think it's safe to separate them now – but we'd better hurry through the opening as soon as we do.
Cassima pulled her pendant free of Edgar's. Immediately, the light began to fade, and the opening began to shrink in size. Cassima hesitated a moment, then leapt through, followed closely by Edgar. The slit healed itself within seconds of their departure.
As confident as Edgar and Cassima had appeared to each other, deep within their minds was a gnawing feeling that something had gone wrong with the experiment, and when they emerged on the other side of the starry portal, they realized that their suspicions were quite accurate.
The reasons for their doubts were not merely because they had fought against whatever power the pendants unleashed when they were interlocked, thus probably inhibiting the charms' ability to function properly. When the opening to another world was created, Edgar had been wondering about Aubrey, that strange man he met in Aeolus in which he saw so much of himself, and Cassima had been wondering how Shadrack could possibly be conquered once they found him, and whether he had any weaknesses they could exploit.
Aside from the description of Daventry, there was only one other thought shared by the duo, a thought which had originated in Edgar's mind, taken root in Cassima's, then returned to his even stronger than before:
What in Levanter's name were all those bejeweled, arc-shaped trinkets that kept turning up all over the place?
Choose your path: