Fel (James Galloway)

Demons Bane

Chapter 3

Money.

It was a hard thing to admit, but despite ascending into this mystical realm where gods dwelled and material things shouldn't matter, his biggest issue was now money.

This was something of a novel situation for Tarrin. Always before, he knew he could always get by with his hunting skills, and if it came down to him needing something, he could simply use magic to get it. But this was something that was new to him, and something of a serious inconvenience.

Simply put, Tarrin needed money. Lots of it. And he needed it soon. The sage that found the answer to his question was going to demand a large sum of krin. Tarrin knew this, he understood it, and his idea around this had been typical of his style of plan-making; deal with it when the issue came up. This was nothing new for Tarrin, whose plans often had shortcomings that forced him to make them up by the seat of his trousers. His ideas when he came to this juncture were basicly to steal what he needed from another. He hadn't really thought more of it than that, trusting on his ability to take what he needed when he needed it.

Krin itself was an unusual currency in that it wasn't made of a precious metal or rare gem... it was solid energy. Krin coins were the result of a being or creature investing some of its own energy into a solid form, and they could be created by anyone who knew the proper spells. Wizard magic could create krin coins, transforming magical energy into the solid, ceramic-feeling milky white discs. And Tarrin had also discovered that krin could be consumed by certain outer-planar creatures like food, and that there were some specialized Wizard spells that drew on the power of krin to cause them to work. Gods as well could convert the energy within krin into magical effects, though their limitless, inexhaustible power made this irrelevant.

Another curious aspect of the krin was that the coins weren't permanent. The life cycle of a krin coin was only about five years, according to Szizazz. They became unstable as time passed, their surfaces began to pit and tarnish, and then the coin broke down and evaporated, reverting back into the energy that had been used to create it. The value of a coin about to break down was no less, however. In fact, there were certain merchants and vendors who made a business out of buying unstable coins and selling them to those who consumed them as food.

Tarrin found the idea of krin to be mystifying. It was a form of money that could be created in unlimited amounts, it was not permanent like gold, but its value never lessened because creatures and beings destroyed them to unlock the energy they contained. The idea of edible money was rather amusing to him. Because of that odd relationship, krin had evolved into the most common form of currency within the outer planes, with only the trafficking in entrapped souls among the denizens of the lower planes anywhere near as popular.

Jemrik the Wise devoted his life to the study of the effect of the outer planes on magical forces, and it was a worthwhile field of study. Here in Crossroads, not all Wizard spells functioned, and some didn't function normally. Spells from the Divination school of magic didn't work at all, for example, and creatures not native to the outer planes could not utilize magic from the Conjuration school within Crossroads. The Demon Tarrin had fought had managed to summon up a swarm of venemous insects using its magic, but Tarrin would not be able to do the same thing, even if he had the proper spell. But some enterprising Wizard had managed to figure out a way to allow a Wizard to cast a special version of some Conjuration school spells by using the energy within krin as part of the power, using them as a material component. Those spells were only spells that conjured forth denizens of the outer planes, but it was more than what a Wizard would usually be able to do.

The spell to create krin was not something that was within Tarrin's spellbooks, but Szizazz had it. She shared it with him willingly after she found out he was a Wizard, for she was a Wizard as well. She traded it to him for a spell out of his own book. The spell to create krin was a very simple spell, one of the first that any neophyte Wizard could learn after he progressed beyond cantrips, but the problem was, it only created one krin at a time. She told him that she knew that there was another, stronger spell that created more than one krin at a time, but she didn't have that one.

So, he found himself facing a dilemma. He could try to create the krin himself using Wizard spells, by trying to locate that other spell that Szizazz didn't have and hoping that it could produce enough krin to satisfy his needs, or he could fall back on his original plan and simply steal what he needed.

Stealing wasn't something that worried Tarrin's morality all that much. His Were mentality made stealing acceptable, based on his concepts of power. Anyone who couldn't protect what was theirs had no right to keep claim to it. If Tarrin could beat the defenses of someone and steal their krin, too bad for them. Usually, however, he wouldn't resort to theft. If he wanted something, he'd just take it from them. Here, where he couldn't resort to violence without bringing the Deva, he'd have to fall back on the arts of stealth and deception.

One thing that Szizazz's spell was useful for was living expenses. As advanced as Tarrin was in Wizard magic, he could cast her little krin-creating spell an impressive number of times before it exhausted him, which let him afford some of the nicer things to be had around her frugal inn. He could buy any food he wanted, some little niceties for his room, and he managed to restock all his material components.

In fact, Tarrin's ability to cast her spell repeatedly mystified Szizazz, and caused her to pull him aside in the receiving room the day after she gave him the spell, the day after Jula and Tsukatta left him to return to Sennadar. She grilled him about how he was managing it. "I do not see how you accomplish this," she told him quite seriously. "You should have forgotten the spell after so many castings."

"Forgotten? I can keep a spell memorized for months, Szizazz. Can't you?"

"Of course I can, at least until I begin to use it. The spell wipes itself from my memory after casting it. If I want to cast the same spell more than once, I have to make a special effort to memorize it in a slightly different manner, using one of the Giyoshan Mnemonics, so I have the same spell memorized twice."

"Really? Huh," Tarrin mused. "I guess even Wizard magic works differently where I came from. What surprises me is that it still works differently for me, even when I'm not home."

"That should be impossible, but you are a god. Perhaps that allows you to bend the rules of Wizard magic. How does it work in your world?"

"Wizards don't lose the memory of the spell after only one casting," he told her. "It does fade from memory, but that's after a few days for the average Wizard. The mark of a veteran Wizard is how many times he can cast spells before he gets tired, and how long he can remember a spell."

"The mark of a learned Wizard for us is how many spells a Wizard can remember at one time," she told him. "And after we cast a spell, it fades from our memory, so we must choose which spells we want to memorize."

"That's almost backwards from how it works on my world. Wizards can memorize every spell they have and cast any of them at any time, until they get exhausted and can't cast any more. Priests do it the same way, more or less, but nothing forces them to forget their spells. They remember them at all times, and can cast any spell they know at any time, until they get tired."

"Magic is very different in your world."

"I know. I just never heard of how it works in other worlds."

"That you can bring your own version of Wizard magic into Crossroads must be because of your divine nature. Usually, any unusual form of magic in a material plane won't work outside of that material plane."

"I remember a sage telling me something like that not long ago," he mused. "That's probably it. That, or it's because I'm a Mi'Shara."

Szizazz gave him a wild look. "Where did you come to know that word?" she asked.

"Why, what does it mean to you?"

