On another world, in another building, in a star cluster hidden from view from the Milky Way by the Adromeda galaxy’s bright bulk, sat a lone figure, staring at screens. The screens appeared to be semi-solid; there, yet not quite substantial because, of course, that’s what they were. A figure of immense, almost deific power stared at the screens, chin planted in a deceptively delicate palm, fingers drumming on a smooth, porcelain white cheek.
For perhaps the hundredth time in the past hour, she sighed at the images on her screens. Her anger had long since abated, being replaced with sullen acceptance. She sat in a large, cushioned chair at the top of a tower that could have been crafted by a fantasy painter, in the center of a small, comfortable little village.
The tower rose from the center of a small circular garden, itself surrounded by circular rows of white alabaster brick that made up the town center. She and the others had discovered this planet, far away from the politics and concerns of others, where they could study, create and imagine in peace. They had raised the entire town, the tower and several others like it from the ground itself. They had created an ecosystem on the habitable, but lifeless rock, located billions of light years away from prying eyes.
The planet they called Pinnacle was a paradise; they had imported a dazzling array of harmless but beautiful animals from every planet they had encountered. Herds of white tailed deer roamed forests while flocks of Lorikeets and Birds of Paradise perched in the trees. The ponds and streams teemed with all manner of tetra, goldfish, bettas and rainbow trout, while the warm seas were host to every color of coral reef fish imaginable.
The plants were similarly gorgeous, with everything from towering redwoods and massive flowering trees the size of skyscrapers from the planet Amot, to dwarf snapdragons and mosses. Decorative seaweeds dotted the coast while rafts of a floating nut tree from the world of Creat drifted on the waves of the sea, the largest ones with root networks that served as island homes to crabs and sea turtles.
And the men and women who lived there, no more than two hundred fifty, all studied and developed the discipline created by their leader. They all lived in or around the planet’s only town, also Pinnacle. They created lavish homes or simple cottages depending on their desires, and they created. They travelled the Astral plane and the worlds beyond to gain as much knowledge as possible, and cared nothing for the worlds they had left behind. They had elevated themselves above their own kind, achieving something in the way of immortality and lived aloof from their past.
But she saw the beginning of the end of their peaceful, isolated way of life on those screens; buildings blown to dust, families murdered, entire planets overrun by a greedy despot. She might have considered staying apart if that had been the extent of things; mankind and the races he had aligned with were capable of fighting, and had in fact designed marvelous technologies that could be used to kill in disturbing ways.
But there was a new fold. She had been watching other, more isolated species closely. Two in particular, had mastered arts that involved bending reality to their whims, something only she and her students should have had. If the two races entered into the fray, then the innocents that done nothing to bring the war on themselves would be at a severe disadvantage.
She couldn’t help but feel a sense of responsibility in the growing threat of the Sharrel; their knowledge was stolen from her centuries ago when she stepped foot on a mountainous rock called Kraken, and spread to them by Chormathor. The news had not been pleasant when she learned of it nearly two hundred years before, but she had originally written it off as an isolated incident, and what care was it of hers if a people killed themselves with her art? If not by her hand, they would have no doubt found another way.
But they were now looking to branch out into the stars, to lend a hand to this fat McCleod and further his aims and their thirst for chaos and blood. And to make matters worse, there was another intelligent race in the same solar system as the Sharrel that also used powers of the mind. Mancer stared at one of the screens a moment longer, then sickened by the image of black-clad soldiers lining up civilians for execution, she waved her hands and they dissipated into nothingness.
She stood to her full height, an easy six foot two and stretched. Her skin was a uniform white, easily visible through the many revealing cuts in her gown, two slits up the side for easy movement of her legs, and barely covered by the long cloak she wore draped over her back. Anyone standing near the woman could feel power emanate from her. She had so thoroughly enchanted herself and her clothing that they never dirtied. Despite the amount of skin she showed, she was never cold, and anyone foolish enough to try shooting, stabbing or bombing her would find they had little effect, and would suffer immediate and terrible retribution.
