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PostPosted: Tue Dec 10, 2013 4:03 pm 

Joined: Sep 22, 2013
Posts: 875
Planes of the Dual-Walkers
by RavenoftheBlack
Status: Public :diamond:

Part 1

Daneera drifted.

Had she been on a material plane, what she experienced might have been called pain, but here in the Blind Eternities, it was more like the vague knowledge that something was wrong. It wasn't exactly discomfort, because the AEther itself was discomfort. It was more the sensation that something was missing, as if a hole had been torn in her body where her right side would have been. In the Blind Eternities, everything was chaotic, even her thoughts, but as she drifted aimlessly and desperately, inching ever closer to death's door, Daneera struggled to remember exactly what had happened.

For the past several months, Daneera had been working with the Oakumbra Duchy on Arbagoth, hunting down the infamous Poacher-mages who had been plaguing the Farwood. She knew those woods as well as anyone (she seemed to know any woods as well as anyone) but even so, it had taken her months to track down the Poacher-mages' main camp. When she arrived, she learned there were far more of them than the Duchy had thought. Over two dozen Poacher-mages converged on her, and while she defeated several of them, the others were too much, even for a planeswalker.

Then she remembered. One of the Poacher-mages had struck her in the side with a damnable AEther arrow. Only Daneera's spark had kept her from death. Still, if she hadn't 'walked, it would have been over in minutes. The vast forests of Farwood were practically overflowing with precious, green mana, and still it took all of Daneera's reserves and most of her mental faculties just to 'walk off Arbagoth, and now, she was adrift in the Blind Eternities, and time, if such a thing existed here, was her enemy.

Daneera had no idea how long she drifted, or whether or not she had remained aware the entire time. Occasionally, she wondered if she were already dead. But eventually, she became aware of a subtle pull, and merest gleam in the distance, though she again had to wonder if any of these sensations truly had meaning in the Blind Eternities. Still, whatever it was, it was a hope, and the only one she had. Using what must have been the very last of her reserves, Daneera forced herself through the swirling maelstrom of AEther. As the mists of existence faded around her, she had a just a few, brief moments to see the endless expanse of grass and hills that made up this plane. Then searing pain exploded from the wound in her side, and she collapsed into darkness.

* * *

To Daneera, the effort of opening her eyes seemed to take hours. The pain in her side was immense, though nothing nearly so mind-shattering as when she had first materialized. Even the memory of that sensation hurt worse than any other pain she remembered. As she struggled to regain her sight, she found she could make out voices speaking somewhere, though how far away they might be, she could only guess. Her first attempt to force her reluctant eyelids open met with only marginal success, as the first rays of light they allowed through forced them shut once more. Eventually, however, the effort paid off, and Daneera could finally see her surroundings.

She was not impressed. She was lying on what seemed to be a straw bed in what could only described as an extremely modest hut. She could barely move her head, but it felt as though the wound had been bandaged, although the agony she felt suggested the bandage was of little help. Daneera reached out her mind, a far greater struggle than it had ever been before, and tried to find some trace of green mana in the area, some force she could tap into in an effort to speed her body's natural healing. She found nothing, not a single speck of her beloved green mana. She tried to reach further out, but the effort was painful, and Daneera closed her eyes again and let out an audible groan.

"Father! Lady's 'wake!" She heard a small voice squeak.

"Oh, thank the Rulus," came the response of a much deeper voice. "Go fetch your mother, Lem. And Atriul."

Daneera could not make out the child's response, but it was mostly a high-pitched wail. A few moments later, she felt a hand come to rest against her forehead. She wanted to shrug it off (physical contact was never Daneera's strong suit) but she lacked the strength to do so. She did, however, manage to force her eyes open once again. Peering over her was a man, human or thereabouts, with a concerned look in his otherwise non-descript face.

"How are you feeling?" He asked, moving his hand away. "Can you speak?"

She couldn't. She tried a few times, but no words came, and the effort weakened her further. Finally, she gave up and slumped. The man standing next to her smiled a very thin, sad sort of smile.

"It's okay. My wife is a healer, and my son will bring her back soon. I'm Ilo. Do you think you can sit up?"

With considerable effort, Daneera managed to flex her shoulders. Apparently, sitting up was also out of the question. Once more she reached out her mind to the surrounding area, hoping in vain for some thread of usable mana, but there was quite simply none. For a woman who could ordinarily spend months or years alone in the forests on nearly any plane she had seen, this unaccustomed weakness was maddening.

Ilo frowned, and although he did not say it, his transparent look clearly said 'this is very, very bad.' Instead, out loud, he said, "Well, don't worry. It'll come. I'm going to try to lift your head up a bit, so if this is too painful…" he hesitated, realizing she still couldn't speak. "…uh, just let me know…somehow."

As gently as he could, Ilo lifted Daneera's head and positioned a new pillow under it. The effort actually did not hurt much, and she made no reaction. From her new position, she could see the door, or rather the tattered cloth that served as a door, and she could also make out a good portion of the bandage she had previously just presumed was there. It was almost completely soaked through with blood, and even from her awkward position, she could tell the blood was dark.

Ilo continued to talk at her for several minutes before the cloth door opened and a woman appeared. Daneera suspected this must be Ilo's wife, but nothing about the woman suggesting healer. Nothing about her really suggested anything. She was the same sort of bland, unspectacular sort of person that Ilo was. Dully, Daneera wondered if everyone on this plane was so unremarkable.

Ilo began speaking to her almost the moment she arrived. "She doesn't seem able to speak. She can't move around, but can move a little, but she's still in a lot of pain."

The woman did not say a word, but she lightly touched Ilo's arm as she moved past him and toward the straw bed. For a moment, the woman did nothing, she simply looked Daneera over with a thoughtful expression on her face. Then her frown deepened as she took a small, square cloth from a leather bag she had slung around her hip. She locked eyes with the planeswalker and bit her lip before speaking. "I'm very sorry, but this is going to hurt. Probably a lot. Please forgive me."

With those words, she gently laid the fingers of her right hand, carefully wrapped in the cloth, right against Daneera's wound. The pain increased immediately, and Daneera knew she'd have screamed, had her voice been working. As her eyes clenched shut, she saw Ilo wince while his wife seemed to force back a tear. The pain continued for what must have been minutes, and eventually she heard the woman speak again. "Okay, now please swallow this. It should help with the pain."

Daneera felt something glass pressed lightly against her bottom lip, and when the strange, lumpy liquid began to pour into her mouth, Daneera did not have the strength to resist. Fortunately, whatever that liquid was seemed to work almost immediately. The sharp, stabbing pain in her side finally relented until it became a more gentle throbbing. It was still painful, certainly, but nothing like what it had been. With less effort than she had feared it would take, Daneera forced a smile.

The relief on the healer's face made Daneera wonder if she knew what she was doing. But before she could move into a new position, the healer held up her hands. "Please be careful. That potion is more painkiller than healer. Your wound is still pretty bad."

Daneera slumped back against the pillow. Though her throat was dry, she struggled to speak, and this time, found her voice. "Thank you. Any idea how long till it heals?"

The healer glanced over at Ilo before she answered. "I'm afraid I have no idea. This wound is unlike anything I've ever seen."

Suddenly, a head popped up from Daneera's left side, the small, wild-haired head of a small boy. "Are you an angel?"

Daneera was more than a little taken aback by the question. She thought back throughout her life and the things she had done, and knew without question she had never been asked that before. That fact had never surprised or bothered her. "Why would you think I'm an angel?"

Ilo answered before his son could. "They found you out in the Long Grass, bleeding and unconscious. But there were no tracks around you. Not for a very long way."

"So I figured ya flew!" Lem said with a grin.

"Maybe we should start with a name," suggested the healer. "I'm Lowa."

The planeswalker nodded, or something like it. "Daneera."

Lem grinned. "So you’re a angel, right?"

Ilo laughed slightly, though it seemed an almost nervous laugh. "Come on, now, Lem, she need not be an angel. Perhaps she's one of those griffin riders from Jorpal, and she was thrown from her mount?"

"Or perhaps she's an emissary of the Rulus," offered Lowa.

"If she is," stated a new voice from the doorway, "then she is not to be questioned." A figure walked into the room, a tall man wearing a white robe and showing the beginnings of old age on his face. He stepped next to Lem on Daneera's left side and looked down at the boy, sternly. "Or pestered."

Lowa and Ilo bowed their heads toward him, and the healer spoke. "I'm sorry, Atriul, we all got a bit carried away."

Atriul shifted his glance over to her and held it for a moment, before breaking into a smile. "Nothing to be sorry for. The boy is a child, his wonder is natural. As for the two of you, well, a mystery begs for solving, does it not? But I think I may be best suited to learn what she is, if I may be so bold as to ask you to step outside of your own home."

The couple smiled and nodded. Ilo spoke first. "Of course, Atriul. We'll just be outside if you need us."

"Kind of you, my boy." Replied the robed man while shifting his gaze once more, this time to Daneera. Ilo and Lowa quickly shuffled little Lem out the door, the child complaining the whole way. Once they were gone, Atriul waited and considered Daneera until he was sure the family was well out of earshot.

"You are a planeswalker, aren't you?"

The surprise Daneera had experienced at Lem's question was merely an acorn next to the giant redwood of shock she felt at Atriul's. She had been to dozens of planes before, and usually it was only the most advanced planes that had even heard of planeswalkers. And even they would likely not have pieced together that she was one simply from what little information they had on her.

"Yes. How did you know?"

"I have met others of your kind," he paused, thinking about something, "but most others here have not. I would ask that you keep your nature, and the existence of the other planes, between ourselves for the time being. No need to disrupt life here, you understand."

She nodded. She did not know why it was so important, but she was certainly in no position to argue the point. All she wanted was to heal and return to Arbagoth, where she had quite the score to settle. "So where exactly is 'here,' anyway?"

He lifted his eyebrows. "This plane, you mean? Lefkos. A peaceful little plane, comparatively, from what I understand."

"What do you mean, from what you understand?"

"Well, as I said, I'm no planeswalker, myself. But from what I've learned of the other places, this one seems smaller, quieter, more peaceful."

"And who are you?"

"Oh, I'm so sorry, I should have introduced myself properly! My name is Atriul. I'm the Maguv of this region," he noticed the confused look in her eyes. "This region is Dulom," again, the same look. "A Maguv is a mage, who has been given administrative authority over a region."

"So you're a mage, then?"

"Yes, one of only a very few. Lefkos typically houses no more than a dozen or so mages at any given time."

"I'm not surprised," Daneera said bluntly, finally managing to sit upright. "I've been trying to draw green mana from here since I woke up, but I can't find any, and I'm still too weak to pull my own."

Atriul was laughing by the time she was done, and so she trailed off and glared at him. He noticed her expression. "I am sorry, I should not laugh, but you misspoke, my dear. You probably did not even realize it, but you said 'green' mana a moment ago."

Now convinced her visitor was more or less insane, Daneera narrowed her eyes at him. "I don't see what's funny. There's no green mana here whatsoever."

Now Atriul was looking a little annoyed. "Look, my dear, I may not be able to walk the planes like you, but I am not unschooled in these matters. If you are attempting to play some kind of trick on me, I should be very disappointed in you. There is no such thing as "green" mana, and even the youngest of apprentices knows that. Besides, of the four types of mana, only white is available on Lefkos."

"If Lefkos only produces white mana, how do you even know other types exist?"

Back to his more chipper mood, Atriul chuckled. "From the Rulus, of course."

Daneera remembered Ilo and Lowa had both mentioned that word before. "Rulus? Is that this plane's deity?"

"Yes," confirmed the Maguv, and then he turned around to peer at the door, making sure no one was listening. He leaned in closer to Daneera and talked much lower when he continued. "Two planeswalkers of unbelievable power. They came here thousands of years ago, and with them they brought peace and understanding to the Wheel."