"A Mishara is a word that was used to describe an ancient foe of the Deva, before they were all destroyed. It meant dream killer, for those who sought the eternal dreamless sleep of annihilation. They were the mortals and gods who had embraced the cause of Entropy and sought to unmake the multiverse. But the Deva and the gods joined together and destroyed them. What does this word mean in your world?"

"It's a term for referring to a certain type of magic-user," he answered her. "We're very rare. There are two of us on my world, me and one other. But I don't think it's the same word, you pronounced it a little differently," he chuckled. "I guess it's one of those coincidences. After all, with all those languages out there, it's only logical to think that some of them are going to have similar sounding words."

"Yes, you certainly do not look like an agent of Entropy to me," she said, looking him up and down, quite seriously, as if assessing that very statement. "I know that you are unique among the gods from what you told me of how you came to be here, but even that would not be enough to make me believe you seek to unmake all."

He laughed. "No, I'm not quite that fanatical," he told her. "I'm not out to unmake the multiverse, just kill one person. Now then, I have some business to attend to, Szizazz, so I hope you'll excuse me."

"Certainly. May we meet again on your return and trade more spells?"

"Sure. I just hope you can cast them, since they're from my world, and my world's magic works differently."

"The way your Wizards use magic is different, but the spells are not," she told him confidently. "Besides, I've already used the spell you gave me in trade for the spell to create krin. I know for a fact that I can use your spells."

Tarrin did find the Sage's Council to be useful for one thing outside of what he needed of them, and that was that there were many Wizards that were a part of it. He had already managed to corral one of them in the entry hall and, after a quick word, got him to reveal the locations of several magical shops within the neighborhood. That was how he had managed to restock the material components he needed. Such places, however, didn't sell spells. Virtually no place did. Spells were a precious commodity, and no merchant in his right mind would leave something that valuable out where it could be stolen. Wizards guarded their spells jealously, and only gave them up if they received something of equal or greater value in the exchange... such as another spell that they don't know. Tarrin had to track down quite a few sages in the halls and ask about the krin spell Szizazz mentioned, until he finally found a sage who had the spell and was willing to make a trade. That sage, an exceedingly tiny, portly fellow that only came up to Tarrin's shin and reminded Tarrin vaguely of the Gnomes of Gnomlin, turned out to be quite a good Wizard. He traded Tarrin his spell to create multiple krin coins for one of Phandebrass' battle spells, one that created a powerful jet of acid.

In all, Tarrin considered it a good trade.

It took him about three hours to scribe the spell into his spellbook, and then he shared that spell with Szizazz. He rather liked her, and Tarrin was one that liked to see his friends improve their lots. Szizazz certainly had no want for krin, but now she could create more krin faster if she ever had a need for it.

The spell was unusual. It didn't create a set amount of krin when it was cast. Instead, it drew directly on the power of the Wizard and created as many coins as possible depending on how much energy the Wizard could channel, and how many spells the Wizard had memorized. The spell warned that upon its casting, all other spells would be wiped from the memory of the Wizard, and the Wizard would be physically drained and require immediate rest.

Tarrin's use of the that spell was... momentous.

It needs to be stated that Tarrin had absolutely no inkling that the spell would behave any differently for him than it would for any other Wizard. Szizazz had cast the spell first, before him, and she had had no problem using it. She had used the spell to summon forth a sizable sum of krin, a testament to her abilities as a Wizard.

But Tarrin's use of the spell produced a much different result. After casting it and burning the required block of rare, special incense that created a thick hazy fog over him, then sacrificing a drop of his own blood, dripping it onto a flawless uncut ruby which vanished into a thick red mist at the completion of the incantation that rose up into the smoke of the incense to create a thick, compact cloud of misty red fog that then raised itself to the ceiling, the spell created his krin. They appeared from that misty red cloud that rose high into the air, near the ceiling, over where the ruby had been. Coins appeared and poured onto the table in a series of stacatto chiming clinks.

And they kept coming.

And they kept coming.

And they kept coming.

At first, Tarrin didn't think too much of it. After all, he was a more accomplished Wizard than Szizazz, so it was only logical that his spell would create more coins. But then, when the coins were ankle deep in the room, he began to suspect that something might be wrong. By the time they were knee deep, he knew there was something wrong, for he realized that he felt in no way tired, the spell had not drained him of his energy, nor had it wiped from his memory the other spells he had memorized. He thought through the problem furiously as the coins continued to pour merrily from the magical red fog hovering against the ceiling. By the time he decided to risk an attempt to dispel the magic creating the coins, they were waist deep, and had broken the window and began to pour out onto the street below. He cast that spell quickly, as a silvery ray of magical light erupted from his open paw and struck the red fog, but it did nothing, and the coins continued to pour. He thought through the problem again, and realized that the magic he was using was too weak to counter a spell of that power. He tried a different spell that dispelled magic, a much stronger one, one that created a conical volume of complete anti-magic. The spell had to be centered on a living being, so he attached it to himself.

It was a good idea. He just didn't factor into his equation a simple fact.

Krin were coins made of solid energy, and had magical properties.

The krin that came into contact with Tarrin's anti-magic shell became unstable. He realized he made a mistake when all the coins up against him, now up to his chest, began to get hot and vibrate in an ominous manner. Before he had a chance to flee the room, the krin coins began to explode in a sudden cascade of miniature explosions, each one setting off the last. The explosions weren't destructive, did him no harm, but the loud pops of krin breaking down and reverting to energy were loud and painful to his ears, and they stung something fierce when the ones against his skin disrupted and exploded.

It took him a few moments to recover his wits enough to get a handle on the situation, by jumping up onto the top of the coins, then rising up enough to get the red cloud into the area affected by his anti-magic shell. The red cloud shuddered visibly, the coins stopped falling out of it, then it disincorporated itself into an expanding pall of thin, acrid smelling red smoke.

By the time it was over, Tarrin had a series of reddish circular welts all over his body, and he was kneeling on a pile of coins that was nearly six spans deep. He was still under the effect of the anti-magic shell, however, and he could feel the coins under his feet begin to vibrate and heat up. He'd stopped the coins, but he was still a danger to the ones that were already here. He turned and dove for the open window, sliding on the coins, then he erupted in a sudden explosion of krin from the window and out over the street. Citizens who were scrambling under his window the scoop of the rain of coins looked up when he came flying out of it, then scrambled in every direction as he landed heavily on the street on his paws and feet. The coins under him rattled on the cobblestones, then exploded in little puffs. The coins flowing from the window of his room slowed to a tinkling trickle, and then ceased.

Blowing out his breath, Tarrin looked around at, just relieved that it was over, then he laughed helplessly.