She was arrogant, self assured, and more than a little condescending to all but those she had a great deal of respect for, but few could argue with her self assessment. She had single-handedly created the art of Mancy, and had taught all of her disciples on Pinnacle, and all of their individual disciplines; sciences they named pyromancy, aquamancy, biomancy, necromancy and technomancy, just to name a small number of the hundreds of fields developed on Pinnacle.
Despite her position and attitude, she did feel a great deal of responsibility when it came to her creation. It was the key to nearly limitless power, it tapped the ambient energy of the Astral plane and allowed a person to shape it for creation or destruction. She and several students had created the town in a day with nothing more than the might of Mancy and imagination.
She had unwittingly spread it to many she would have considered unworthy, and now they stood on the brink of bringing that power into the hands of men possibly more depraved than the Sharrel themselves.
This was not an easy decision for the Mother of Mages; in order to give the side of right a fighting chance, she was going to have to break the centuries-long isolationism she and her people had maintained, and teach the intelligent races of her home galaxy the Mantic art and science. “Guendolyn, I need you to send out a summons, please.”
Mancer called for the one person she never spoke down to, a white skinned, frail creature belonging to an elf-like race called the Faer. Guendolyn’s people had been nearly eradicated and forced underground by the Sharrel; this first-hand knowledge had solidified Mancer’s decision to reveal them to the greater universe, to stop the threat of the blue and purple skinned people before they became a blight on worlds beyond their own.
“Call the others, I need them to come to the town commons within the hour.”
“Have you decided a course of action, then milady?” came the small, flute-like voice.
Guendolyn stepped into the room and bowed to her mother-figure. The small woman had nearly white blond hair that barely contrasted with her skin, and light green eyes that reminded one of wintergreen. She wore willowy white robes and walked in complete silence. Along with being Mancer’s right hand, she was accomplished in the art of Electromagnetomancy, and was very nearly godlike in power herself.
She stood straight and shot a wicked grin at Mancer, then started off the round up the other mages. They both knew that she would not pass up an opportunity to avenge her people against the Sharrel. The small woman, no more than four foot nine in height, walked to the balcony at the top of the tower, and easy eighty feet to the ground, and stepped out into thin air.
She drifted slowly to the alabaster brick below, taking a moment to inhale the sweetly scented wind and survey the light fluffy clouds turning bright pink in the dying day. She would miss Pinnacle when they left, but she promised herself, she would return once she had rescued her people from the subterranean abyss the Sharrel had banished them to.
She stepped into the middle of the town center and began casting the spell that would summon the world’s population to her mistress’ call.
Mancer stood on a balcony overlooking the western half of the town center. All manner of people stood waiting for her to address them; men in robes, women in professional looking suits, even a few more exotic races like a deep blue-green skinned Varlchaness, shielding her glowing yellow eyes from the sun’s light.
They murmured and milled, trying to guess ahead of time why they had been called together. It had happened before, often to announce a great discovery or the birth of a new school of mancy, but something felt different this time.; something was off.
Mancer held up her hands and the crowd grew silent. With a small gesture, her voice ws suddenly emanating from the ground itself.
“As many of you are aware, there have been rumblings in the worlds we left behind lately. Threats of violence and even war have trickled in through our information network, and now it seems that the hammer has dropped.”
There were gasps and a concerned murmur rippled through the crowd. “I have brought you all together because it has come to my attention that this man, this Emperor McCleod has aligned with the Sharrel…”
She let her words settle in for a moment before confirming the gathering’s mounting fear; Everyone knew Guendolyn, and they were all aware of what the Sharrel had done to her people. “We have to reveal ourselves to the others.” Some members of the group shouted concerns, but most of them sat silently, knowing that Mancer was right, and that her manticly amplified words meant that they would soon be joining in a war out of her sense of responsibility.
As expected, none moved to contradict her. “We must go out and study the people we intend to help; only those capable of responsibly handling the gift we will be sharing with them must be chosen. I wish we could simply share our knowledge with as many as would listen, but that would be like handing weapons to children who don’t have the knowledge to comprehend their danger.”
“We must start today. I want for everyone to find no more than five students a piece. Choose carefully, because these students will end up with students of their own. And our time will need to be split between teaching and using our own considerable talents to fight this war.”
