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PostPosted: Sat May 10, 2014 11:02 am 
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Posts: 798
Dominian Nightmares
by KeeperofManyNames
Status: Public


Pt. 1

It floated and rippled like a discarded cloak through the void between worlds. To an unfamiliar observer, it must have seemed a bundle of cloth and bones. That such a bundle would normally be torn to aetheric shreds by the roiling boil of the Blind Eternities might escape the notice of such an observer. By that time the incongruity sank in, the bundle's companions would have approached unseen...



A shape rushed past in the void, swirls of potential planes drifting in psychedelic fractals in the wake of his fleeing form, tinted red by flowing and dissolving blood. The bundle twitched and raised its antlered head. Its patched features seemed a strange phenomenon of taxidermy, grinning from ear to ear as only a half-skeletal face can grin. It unfolded in the void as three others of similar form floated past, following the wake of the fleeing figure. Extending several bony clawed digits, trailing oil-slick black mana behind it, the fiend followed its companions.



A short while later, on the plane of Sertaria, on the warm and sunny continent of Ameran, in a small city-state whose name the citizens were in perpetual disagreement over, a man staggered into the hospital. He wore black pants and golden-scaled armor, and his eyes were masked by strange circular goggles. The attending orderly assumed that he was staggering simply because of his highly impractical garb--it was a hot day, after all, and the sun washed down over the marble and limestone of the southern coast with an intensity that made black clothes somewhat impractical.



Then she noticed the trail of blood on the floor. The man simply collapsed, then, putting the small hospital into quite a panic.



His name was Asher, and he was a Planewalker.



------~o~------


Kirsh, the strange bird man that made his home in the small nameless city, saw nothing of the initial panic of Asher's arrival. The aven was far down the city's bordering coast, disturbing birds and fish with his large wings as he swam between water and air.



The aven worked only intermittently at the hospital, despite his formidable skills as a healer. This might at first blush seem odd, but Kirsh had come to recognize the arrangement as a simple Ameranian quirk. He was not, after all, a native of the continent. In fact, it was a small marvel to him that the people of the town so readily accepted his presence. There were no other avens on Ameran, let alone aven healers. There was also a cultural obsession on the continent with the careful learning of craft. Kirsh had never apprenticed himself to a master healer, as was customary. He had simply appeared out of the blue one day, looking bedraggled and depressed, and offered his services. Thus it was that Kirsh found himself making a modest living working part time at the hospital, using his two centuries of medical training to set broken arms and heal minor aches and pains.



This suited Kirsh fine. He had selected Sertaria for its distance from his own home plane, but selected the continent Ameran for its similarity to his home environment. He relished swimming and fishing in the grassy floodplains outside the city, and he found satisfaction easing the lives of the unusually resilient and long-lived Ameranians. For a number of years (he had lost count) he found peace.



Besides, his power had grown weaker over the last century. No good would come of galavanting around the multiverse, the Planeswalker reassured himself as he emerged from the glassy surface of the water. Everything had gotten so much more difficult after the big change so many years ago, and besides, if he pushed the limits of his power, he might--



The aven hissed and closed his eyes, floating on his back in the water. Sometimes these thoughts came unbidden to him. It was, perhaps, the inevitable burden of solitude. He sighed and gazed up at the sky, and the marsh insects skittering across above his head. One of the many qualities that made Ameran a far more ideal dwelling place than his original home was what it lacked: no warring tribes, no reality-warping artifacts, and, above all, no gods.



And, of course, there was the fact that his home was now probably barren and burnt out salt flats, stripped of life.



Kirsh rolled over again and dunked himself in the water. He emerged to find an observer perched on one of the rocky coastal spurs that jutted into the marshy floodplain. The man flashed his best and most iridescent grin down at the aven. Kirsh sighed.



"Oh Kirsh, Kirsh, I haven't disturbed you, have I? You seem preoccupied. Thinking unpleasant thoughts, my dear?" the observer, one of Ameran's sirens, said softly. He looked Kirsh's body over with his luminous turquoise eyes, ruffling his own multi-toned, featherlike hair. Kirsh was, compared to the siren, quite plain, sporting feathers of simple brown and white. The strange mix of feathers, scales, and flesh on the Siren's body caught the light far more colorfully.