"Not often you see that."

Tarrin stood up quickly and looked across the cobbled street, and found himself looking at a very small building made of white stone blocks. It had a simple porch with a roof and slender fluted columns holding it up, anchored to the corners of the roof and two columns flanking the three steps from the street to the porch floor. On that porch were two old rocking chairs. One was empty, with only a knitted cover thrown over the back. The other chair was occupied by a withered, ancient old woman with thin white hair, a face that looked like tanned leather with sunken cheeks and a mouth that only had three teeth in it, and sparkling chestnut brown eyes that seemed alive and vibrant despite her advanced years. She wore a simple brown wool peasant dress, and her gnarled hands worked a pair of knitting needles with surprising dexterity.

Tarrin gaped at her. He knew this woman!

"Well, you're taller," she noted in a gruff voice. "You look meaner too. Offended any Dargu lately?"

"Mother Wynn!" Tarrin exclaimed in shock, staring at her as his mind swam with the absolute impossibility of what was confronting him. But she -- there was no way she could still be alive! And even if she was, what in the furies was she doing here?

"Well, it's nice to be remembered," she said calmly, looking at her knitting. "Chair's empty, dearie. You're not covered in mud, are you?"

"How are you here?" he demanded.

"Manners," she said in her gravelly voice. "And don't keep an old woman waiting."

Without thought, he staggered across the street, up the steps of her porch, and sat down in the empty chair. "I don't understand," he floundered.

"I reckon you wouldn't," she told him calmly as she deftly completed another row, and began another. "Done got yourself in a right mess, didn't you? I expected more out of you."

"How -- "

"Don't even ask," she cut him off. "Now, how are you going to fix it?"

"Mother Wynn -- "

"I'm waiting, boy," she demanded, starting another row.

"How did you get here?"

"Don't make me fetch Ian, boy," she warned. "Now answer an old woman's question. How are you going to fix it?"

"Fix the mess? Which one are you talking about?" he asked.

She cackled. "Now I remember why I like you, boy. The mess you made."

"The Demon Lord? I -- "

"No, boy, that's just a drop in the bucket. This," she said, poking him in the arm with a knitting needle. It wasn't entirely pleasant, "is the mess I'm talking about. What you've done to yourself can't stand, boy."

"I can fix it, once I get everything done. With Mother's help, anyway."

"Boy, you're just being stubborn on purpose," she grunted, poking his belt with her needle. "You know what'll happen if you use those."

"The amulets? What do you mean?"

She grunted. "Well, you're denser than I thought. You go to all the trouble of giving yourself the power to take them, but you don't even fully understand that. They're more than trinkets, boy. You own them, so -- "

Tarrin sucked in his breath. "So I can use them!" he realized. All the innate powers of those Demons were his to command, including their ability to teleport! Those were powers that were within the very essence of Demons, and he owned two of those very essences! Just by commanding the amulets, he could access the innate magical powers of the two Demons he had killed and use them for his own ends!

"And the more you use them, the more you become like them," she warned. "Not even a god is immune from that kind of corruption, boy. The Abyss has enough Bodaks in it as it is."

"Bodak?"

"A being corrupted by the taint of the Demons to the point they become one themselves," she told him. "And just being who you are is no defense. There's been more than one god corrupted and destroyed by the Demons. The One should be thanking you, boy, you saved him from that fate."

"How do you know that? You can't be who you look like."

"Oh, I am who you think I am, boy," she told him with a hard look. "I am Mother Wynn. Me being here seems impossible to you because you lack the ability to understand the true nature of things. Or maybe you just don't want to understand."

"But -- "

"But what? Oh, and one more thing, boy. It won't work."

"What?"

"If you wouldn't be so determined to be a stubborn mule, Niami would tell you so. Well, since you won't let her give you any advice, then take it from me. It won't work."

"What are you talking about?" he asked, completely confused.

"That pitiful excuse for a plan, boy. If you'd stop to think about it, you'd realize it. But there is a way to pull it off, boy. You're just not approaching the problem the right way."

"I don't understand."

"You don't have to. Turn that creative mind of yours about these words, and then let that infamous bent for cunning take hold of them. You're never going to match the One power for power, boy. After all, he's a full god, and you're just a mortal with a whisper of divine power in you, just barely enough for you to hold that form together. That's an important difference, boy, and it has much more to do with power. The way you are now, you can never hope to beat the One, no matter how hard you try. Not only can you never hope to match his power, but trying to kill a god in his home plane is something akin to impossible. But, you made the right choice in coming here to face him. Boy, if you want to stop the Demon Lord, you first have to face the One. What you have to decide is how you're going to survive that encounter. So you need to think about that.

"Now then, I've said what I needed to say. You've been warned about those amulets, boy. I suggest you never use them unless you have absolutely no other choice. Every time you call on their power, you surrender part of yourself to their evil, and not even you are immune. There's no way to reverse it either, unless you dip your hand into the power that is their opposite. But that too would certainly bring its own dangers. The power of righteousness would corrupt you as surely as the power of the Demons. Now, I've said all I intend to say, and I have this knitting to finish. So scat."

Tarrin looked down at his paws, then looked over to her, to ask her what she meant.

But she was gone.

And she left him utterly confused.

Heavy thoughts.

For days after his bizarre encounter with what he could only call Mother Wynn, he was all but lost in deep contemplation. The old woman had said little, but those words had carried with them a tremendous meaning to him, on many levels. He sat in his room, a room that had been repaired and was now empty of krin... but that krin was still with him. Szizazz had procured for him a curious little item called a portable hole, a blanket-sized section of cloth spun from the silk of creatures called phase spiders. These spiders had a natural ability to shift themselves out of phase with reality, shifting into some other state of being... it was almost exactly like the druid spell that Triana used to walk through walls and other solid objects. Some enterprising Wizard had managed to discover how to enchant that silk-spun cloth in such a way that it triggered its phasing ability and made it stable. The result was a paper-thin, ten span square length of cloth that held within itself a vast extradimensional space, the size of a small room. The interior expanse of this portable hole was larger than the room Szizazz rented to him. That portable hole was now in his magically protected belt pouch, folded down so many times that it was no larger or thicker than a handkerchief, and also folded in a manner so that Tarrin could open it by unfolding it only twice and open a space wide enough into which he could stick his paw. The Wizard who had fashioned the device -- indeed, making the devices was his main staple of income to fund his magical research -- had taught Szizazz how to do this, and she had trained Tarrin. Everything within this portable hole had a location, and by folding the hole in that specific manner, it allowed him to access certain things placed next to that opening that he might need, such as a large sack of krin, for example.