"The Wheel?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, I forget. It's not often I speak with any who know the Truths who were not also students of the Rulus. The Wheel is Their name for the planes here. There are four of them, each connected by "spokes" of mana to Anissem, the "hub" plane in the center. That is the home of the Rulus."

Daneera thought through everything she had heard, but nothing seemed quite right about it. Suddenly, though, she realized she was tired. Exhausted, in fact. She glanced back up at Atriul and saw his left hand, glowing white, and extended toward her. He was casting some sort of spell, but she was too weak, and too tired, to fight it.

"Enough talk. For now, my dear, just sleep. Rest. Heal. I have learned what I came here to learn. We will likely see one another again."

Daneera wanted to respond, or stop him, or resist somehow, but it was too late. In moments, her eyes slammed shut, and she slept.

* * *

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 10, 2013 4:03 pm 

Joined: Sep 22, 2013
Posts: 875
Part 2

When Daneera awoke, she was alone. Her right side still ached, but she was able to move around, shift position and even sit up without too much trouble. The bandage around her wound had been changed, and she could no longer see any blood seeping through. She sat up, and again cast her mind out in search of green mana, but Atriul seemed to have been right. There was simply none to be found. There was mana here, to be sure, but Daneera had no talent for the powers of the plains. She could make some small use of it, perhaps enough to 'walk, but all of the spells she knew and lived by required green mana. Without it, she was more or less helpless, particularly while still wounded.

For the first time in what may well have been days, Daneera stood up. Her legs were less sturdy than usual, and she had to hold her wound with her left hand, but she did manage to find her feet. She walked to the cloth door and pushed it aside, but was unimpressed by the view. At first she thought it must have been nearly nightfall, since the colors of the sky seems gray and muted, but the sun seemed to hang almost directly above her, and there wasn't a cloud to be seen. To Daneera's right, there were a cluster of houses, huts, really, forming strangely concentric half-circles. To her left, there was nothing but endless grassland, not the rich, full, green grass she saw on many planes, but rather an almost sickly yellow.

Leaning against the doorway of the healer's hut, Daneera closed her eyes and concentrated, bringing to mind her favorite places. She thought of the vast Farwood of Arbagoth, the endless jungles of Naya, and countless other forests she had visited, loved, and formed those precious manabonds with. But something was wrong. Something still seemed to block the flow of green mana that usually came with her memories. It was as if some mystical wall was holding back the deluge of her power. She could still sense the mana, and she knew, even if only by instinct, that the mana wanted to get to her, but it was somehow blocked. Daneera was about to give up in abject frustration when she felt a tiny little drop of green mana reach her. It was barely a whisper of the forces of the forest, but to her, it was a great victory. So the block, whatever it was, was not perfect. Daneera smiled. It might take a while, but there was hope for her yet.

"Lady's 'wake!"

The screech of little Lem's voice broke Daneera's concentration, but it did not matter now. She had her flow of mana, however weak that flow was, and, in time, she could heal herself fully and leave Lefkos once and for all. Lem ran up at full-speed, and stumbled a little as he tried to stop dead before running into the wounded woman. She could not help but crack a smile. He was so young and so innocent, but as he looked up at her, she noticed the bags under his eyes. He must not be sleeping well, she thought, then realized she might well have been using his bed this whole time. Still, though, little Lem grinned broadly as he spoke to her.

"Hi, lady! How ya feeling? You're standing! Does that mean you're okay? Mama was sayin' that walkin's a good sign. Last winter, Hyn fell and broke his leg, he said it hurt real bad, but mama fixed him up and after a while he could walk again and mama said that's good."

Daneera nodded occasionally at the child's ramblings, but said nothing as he bounced happily from one story to the next. Eventually, Ilo came around the corner and managed to calm his son down. "I'm sorry, Daneera, he tends to get a little excited."

"That's okay, Ilo, he's just a child. Does he still think I'm an angel?"

Ilo laughed, more honestly this time. "No, Atriul told us what you are."

This surprised Daneera. "Oh, really? What did he tell you?"

Lem squeaked with joy. "He said you're like me!"

Once more, Daneera's brow furrowed in confusion. "Like you?"

Ilo nodded. "One of the Touched. Don't worry, he told us your village didn't know much about these things, it's nothing to be embarrassed about. Those people the Rulus Touch are gifted in magic. Without training, they usually only have a spell or two, but they get the honor of training with the Rulus, and might one day become a Maguv, like Atriul."

"Lem can use magic?"

The boy suddenly stopped bouncing up and down and seemed to get serious, even sad. Ilo patted his son on the head and nodded sympathetically. "Lem's spell is…dangerous. He can't control it well yet."

Lem's chin was touching his chest. Daneera could barely hear him when he spoke. "I break things." His head snapped back up, tears welling in the corners of his eyes. "I don't mean to! Promise!"

Again, Ilo comforted his son. "Not things, exactly. Spells, I guess. Last year, Lowa had a very bad case, a wound that had gone bad. Different from yours, it was…green, oozing. It was nothing she knew how to cure. We sent for Atriul, and he cast some sort of spell on it, made a sort of, shimmering bubble around it. Lem got excited and pointed at it, and it, just, sort of, disappeared."

The boy can disenchant, Daneera thought. Interesting. "That's not such a bad thing," she said, smiling at Lem. "You just need to be careful, that's all."

Lem nodded happily at that. "And it means I can train with the Rulus when I'm older! I'll cast all kinds of gooder spells and help people, like mama and Atriul do!"

"Where is Atriul, anyway?" Daneera asked. There were things she needed to set straight with that man.

"Oh, he said he was needed urgently at Yyrn, the Mirrored City. He said Lowa and I were to see to your healing, and he would be back as soon as he could."

The planeswalker nodded. She was not exactly surprised. Something seemed a little off about Atriul, and she certainly did not like being the target of his sleeping spell, nor did she particularly enjoy the active deceit she was forced to be a part of. Still, if she were honest, Daneera would rather have him far away than nearby, especially with her mana supplies so dangerously low. She probably could not even summon a squirrel right now, let alone the apex predators she usually called her allies. For the time being, she would just wait, recuperate, and build up a reserves of mana that might one day prove useful.

Days passed without much happening, to the point where Daneera found herself unspeakably bored. Life on Lefkos was happy, but incredibly simple. Most of the time was spent tending to the fields, and even Lowa helped out, despite her position as a healer. Lem and the other children played an endless array of nameless games, and the food was unvaried and uninspired. Daneera could spend considerable amounts of time alone in the woods on the other planes she had visited, but even she needed some form of distraction.

And the sleep! The people of Lefkos seemed to sleep constantly. Most slept for at least half the day, and that was no exaggeration. Only the children seemed to be awake longer, but not by much. Although, Daneera had to admit that the constantly dulled colors of this world would put anyone to sleep. She spent her time focusing on healing, as well as trying to build up that reserve of green mana to finally and permanently heal her wound. Still, though, if her mana reserve were a lake, it was filling up one raindrop at a time.

Two weeks to the day after Daneera woke up, Atriul return, and he was not alone. Daneera was out in the fields, trying to help Lowa and Ilo as best she could, and Lem had joined them just a few minutes earlier, when they became aware of a rumbling in the distance. As first Daneera thought it was thunder, but there had been no storms in the whole time she had been there, apart from some exceedingly gentle rains in the mornings. When the noise grew louder, she looked up to see a cloud of dust in the distance, which eventually revealed itself as a dozen or so horsemen, led by Atriul himself.

"The Silver Riders," Ilo exhaled. No one else said a word.

Daneera stared blankly at them. "But they'll trample the fields!"

Ilo nodded. "It's theirs to trample."

It did not take long for the Riders to cover the distance between themselves and the workers. Daneera could see quite clearly why they were named the Silver Riders. Each one was covered in an ornate suit of silver plate mail, and each carried a short lance, serrated at the tips, also crafted of the precious metal. They were the only things she had seen on Lefkos that did not look dull and lifeless. They came to a halt a short distance from Daneera. Atriul, still wearing his white robes, moved his horse a pace forward and spoke, a huge smile across his face.

"Great news, my dear! In the Mirrored City, I have heard the voices of the Rulus! They wish to meet you. I have been instructed to escort you there immediately, and I have even been instructed to offer you an honor guard of Silver Riders."

Daneera glanced around, uneasy. This was no escort; this was an abduction. "If it's all the same, Atriul, I think I would rather stay here."

The collective gasp of those around her filled her ears even before the Silver Riders leveled their lances at her. Atriul's rage was palpable as he replied. "One does NOT decline an offer to ride with the Silver Riders, and one CERTAINLY does not decline a summons from the Rulus. You will come with us, Daneera, and you will do so now."

The workers of the village had already moved a safe distance away, and the Riders were beginning to fan out to surround the planeswalker. She could tell that their lances were razor-sharp, and they moved their horses in such as way that their skill atop them was unquestionable. Still, Daneera was not nearly so helpless as she had been weeks previous. She could move, for one thing, but even more importantly, she had access to her green mana, hoarded from weeks of concentration through the tiniest hole in some unseen barricade. She had her mana, but precious little of it. Enough for one spell, maybe two, but which one would have the best chance to save her?

The Silver Riders inched closer as Daneera scanned through her mental catalog of creatures she could summon. None seemed quite right. She had multiple assailants, and even if she could summon one beast large enough to handle them alone, they were likely agile enough for one or two to get around them. Very well, she thought, I guess I'll have to do this myself.

Tapping into the tiny reserve of green mana she had, and using some of the excess white mana around her to fill in the rest, Daneera called forth a suit of armor crafted in wood and vines. She had donned this attire countless times, and it gave her the strength of the earth and the durability of the trees. The Riders balked a bit as Daneera seemed to grow in size, but they were well-trained, and they charged her after their moment's hesitation. Daneera shrugged aside the first charge, even unhorsing one of the Riders, but they wheeled around and lined themselves up for another charge. A solid punch to the horseless rider send him spiraling into the line, and bought the planeswalker some time, but not enough. The Riders were precise, and broke into a charge even as they were reforming their line.

Daneera dropped into a sort of half-crouch, prepared to meet their charge, when she heard a small voice scream from behind her. "No! Don't hurt her!" She glanced back to see little Lem running toward her, his hand outstretched. Without a warning, a flash of light erupted from the child's hand. The light distracted the Riders, who struggled to a halt, but it was far more disastrous to Daneera. The moment the light fell on her armor, the armor evaporated into a tiny puff of dust. As she stood there, she tried to call more green mana to her aid, but there was none left, or at least far too little. She looked back at Lem, shock on her face, as his mouth hung open and tears started streaming down his cheeks.

From the other direction, she heard Atriul's voice. "Seize her, while we can!"

Daneera turned back to see the Silver Riders approaching her at a canter, a smirk plastered on Atriul's face. She took one more look at Lowa, Ilo and Lem, and then vanished into thin air.

* * *

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 10, 2013 4:04 pm 

Joined: Sep 22, 2013
Posts: 875
Part 3

Usually, when Daneera 'walked, she used a small stream of green mana to help guide her and keep her more or less grounded in a sort of consciousness that was similar to what she had on solid ground. Now, however, she lacked that anchor, and her mind twisted and tumbled with the same type of chaotic swirling as the mists of AEther themselves. She could not concentrate, could not think, could not even remember where or who she was. All she could do was be pulled and dragged by the endless tides of reality, and hope that she could find a friendlier shore, some plane, any plane, as long as it was somewhere other than where she had just been.