Kirsh suppressed a grimace. Hiding it was, of course, pointless: Sirens could read thoughts with disturbing accuracy simply by carefully observing body language. It had taken this one, Androlene, a few weeks of working beside Kirsh in the hospital to become accustomed to the aven's smooth stalking movements and strange head turns. Still, he could now read Kirsh's body quite easily.



"I'm simply meditating, Androlene, that's all. Sometimes I need to clear my head."



"I'll help you with that head of yours, Kirsh, anytime you wish." The siren's voice drifted above the trickling and rolling of the gentle waves like a caress. Kirsh suppressed another grimace as he felt Androlene's magics prodding his mind. He slammed down his mental barriers and the siren winced slightly, almost too slightly for the aven to notice.



"Hm, you must have been meditating quite hard," the rebuffed man mused, keeping his face composed and aloof. "Anyway, something exciting is happening at the hospital." He stood and made to leave.



"Hold on a moment," Kirsh called, "I'm not working today, what do they need me for?"



"Some rugged looking lad just collapsed on our doorstep. Get there soon, darling, or I'm claiming him!"



"Andro, what-" but the siren had already ascended and moved out of earshot. Kirsh rubbed his claw across his face, his beak, his two tufts of brown feathers jutting back from his head like narrow horns. With a jump he leapt into the air and swooped over the shore to dry himself off. Alighting again on the ground, he began to gather his light robe and his belts of herbs, potions, and tools.



Sirens were opportunists by inclination, and they could spot a weak or unsettled mind with almost diabolical ease. "If there's one flaw to this continent," Kirsh grumbled to himself, "it's sirens."



With the sun at his back, Kirsh spread his wings and took to the sky.



------~o~------


They could feel something strange about the continent as soon as they touched down. Such a strange feeling! None of the darkness that the fiends thrived upon could be found. And yet, their quarry had chosen this continent for his crash landing, so they must give chase.



Except... a nagging feeling of power emanated from somewhere within the jumble of boxy stone dwellings on the edge of the city. The three fiends (for one had been bitten in half during the pursuit in the Blind Eternities and had been torn apart by the astral chaos) stalked through alleys and along rooftops, their prey momentarily forgotten as their instincts took over.



After a short while, they came to a warehouse, empty and hot, the workers having gone for their noonday meal. Within the warehouse lay a large humanoid form, the back open for a rider. It was a golem, one of the large mechanical constructs that made up the key component of Ameran's great spectator sport. The fiends, however, saw nothing of its artistry, its careful craft, its titanic power.



No, what they saw was a source of artifacts for them to steal. Inside this golem hummed a powerful generator, spinning ambient aether into useable energy. Such a generator would be a marvelous steal indeed!



This, after all, was their core purpose: to locate and retrieve artifacts of power for an unseen master. When the fiends discovered such artifacts, their bodies acted as sacrificial catalysts that could propel the artifacts across the planes. In this way, they had robbed many planes of their riches.



And yet, the fiends now were presented with a difficulty. They discovered that that they were... choked was perhaps the word, despite the decidedly uncharacteristic anatomy of the horrors. Initiating the sacrifice required a charge of black mana--a spark to start a flame--and something in the nature of this sunny continent cut them off from the black energy that sustained them. The three shifted and settled, staring at one another, and considered. How to claim the parts of this nice, potent machine when their own magic was unexpectedly limited?



At that moment, there was another tug, in another direction, and the distractible fiends remembered their earlier quarry. Skulls and animal heads turned toward their previous quarry. They could feel a disturbance in the fabric of the plane and the slipping in of a darkness that was otherwise anathema to the very land. The fiends adjusted and shifted their composite bodies in a jerking shrug of agreement. With a gust of planar wind, they were gone.