Tarrin considered Mother Wynn's words, over and over and over, even going so far as to ponder every single word she spoke in and of itself. He had no doubt that she had hinted at much more information that she had given, much like the way Niami had hinted at this or that to fire his curiosity, make him think.

That in itself was another mystery. Just who was Mother Wynn? There was no doubt to him that it really couldn't be the original Mother Wynn, but everything about her screamed at him that it was. She even had the right scent, for Niami's sake! That woman was, from the roots of her hair to her toenails, Mother Wynn. Yet that in and of itself was a scenario that would be a hair's breadth from absolute impossibility. By now, Mother Wynn was dead. He hadn't even really thought of her since his first and only meeting with her.

He thought. And he thought. And he thought more. He ignored time. He forgot to eat or sleep. He simply sat on his bed crosslegged, tail wrapped around his legs, elbow on his leg and chin propped in his paw, and he did nothing but ponder her words, the meaning of her words, the words that she used, and the guesses and conclusions that he could draw from them.

Two things became clear to him after a lengthy consideration. First, that the warning she had brought to him about the amulets was so dire that it demanded she be blatant about it. They really could be that dangerous. They were like the Firestaff or the crown that powered the magic of Amyr Dimeon, artifacts of such power that the very power itself was detrimental to the mortals around them. Both of those artifacts had an aura of corruption about them, a subtle effect of their magic that caused people to covet that power, to desire possessing it. Tarrin had always been very careful to keep the Firestaff in the elsewhere, to shield those around him from the power of that corrupting effect. The Crown of Amyr Dimeon was in a ziggurat that was off-limits to the Aeradalla by law, and Aeradalla were law-abiding enough to accept that law without argument... which isolated them from its power. The power of the amulets wasn't quite like the power of those artifacts, but was equally dangerous. By using their power, by commanding them, Tarrin was exposing himself to their evil, was lowering his defenses, and that power would enter him and begin to try to taint him from within. If the power of their evil became too strong within him, he would become a Demon himself, what Mother Wynn had called a Bodak. That meant that the use of the power of the amulets would literally only be used when his life depended on it. Using them the way he was now, as nothing but anchors which prevented the Demonic weapons that the two Demons had possessed from melting into nothingness like the rest of them had, was passive in nature and didn't expose him to their corrupting evil.

The second thing he had reasoned out was that whoever Mother Wynn was, she had to be something truly beyond his comprehension, because she knew what he had told no one else. And she had flatly stated to him that he was wrong. According to her, his plan to kill the One just plain would not work, no matter how hard he tried. Always before, when faced with overwhelming odds, he simply kept going, kept at it, finding a way to win. In a way, he refused to admit the possibility that he couldn't do something, and that determination had allowed him to overcome tremendous adversaries. His dogged refusal to admit defeat had helped him defeat Val, had allowed him to fight the One toe to toe to a draw, and had allowed him to trick the Demon Lord and destroy the One's icon, setting up the more equivocable situation that existed on Pyrosia now, where the odds were much more even.

Yet now, she had told him, no amount of cunning, connivery, trickery, bravery, or dogged determination was going to make his plan work. Mother Wynn had told him bluntly that he could never hope to fight the One and kill him.

She also told him that he did have to carry through and face the One, but facing the One was not what was going to banish the Demon Lord from Pyrosia and save that world from the Demons.

That was what she had said directly. What she said indirectly was almost as important.

She hinted that he had started on the right path if he wanted to be victorious. She told him that coming here was the right course. That told him that what he did in Pyrosia was the right move, using Niami's help to rewrite the rules of magic on Pyrosia to strip the Demons of their overwhelming advantage.

She hinted that there technically was a way to use the amulets of the Demons without permanent harm, but that was almost as dangerous as using the amulets in the first place. Dipping into the power which was their opposite, she had said, but that power would corrupt just as surely as the power of the Demons. So, perhaps it was best to just ignore that.

And the most important thing she had said, an indirect hint as to what he should do... she had said he had no chance to get rid of the Demon Lord as he was.

After days of contemplation, without even eating or drinking, he realized that he needed to know more, to understand more.

And that took him back to the Sage's Council.

He again accosted the clerk that sat outside the main chambers, who squeaked in fear and seemed to want to throw herself over her desk to protect it from him, demanding this time not an audience with a sage, but the location of and access to the main library the sages used. She flared up as if to deny his request out of reflex, but a single clawed finger held up and before her quelled her innate need to be as inconvenient to him as possible. The determined, stony look in his eyes must have assured her in her own mind that he was very, very serious about getting what he wanted, no matter what he had to do to her furniture, so she grudgingly acquiesced and directed him back down the hall and through a pair of double doors to the right of the main entry, which led down a long curved passageway and into a truly magnificent library. There were floors of books, the compiled knowledge of not just men and other beings from one world, but beings from many worlds.

It was exactly what he needed.

After a meal, he set himself to work. He demanded much of the librarians of that magnificent library, sorely testing their knowledge of the books within their library and the locations of them. He also drove them and all the sages who were there researching crazy by demanding what he wanted when he wanted it... not after a librarian was done helping someone else. The librarians seemed to want to object, at least until he plopped down a sack holding a thousand krin on the book cart of the librarian who had brought him a book he wanted. They were very quick to assist him after that, for he paid them outrageous, almost ridiculous sums of money for their assistance, every time they assisted him.

He knew that though he was a god, he had a mortal's mind, so he began with what the sages understood of the gods. What they did, why they were there, everything from history to philosophy, trying to form a foundation of understanding on which to base everything else. After that, he delved into pure history, reading an abridged version of the history of the multiverse, filled only with the significant events that had transpired. He read book after book after book, moving from the gods to the Deva, trying to understand what they were and their purpose. Then he read some theoretical theology, as sages debated the God of Gods, what it was, what it did, what purpose it worked towards -- if it indeed worked towards any purpose at all -- trying to understand how that fit in with everything else.

After that, he started researching more about the gods, getting more and more specific. He read about theological politics, how gods interacted with one another. Then he moved into some sage's reasearch about how gods and mortals existed, a book of his personal contemplations and observations and theories that, given Tarrin's more intimate understanding of the subject that most, realized weren't far off the mark.

He read, and read, and read. He refused to sleep, refused to eat or drink except when absolutely necessary, he spent his every waking moment in the library day after day, as he struggled to come to an understanding of things that would help him understand what Mother Wynn said, and plan accordingly.