Finally, after what seemed like a hellish eternity, she felt that familiar pull of a nearby plane. Using everything that was left of her dangerously depleted mana supply, she concentrated and willed herself through the chaos and onto the plane. At first, she was unsure whether or not it had actually worked. She was standing on solid ground, and she felt as though she had a physical body, but she could not see anything. It was all just a gray-white color, everywhere she looked. But after a moment or two, she realized it was snowing. Hard. The snowflakes were large and falling fast, and it was cold, but not unbearably so. Looking down, Daneera noticed that she was shin-deep in snow. Unfortunately, she also noticed that her journey through the AEther had somehow reopened the wound in her side. It had not bled for over a week on Lefkos, but already the blood was seeping through her shirt.

But Daneera had more pressing concerns. While the temperature was still manageable, it was cold and getting colder. She needed shelter, and maybe some place to re-bandage herself. She closed her eyes and reached out for green mana, but once again, there was none, although the local mana here did have a vaguely warming sensation. Red mana. She had felt it before, though never used it herself. It had never seemed quite as dependable or consistent as her green mana did. Coming up short here, too, she again concentrated harder, recalling as many of her favorite forest haunts as she could, but that same barrier kept her from claiming it.

"Same story, different plane." She said aloud to herself.

"Eh? Who said that?" Rumbled a very deep voice.

Daneera looked around her, but even her sharp eyes could see nothing. She knew she was in no condition to fight, should this visitor prove dangerous, but she also knew she would not last long in a blizzard without help. Ultimately, she decided to risk it.

"I did! I'm over here, but I can't see you! Who am I speaking with?"

For a few moments, no one answered. Then, slowly, the ground started to shake. Daneera stood perfectly still as she was convinced this was some sort of earthquake, and her assumption seemed validated as the ground on either side of her began to rise. She tried to grab a hold of one of the shelves of rock that were ascending beside her, but the effort aggravated her wound, and she slumped to the ground, clutching her side. When her pain subsided enough to look up, she saw that what she thought was the ground was really a massive hand of stone. She had been standing between the pointer and middle finger of the largest stone giant she had ever seen.

The gigantic hand moved back down, and Daneera was certain it was going to crush her, or at least pick her up. Instead, the hand moved right next to the planeswalker, blocking the wind and most of the snow. From the other direction, a massive head of granite swung into her view, its eyes focusing in on her, but a kindly sort of smile on its face. When it spoke, its voice was deep and rumbling, but not nearly as loud as Daneera had feared it would be.

"Oh, hello! I wasn't expecting company today, or I would have cleared a path for you! I do love visitors. My name is Torbelloxes, but most people call me Tor."

"Daneera. Can you tell me where I am, Tor?"

"Pleased to meet you! You're on, what I like to call, the Me Mountain!" He laughed for a disproportionate amount of time. "I'm sorry, that's my little joke. This is the Axe Blade Range, about a thousand paces from the Mirrored City."

Daneera's shoulders slumped. "The Mirrored City? Yyrn? I'm still on Lefkos?"

The stone giant looked confused. "I'm sorry, little friend, but I don't know those words. What is a Yyrn? And which range is Lefkos?"

"I thought you said the mirrored city?"

"Yes, Bornkys, the Mirrored City! Never been inside, myself, of course. Much too small. But other guests of mine have told me it's very nice."

Daneera was tempted to pursue her line of questioning, but when she noticed blood was beginning to stain the snow around her feet, she knew other things were far more important. "Tor, I hate to be rude, but I'm badly hurt. Do you know anywhere I can get some healing nearby? I might die soon if I don't get help."

The giant seemed to squint, his igneous eyes narrowing in on her wound, and when he saw it, they opened wide in surprise. "Oh, my dear little friend! I forget how frail you flesh-folk are. I didn't do that to you, did I?"

"No, Tor, it's an old wound, I just re-opened it."

The giant seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, although Daneera was unsure if this giant even breathed. "Oh, thank the Rulus! I know someone who can help you. He lives quite close, only about ninety paces or so. Come on, I'll get you there."

Daneera was more than a little disconcerted to hear another reference to the Rulus, but not nearly as disconcerted as she was to be picked up by a giant the size of this one. Each of his fingers were about the same size as she was, maybe a little bigger, and his struggle to stand up from his lying position was highly uncomfortable. However, his grasp was surprisingly gentle. Daneera did learn quickly, however, that a pace to Torbelloxes was far longer than a pace to a human. In fact, she estimated that the ninety paces he covered to get to their destination was roughly a mile. Whatever this plane was, it seemed little more than mountains for a far as the eye could see, even an eye as big and far off the ground as Tor's.

Their destination was a little cave cut into an outcropping of rock part-way up a particularly tall cliff face. When Tor was standing on the ground, the outcropping was just a bit below his eye level. The person they had come to meet, a man Tor had named Dyllyg, was already standing out on the ledge. Torbelloxes's approaches were not the most subtle.

"What do you want now, Tor," the man asked, his voice gruff, his tone more than a little annoyed. "Can't you see it's snowing out here. Again."

Tor nodded, almost sheepishly. "I know, Dyllyg, I'm sorry, but my new friend is hurt, and you're the only one I know who can help her."

Dyllyg groaned. "Really, Tor, this thing with you and your imaginary friends has been entertaining in the past, but this is really too much!"

Torbelloxes raised his hand, showing Daneera to the old man on the cliff.

Dyllyg stared for several moments before he composed himself and spoke. "Well, now, what do we have here?"

"Hurt friend," Tor answered proudly. He lightly set Daneera down on the ledge, exposing her blood-soaked shirt to Dyllyg.

The old man whistled low when he saw the fresh blood. "I see what you mean. I'll do what I can. Will you be sticking around then, Tor?"

The stone giant considered. "No, I think I should get back. Storm's getting worse."

Dyllyg looked at the sky. "Much."

Daneera turned and waved at her gigantic friend. "Thank you, Tor. You saved my life."

Torbelloxes grinned. "Anything for a visitor!"

When she turned back the other direction, Dyllyg was staring at her, his face somewhere between a frown and a scowl. "What are you?"

She did not really know how to answer. "I don't know what you mean. I'm wounded, that's about the best I can do."

His eyes narrowed. "Nobody gets to Me Mountain…" and paused, cocked his head sideways and clicked his tongue, "I mean, Axe Blade Ridge, without coming through this pass," he pointed below. "You didn't. So what are you, huh? The newest Maguv from the Mirrored City trying to claim Axe Blade?"

"I'm no Maguv," she spat back, annoyed. "But I would like to know where I am, and why everything sounds the same as it does on Lefkos!"

He rolled his eyes. "If you know about Lefkos, you're either a Maguv or a liar. The only other option would be a…" His eyes widened. "You're a planeswalker?"

Daneera merely nodded. Dyllyg moved over closer to her and peered over the edge downward, and then to each direction including up. Then he spoke again, his voice hushed and whispering. "We'd better get inside."

He helped support Daneera's weight as he led her through a crude wooden door and into the cave beyond, which was considerably more comfortable than she had expected. A fireplace cut into the stone of the mountain, along with several candles, lit the spacious room and provided considerably more heat than the outside air. Dyllyg gently sat her down and immediately pulled her shirt up past her wound. He studied the wound silently for a minute or so, and then got to work cleaning and dressing it. He had a few ointments to ease the pain, but nothing that could actually help heal it. As he was working, he spoke with her.

"It's an honor to meet you, I must say. As I'm sure Tor told you, my name is Dyllyg. I'm something of a hermit out here, one of the few living, breathing creatures in Axe Blade Ridge."

The planeswalker nodded. "Daneera. So what is this plane, anyway?"

"Kokkinos," he answered as he grabbed a new cloth. "The red shard of the Wheel. You said you know of Lefkos, the white shard."

"I just came from there," Daneera said, gritting her teeth. "I didn't like it very much. I left in a bit of a hurry."

The older man just nodded and continued to work. "Have you seen the other planes? Mavros? Galanos?"

"No, have you?"

Dyllyg laughed. "No, no, I can't walk the planes. The furthest I've been in Anissem, and that was quite enough."

This caught Daneera's attention. "Wait, I thought Anissem was the central plane. If you can't planeswalk, how'd you get there?"

He stopped momentarily to glance up at her, then smiled. "There is a portal in the Mirrored City. It connects directly to the Mirror Palace on Anissem."

"So people can just go from one to the other, whenever they want?

Dyllyg chuckled again. "Of course not. The Fire Flight protects the portal, and the Ziggurat, at all times. I was allowed to pass through when I was training…as a Maguv."

"Wait, so you're a Maguv?"

Dyllyg shook his head. "Nope. I was supposed to be, I was assigned to be, but I quit. I'm not exactly as 'in awe' of the Rulus as everyone else on this plane."

"Dyllyg, do you know why I can't access any green mana on these planes? I've been trying since I first arrived on Lefkos, and I can't even get any from my own manabonds."

He did not even stop working as he answered. "What's 'green' mana?"

"Hells! You've never heard of green mana, either? What is it with this place? So if Lefkos only produces white mana, and Kokkinos only red, what are those other two you mentioned?"

"Black mana from Mavros, blue in Galanos." He hesitated, stopping his work. "Wait a moment, you said 'either.' Who else have you asked about mana?"

"Atriul, a Maguv over on Lefkos."

Dyllyg's face, already quite pale, drained of color even further at this news. "You mean to tell me that a Maguv knows a planeswalker is in the Wheel? Oh, this is bad. Tell me, how long ago did you reveal your identity to this…Atriul?"

"At least a couple of weeks. He already tried to take me to Yyrn, their Mirrored City, but I escaped by 'walking here."

Dyllyg shook his head. "From the Mirrored Cities, the Maguvs can talk directly to the Rulus. If he tried to bring you to them, it means the Rulus already know you're here."

"They can't know that I 'walked from Lefkos to Kokkinos, and anyway, they likely just want to meet me. From the reactions you and Atriul both gave me, I assume not many planeswalkers come through here, and Atruil admitted to me that the Rulus are 'walkers."

"With due respect, Daneera, you may know a lot more planeswalkers than I do, but I know the Rulus far better than you. As they trained us to become their Maguv's we were told to keep an eye out for any planeswalkers, and to report them immediately. And the Rulus are not the sort to desire a friendly chat."

"Who exactly are the Rulus, anyway?"

"Well, the Rulus…" he stopped, cocking his head to the side. "Do you hear that?" He stood up and moved swiftly to the door, opening it just a crack to listen outside. He need not have bothered, because this time the sound was all too audible. It was a loud screeching of a bird of prey. "Curse the Rulus!" he screamed, turning back into the cave room.

"What," Daneera asked, "what is it?"

He looked her straight in the eyes. "The Fire Flight! Elemental warriors, creatures of flame, riding on phoenixes. Deadly, and undoubtedly looking for you."

"Even if they were looking for me, how could they possibly have found me so fast? I've only been on this plane for an hour or two!"

"Well, I suspect you and I are each at fault for one another's calamities. They look for you, so they come here. They come here, because they know I live here."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"Usual suspects, I'm afraid. If anyone on this plane is going to offer aid to the enemy of the Rulus, it would be me." He paused as the screech grew louder. "There's no time, Daneera. Save yourself. You need to planeswalk. If they find you here, we're both done."

"Dyllyg, you don't understand. It nearly killed me the last time, and my wound wasn't even open then. I doubt I'll survive another 'walk."

The older man thought for a second, then nodded. He walked over and laid his hand against the wound. "I'll try to cauterize the wound. I warn you, this will hurt immensely."

Daneera wanted to protest, but the approaching screech of the Fire Flight convinced her otherwise. She nodded her okay, and discovered immediately that he had not exaggerated. The pain was horrible, but she used every ounce of willpower she had to keep from screaming out. When it was finally over, she looked down to see her flesh searing and smoking, but not bleeding.