The fiends were not intelligent enough to understand the full mechanics of the strange phenomenon known to other worlds as Dementia Space. Still, they could sense that the black mana that sustained Asher the Dementia Caster vied with Amaran's restrictive nature. The darkness of Dementia Space was struggling to preserve itself, and in order to do so, it was bringing darkness into the world. The fiends were not intelligent enough to create long term plans, either, but they were able to generally formulate a basic sort of thought:



If we find our quarry first and THEN go back for the artifacts, we will kill two birds with one stone.



The saying might have struck the fiends as humorous, had they the capacity for such things.



------~o~------


Krosos was one of those eternal specimens of bureaucratic necessity, perpetually harried and seemingly adrift in a world that refused to effectively cooperate. So, it perhaps would be unfair to say that he was in no mood for Androlene's sense of humor. It would be more accurate to say that he was NEVER in the mood for Androlene's sense of humor. And yet, here Kirsh stood, still glittering somewhat from his swim, looking around in confusion. Krosos groaned.



"Kirsh, you're not working today," the beleaguered head of the hospital said, slowly and deliberately, to the bewildered Aven.



"Sir, I am aware, but I was informed by Androlene that I was needed." Kirsh replied politely.



"Actually, I said that a rugged lad collapsed on our doorstep, and Kirsh here just couldn't hold himself back!" Androlene interjected from the corner.



There was a momentary silence. Then Kirsh cleared his throat.



"Sir, I have noticed that you tend to grind your teeth, and I may have a medicine that will relax your jaw if..."



"Kirsh? Shut up." Krosos sighed. "Andro, I'll deal with you later." Over the man's shoulder Kirsh could see Androlene making his least convincing face of innocence. Kirsh shook his head in exasperation.



"Sir, if you really don't require me, might I return to the sea?"



Krosos scrunched his fleshy, haggard face. "Well, you're here now, and we could actually use a hand with this guy. Some of his wounds are fairly deep and Eureda has been working hard just to keep him from losing more blood." The healer stalked off down the hallway, followed by Androlene and Kirsh. "It's the strangest thing," Krosos called over his shoulder at the pair, "He's dead pale, but not from blood loss alone, and some of these marks look like a wild animal got him. There's nothing within ten miles of the city that could do that. And now Eureda is acting all paranoid about it, I don't know..."



Krosos trailed off into a mumbling, grumbling monologue too low for the others to hear. Kirsh exchanged glances with Androlene and the siren shrugged.



Silently, the three walked down the narrow, somewhat uneven corridor of the hospital. The building had grown with the city as the major tourist attraction--the arena nearby that housed the large, consistently popular golem fights--expanded, and the result was a rather jumbled mishmash of buildings. The corridor was mostly shaded from the sun, containing small, diamond openings in the ceiling at irregular intervals to let the light in. The rooms along the hall were similarly dim, with wooden slatted windows that let in only minimal light, allowing the patients to avoid the heat of the day.



In the shadows at the end of the corridor stood a young orderly, just graduated from her apprenticeship. She shifted from side to side nervously and jumped when she noticed the others. To Kirsh's surprise, she groaned at the sight of him. "I can't believe it," she moaned, "I'm about to be shown up by someone who's never even been apprenticed."



"You're as glad to see him as we are, don't try to hide it," Androlene retorted mildly.



"Can we focus, people," Krosos barked. "How is the patient, Eureda?"



The young woman shrugged her shoulders. "I've stopped the bleeding, but he's still unconscious and he seems to be having nightmares. I came out here because I was afraid that..." She trailed off, looking warily down the hall, then shook her head. "I just don't know what to think. Can you take a look? I need to go... do something."



Krosos rolled his eyes and pushed into the room with Kirsh in tow. Androlene, however, lingered and caught Eureda's eye. "What's going on, Eureda? You're not normally so discomposed."



Eureda sighed. "I've just got a bad feeling, alright? When he came in he was on his last legs, but he kept moving, like he needed to get away from something. I just have... a bad feeling." She shrugged and stepped around the siren, striding rapidly down the hallway. Androlene shook his head and stepped into the room.