"I think this is the book you asked for, my Lord," a voice called to him after some number of days that he really couldn't recall, days spent in utter devotion to his mission to understand more, to learn what he needed to learn to connect the dots that Mother Wynn had laid out, but had laid out so far apart that he couldn't make the connections. He looked up at saw himself looking at a young, swarthy-skinned woman with a slightly flat chest, wearing a simple woolen peasant dress, her long, straight black hair pulled back from her face by a kerchief folded down into a long strap tied into her hair. He hadn't remembered asking for another book, but the mental state he was in, so distracted and interspective, he really wouldn't be surprised if he had asked for it.

She seemed hauntingly familiar to him. Her face and her scent... he wasn't sure, but he thought he'd met this woman some time before, but he couldn't quite pin it down. Then again, he was very tired, and he was starting to feel like Phandebrass with his head so full of what he'd been reading that he was having trouble separating it from the rest of the world. She handed him a simple leather-bound tome, a tome with no title. She then smiled at him and winked, then scurried off between a pair of bookshelves and out of sight.

Tarrin soon forgot about the girl as he opened the book she had given him, and began to read. The book was a book of history, and the more he read, the more he understood that this was exactly the book that he needed to read. He read page after page, and the more he read, the more he understood. The lessons of the past, reaching out across the marches of time to educate those of the present, to teach him their wisdom, and to ensure that he did not make the same mistakes that had been made in the past. Every word was like fire in his brain, and every word became burned into his memory as if it had always been there. He consumed page after page, chapter after chapter, reading about the past and understanding how it applied to the future.

When he closed the book and laid it carefully on the desk, he understood. He undestood the warnings of Mother Wynn, and he understood what had to be done. He understood the mistakes he had made, and now understood what he had to do to correct his path and get back on the right track. He didn't just understand his own situation, he now understood who he was, and just what it meant.

He understood.

A new plan began to form in his mind, a plan that would rely on those warnings, and guided by the wisdom set forth in the book laying before him. He would indeed have to fight the One, and she had been right. How he handled that battle would decide the outcome of everything else. It was a battle that he could not win... but he couldn't allow the One to know that he understood that reality. It was a battle that he had to survive, however, and Mother Wynn was right. How he faced the One would cause his plan to either succeed or fail.

But that was not a battle he was prepared to fight just yet. There were some other things that had to be done first, some loose ends to tie up, and certain items that had to be acquired before he could challenge the One. And there were also some plans to set in motion that would come to fruition after that battle, plans he would have to rely upon after it was done.

For right now, waiting to hear from the Sage's Council was still his main priority. The knowledge of the One's home plane and the location of his realm was very important information, information that he would need once he was prepared to face the One.

Two things had to be done, however, but both would have to wait until he had what he needed from the Sages.

The first thing he had to do was procure a certain magical object that could only be found in the possession of a Solar. Given also that no Solar would hand that object over willingly, it meant that he would have to permanently run himself afoul of the Deva by fighting a Solar over that object. This would not be easy. Solar were probably the most powerful beings in the multiverse that couldn't be called a god. Solar were more powerful than some gods. Fighting one would be almost as hard as facing the One, but in that, at least, he had a reasonable chance. Solar were not gods. They were immensely powerful and formidable, but they weren't invulnerable, and Tarrin was no pushover in combat himself. This was something he decided would be best to do after his business in Crossroads was complete, where he wouldn't be under the eyes of so many Deva... for there was no doubt that the entirety of the Deva would kill him on sight after he stripped what he needed from a Solar.

The other thing he had to do was return to Sennadar, but it wouldn't be as easy as just walking through the gate and proclaiming that he was home. He had no doubt that the Elder Gods would resist his return to his home world, and would order Spyder to block him from entering his own home. And that meant that he would have to fight and defeat one of the most powerful and skilled users of both magic and steel that had ever lived, the nigh-invincible Urzani Sorceress, Spyder.

Both of these errands weren't going to be easy... but what he had to do wouldn't be easy either. But, he felt that if he could accomplish both tasks, then he could see this through to the end. If he could best a Solar and Spyder in combat, then he'd be able to survive a battle with the One and then carry through to ultimate victory.

And oh, the sweet, ironic justice of this plan. Just thinking about it made him giggle like a little boy. And it gave him a feeling of, of hope, something he hadn't felt in a while. After removing the Demon Lord from Pyrosia, there wasn't much for him to look forward to. The Elder Gods would deny him entry to his own home, and he would be stranded, a refugee in a world that was not his, and still existing in a state that would make him feel as if he did not belong.

But at least if this plan worked, he had a reason to feel hopeful that things would indeed work out for the best, and even if he wouldn't be happy, at least he would be content.

He put a paw over the book, then breathed out a deep, cleansing breath. "Mother."

"What is it, kitten?" her disembodied voice drifted to him immediately. He could count on her to keep an eye on him, even if he absolutey forbade her from interfering.

"I need you to do something for me."

"What do you need?"

"I need you to be ready to tell Dolanna what she's doing. I need her to understand."

"Kitten, if her faith in you becomes questioned, you will lose your power!"

"That's exactly what has to happen, Mother, but only at the right time."

"Kitten, you're being crazy!"

"Crazy like a fox, Mother," he said, tapping his fingertips together over the book. "Crazy like a fox."

"So, perhaps my kitten is starting to understand," she said with a gentle voice, filled with sly amusement.

"Yes, Mother, I understand. Completely.

"Well, since things have changed, perhaps you can explain to me what you intend to do?"

"Let me leave here. Would you walk with me, Mother?"

Immediately, Niami appeared beside the table where he was sitting. She looked exactly as she always looked, with her multicolored hair and her gown made of spun starshine. Tarrin stood up and offered his arm to her, which she took with a gentle smile. They walked together out of the building and out the gate of the compound, then walked aimlessly along the streets. Tarrin explained his plan to her in great detail, going over everything that had to be done.

"Goodness, kitten, you do understand," she said with an approving nod. "What you intend isn't going to be easy, it's actually a little crazy and it's going to get you into a whole lot of trouble, but it will work. I'm just glad you finally understand. Now, things are going to be much easier."

"I'm glad you approve, Mother," he said honestly. "I know it's not an easy thing I'm asking for about Dolanna, but can you do it?"

"Yes, kitten, I can do it. I know Dolanna's mind, I know how to say it so that you get what you need wtihout it doing her any harm."

"Perfect. Mother, I need to make sure of something."

"What is that?"

"You promised not to interfere. I need you to honor that, even when I come into conflict with the other Elder Gods. Will you promise me that no matter what happens, no matter what I do, that you won't raise your hand against me?"

"I know what you have planned, kitten, and I'm very glad you told me. I could try to explain things to my parents, but they probably won't listen to me..if I could even tell them about this. When it comes to you and me, they think I've lost my mind, and won't even listen to me anymore. They think you're a bad influence on me," she said with a giggle.