"Now hurry, get off this plane while you can. Do not let the Rulus catch you."

Daneera nodded, but hesitated. "But what about you, Dyllyg? What will they do with you when they get here?"

The older man's face seemed to tighten. "It depends on whether they believe me when I tell them I've never heard of you. They might just leave me alone, or stake me out for a few days. They might arrest me…" he paused, glancing back at the planeswalker. "They might kill me"

"I can't let that happen! You helped me, I need to help you, too."

But Dyllyg shook his head. "Even if you could fend off the Fire Flight, it would still tell the Rulus exactly where you are. They cannot be allowed to get their hands on a planeswalker."

Daneera's impulse was to argue, but the desperate look in Dyllyg's face told her it was useless, even dangerous. Reluctantly, Daneera closed her eyes and willed herself off of Kokkinos and once again into the incarnate chaos of the Blind Eternities. As she tumbled through the AEther, Daneera cursed herself for relying on her green mana anchor to navigate Dominia. As the tempest of existence roared around her, she found herself wondering if other planeswalkers used similar methods of steadying themselves. It had just always been so natural to her, from the first time she had ever 'walked the planes, she had experienced that chaos, and immediately and instinctively reached out to her green mana to bring her back to some sense of reality. Without it, Daneera felt lost in an endless ocean, praying to wash up on any random shore.

This time, when she felt a physical world manifest around her, she almost wished she were still adrift in the AEther. The world was dark, almost pitch black, with just some eerie light from illuminated swamp gasses all around her. She did not even need to reach out with her mind to know that this place was steeped in black mana. She did search for green, but without much hope of finding any, and she was not surprised to find the area completely devoid of it, and the barrier keeping her own supply out still very much in effect. Without a doubt, this must have been Mavros, the name Dyllyg had given for the black mana shard, which meant she was still in the Wheel.

Daneera cursed. Loudly. This ordeal was becoming insufferable. If the things told to her by Dyllyg and Atriul were true, it seemed like green mana basically did not exist on any of the planes of the Wheel, and without green mana, Daneera had no hope of successfully navigating the Blind Eternities and breaking free . She had learned in Lefkos that she could draw green mana from her own mana bonds, but only at an incredibly tedious pace. It would likely take her several weeks to gather enough green mana to leave the Wheel, and that was if the Rulus did not find her first, and considering it had only taken them a matter of hours to track her on Kokkinos, she did not like her odds.

Suddenly Daneera realized she had been kneeling in foot-high, stagnant water ever since she had arrived on this dismal plane. As she struggled to stand up on the slippery, uneven ground, she felt a familiar pain re-emerge from her right side. Although the light in this place was barely enough for her to make out the merest outline of her own frame, she reached for her wound and felt it bleeding once more. The scar tissue from Dyllyg's cauterization was still there, but the blood was seeping out at the edge. At least it's not gushing this time, the planeswalker thought, but I do need to get out of here. I've never been to a plane where blood and water were a good mix.

There were neither moon nor stars to help guide Daneera or illuminate her way through this bog, and so she simply choose the direction that was the lightest and set off. Her progress was torturously slow, with horrible footing and essentially no light, but she knew she needed to keep moving. She had spent most of her life in vast forests, and nights were often as dark as this, and she had developed an instinct for knowing when she was being watched by a predator. This was certainly one of those times. She had no idea what it was, or from what direction it was watching, or how many there might be, but there was undeniably something watching her.

Eventually, she come to something like a clearing, or at least it would have been that in a forest. Here, with the swamp water all around, it was probably more like an island. Either way, it seemed to be the source of the light she had been following. All around the outskirts of this open area grew strange, stalk-stemmed plants between two and five feet in height. At the top of each of these plants was a bud, and the buds glowed dimly in a variety of muted colors. Together, they illuminated the clearing in a hauntingly beautiful display.

In the light of the little island, Daneera could see that her wound had indeed been re-aggravated by her journey through the AEther, though not nearly as bad as last time. Silently she vowed vengeance against the Poacher-mages of Arbagoth and their accursed AEther arrows, though she now realized how they got that name. As she pulled her shirt back down over the wound, she heard a crash in the distance, followed by the vague echo of shouting voices. Daneera was torn between moving toward or moving away those voices, but without her own mana to draw from, she would not last long on Mavros. Reluctantly, carefully, she moved off toward the noises.

The clearing she had found seemed to be connected to other, similar clearings by narrow bridges of relatively firm ground, and Daneera was able to move from one to the other without further risking the murky waters around her. Many of the new clearings she found led to others, like a giant honeycomb network rising from the swamp. Had she had any idea of where she was going, she very likely would have gotten lost. As it was, she was simply moving in the direction of the sounds she was hearing, and so as long as that sound kept getting loud, she knew she was going the right way.

Finally, she came to small island that contained the source of the sound, a group of small, dark creatures standing around a rudimentary cage constructed of wood, vine and randomly placed patches of metal. At first, Daneera thought the creatures were some sort of goblin breed, but when she looked more closely, she saw they were clearly human, only very short, the tallest no more than four feet tall. Inside the cage was an even more hideous interpretation of humanity. The creatures outside the cage were yelling, taunting and prodding at their captive with spears that seemed little more than sharpened reeds. The poor creature inside was bleeding in a dozen places and could no longer even attempt to dodge the vicious attacks, so it just cowered in the middle of the tiny cage and whimpered.

Daneera was not an overly emotional person, but there were a few things that really got to her, and a captured, tortured animal was chief amongst them. True, whatever that being in the cage was, it was more human than animal, but she had seen far too many of the innocent creatures of the forests treated in similar ways on other planes to ignore this one. Without even thinking about her wound or her complete lack of usable mana, Daneera charged into the loose circle of tiny creatures. The sudden appearance of a stranger nearly twice the height of the shortest of them startled the creatures into a retreat, though they converged at the far end of the clearing, apparently trying to decide what to do next.

The planeswalker, however, did not hesitate. She knew she had no real defense against her enemies, although she suspected that even with her wound, she was more than a match for any one of them. Still, she had sprung into action to free the captive, and that was what she did. The cage was heavier than she had expected, and it likely would have taken three or four of her diminutive foes to lift it, but for Daneera, it took just one admittedly strained push to tip it over. The creature inside was an old, wrinkled, contorted woman, but the relief and gratitude in her eyes was what convinced the planeswalker that it had, at least once, been human. Daneera helped the sad being to its feet, and it was immediately off into the mire, much faster than her rescuer had expected it to move.

The captors of that strange creature howled in something between fury and fear. Daneera could tell just by looking at them that they wanted to rush her and rip her apart, but her clearly superior size and strength kept them back. They kept chattering loudly, but if the noises they produced were a language, it was not one Daneera could understand. But their fear would not keep them at bay forever, and eventually the planeswalker would need to distance herself from them. Even if they would have been able and willing to help bandage her wound and hide her from the Rulus before, they were certainly unlikely to do so now. Daneera was considering running back to the previous clearing and hoping to lose their inevitable pursuit in the honeycomb when the strange chatter of the tiny humans abruptly stopped.

Daneera suddenly flashed back to times she had spent in vast forests on other planes. Occasionally, she would be standing in some clearing or sitting quietly on the branch of some great tree, listening to the countless sounds of nature as life continued ever onward. Then, without warning, those sounds would simply cease. Insects, birds, and animals would all fall immediately silent, and even the wind through the leaves would quiet down. Inevitably, this was followed in short order by the appearance of something, and usually it was the apex predator of that environment, the greatest threat to life that area offered. Now, in a fetid swamp on a deathtrap of a plane, Daneera felt an apex predator approach in horrifying, agonizing silence.

The creatures at the far end of the small clearing parted to allow something to pass through their ranks. Daneera had to force her heart to stop beating so fast to fight back the fear of the unknown that she had not truly felt since the first time she 'walked. That thought actually comforted her, reminding her that even if this situation were otherwise inescapable, she could always planeswalk, although neither she nor her AEther arrow wound could continue doing that forever. But unless her instincts were betraying her, another blind 'walk and a reopened injury were preferable to whatever was about to emerge from the shadows.

When it did, Daneera had to stifle a laugh. It was a only a man, tall compared to creatures around him but short compared to most humans, with an unassuming, perhaps even kind, face. He wore a black cape that was slightly too long for him, and grey shirt and trousers that were of two different shades. When he saw Daneera, his surprise was honest and inescapable, until he made a show of changing his expression to one like a man seeing his long lost granddaughter.

"Well, hello, young lady," he said, despite looking younger than she was. "I must say, you are not at all what I expected when my friends called me out here. My name is Frenok, by the by."


"A pleasure, a pleasure," Frenok said as he took two big steps toward her, his right hand extended in friendship. When she took a step back, he stopped immediately. "Oh, I'm sorry, young lady, I did not mean to startle you. Perhaps you're right, too soon, too soon."

Daneera said nothing, and for a few moments, neither did Frenok. He seemed to be waiting for her to say something, and eventually started to glance around him, almost awkwardly. When his gaze settled on the overturned cage, the creatures behind him began to shout angrily in his direction. He shifted his gaze back to the planeswalker. "I'm sorry, not to be rude, but, did you do this?"

Daneera allowed a smirk to cross her face. She was beginning to realize that none of these people were as dangerous as she had feared. "Yes, that was me."

Frenok nodded sadly. "A shame, a shame. No doubt you had the best of intentions, of course, but the creature they trapped, really a nasty little thing, really nasty. She's committed some very serious crimes, serious crimes."

Daneera cocked her eyebrow. "Such as?"

The question surprised Frenok. He started patting himself as though looking for something. "Oh, I'm afraid I don't have the list on me just now, but believe me, very serious. Took us months to find her and longer to trap her. But as I said, I'm sure you meant well, and anyway, it led to us meeting, so I'm glad!" He grinned like an awkward youth.

"If you don't mind, Frenok, I think perhaps I should be getting on my way. Mistake or not, I don't think your, uh, friends, are very fond of me now."

"Oh, where are you headed? With our target escaped, we'll probably be getting home now, so maybe we're going the same way."

Daneera, of course, had no idea where she was going, as she did not know the name of a single location on this plane. It was likely they, too, had a Mirrored City, but that really only told her where she did not want to go. No matter what her destination was, though, she was pretty sure she did not want to travel there with Frenok. "I'm sorry, I don't discuss my travel plans with strangers. It will have to be enough to say that I have an appointment somewhere pretty far from here, and I should be going."

"Somewhere pretty far from here? Where, someplace back on Lefkos?" This caught Daneera's attention, but a moment too late. When she looked back at Frenok, his right hand was radiating a blackish purple energy. "I'm afraid you do have an appointment, young lady, but it's on Anissem…with the Rulus."

Daneera tried to gather the energy to 'walk, but she was too late. The blast from Frenok's hand sent tendrils of darkness shooting into the air, hammering mercilessly into Daneera's brain, making her forget everything, who she was, how to planeswalk, or even how to remain conscious. The last thing she heard before she blacked out was Frenok saying "A pity, a pity." Then there was nothing.

* * *

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 10, 2013 4:04 pm 

Joined: Sep 22, 2013
Posts: 875
Part 4

Daneera gradually awoke to find herself in a massive, cavernous hall. The walls and the ceiling seemed made of a deep grey stone, but the floor was something like an ebony marble. The ceiling was three or four stories above her, and seemed to have some sort of murals painted on them, though Daneera could not tell what they depicted from her position. The walls were fixed with buttressed pillars in regular increments, and between them hung numerous tapestries of remarkable quality. Most depicted scenic views, and some, surprisingly, were even recognizable to her, places she had visited on other planes. The chair Daneera found herself in was equipped with binds that locked her in place at the wrists, ankles and waist, but was otherwise surprisingly comfortable.