-----~o~------


The stranger's room seemed dimmer than usual, and the shadows moved unsettlingly in the corner of Kirsh's eye. This was not what arrested his attention, however. No, it was the sight of the distinctive goggles, the golden, scaled armor, and the black, surprisingly well-made clothes lying beside the bed that caught his gaze. He glanced over at the man on the cot, breathing heavily and stripped to his undergarments. The tattoos were not exactly like the others Kirsh had seen those centuries ago, but some of the iconography was unmistakeable: the black marks seeming to writhe and twist across the man's thinly toned, pale chest.



Kirsh shook his head in irritation. He was getting distracted, and not just because of the shadows that continued to slide eerily just out of his vision. "Krosos, I think I'm going to need to take over this man's care. Completely, sir." He strode toward the cot and began inspecting the stranger's injuries. "He can be moved safely. We need to get him to the least populated area in this hospital immediately."



The head healer, standing beside the cot, stared at the suddenly authoritative aven. "Kirsh, this is highly out of order. What's gotten into you?"



Kirsh tapped his talon against the bedside in impatience. "You know that I'm not from this continent, sir. This man is from the same... continent as I am." Strictly true, Kirsh reflected. No need to mention the fact that this continent lay on another world entirely.



"Funny, you don't look alike," Androlene droned in the background as he entered the room.



"For the love of all the Incarnations, Andro, get lost, will you?" Krosos groaned.



"No, I'll need him to keep this man unconscious while we move him," Kirsh vetoed sharply.



Krosos turned back to the aven healer and slammed his hand on the small table that held the man's belongings. "We're not moving anyone anywhere until you explain just what in Faskeria is going on here!"



Kirsh clicked his beak and narrowed his eyes. "If I am correct, this man is what we call a Dementia Caster, a wizard that summons physical nightmares. And unconscious dementia casters are known for being decidedly..." He paused and glanced again at the unconscious man. The shadows were writhing faster now, and they weren't hiding from view anymore. They stretched their curving, sliding forms across the walls openly now. Krosos and Androlene followed his gaze and gasped in unison at the uncanny sight, unlike anything on Ameran. Kirsh took a deep breath as memories began to return unbidden to him.



"Dementia casters are known for being decidedly unstable."



------~o~------


Once upon a time there was an island continent known as Otaria. A century before, a great war had covered the globe and wrought unparalleled destruction, but this continent had remained largely unscathed, and eked out a simple existence. And yet, strife came to the continent in the form of the great games of the Cabal, games in which the prizes were riches, and the price of failure, death.



Here the great legends of this post-war period were forged: Rorix Bladewing, feared in life, and even more so in death; Jareth, the giant lion man who had crossed the sea to compete in Otaria's famous games; Arcanis, the mysterious mage that transcended the defining constraints of the flesh and became an icon of wizardly power. And, perhaps most relevant for our tale, Chainer, the chain-wielding, goggled champion of the Cabal, a summoner of nightmares. He was perhaps the most accomplished Dementia Caster the multiverse has yet known, and he paid the ultimate price for his power. For Chainer, empowered by a strange artifact known as the Mirari, died at the hands of his friend Kamahl lest he unleash unimaginable, uncontrollable terrors upon the continent.



Far from such concerns, however, an old aven dwelled in the Skycloud Expanses, meditating amidst nature. He had wandered into the expanse to die, having been injured and considering himself lost. The aven did not die, however, and eventually came to realize that he had been gifted, through some strange magic, with an unnatural resilience and longevity.



This aven, Kirsh, decided that his new lease on life was ill spent in the seclusion of Skycloud. He left his adopted home and in time found his decision rewarded in the form of a band of human nomads, the mystics of Otaria's great plains. Kirsh found himself welcomed into their band as healer, and in time found himself adopted into their family. He was, after all, far kinder than the distant and militaristic aven of the Order that controlled the plains. They traveled together, trading their knowledge and wisdom, their skills and their companionship.