The last words raised a collective gasp. Mancer held her hand up. “Yes, war, and we must help fight it. Not necessarily on the front lines, although many of us will be there as well. I ask this of you because you are my students and my friends; I do not require it. If any do not wish to be involved, I ask that you turn over your body of knowledge to the member who’s talent most closely matches your own so that we may still benefit from your studies.”
She waited several moments, and again it was no surprise to her that there was no dissension. She knew, in fact that many if not all of them would welcome the chance to finally show off their skills and spells to an audience that would be truly awed by the spectacle; on Pinnacle, it was hard to impress a person with a spell that created neon colored rain when they could cause a fish to grow horns with a thought. “Please, return to your homes and prepare for travel. At sunrise, we travel the Astral to find our students.”
Most walked back to their homes, but some of the more flamboyant mancers levitated, flew or in some cases, opened portal through reality and simply stepped into their homes. Guendolyn floated back up to the balcony and stepped lightly onto the rail next to her mentor. “When will we reveal ourselves, Lady?”
Mancer shrugged. “When we are ready. I am hoping that the search will not be long, but we must choose very carefully. Anyone who uses this power for evil will put blood on our hands. Now I know how Oppenheimer felt when they tested the first atomic bomb.” Guendolyn dropped to from the railing to land on the floor like a feather, then cocked her head to the side quizzically, looking like a small blond bird.”J. Robert Oppenheimer, he was a physicist back in twentieth century Earth. He headed up the project that turned atoms into bombs.” Guendolyn nodded, understanding the correlation; Mancer felt responsible for introducing the universe to an unimaginably potent source of power.
The two women walked together back into the tower. Mancer pointed to two chairs and waved toward herself; both pieces of furniture immediately slid across the floor to rest behind each of the mages. They sat together, and while Mancer cast a small enchantment to make the side of the power transparent to watch the sunset, Guendolyn used her mind to open a cabinet enchanted to keep things cool, then poured a bright, sparkling white wine into two crystal flutes for herself and her master; her friend.
The two sat and watched the color of the sky deepen, the colors so bright and vibrant they appeared to have been spread in the sky in oil paint by an artist’s rather than by nature, and clinked their glasses together. Mancer took a small sip and then said “I fear this war will change us, and everything else as we know it.”
Guendolyn nodded. “I agree, Lady. Let us ensure it is for the best.” Mancer smiled. She felt sure, with Guen by her side, everything would work out in the end.
On Flora, a distance removed from Pinnacle that could be measured in the life and deaths of several stars, Jamie Copeland stared out over a similar sunset from another balcony. The garden below was slowly disappearing into the gathering deep blue of the Flora night. She was waiting for the return of her friend Erin, and for a dinner Charlie had promised would make her breakfast seems meager and tasteless.
The last rays of the sun died behind a far off mountain range, and Jamie found herself catching her breath in surprise. The entire garden erupted with light. She suddenly realized that fully half of the exotic, alien flowers we bioluminescent, giving off an array of colors from bright blues, to deep blood red, and every color in between. She could see the paving stones of the walkway clearly from her perch five floors off the ground.b The water in the fountains sparkled and glowed as they sprayed and churned through the air. She stared at the spectacle below and asked herself quietly if she was awake or if she was still back on Chandace, about to be woken up from a wonderful dream, still in the grip of terror. She closed her eyes and counted to ten, and when she opened them again, the garden was still there, only now lights the size of golf balls were drifting through the sky. Several fluttered by and she realized they were the tails of fireflies easily larger than her hand. One of the beetles landed briefly on the rail of her balcony and she found herself drawn to it. It looked very much like the ones she grew up around, the Earthly variety that appeared to have large dark eyes and kindly face.
The insect stared at her a moment, then cocked its head, and flew off to join the others. The thousands of twinkling lights made the ground even easier to see, and was absolutely breathtaking. While she took in the stunning natural beauty around her, she thought about her new apartment.
It was spacious, huge even. The floor-plan had to take up a full fifteen hundred square feet. The bathroom had a gorgeous stone-tiled sit-down shower and jetted tub, a huge sink with minimalist but artistic hardware, and a mirrored wall that converted into a sink-to-ceiling television.