"Do not be surprised, Child," sounded a woman's voice from somewhere behind her. "You are our guest. Of course we wanted you to be comfortable."

"How did you…" she stopped. She knew perfectly well how. A mind mage. "Get out of my head, my thoughts are my own!"

The woman chuckled a little, obviously drawing closer. "Oh, I am sorry, my dear. It is something of a force of habit. It is nothing I did intentionally, I assure you. You just think loudly."

As she spoke this last sentence, the woman came into view from Daneera's left side. She was a tall woman, thin and pale, with jet-black hair and an arrogant smirk plastered on her young face. She wore a tight-fitting gown that seemed black, but occasionally caught the light and shimmered a deep blue. For reasons Daneera neither knew nor cared to examine, she disliked this woman immediately.

"Who are you, and why am I here?"

Before the woman could answer, another voice, male this time, boomed across the room from the right. "Is she awake?"

The woman's expression did not change, nor did she glance over in that direction until after she had finished speaking. "Yes, dear brother, she is awake."

The man came into view in moments, and Daneera would not have needed the woman calling him brother to know it. Although his facial features were harder and more masculine, they were otherwise nearly identical to hers. His body, on the other hand, was much different. While she was almost hauntingly thin, he had the muscular build of a seasoned warrior, broad-shouldered and sharply defined, even through his clothes. He wore leather pants of a dark red, and a plain white shirt open a quarter of the way down his chest. His hair, like hers, was a deep black.

He looked over at his sister. "How long?"

"Just now. Your timing, as always, is impeccable."

"Excellent," the man said. "Then let us begin the introductions." He moved his glance back to their captive. "You must be the planeswalker everyone is talking so much about."

She scoffed. "Daneera."

He smirked. It wasn't as subtle as his sister's. "Yes, Daneera, believe me, I have heard. You have been doing quite a lot of 'walking around the Wheel, it would seem."

"I haven't had much of a choice," Daneera spat. "Who are you, anyway?"

The woman stepped forward to answer. "My dear, I would have thought you would have figured that out by now. The people of these planes know us as the Rulus. Other planeswalkers, however, have always known us as the Dual-Walkers."


"Yes," she continued. "I am Syl, and this is my brother Chardis."

"Once," her brother added, "we were something of a legend amongst the other planeswalkers."

They seemed to wait for Daneera to ask why. When she did not, Syl explained it anyway. "You know, the Spark is a rare enough phenomenon, but for a brother and sister to both receive the Spark, and both ascend, that is almost unheard of. And of course, when that brother and sister are twins on top of everything, word gets around, even in such loose circles as those in which our kind runs."

"I've never heard of you," Daneera stated defiantly.

"No," Chardis said with no small amount of bitterness. "One your age would not have. Our glory days, such as they were, were well before your time."

This confused Daneera. Both twins looked younger than she was.

"She does not understand, dear brother."

He stood to full height. "No, Syl, how could she? She was born to a mortal destiny, and has never drank from the cup of godhood."

"You're not gods!" Daneera screamed. "You're no different from me. Powerful mages, perhaps, but nothing more grand than that."

Syl remained emotionlessly calm, but rage was building in Chardis's eyes. Syl responded first. "As it is now, was not always thus."

Daneera could not stop herself. "You have styled yourselves gods when you're not, how long do you think you can maintain that illusion?"

Now the rage Chardis felt bubbled over into a angry outburst. As he yelled, it was almost as though the walls shook. "We did not style ourselves gods! We were gods! For over a thousand years we ruled the Wheel, and even now, the people of Lefkos and Kokkinos, Galanos and Mavros, swear to us and by us. These planes are ours, do you hear me? We will not allow them to be taken from us, not by you or any other planeswalker that happens along. You will not take it from us, no matter how hard you scheme!"

"Take it from you?" Daneera yelled back. "All I've been trying to do since I got here was leave this damn place!"

"My dear child," Syl replied as Chardis turned away to calm down. "Please do not presume to lie to us. You are a planeswalker. If leaving were your goal, you could easily have done so."

Daneera took a deep breath. "I have been trying to. But I can't control myself in the Blind Eternities without an anchor of green mana."

At those final two words, Chardis spun around, and for an instant, Daneera could swear his eyes were on fire. He charged at her, grabbed her by the hair and pulled her head back, painfully. He got within inches of her face as he screamed. "Never, EVER mention green mana here again! There is no such thing, do you understand me! Mana exists in white and red, black and blue, NOTHING ELSE, do you understand me?"

He raised his right arm as if to slap Daneera, and as he did, his palm erupted into bright orange flame. Before he could strike, however, Syl lightly laid her hand on the inside of his arm. When she spoke, her voice was no different than it had been before. "Please, dear brother. There is no need for such barbarism. Remember that she is a child, she still believes in the silly legends she hears in fairy tales. You have scolded her, now she will learn."

Chardis slowly turned his head to look at his sister, narrowed his eyes, but still released his grip on their captive's hair and allowed his hand to return to normal. Again he turned away from Daneera, leaving her wishing she had the mana to summon a baloth or even a nice, hungry kurgadon to rip him apart. Syl padded Daneera on the shoulder as if in comfort.

"You must pardon Chardis, but that is a subject neither of us are fond of discussing. We have both spent a very long time crafting these planes into something useful and productive, and as it is now, is how it must remain."

"How did you craft it? And how can either one of you be over a thousand years old? You both look human to me. What are you, vampires, or something?"

"In a manner of speaking," Chardis said over his shoulder.

"Brother!" Syl said, the first showing of emotion from her, slight as it was. "Nothing so crude! We are the masters of our realms, Child, and that which we desire, we take. Even if it is the youth of our people."

Daneera thought back to the people of Lefkos, all nondescript and tired, the eternal snow on Kokkinos, and darkness and diminutiveness on Mavros. Was it possible that all of that was the result of one spell from the Dual-Walkers? "No ordinary mage could cast a spell that strong, even a planeswalker."

"We are far from ordinary," grunted Chardis.

"Yes, and our enchantments here were cast long ago," Syl added. "Tell me, my dear, are you familiar with the events of the Mending?"

"The Rending, more like," her brother grumbled.

Syl and Daneera ignored him. "Something about rifts on Dominaria, right?" Daneera asked.

Syl's smirk deepened slightly. "The details are not relevant. What matters is that it was an event which forever changed the very nature of planeswalkers. It changed the very nature of existence."

"It tore the gods from their thrones in the sky to live as mortal shells."

Syl looked over at her brother as he spoke, then simply nodded sadly. "Countless planeswalkers, who had lived for generations as beings of limitless power, were struck down in an instant. Some lived on, many did not."

"You two survived, it would seem."

"Never underestimate the power of foresight, my dear," Syl said with an almost unperceivable narrowing of her eyes. "Chardis and I settled here in the Wheel over a thousand years ago. The place was intriguing, four planes, each cut off from one another and each producing a different sort of mana, circling around a central plane. We had never seen anything like it. But the real treasure was on Galanos. Have you been there, child?"

Daneera hated being called child. "Haven't had the pleasure."

Syl ignored her captive's sarcasm and continued. "It is my favorite of the outer planes, by far. And on Galanos, we found something truly amazing. A library. Even the library of Lat-Nam was as a road-side scroll shop compared to this. And there I studied for years on end, learning secrets few beings could ever guess."

"While I fought to earn our domain, dear sister," Chardis said bluntly.

"Yes, dear brother, and without both endeavors, neither one of us would be alive today." When Chardis said nothing in response, Syl continued. "Amongst its countless treasures, the library of Galanos contained a book of prophecies. It had been written centuries before, and up to the moment I read that tome, every prediction had come true. It spoke of many things to come, but the Mending was the event that most interested us."

"You had hundreds of years to prepare for the Mending, and you did nothing to try to prevent it?"

"That thought had occurred to us. In fact, dear brother, I seem to recall you were particularly adamant that we do something."

Chardis snorted. "The folly of youth, dear sister. Nothing more."

Daneera thought she saw Syl smile slightly, but a moment later it was again that familiar smirk. "Regardless, the more I studied, the more I realized preventing the Mending was impossible, even for the Dual-Walkers. Our intervention, if anything, likely would have sped the process. No, the Mending was unavoidable. The effects thereof, however, were perhaps not."

"So you conquered the Wheel?"

"One by one," admitted Chardis proudly. "Lefkos, Kokkinos, Mavros, Galanos and finally Anissem herself. At the time, of course, our godly powers were undeniable. After we conquered the planes, we firmly established ourselves as the deities, and proved our power whenever we needed to. In time, we did not need to do anything ourselves. Our people did it for us. They indoctrinated one another."

Daneera was beginning to see the whole picture. "And they freely offered up anyone who showed any magical talent to be trained as your Maguvs, and keep the entire plane in line."

Chardis nodded. "We created an order for our people to live by, a self-sustaining order that would keep our people faithful to us long after we lost the power to smite them from a distance."

"But of course, that was not enough," added Syl. "The Mending was still going to kill us. This was not an issue of living in comfort, it was an issue of living. After several hundred years, a person grows attached to life, and the thought of an event over which we had no control ending that life was…unthinkable."

Chardis took over where Syl had stopped. "Mortals, on the other hand, are accustomed to the thought of their own deaths. So what does it matter? They live a few years less, they sleep a little more, their world is a little bit darker, what does it matter to them? But to us, it means everything. Power, life, youth. It is the only way to hold on to the immortality we were destined for."

Daneera, who had for all her life dealt in the magic of life and its perpetual cycles, was almost physically repulsed by what she was hearing. "You've been stealing the life force of every person on your damned planes? How could you do that to living beings?"

Chardis scoffed. "We are their gods. We are the Rulus. If they knew what they were giving us, they would offer it up freely."

Daneera thought of Dyllyg, and tried to fight a smile at the thought that there were likely others like him in the planes of the Dual-Walkers. "I don't think you're quite as well-loved as you like to pretend."

This caused both twins to chuckle. "Every ruler has his malcontents," said Chardis.

"And every deity has her nonbelievers," added Syl. "But if they are on our planes, they feed our plans, whether they wish to or not."

"So where does that leave me?"

Chardis smiled. "Sometimes, gradual siphoning is simply not good enough. There are certain…problematic individuals, who require more immediate attention. As I said, we certainly cannot allow planeswalkers to run around free, destroying everything we have strived to build."

"You're going to kill me?"

"Come now, child," Syl admonished. "The device we have built is not intended to kill. It merely drains your life force for our use."

This time, Chardis cracked a smirk that looked exactly like his sister's. "That's right. Your death is simply a by-product."

Without waiting to hear another word, Daneera tried to 'walk away from Anissem, but nothing happened. Once again, Syl laughed. "Do you really think we would be so reckless, child? The binds holding you there are highly enchanted, and will make it quite impossible to planeswalk, or even gather mana."

Daneera struggled against her binds, but they refused to give. Eventually, she stopped trying. "So when do I die, then?"

"Unfortunately," Chardis regretted, "your timing could not have been much worse. We just had to…eliminate…a different threat shortly before we were informed of your presence. Trying to drain too much too soon could pose some serious problems."

"And do not forget, dear brother, that we have that engagement to think about. Time is nearly up, and we cannot be late."

In response, Chardis frowned. "I had nearly forgotten. Very well, Daneera, it seems you have something of a reprieve, temporary though it may be. You have two weeks to live, perhaps three. When Syl and I return, you die."