This peaceful existence came to an abrupt ending with the beginning of another war, between two mad forces bent on the utter annihilation of one another. An angel summoned by the illusionist Ixidor's delusion and loss dared to make war upon the scion of the Cabal, a woman whose very touch was rot. At the height of the war, a foolish act by the barbarian Kamahl and the influence of the same strange and powerful artifact that had corrupted Chainer summoned forth a being of incomprehensible power, forged of the union of these two opposite forces.



She rose, a robed and hovering goddess of magic, and tore the very fabric of the world asunder.



------~o~------


Androlene had been singing for a good hour and a half, attempting to keep the stranger still while Kirsh worked. This was the siren's role at the hospital: he was the single most skilled sleep singer and pain-banisher in the entire city, his powers of sleep manipulation unparallelled even among his own kind. And yet, even such a skilled worker requires rest. He staggered wearily out of the room to go find a drink.



To Kirsh's surprise, a few minutes after Androlene left, the stranger abruptly opened his eyes.



To his even greater surprise, the stranger then immediately attempted to sit bolt upright, opening up at least three of the wounds on his chest and stomach.



The aven pushed him back down. "Relax, relax, you're safe here," the bird man cooed softly. "You're from Dominaria, aren't you? So am I, I'm a Planeswalker like you. Just relax, you'll be healed soon."



The man shook his head emphatically, then winced with the pain. "The stuck together--Timmerians--stuck together will be coming again. I have to summon--cast--summon the nightmares."



Kirsh's breath caught in his throat. The man was clearly not thinking straight (or, for that matter, talking straight) and he didn't want to consider the damage a delirious dementia summoner could cause, even if his power was restricted by the choking mana flow of Ameran, a mana flow which shut out both black and green mana. He honestly was not sure whether that would be a limit for a man who walked through life carrying a literal bog of horrifying space around within himself.



With one hand the mage tossed a few more globes of light into the already quite strongly lit underground chamber. He was not certain that would help, but it was worth a try. With his other taloned hand he pressed once more against the man's chest, filling it with soothing healing magic. The man's breathing eased slightly. "Why don't you tell me your name?" Kirsh said quietly, "then tell me what you think is after you."



The man shook his head again, albeit with a gingerness that showed he had learned from the last time. "Who are you of the flesh and of the bone to question who I am? Questions, yes - yes, many questions, and I will answer – tell! – answer you this. I am Ash - Asher. But you must let me go - out - away. The Timmerians will come.”



"You're safe here, Asher," Kirsh said, beginning once more to push healing magic into the man's arm. There was quite a deep gouge there, almost like a horn wound. "For now just try to relax and go back to sleep." The injured summoner's eyes did begin to droop once more as the healing magic soothed his injuries. Kirsh's eyes crinkled slightly in a subtle aven smile.



A smile that immediately turned to wide eyed alarm as a clatter came from down the hall, accompanied by a scream that was cut alarmingly short. The two men were still as the marble statues of the city, waiting for the sound they knew was inevitable.



Something was tapping a slow, uneven, unnatural path down the hall toward them in the darkness.



Asher began to thrash on the bed. "I need the bag - smoke - bag of my smoke - blood - need to get to the dementia place - space - place of dragon smoke!"



"Calm down!" Kirsh shrieked, jumping up from his seat to hold the man down, knocking the heavy chair over in the process. Asher's coiled muscles thrashed under him, but their noise could not mask the stalking footsteps coming ever closer down the hall.



"It's all I have to kill or be killed, so let me go!" Asher struggled again, his chest red and slick with blood. His eyes cast desperately around the room for his belt. "THIS IS MINE!"



"You can't!" Kirsh cawwed. "You're delirious!"



"No!" Asher finally saw what he was looking for. The belt. The incense. He broke free of the aven's grip and lunged manically toward them, catapulting off the other side of the bed, grabbing the containers, scrabbling with the lid and finally, finally, his precious incense, the key to his realm, lay before him. He lit the match. In the background Kirsh struggled around the overturned chair, desperately trying to maneuver his too-large wings and limbs in the cramped space despite his rising terror. Asher smiled and breathed in as the smoke wafted upward. Slowly, his mind calmed, and he began to slip into Dementia Space.