The kitchen was enormous, with exotic wood cabinets, she had been told it was called Jatoba, while the counter tops were made of an artificial black marble that could apparently withstand over one thousand degrees without marring. The fridge was like nothing she had ever seen before; it looked much like a large normal cabinet, only lit by panels built into the walls and ceiling of it, and while everything inside was cold, the fridge itself was room temperature.
She had a gigantic television, or rather, a section of wall that had been covered in paint that acted like a television, complete with a remote that could be operated by buttons or her voice. The furnishings were an overstuffed recliner and a soft obscenely comfortable sectional that ended in a chaise lounge. She had almost fallen asleep on that before dragging herself to the balcony for some fresh air.
Lastly, her bedroom was sparse; a huge walk in closet and a king sized bed that could be adjusted to any firmness or density; it could be like laying on concrete or turn into a water bed. She was looking forward to returning to that later. She was ready for dinner; her apple and breakfast had worn off hours ago, and the tea she had downed a few minutes before did nothing for her appetite.
She was thinking how strange everything was suddenly. Jamie had grown up an only child, and despite being spoiled, had developed into a modest, undemanding woman who spent a great deal of her time alone. She liked to write and play games, but had not been much of a social butterfly. That changed somewhat when she moved in with Erin; Erin was outgoing, flirtatious and was in everyone’s business. That made much more sense now that Jamie knew she was a spy.
But she had sparked a genuine friendship with her roommate; they spent a lot of time together, talking the war epic Jamie had wanted to write, discussing details of things like what if their whole life had been a lie? What if McLeod was actually a sick despot bent on conquest? What if there were alien races? Of course, she knew now that Erin was not merely suggesting these things. Jamie had always sensed a strange longing when the subject strayed to the imaginary world they had conjured up, like she wanted to say something but could not. Now she knew the truth; Erin had wanted to tell her all along, but didn’t out of fear for Jamie’s safety.
When Erin took off for a sabbatical, Jamie had accepted the news with resignation, figuring she would just be alone again. In the early months of their friendship, Jamie had lost both of her parents in a train wreck, and with no extended family to speak of, was alone in the world, except for Erin. Jamie had grown concerned after a couple of months had passed and Erin had not returned; she had grown increasingly worried that she was alone again, for good this time.
That had been the catalyst for her trying to get her story published. She had decided to succeed in spite of the boredom and the crushing loneliness. She had hoped for an email or a phone call from a publishing agent. What she received instead was an armed escort with a giant man in black armor. She had been introduced to the Emperor himself, a fat toad of a man on a planet that was a symbol of his ridiculous excess. She had refused to give up her “source” for the material that was used in her novel, and remained stoic when he laughed in her face, calling her writing childish and pandering.
The thin, gaunt man to his right did not seem to share Emperor Angus’ estimation; when she was being escorted to the chamber that eventually led her to Chandace, the man, General Prosek he had called himself, asked her a multitude of questions, oddly, about why she chose the strategies she did for the story. He even offered her a job as a strategist.
Jamie had laughed at him. Despite her terror, despite fearing that at any moment he would draw one of the pistols on his belt and shoot her in the face, she laughed at the absurdity of it. The man she had been raised to believe was the kind caring leader of her world was a petty, twisted brat, for lack of a better word; why would she help him hurt others? Apparently the answer had been to avoid being eaten by a monster on another dimension.
Now here she was, waiting for one friend to take her to dinner with a new friend, with the promise of meeting her friends. For the quiet and isolated Jamie, it was like a door was opening to a new world. She laughed at that thought; she had stepped through doors, literally, to new worlds. She suddenly realized that in the past few days, she had travelled to no less than three new worlds without ever once entering outer space.
She believed she had seen the ugliest of what existence had to show her, in the faces of McLeod and Prosek, and in the multi-colored jungles of Chandace. She was lucky, though, because she had been rescued from ugliness and brought here, to Flora, to what she could only imagine was the pinnacle of beauty. Her stomach was filled with butterflies. There was so much to look forward to tonight. Erin, dinner, Charlie, and the promise that she was going to meet the man that had faced down a planet of untold horrors to save a simple post-graduate who liked to write. She could not imagine anything that could bring down her amazing mood. Luckily, she still had several days before the ugly truth arrived to steal her new-found joy.