"I think I have been. Really, Mother, holding Sennadar hostage? Wasn't that a bit extreme?"

"It certainly got their attention," she laughed. "Don't worry, kitten, they'll get over it. And after everything's said and done, maybe they'll respect me a little more now that they understand how serious I can be. I can't make the road any smoother for you in that department, but I can at least promise you that I won't actively interfere or try to oppose you."

"That's all I need, Mother. I can deal with the other parts myself. How are things in Pyrosia?" he asked, if only because he couldn't stand not knowing.

"Quite well, despite a few setbacks," she answered. "Haley and Darvon are at Pyros now, and they're already rebuilding the city using the Sorcerers and some Elara magicians that have come down off their moon. Your shadow is still out there, and it's growing stronger and stronger. The Demon Lord hasn't managed to kill it yet, and it's starting to become very strong. It's done its job, because it's pinned all the Demons in together in a city near the east coast. The Demon Lord can't really send any of them out, because only about half of them manage to come back. Kimmie, Mist, your daughters, and their help have already left Pyros, but it's going to be very slow for them. The Demon Lord has already struck the first blow. He sent several thousand winged Demons to attack Pyros, sending them by air, the only way he has to get forces out and past your shadow without losing a large chunk of them."

Tarrin grunted. "What happened?"

"Dolanna demonstrated that she's getting the hang of it," Niami said smugly. "She raised a Ward over most of the city that stopped the Demons cold. You would have been proud of her, kitten, that Ward protected a huge area. But unfortunately, it wasn't huge enough. She may be the guiding force of the Weave there, but she's still only a mortal -- and not even a Weavespinner -- and she has limits on how much power she can command. She couldn't cover the stables, and the Demons attacked it before they were driven off. I hate to say it, kitten, but almost all the Pegasi and most of the horses were killed."

Tarrin swore. "How bad is it?"

"Bad enough. Only six Pegasi survived, and only about twenty horses. The horses can be replaced, but the Pegasi are another matter. Your mates and children were going to use the Pegasi to sally out to recover the shards quickly, but they can't do that now. Phandebrass and that Elara Wizard Kyrienna are almost done creating magical devices that can locate the shards of your sword. They've already completed one, and Mist and Kimmie are using it, following its directions. Triana and Jasana are waiting for the Wizards to complete the second, and I'm also having them create one more, in case one is lost or destroyed. You know how good Phandebrass is, but this Elara woman is exceptional. Outside of Phandebrass, she's the best Wizard I've ever seen. The two of them are funny to watch," she laughed. "Kyrienna is trying to prove she's a better Wizard than him, but Phandebrass is utterly oblivious to her competitive posturing, and it's driving her crazy. It's even worse because he is a better Wizard than she is."

Tarrin smiled. "I can imagine."

"All things being equal, I think we still have the advantage in time. The Demon Lord has a large force of humans still answering his command, but he's using almost half of them right now to help find and kill your shadow, since they're not vulnerable to it. What he has left that's not committed is about the same size of Bragg's army, but it's spread out to try to keep control of the eastern cities. From what I've seen in the scouting reports, it looks like the Demon Lord -- well, Shaz'Baket, actually, she's probably running that operation -- is trying to keep control of the eastern marches of the continent and discourage Bragg from trying to invade, and use that time to conscript more soldiers from the cities to use in their march towards Pyros. From the way it looks, once the Demons have enough of a human army to reinforce them, and they've dealt with your shadow, they'll march out of their strongholds and come after Dolanna. Until then, they have every flying Demon that wasn't killed at Pyros out hunting for the shards of your sword, and they're also keeping an eye on Bragg's forces. Any time he moves towards one city, human forces march from other cities to reinforce it with enough men to make taking it too costly to consider. They're making Bragg very angry by using flying Demons, but he certainly doesn't seem to mind the detailed reconnaisance the Elara are giving him."

"They have flying animals on Elara?"

"No, kitten, they use magic to simply look down from their moon and see what's going on down on the planet," she answered. "As long as there's no clouds or trees blocking their view, they can see everything. And because of the distances involved, no countermagic the Demons can use can stop them. All they can do is try to conceal their movements as best they can and use cover to hide their numbers."

"Clever," Tarrin said appreciatively.

"They've finally convinced Bragg to pull back to Pyros," she told him. "Kang had to do it himself. Bragg could smell them retreating, and Bragg's not the kind of Dwarf to just let that go unchallenged. So his Dwarves are marching towards Pyros now, and the Elara have also sent some troops, and some of their magicians. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that the Elara are descendents of the Urzani, but in some respects, they're like the past resurrected."

"How so?" he asked with genuine curiosity. The Urzani were a tantalizing mystery to him, for Spyder almost never spoke of that distant past.

"Their culture is almost exactly the same," she answered, making a sour face. "The Urzani had a system of social castes; laborer, soldier, artisan, magician, noble. The Elara society maintains their caste system, but it's much more rigid. In the Urzani system, a laborer could rise to a better caste by working hard to become an artisan, or entering the army and becoming a soldier, or having enough magical aptitude to learn Wizard magic, or entering the priesthood. The Elara have institutionalized their castes. If you're born into the laborer caste, you'll always be a laborer. The soldier castes of the Elara almost look like a different species, since they've bred physical traits into themselves. The soldier Elara are larger and stronger than the rest of their race. The only Elara allowed to learn magic are the magician caste and the noble caste. Those with the natural aptitude for their elemental magic learn that, those that don't become Wizards or Priests. I tell you this, kitten, everything that caused the Urzani to fly apart is seething just under the surface of the Elara's so-called perfect society. One of them that came down, a girl named Myn, she's the perfect example of that wrongness. The girl's an incredibly gifted Wizard, not many rungs under Phandebrass and Kyrienna, but she was born into the laborer caste. She defied Elara law and learned magic, pretending to be of the magician caste, until she was found out. They would have executed her if not for the fact that she's so strong, strong enough to be a Gatemaster, so they instead did what the Urzani used to do with their condemned prisoners."

"What?"

"They tattooed her," she answered. "They would tattoo a mask over the eyes and upper cheeks of the condemned, so if by some miracle they escaped, that tattoo would serve as a marker that one was dealing with someone sentenced to death. It was called Death's Black Mask, since black ink was about the only ink that would show on a brown-skinned Urzani. Myn has just such a tattoo, though hers is blue, and she's a pariah among the Elara. They won't even look at her, they turn their backs to her whenever she comes near them. I felt so sorry for her, I ordered Dolanna to send her out with Kimmie. Kimmie will sort her out. She's very good for that."