Daneera expected Syl to say something, some sort of taunt or insult, but it never came, and the Dual-Walkers turned and left the room through a far door, their footfalls echoing through the cavernous hall. Daneera redoubled her efforts to escape from the chair, but to no avail. She struggled and twisted and pulled until the enchanted binds cut into her wrists and ankles. Well, at least the wound in her side was no longer bleeding. In fact, now that the Dual-Walkers were gone, she finally noticed that the wound had been cleaned and redressed. Well, she had to admit that the Rulus, at least, were not overly cruel. Although she was not particularly looking forward to waiting weeks to die. Daneera continued to struggle, to think, and to vainly attempt to draw mana or 'walk, all for countless hours before exhaustion claimed her into sleep.

* * *

When Daneera next regained consciousness, she thought she could hear the gentle squeaking of a mouse. As she woke more and more fully, she began to realize that the mouse was speaking words. She kept her eyes closed, concentrated, and tried to make out the message, only to realize with utter shock that the voice she heard was no mouse, it was the whispering voice of Lem, the child she had met on Lefkos.

"Lady's 'wake?" He was whispering, and Daneera finally opened her eyes to see the child's sad little face staring up at her. She was still in the gigantic hall where the Dual-Walkers had left her, still bound to the chair my mystical forces. Lem looked as though he had been crying.

"Yes, Lem, I'm awake. What are you doing here?"

He looked down at his feet as he spoke, making it even more difficult to understand his words. "Atriul brought me here. Said I was too dangerous, needed to be trained earlier than others." He paused for a long time before speaking again. "Lady?"

"Yes, Lem?"

He hesitated for a long time again. When he finally spoke, there were tears streaming down his cheeks. "I'm sorry I broke your armor! I didn't mean to, I just didn't want the Silly Riders to hurt you! I'm sorry, please don't be mad at me!"

Daneera nearly cried herself. Poor Lem was so young and so innocent, even calling the Silver Riders 'Silly Riders', and he had a power he could not control, and now she knew he had been born into a destiny of death. If he proved too strong, the Dual-Walkers would kill him to prevent him becoming a threat to their power. If he could be broken to their will, he would serve them his entire life as a Maguv, and never know true freedom. At best he would become like Dyllyg, free, but fearful. It seemed like the people of planes of the Dual-Walkers had no real destiny at all.

"It's okay, Lem, it wasn't your fault. And besides, they still didn't catch me there. I got away, remember?" This seemed to cheer the boy up. "So, you met the Rulus?"

Lem's head dropped again. "Yes. They told me I would be a powerful Maguv for them. They told me they would protect me."

Daneera could not bring herself to tell the poor child the truth. "What's so bad about that?" Lem did not answer, but seemed even more upset. "What's wrong?"

"No one's supposed to know…even mama and father don't know…"

"Don't know what, Lem?"

"Most Touched have one spell…I have two."

Daneera vaguely recalled her conversation with Ilo about the Touched, which in hindsight all tied in with the Dual-Walkers' plan. "What is your other spell, Lem?"

He sort of shifted back and forth, then played with his foot on the ground before finally answering. "I can tell when people lie."

"What do you mean?"

He looked very uncomfortable. "When people tell me something, if it's the truth, it sounds normal. If it's a fib, I hear the truth, like a whisper, behind the words. The Rulus aren't going to protect me…"

"Lem, do you know what the Rulus are?"

He shook his head. "I asked them if you were going to be okay. They said yes. They lied." He paused, but just briefly. "I don't like it here, can you put us somewhere else?"

"Put us somewhere else? What do you mean."

"Like you did in the field. You were there, then you weren't! Can you do that for both of us? We can go back to the village! I miss mama and father."

"Oh, I'm sorry Lem. I can't take anyone with me when I 'walk. And anyway, these bands are keeping me here. I can't use any of my magic while I'm stuck here."

Lem cocked his head to the side, and then smiled brightly. "Breakable!" he said, and pointed at the binds around Daneera's wrists. They dissolved almost immediately. Happily, Lem indicated toward the remaining binds and they disappeared, as well. Instantly, Daneera sprang out of her chair trap, dropped to her knee and embraced Lem, who hugged her back hard. "Oh, thank you, Lem."

"Welcome, Lady! Can I go home now?"

Daneera sighed heavily. "I'm sorry, Lem, but there is no way for me to 'walk you home. The only way is to go through the portal to your Mirrored City, but I have no mana. I can't fight, and I'm sure the portal must be guarded."

Lem nodded sadly. "The big mirror, right? The one Atriul brought me through? Yes, it's guarded. But the guard is breakable."

Daneera looked at the child. "You mean, he has an enchantment on him, like I did in the field?"

Lem shook his head, but said nothing, so Daneera continued. "You mean, the guard is an enchantment?"

The little boy nodded. As the wheels in Daneera's mind began turning, she looked Lem over and wondered if what she was about to do was right. "Lem, if I asked you to do something difficult, but very important, do you think you could do it for me."

Lem seemed to think about that for a while, although Daneera questioned whether he was actually considering something or just acting the part. Finally, he nodded enthusiastically. Daneera smiled, and vaguely wished to herself that her plan would not get both of them killed.

* * *

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 10, 2013 4:04 pm 

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Part 5

Daneera stepped confidently through the portal and unto the light blue, polished marble floor of the Mirrored City's citadel on Galanos. Moments earlier, as she stood in the mirror room of the Dual-Walkers' fortress on Anissem, she had feared that her trip through this portal would be the same sort of chaotic tumbling that her attempts at 'walking had been. Fortunately, it was nothing like that. It felt only mildly different from walking through an open doorway, perhaps with just a little more resistance. Lem had showed her where the mirror room was, and the conveniently color-coded frames of the giant mirrors made it clear which of the planes of the Wheel they were connected to. She had the beginnings of a plan to get herself away from here finally, but in order to complete that plan, she needed information.

Mere moments after Daneera emerged from the mirror portal, she was accosted by the portal's guardian. On Lefkos, according to Lem, that guardian was some sort of living enchantment. Here on Galanos, it was apparently a human wizard, likely one of the Dual-Walkers' Maguvs. He approached Daneera cautiously, but she could feel the blue mana he controlled begin to gather. As he spoke, that power grew. "Who are you?" he asked curtly.

Daneera smiled. Here we go, she thought. "My name is Lowa. I'm being trained to become a Maguv on Lefkos."

The wizard's eyes narrowed. "Then what are you doing on Galanos? This is highly irregular."

Daneera nodded. "Unheard of, really," she agreed. "But where the Rulus order you, you go. That planeswalker they caught said something that sparked the Rulus's interest, and I was sent here to research it in the library."

"Why would Lady Syl not come herself?"

"She and…" she hesitated, briefly, "Lord Chardis had a pressing engagement elsewhere."

"I see," the wizard said, still clearly hesitant. Nonetheless, he allowed his reserve of mana to drop. "Very well, I will not question it. You are either who you say you are, or your punishment will be severe when the Rulus learn of you. Either way, it effects me not."

"Thank you. Now, could you direct me to the Library?"

"Of course. Descend through this tower, out the front door, and you will see it directly across the street. Here, you will need this." He turned around and, from a nearby table, he grabbed a small, rectangular piece of azure glass and handed it to Daneera. "If detained by the Tower guards, simply show them this."

Daneera nodded and quickly headed out of the room. She was stopped and questioned by no less than a dozen denizens of the Tower, and she had to ask for directions from four of them, before she finally found her way outside. As she strode into the wide street, Daneera couldn't help but be amazed. This Mirrored City must have been massive, and all of the buildings she could see seemed to have a façade of blue-tinted glass, the same material that the wizard had given her, although hers had some sort of writing on it. She had been to Ravnica once, but hadn't cared for it. Somehow, she liked Galanos even less.

The grand Library was quite literally directly across the street. In all likelihood, Syl had intentionally placed the Mirror Tower as close by as possible. Just looking at the massive structure made Daneera's head hurt. She had never really cared for cities, and so her experience in them was hardly overarching, but she was still certain this Library was the biggest building she had ever seen. So huge was it, in fact, that Daneera began to question her plan, such as it was. How was she supposed to find anything in a place like this, especially when she did not truly know what to look for?

Her answer greeted her as she stepped through the Library's door. Some sort of metal construct, silver by the look of it, stood up from behind a tiny desk and took two steps toward her. The golem clearly noticed the glass tablet in Daneera's had, hesitated a moment as though thinking to itself, and then spoke in a grinding, mechanical voice.

"Greetings, distinguished visitor, to the Galanos Library. We are the storehouse of the wisdom of worlds. If you require assistance, please let me know."

He started step a step backwards, as if to return to his desk, but Daneera stopped him with a question. "How can I find what I'm looking for? I've never been here before."

The mechanical man said nothing at first, instead simply bobbing his head from one side to the other. Finally, he seemed to process her words. "Simply step through here," he said, indicating to his right. "There you will find the Pedestal. Stand there, think about what you seek, and you will be brought there."

The golem backed up into its seat once more and Daneera, with a simple shrug, followed its direction. She had no idea how such a thing could work, but this was the only solution she had, and so she simply set to work. It took her several days just to get a feel for the system, but as she did, she found she liked it. The Library, and whatever enchantments might have been placed on it thousands of years earlier, seemed to anticipate both her desires and her needs. She slept at the whatever table was closest to the books she was currently scanning, and food was brought to her, seemingly whenever she was getting hungry, by the same golem at the door, or one identical to it. All in all, her stay was surprisingly comfortable.

After she had the Library system pretty well figured out, she had the new problem of finding the correct information. At first, she looked for anything that talked directly and specifically about the Rulus, but these works were mostly religious in nature, and contained information that Daneera already knew or was an out-right lie. After a few days, she shifted her study from the Rulus to the history of the planes, but this yielded equally unsuccessful results. Most of these tomes were histories of Galanos, and the other shards were mostly never mentioned. She gave up on these about half-way through the giant stack that was found.

She had been searching through the Library for more than a week when she hit on a new idea. Time was running out, as the Dual-Walkers might return at any moment, expecting to see her safely confined in her chair. If that happened, it would take them little time to learn where she went, considering their network of loyalists and informants. She had no way of reliably leaving the Wheel unless she could access green mana, and there was apparently no way to do that anywhere within the planes of the Dual-Walkers. It was this thought that gave her the idea to search for any references to mana, green or otherwise.

Much of what she found was generic information on the natures of magic, dozens of volumes of information on things she either already knew or didn't care about. It wasn't until she starting looking in the books that predated the arrival of the Dual-Walkers that she found any reference to green mana. Shockingly, the most useful book she found had also been in her previous stack, she simply hadn't gotten to it before changing tactics. It mentioned the four shards of the Wheel and the color of mana each produced, but it also mentioned Anissem, the central plane, and described it as a massive hub of green mana. This shocked Daneera, as even after being freed from her bindings on Anissem, she had sensed none there, though this tome had been written centuries before the Rulus had arrived.

Finally, after over two weeks of exhaustive, and exhausting, research, Daneera had put together not only a key understanding of the planes of the Dual-Walkers, but also a solid plan to defeat them. Ironically, the two books that proved the most useful to her were one of the oldest books in the Library, the one discussing green mana and the shards of the Wheel, and one of the newest, one describing the Mirrored Cities of all four planes, written by Syl herself. It spoke of their construction by the Rulus before the Mending, and of the guardians of the Mirror portals themselves. It verified Lem's belief that the guardian on Lefkos was a living enchantment, and discussed the formation of the order of wizards who guarded Galanos's gate. It's descriptions of the elemental guardian of the Kokkinos portal and the tentacled creature on Mavros, she hoped, would prove invaluable.

Daneera's journey back up the Mirror Tower of Galanos was just as tedious as her journey down. She was stopped almost constantly, but a simple flashing of the glass object the wizard had given her was enough to allow her to continue. When she reached the top, the wizard regarded her coolly, but politely. "Welcome back, Lowa, was it? Did you find what you were looking for?"