"Huh," Tarrin grunted. "I never really talked much to Lorak or Neh. They never wanted to talk about Elara or their people."

"That's because I think they knew it would offend you," she answered. "Dolanna and the others warned them about you, and hearing about how they keep much of their population in a state that's just a small step above slavery would have set you off."

"Yes it would have," he said with a grim expression.

"It's unfortunate that the one trait that I was glad to see fall from the Urzani lives on in the Elara, the need to subjugate others to their will, the need to control. The Elara had no one else to control, so they turned on their own. The Elara society is a society of rigid rules and customs, where the higher castes oppress the lower castes."

"I remember how offended the Elara were when I told them they were probably descendents of the Urzani, or the parent race," he said. "Now I see where some of it came from."

"Yes, kitten. That Urzani arrogance is still deeply seated in them."

"I still get a warm feeling when I remember the look on Lorak's face when I started speaking their language," he chuckled. "How are the children?"

"Zyri and Jal are very happy," she answered. "Jenna is being a good surrogate while you're away, and both of them are starting to settle in. Shara's been replaced by an Elara Water adept named Tem, and his training is starting to come along nicely. Zyri still hasn't manifested her power, but she's in the Novitiate now, and quite the center of attention because Jenna won't let her live in the dormitories. She and Jal live in Jenna's apartment. Everyone knows that she's your adopted daughter and the niece of the Keeper. Telven's really hating working for the Knights, but they're starting to wear him down. Azakar's oveseeing his, ah, education personally while he recovers from his wounds. But despite it all, he's fascinated by the Knights. I get a strange feeling that he's going to end up with spurs before all is said and done."

"I hope Zak can make something of him," he grunted. They walked past a small tavern, and Tarrin gave a cool glance at the two Archons who stood in the doorway gawking, watching them go past. Tarrin himself may not be very noteworthy, just a minor godling as they saw things, but Niami was not just the casual visitor. She was an Elder God from one of the most powerful Prime Material planes, a being of almost incomprehensible power. Her presence here was what they were gawking at... and for once, Tarrin felt relieved that all the attention wasn't focused on him. "I really can't tell you when I'm going to show up in Sennadar, Mother," he told her. "Right now I'm waiting on the leader of the Sages to get back to me."

"For what, kitten?"

"For part of the old plan that's part of the new plan," he answered. "I still have to face the One, Mother, and face him in his home realm. I won't be able to kill him, but I have to try... and I have to make sure that I survive that fight. If I don't, nothing else is going to work."

"I don't like the idea of that," she sighed. "And I'm very glad you decided not to try to kill the One. I would have told you immediately that it would be absolutely impossible."

"And I would have ignored you," he told her evenly. "Then I would have spent so much time trying to prevent your meddling that I wouldn't get anything else done."

"And that would have been the point of my meddling," she said with a sly smile and a glance at him. "You may try to ignore me, I may not outright order you like I do others, and I give you way more latitude then I give any of my other children, kitten, but in the end you will do as I say. I would have found out what you were up to after watching what you were doing, and then I'd have put a hand in, promise or no promise. My promise to stay out of it means nothing if I know you're all but committing suicide."

"Sometimes, I hate you, Mother."

"Then I'm doing my job," she answered. "Sometimes, a parent has to put her foot down, kitten. You know all about that, though, don't you?" she laughed. "Jasana is more than a handful. Honestly, I don't see why you and Jesmind don't have white hair by now."

"I'm not sure either," he admitted. "Anyway, there are a few things I have to do before I can come to Sennadar. Just please, stay out of it. I can deal with it myself."

"This is something I really can't help you with anyway, kitten," she answered his request with honesty. "All I can say is be careful, and know that when you leave Crossroads, I'm not going to be able to help you at all. I won't even be able to speak to you. What you intend to do is going to make you a criminal in the eyes of everyone. I'll help you as much as I can until you pass that point of no return, but once you cross over that line, I can do no more for you. To do so would threaten the Balance, and I can't do that. Once you commit to that course of action, there will be no turning back. You will be an enemy to the gods, the Deva, the Demons... just about everyone. I can only strongly suggest that you fully understand and appreciate what that is going to mean."

"Yes, Mother, I appreciate that. I know what I'm going to do, and what the consequences are going to be."

"I'm glad you fully understand. But I won't oppose you, either. You won't have anything to fear from me in that regard. Refusing to actively oppose you does not threaten the Balance, because I understand what your ultimate objective is. In this case, the end really will justify the means."

"That's all I need, Mother. That and you assuring everyone that I haven't gone mental."

She laughed. "I won't be able to help there, kitten. They already believe that you're mental."

"Well, they may be right," he admitted with a short nod. "And don't worry about me, Mother. I can handle doing this on my own."

"I have every faith in you." She stopped, pulling on his paw to make him stop walking. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to leave you now, kitten. I want you to be careful, and know that I will not oppose you. I just wish I could warn Spyder of what's coming," she sighed.

"You know we can't," he told her. "If Spyder knew I was coming back, then others would find out, and that would jeopardize everything."

"I know. But at least I can be there to assure her that you forgive her after it's over."

"You talk like I won't have any problem waltzing right by her," he snorted. "Mother, Spyder will be the biggest challenge I've ever had to face. I'm not sure I can beat her."

"You can, kitten, so long as you remember who you are," she told him, reaching up and patting him on the cheek. "Always keep that in mind, Tarrin. No one can stand against you."

"Well, I wouldn't say that," he chuckled.

"I would," she smiled. She leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the cheek, and it left his cheek tingling with lingering power. "Be very careful, my kitten. This is the most dangerous road you've ever tried to walk. I know it's going to be difficult for you, but just keep your eyes on that destination. That will make it all worth it."

"I know it will," he told her, taking her hand, then lightly kissing the back of it. "I want you to be careful too, Mother. What you're sitting on could get you in as much trouble as me."

"Oh, I know that, kitten, believe me. I'm just glad that you understand. That you finally understand. You truly have grown up, my son.

"I'm glad you approve."

"Oh, certainly. I really need to go now. Be well, Tarrin Kael. And good luck."

"I'll see you soon, Mother."

"I'm sure you will," she said with a sly smile, and then she simply vanished.

Tarrin sighed, turning to look back down the street where they had walked. At least someone understood what he was going to do, and wouldn't think he'd gone completely insane.

But it wasn't insanity. It was cold, calculated, methodical intent. He understood completely what was coming. The instant he opposed a Solar, he was a marked man in the eyes of the Deva. They would hunt him down. But it was more than that, actually. They would oppose him no matter what when they discovered the truth, discovered his dark secret.

Mi'Shara... it really was a literal term.

He, and Spyder, they were both Entropic beings.

They were Mi'Shara. They were mortal beings who could, in time of great need, exceed their mortal restrictions and bring to bear power far beyond anything a mortal could wield. In effect, they could counteract the very rules of reality and manipulate the universe itself. They were aberrations, abominations some would call them, but according to that book, even the Entropics had a place in the vast design which was that which was created by the God of Gods. They weren't Entropic Entities, which was what most would imagine when one mentioned an Entropic, those vast, plane-sized sentient disruptions in the Astral, forces of such power and concern that Demon and Deva would band together and work as one to destroy the Entropic. Instead, they were mortal beings who had been born with the innate power of Entropy within them. The closest thing that history had to call beings aligned with Entropy was the word mishara, or the Dream Killers, mortal and divine agents of Entropy working to unmake all... but that wasn't precisely what he and Spyder really were. They weren't beings working to destroy everything. They were Mi'Shara.

And Tarrin finally understood what that meant. Something that not even Spyder, with her ten millenia of life and experience, had come to comprehend. It was such a simple truth, but sometimes, the simplest of things were the hardest to understand.

And he had to fight her. His mind shuddered away at the unimaginable potential for disaster implicit within that single thought. Given what they were capable of doing -- no wonder the Elder Gods were so terrified of him. In that battle, he had to make sure to bring Spyder down before she lost her temper, and be very careful not to overwhelm her in power and cause her to attempt to exercise her power as a Mi'Shara in order to combat him. If he was forced to react in kind, it would be almost as bad as two gods warring in the mortal realm. The kind of power that both he and Spyder could channel into the material world could devastate large swaths of his homeworld.

He also would not under any circumstances, either intentionally or even accidentally, kill her. She was his friend, and she was more. She was one of his sister sui'kun, and they were bound together as Mi'Shara. He had to exercise the utmost caution so that he didn't permanently hurt her, even as he fought against her.

He went over what had to be done in his mind. It was quite the laundry list of errands, starting with the Sages and ending with the destruction of the Demon Lord. Once he knew where the One was hiding, he could go find a Solar and take what he needed, then he'd be ready to face the biggest challenge in his life.

Not Jegojah, not Kravon, not Val, not Stragos Bane, not the One, not a Demon Lord, not even the Solar, but someone that would make them all look like children in comparison.

Spyder.

If he could best Spyder and gain entry into Sennadar, then everything else would be relatively easy. The battle with the One wouldn't be that hard, because all he had to do was survive that fight, where he had to defeat Spyder, and do it in such a way that he didn't hurt her and also didn't cause her to use her power as a Mi'Shara against him.

Once he won access to Sennadar, there were several things he had to do there, and probably do them while dodging the wrath of the Elder Gods. He had to go to the Tower in Suld, he had to return to his home in Aldreth, and he had to destroy the spelltrap he'd made so long ago... just do it in a way that didn't damage the statuette itself. He was very fond of that black metal sculpture, he'd rather not lose it.

Once all of that was done, the only thing left would be to face the One, survive the battle, and then destroy the Demon Lord.

Easy, easy.

But it would be worth all the aggravation. If everything worked the way he hoped, he would be able to go home, and there wasn't a damn thing the Elder Gods could do to stop him.

He blew out his breath and turned back towards the Sage's Council headquarters. He wanted to read a little more, and finalize his plans with a little more methodical thought and contemplation. He also wanted to check in with the head of the order and find out how many of his requests had come back declining the job, and how many had yet to reply.

There was much to do.

Sitting in her chair, Mother Wynn watched the people go by, as her nimble hands, unfettered by age, continued to knit her yarn into neat, precise rows. She took no notice of any of the mortals or Archons that passed, didn't even raise an eyebrow when a hulking, menacing balor shambled by her porch, even as everyone else scrambled to get out of the Demon's way. For her, the entire world was nothing more than completing her line, and then starting another.

She took no notice of anyone, and no one took notice of her. She didn't look up regardless of who passed by her porch, nor did she look up when someone came up to her porch and sat down in her spare chair. It was a small, young woman with dark skin, radiant brown eyes, and straight black hair, wearing a simple peasant dress of dark wool. She was an attractive young lady, if a bit flat-chested and narrow through the hips, making her look slightly younger than she actually was.

Mother Wynn said nothing, neither acknowledging the girl or looking at her. Both were quiet for many moments, until Mother Wynn finally broke the silence.

"Did you get the book back?" she asked.

"Right here," the girl answered, reaching into midair and closing her hand over nothingness. But that nothingness suddenly became an old, old leather-bound book, a book whose title was embossed in gold letters along its spine:

The Blood War of Sennadar; a Study of How One Event Can Affect the Multiverse.

"I don't think he recognized me," she said.

"You sound disappointed."

"I guess I am, a little. He remembered you."

"I didn't try to talk to him when he was nose-deep in a mystery."

"Well, yeah, I guess you're right. Think he would have recognized me if not for that?"

"Most likely. The boy's sharp, and he has a long memory."

"I'll say. After he read the book, he homed right in on the truth like a raptor drawing a bead on a rabbit."

"He's not a Mi'Shara for nothing, girl. The truth resonates in him like a forgotten memory. All he needed was a little nudging."

"I hope he got off to a good start."

"He did," she answered evenly. "He's heeded the warnings, and knows what has to be done. He's already talked to Niami. Once the Sages get back to him, he'll get his ball rolling."

"And that's when the fur's going to fly," the girl said with an indelicate grunt.

"Has to be done, girl, has to be done," Mother Wynn told her calmly. "Things have to move forward. Sometimes when you jar the cart, something falls out and breaks."

"I know, it's just... I don't like chaos."

"Sometimes you have to create a little chaos in order to make a little law," Mother Wynn shrugged. "They'll all get over it eventually."

"I know. How do you think it's going to turn out?"

"Who knows?" she shrugged again. "You know that the future's not set."

"Well, what do you think is going to happen?"

"Me personally? Well, I don't think there's ever been anyone born with more brath than that boy. He'll prevail, just because he won't accept anything less. He's too stubborn to do anything other than prevail."

The girl giggled. "I think you're right. You know something?"

"What, girl?"

"I hope he wins."

"That's what we're here for, girl, to help that come about."

If the girl replied to that, no one knew, for she was gone. As was Mother Wynn.

As well as the porch, and the house to which it had been attached, and the very memory that they had ever been there at all. They had all vanished, leaving nothing but a narrow street behind, and not one soul within Crossroads except Tarrin Kael had any memory that the house, the girl, or Mother Wynn had ever existed.