Daneera smiled broadly and feigned excitement. "What the Rulus were looking for, and yes! That planeswalker they caught wasn't lying after all! Did you know that there is actually a fifth color of mana?"

The wizard's eyebrows lifted in surprise, but he quickly tried to hide his natural curiosity. "Interesting. I can see why the Rulus might be interested in this information."

"More than interested," Daneera exclaimed. "They want access to this new power. I was sent here to learn if that planeswalker was lying about it or not, and if not, to find a way to access it for the Rulus."

Now the wizard could no longer hide his desire for knowledge, or for power. "Did you find it, did you find a way to harness this power?" He caught himself, "For the Rulus, I mean."

This was going well. Daneera just had to remind herself not to appear too relieved. "Yes, I found an enchantment. The inscription in the tome claims it can transform a portion of Galanos' native blue mana into green. Unfortunately, I lack the ability to cast such an enchantment. I was hoping to return to Anissem with the answer already in place. Can you imagine how pleased the Rulus would have been with me?"

Daneera could see the greed and ambition begin to shine in the wizard's eyes. "Well, perhaps we could help one another out. Let me see the enchantment." Daneera gladly showed him the copy she had made of the page in the tome. The wizard smiled brightly. "Ah, yes, I see how this would be beyond someone of your experience. And anyway, this enchantment should be strengthened regularly for best effect. I could do this for you, if you would tell the Rulus of my assistance."

Daneera beamed. "You would do that for me? Oh, thank you. I will be sure to tell the Rulus that I would not have succeeded without your help!"

The wizard smiled so honestly that Daneera actually felt a bit guilty. But it was either this or death, and years in the forest had taught her that with those choices, you always choose 'this.' The wizard walked her over to the portal mirror, but then led her behind it. There, she saw a massive crystal, about the size of her torso, which would have surprised her immensely had she not read about them in Syl's book. The wizard grinned.

"This is Galanos's transference crystal. It gathers the blue mana and the other energies the Rulus desire from the plane, and sends a constant stream of the same to Anissem, to the Rulus's receptor crystal." He caught himself. "I suppose it is quite similar to the one on Lefkos."

Daneera shrugged. "The Maguv showed it to me briefly there, but mostly I was just passing through the portal to Anissem," she lied.

"Ah, of course," the wizard stated. "In any case, from what you've brought me, I surmise this crystal is the perfect place for the Rulus's new enchantment. Please stand still as I prepare to cast it."

Daneera said nothing, but instead just watched and waited and tried to repress her smile. The wizard's process took several minutes, and he referred back to the Daneera's copy several times as he wove the enchantment, but eventually, with a brief burst of green light, the spell was cast. The wizard smiled.

"Excellent! It seems to have worked! I will make sure to strengthen the enchantment each day, but for now, success."

Daneera did not have to be told it had worked. The moment the enchantment had been cast, she could feel the green mana begin to trickle from the crystal. It was a strange sensation; the mana was not nearly so pure or powerful as it was when she drew from natural sources, but it was green mana, nonetheless. Daneera could barely resist the urge to 'walk away at that moment, but she could not allow the Dual-Walkers to continue their deceitful dominance of these planes. She had a plan now, and it was time to enact it.

"Thank you," she said to the wizard as she realized she had never bothered to ask his name. "I should return to Anissem, and I promise, the Rulus will hear of your gift."

The wizard bowed. "I thank you."

The moment Daneera stepped back through the portal, her link to the green mana within the Galanos crystal weakened severely, but it was still there. The native blue mana of the plane and the flow of life energy both overwhelmed the amount of green mana coming through, but she could still feel it, slowly filling her precious reserves which had, for weeks now, been almost completely empty. As she emerged in the Mirror room on Anissem, she found she had to fight against her own natural curiosity. Everything she had learned on Galanos had been spectacularly interesting, especially the crystals that sustained the Dual-Walkers.

Based on everything she had read and everything Syl and Chardis had told her, she had pieced together how the siblings had crafted these five planes to their will. It was an interesting lattice of magics at work, and although Daneera despised their effect, even she had to admit to the genius of the design. Each of the crystals on the planes of the Wheel carried a powerful enchantment designed to gather that plane's mana and send it to Anissem, creating the core of the Rulus's power. The receiver crystal had its own enchantment, sending out a gathering wave of magic that sucked the life from the planes. This life energy was carried back through the mana links, and it constantly rejuvenated the Dual-Walker's youth, which was how they managed to live so long. As a final effect, the crystal here also repressed the natural mana of Anissem, a massive enchantment fueled by the collective mana of the other four planes.

Daneera forced herself out of her musings. This was no time to be reflecting on the scale of power or ingenuity of her adversaries. There was far too much to do, and she doubted the guardians of Mavros or Kokkinos would be nearly as easy to fool as the wizard on Galanos had been. Daneera took a deep breath and stepped through the red mirror portal leading to Kokkinos. She had a plan for the guardian there, a trick she stole from the Library of Galanos, but she still needed help with the enchantment. Her admission to the wizard that she could not cast it had been a stretching of the truth, but unfortunately not an outright lie. She could cast the enchantment herself, even on the crystals on the remaining three planes, but she doubted it would be enough. She needed someone there who could maintain and strengthen them. She knew no one who could on Mavros or Lefkos, but maybe Dyllyg could help.

As she stepped out of the portal, the heat from the room beyond was oppressive. The floor looked as though it were made of barely cooled lava, and the air seemed to flicker and glow at random intervals. It was as if she were standing within the flames of a giant torch. The guardian, a fire elemental that seemed to ride the floor like a wave, rushed up to meet her. It opened its mouth to speak, but Daneera spoke first. "The Rulus have sent me to capture the traitor Dyllyg. Direct me to his lair."

The fire elemental glared. As it spoke, its voice crackled and echoed as if it were far away. "Do not speak to me like that, fleshling. I serve the Rulus, not you, and they have said nothing of your coming. Besides, if they want Dyllyg, they have but to ask. The Fire Flight captured him weeks ago. He rots downstairs in his cell as we speak."

Daneera smiled "A stroke of luck, then!" She withdrew a scroll and casually handed it to the elemental, who grabbed the paper without thinking. The parchment burst into flames, but a moment later, a freezing wind rose up and put the fire out. A few chilling moments later, and all that stood there was a charred husk of what looked like a statue. The planeswalker withdrew the scroll and quickly made her way through this Mirror Tower, which on Kokkinos seemed less a tower than a stronghold. She had to freeze three more elementals with her scroll before she stumbled upon the dungeon, and there her luck seemed to hold, as Dyllyg was the only prisoner there, or at least, the only one still alive. Dyllyg looked up as she entered, and the shock on his face was visible through his wrinkles, which seemed much deeper than before.

"Daneera?" Dyllyg coughed. "What by the hells are you doing here? You're a planeswalker, Daneera, forget about the Rulus and their damned planes! Forget about me!"

"It's not that simple, Dyllyg," she countered. "Even if I had the ability to simply 'walk away, I can't allow the Dual-Walkers to use these planes this way. They're not gods, and they have no right claiming to be. And I can stop them, Dyllyg, but I need your help."

For several moments, the older man said nothing. Then he looked into her eyes and said "What can I do?"

It took several hours to get Dyllyg out of his cell and recovered enough to cast the enchantment on the Kokkinos crystal that would begin to filter some of its surging red mana into green. Dyllyg was also able to fill in some gaps in Daneera's knowledge about Mavros from things he had learned during his training with the Rulus. It seemed Mavros was the least tamed of all the planes of the Wheel, and an ancient confederacy of witches still resisted the control of the Dual-Walkers. If Daneera could get in touch with them, she would have the mages she needed to cast and maintain the enchantment. Before she left, she gave the frost scroll to Dyllyg and wished him luck. She knew they would both need it.

This time, Daneera barely paused as she emerged from the portal into the Mirror Room on Anissem. Time as no ally to her, and she needed as much of it as she could get, especially since she needed to find the witches first, and then somehow convince them to help her against the Rulus. Also, the guardian of the Mavros portal was going to prove a problem. She had found the magic scroll to freeze the fire elemental, but nothing had indicated a good way to stop the tentacled monster of Mavros. Still, she had to try, because any showdown she might have with the Dual-Walkers would be hopeless if she couldn't gather enough green mana to battle them, or save enough to navigate an escape, should things go against her.

She took a deep breath, stepped through the black-rimmed mirror portal and found herself in the middle of a battlefield. Bodies were strewn everywhere, and Daneera could hear the crackling of magical energy being summoned and discharged. Some ten feet away from her, the lifeless carcass of a large, tentacled creature was still oozing thick, greenish-black blood. It looked like a large, misshapen octopus, although it had horns and a clearly visible mouth. Whatever it was, Daneera was certainly glad it was dead.

Suddenly, from behind a pillar covered in moss and slime, a group of about five small, mangled creatures emerged. Their hands glowed in a variety of colors, from sickly purple to yellow and red to an eerie green, and they looked from one direction to another, watching for any enemies. As they spotted Daneera and took one or two steps in her direction, a small man, the same sort of creature she had seen on her last trip to Mavros, lurched out of the mud-covered floor at the group, a twisted, primitive spear in his hand. Almost casually, the foremost of the other group waved her hands at the attacker. The purple glow of that creature's hands flared into a bright violet flame, and Daneera watched in horror as the small man's body just seemed to evaporate. Once he was gone, the group continued to advance on the planeswalker.

They were all female from the look of them, but wrinkled and distorted almost beyond recognition. They were making a bizarre chattering noise that Daneera assumed was a language, but she was finding it impossible to follow what, if anything, they were saying. She could certainly tell, however, that it was not good, not only by the increasing pitch and volume of the noise, but also because the glow on each of their hands were becoming, as the first one had, flaring flames. Before they could attack, however, another figure came running up from behind them, another of their kind, by her look, shouting something in the strange language. The others hesitated, then stood down, allowing their hands to return to normal.

The creature that had run up took two cautious steps toward the towering Daneera, who was at least twice the height of the native of Mavros. She seemed to say something in the frantic language the others had been using, but when that got no response, she took a deep breath and spoke again, this time in a language Daneera could comprehend. "You are the one who released me from the cage."

Daneera stared at her for a moment, trying to recognize a person she had seen only once. Truthfully, she could not have said with certainty that this was the same creature, but if the other said so, she had no reason to question it. "Yes."

The woman cocked her head to one side. "You are also the one the Rulus were hunting for, the one captured and given to them by Frenok?"

Daneera simply nodded.

"Are you an enemy of the Rulus?"

Again, she nodded. "I escaped their captivity. If they catch me again, they will try to kill me. I'm hoping to beat them to it."

A collective gasp escaped from the others of the group, but the one Daneera had rescued smirked. "Brave words. We oppose them, as well, but always Frenok or those like him have stopped us. Your arrive distracted him long enough for my sisters to crack the seals to the Mirrored City. We stormed the Tower and fought our way here. We killed the guardian, but Frenok is nowhere to be found. We were going to press through the mirror and attack the Rulus directly."

"You're the confederacy of witches opposing the Rulus, aren't you?"

"The Covus, yes. Hundreds of years ago they stole our world. We want it back."

"I can help you," Daneera said with a smile. "But marching into their keep would be suicide, and would accomplish nothing. They are too strong. But I believe I can defeat them."

"You?" The old woman said skeptically. "Meaning no offense, but you were defeated by Frenok after a single spell, and I cannot believe he is stronger than the Rulus."

Daneera nodded. "True, but I couldn't fight Frenok because I had no green mana." This was met with a wide array of confused looks from the witches before her. "It's not native to any of these planes, but that's where I need your help." She withdrew a scrap of parchment and held it up. "How are you with enchantments?"

* * *

The mirror portals, both the ones found in the Anissem mirror room and the corresponding ones on the planes of the Wheel, emitted a constant, low humming sound while they were active. Daneera only really became aware of this as she stepped into the Dual-Walker's keep on Anissem and that noise suddenly stopped. Daneera's heart seemed to do likewise as she realized she was very much not alone in the room.

"You have been a busy little child, I see," came the cold, calculating voice of Syl to her left.

To her right, came the harder, heavier voice of her brother Chardis. "Surrender to us now. Accept your fate and be done with it. If you do not…" he hesitated, stepping into view.

Syl, also coming closer, finished his sentence. "Then we shall make these final moments of your life exceedingly uncomfortable."

For a few moments, Daneera said nothing. She made a show of looking scared of the Dual-Walkers, which was not far from the truth, but really she was reaching out to the pools of green mana flowing into the Dual-Walker's crystal. There was not much, certainly not as much as she had hoped for, but there was at least enough to make a stand. She gathered what she could while she debated her immediate response. Unfortunately, the Rulus did not seem inclined to wait for her.

"As you wish," Chardis said, his words sharp and spiteful. "Live your last moments in foolishness."

He thrust his hands toward her, and Daneera had a mere blink of an eye to cast a simple protection spell before the concussive force of his attack reached her. The spell did little against the pain of the impact, but it likely saved her life as she was thrown clear across the room, through the doorway and into the great, cavernous hall. She scrambled to her feet and tried to gather as much green mana as she possibly could before the next assault came. She failed. A strong blast of frozen wind erupted from the doorway, slamming hard into Daneera's shoulder and sending her reeling to the side. As she looked up, she saw the Dual-Walkers advancing on her, gloating.

"It would seem, dear brother, that the fledgling planeswalker is more durable than we had imagined."

Chardis exhaled sharply through his nose. "Yes, Syl. We must be careful."

Syl looked over at her brother. "Careful? She is strong, to be sure, but hardly a threat to us, especially here."

Her brother smirked in what seemed to be honest amusement. "We need to be careful, dear sister, that after we are finished playing with her, there is enough left to drain."

Syl's laugh was both demure and wicked. Her sudden screech at the unexpected appearance of Daneera's enraged baloth, on the other hand, was uncharacteristically unsophisticated. Daneera could not suppress her exhalation of laughter. The baloth charged through the cavernous hall, and the Dual-Walkers had to dive to either side to avoid being trampled by its mighty frame. It was only a yearling baloth, one of the smallest Daneera had as an ally, but she needed to use her green mana judiciously if she were going to survive. Using the distraction of her summoning, Daneera moved toward the center of the gargantuan hall, where the massive receiver crystal stood. The green mana being created on Galanos, Kokkinos and Mavros would be strongest at that point.

Apparently, the Dual-Walkers had not had a proper summoner's duel in a very long time, because the creatures they were bringing to bear against Daneera's baloth were a sad lot indeed. Chardis summoned a lion, who fearlessly, and recklessly, charged directly into the larger beast's path. The baloth barely seemed to notice as it swatted the lion away in mid-leap. Syl responded by summoning some sort of hawk or crow, but the baloth snatched it out of the air and swallowed it whole with only a minor twitch of the neck. Neither Chardis's wild boar nor Syl's swarm of bats proved the least bit effective against the angry forest creature. Daneera felt her spirits lift for the first time since arriving on the planes of the Dual-Walkers.

Her optimism was short-lived. Syl and Chardis found one another on the battlefield and joined hands. A dark red mist formed quickly around them, and the baloth nearly stopped dead in its tracks, confused and scared by the strange event. Suddenly, a large frame materialized from the mist, a form basically human in shape, but with horns on its head and giant batwings protruding from its back. Daneera cursed as she saw it advance on her poor baloth. She had always hated demons. This one seemed particularly menacing as it gripped an ebony-hued blade, took three giant steps forward, and stabbed her baloth. The weapon seemed to burn the beast, and from the wound spread a vicious infection which consumed the baloth in a matter of seconds.

Daneera felt a sharp twinge of pain and guilt, as she always did when one of her allies was killed in battle. But she knew that each of the beasts she commanded had bonded with her. She would never force another creature to fight for her; they had all chosen to fight alongside her after she had proven her strength and her love of the forests to them. Still, though, it saddened Daneera, and made her all the more determined to defeat these arrogant Dual-Walkers. The first step, though, was to destroy their demon, and she knew just the creature to do it. Briefly Daneera closed her eyes and pictured a tranquil glen she had once visited, and the noble denizen she had befriended within. Drawing on whatever thin lines of green mana she could, Daneera brought that beautiful creature into being.

Chardis and Syl, and even their giant demon, seemed to stare in surprise at Daneera's choice of an answer, a large but simple stag that at first stood and did nothing. Chardis even laughed at the thought that such a peaceful creature would be brought in to battle the flames and darkness of their infernal champion. The demon raised its sword high and brought it down with incredible force, and when the blade connected with the stag, the sword shattered into innumerable pieces. The stag seemed to consider the demon for a second or two, and then leapt forward, impaling its foe with its massive antlers. The demon sputtered, coughed, fell over and died. The stag barely seemed to notice.

Daneera was nearly to the crystal now, but even at this distance, she could see the rage building in the faces of both Dual-Walkers. Chardis was especially infuriated, and with one exaggerated motion, he thrust his hand toward the noble forest creature. Instantly, a blinding flash of lightning jumped from the Rulus to his victim, and the poor stag fell over dead. As the Dual-Walkers once again set their angry sights on Daneera, she reached into the nearby crystal, trying to draw whatever green mana she could, while simultaneously trying to decide what creature she knew had the best chance against these dangerous enemies. She quickly decided on a mammoth, but as she tried to bring the hairy beast into existence, the summoning was abruptly cut short. Across the hall, Syl smirked as the crackling blue energy of her counterspell still sizzled around her body.

"A valiant attempt, child," Syl taunted as both Dual-Walkers approached. Daneera worked her way backwards towards the crystal, but she knew there was nowhere near enough green mana flowing through it to allow her to survive. "I cannot speak for Chardis, but you have at least earned my respect. Now please, do not shame your own memory by continuing this pointless struggle."

"Enough of this," Chardis bellowed. "I do not think I even want her drained anymore. I simply want her dead. Come, dear sister. Let us end this in a truly grand fashion."

"Very well, if you wish, dear brother, but I still think we should…" Syl stopped, both in her words and in her tracks. Daneera had seen that look before in countless animals of the forest, the look when they suddenly catch the scent of something deadly. "Brother, stop!" Her breathing was heavy, her face set in an expression of actual terror. "The crystal! It's tainted!"

Chardis looked at his sister, confused, but then closed his eyes for a fraction of a moment. They shot open again almost immediately, and they were blazing as if on fire. "Curse you! What have you done?"

Daneera could feel his intense anger, but she still forced herself to smile. Her gamble, it seems, had paid off. "I have infused the mana of your crystals with a very special, very ancient enchantment. Now, the mana you draw from your planes is laced…"she hesitated, grinning wider, "with green mana."

"No," whispered Syl. "You do not know what you have done."

"Actually," Daneera corrected, "I know exactly what I've done. I admit, it took me a while to figure out, even with the wealth of knowledge in that Galanos Library, why you two hated green mana so much. But then I realized you had all-but told me. You said you have crafted a world that works for you, that sustains the order you've created. You hate green mana because it introduces an element you can't deal with. Death."

Syl scoffed, but nervously. "I deal with death all the time, whelp. Mavros is a plane of living death. You have no idea what you are saying."

But Daneera simply shook her head. "Don't presume to lie to me, Syl," she said, stealing the Dual-Walker's phrase from weeks earlier. "You just said it, Mavros is a plane of living death. Eternal unlife, a favorite of black mana. Green mana is about life, but not just life. It's about the life cycle. Life, growth, and eventually death. Final, permanent death, that leads to the birth of other life. That's why you two have cut all ties to green mana on your planes. Because you needed to keep yourself young, and alive. But you've both drawn mana from your crystal today. Whether you like it or not, the process of your death has already begun."

Suddenly, Syl's terror melted away, and her smirk returned. "Do you truly think us as weak as that, child? It is true, I can feel the venom of your green-mana poison tugging at my veins, but the damage you have done is minimal, and temporary."

"Then draw more mana from your crystal, Dual-Walker," Daneera challenged. "The more mana you draw, the closer you come to death. And the longer you wait, the more green mana floods in, making me stronger. You can't defeat me without killing yourselves."

"She is right, dear sister," Chardis said, though in a surprisingly calm tone of voice. "We cannot draw mana from Galanos, Mavros or Kokkinos until we have removed her meddlesome enchantments. However, Syl, do you not sense Lefkos?"

Syl closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then opened them again, smirking as before. "Untainted."

"It would seem we returned home sooner than our miscreant child here had planned. So much the better for us."

Daneera quickly latched on to every shred of green mana she could, and made a point of gathering it about her. "If you're going to fight me with only white mana," she cautioned the Dual-Walkers, "Then I'll be more than a match for you. Remember, I've got the mana of three planes flowing into me now."

"Destroy her, brother."

Without another word, Chardis charged toward Daneera. Surprised by the straight-forward, physical attack, Daneera dove to one side, but Chardis kept running. Before Daneera realized what he was doing, the Dual-Walker had reached the giant crystal. He looked over to the planeswalker and grinned, his eyes bulging like a madman. "With the mana I have now, you may have been right. But there is plenty more where that came from!"

With both hands, Chardis grasped the crystal, and his entire body began to glow with the white mana of Lefkos. Daneera stared as she realized what he was doing, forcing several times the normal amount of mana through the crystal, hoping to overcharge his supply enough to finally and completely destroy her. She smiled at the sight.

Chardis continued to pull harder and harder, forcing every bit of magic through from Lefkos to Anissem. So maddened was he at the prospect of destroying his hated enemy that he failed to notice the change that was falling over the crystal. Syl sensed it first, but her scream of warning to her brother came only half a second before the massive explosion that sent all three planeswalkers careening to the ground.

Daneera, having expected what was coming, was the only one of the three to have shielded herself from the blast, and was the first to her feet. Chardis and Syl were both still alive, but hurt, and struggling to catch their breath. Chardis, having been much closer to the explosion, flew further, and the two Dual-Walkers, by happenstance, landed quite near one another. Daneera walked up to them and crouched between their prone bodies.

"A little friend I met on Lefkos has been piling disenchant spells onto your crystal there for weeks. I guess pulling them into your crystal here all at once wasn't such a good idea."

Both Dual-Walkers struggled to look around. Syl, in a dull, weak voice, managed, "What have you done?"

"I've ended it. If that spell did what I hope it did, it should have shattered every enchantment tied to your crystal. And if what I found in your book on Galanos is true, that includes your damnable life siphon. The Wheel is free, now. They are no longer the planes of the Dual-Walkers. The Rulus is a thing of the past."

With considerable effort, Chardis raised his head to glare at Daneera. "We will find you. We will hunt you down, and so help us, we will destroy you."

Daneera stood up and smirked. "I'll be waiting." She turned around, viewing the destruction she could already see within the massive hall. The struggles of people like Dyllyg and witches of Mavros, and the unknown oppression visited upon the simple people of Lefkos, good and kind people like Ilo, Lowa and little Lem, all were finally and suddenly vindicated in this one, glorious moment. The Dual-Walkers lay defeated, and now, finally, Daneera could settle her old score, and she knew a few Poacher-mages on Arbagoth who needed to face a Stomper stampede. Smiling to herself, gathering what remained of the green mana as an anchor, Daneera finally prepared to 'walk off the planes of the Dual-Walkers, hopefully for good. Just before she disappeared into the AEther, Daneera turned her head to the side to look back at Syl and Chardis.

"Welcome to mortality."

The End

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