And then Kirsh made a terrible, terrible mistake. Desperate to calm the summoner, he reached out with a burst of blue and white mana and attempted to directly silence the turmoil he sensed in Asher's mind.



And the hospital dissolved around him, and the two men stood on a blasted mockery of the Otarian plain. "No," Asher gasped, staggering and staring over at Kirsh in unmasked horror. "You - you shouldn't be here. It shouldn't look like this."



Kirsh felt a chill up his spine. He knew this place well. Each blasted boulder, the burned out ruins, the bodies half buried in the piles of dust, sand, and ash. He realized with a swell of dread that Asher was no longer staring at him at all. He was staring at something behind him.



Despite every fiber of his being screaming out at him to stop, he slowly turned and followed Asher's gaze upward to heaven.



There, suspended amidst the dust cloud, eclipsing the very sun, floated her silhouette, the silhouette of the being formed of Ixidor's madness and Kamahl's great folly.



The False God.



Karona.



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 Post subject: Re: Dominian Nightmares
PostPosted: Sat May 10, 2014 11:03 am 
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Pt. 2

The Timmerians noticed the change in the atmosphere immediately. It was a relief to suddenly be bathed in the darkness they so loved. This continent was an arid desert to them, and Asher's dementia space was an extraplanar oasis. However, now the fiends were faced with a problem. They had been given two basic imperatives that now conflicted: if someone sought to capture one of their own, they were to hound and destroy that person. However, if they found unusually powerful magical artifacts, they were to retrieve them immediately. The things inside the big metal man were quite tempting, but perhaps not quite tempting enough to override the directive to destroy Asher now that he was within their grasp.



The fiends decided to do some reconnaissance.



Casting aside the limp, bled out form of the fleshy human they had run into, the frontmost fiend pressed open the wooden door of Asher's room.



A wave of corruption spread out.



The room was taken up by a large gaping wound in reality. The space was already filled with terrible, chittering things that all looked up eagerly as the door opened. The largest of them, a malformed, blackened dragon that clung like piping to the walls of the small room, breathed smoky breath out of the door.



The fiends pulled the door shut again.



This was going to be more complicated than they had thought.



Unfortunately, the Timmerians were not, for their viciousness, particularly good at coming up with viable plans. Thus it was that they (ignoring the screams from the other rooms as they hovered and pondered) decided upon this course of action:



They would go and gather that large, powerful engine from the golem, sacrificing one of their number in the process. The two would return, fatally damage the engine, and use the ensuing explosion to destroy their foe. It was a brilliant example of Timmerian logic: their imperative was only to retrieve artifacts. Once they had them, the destruction of their foe became a greater priority than returning the stolen artifacts to their master.



This was, unfortunately, a necessary problem with their functioning. Early in their existence, the fiends had not been capable of defending themselves. Now, they were able to use the artifacts freely, even if it occasionally led paradoxically to their own destruction.



Each of the fiends pulled out an assortment of wicked looking weapons.



They were going down, but they certainly weren't going down alone.



------~o~-------


Androlene sagged, eyes closed, against the wall, letting the empty cup droop in his hand. The running spring--a fountain bubbling up at slightly more than waist height at the center of the small, enclosed break room--rolled gently across its stones and onto the reflecting pool in the floor. The siren sighed and ran his hand through his feathery hair. Running water did wonders to sooth his mind but, he reflected ruefully, it could do little for his worn voice. He quietly tried singing to himself. To a human the notes would have sounded stunningly beautiful, but the siren could detect very slight errors in pitch and tone, the product of exhaustion.



"Kirsh, Kirsh what have you gotten us into?" the siren sighed softly.



He almost immediately received an answer. The ears of Sirens are quite sensitive; it is a necessity for such musical creatures. Thus, despite the faintness of the sound, despite his weariness, Androlene immediately tensed when he heard the scrape from outside the open arch leading to the rest of the hospital. In that moment, he noticed a change in the sound of the water. Glancing over to the trickling spring, he saw that the water had become brackish, thick, foul smelling. He had, of course, never seen a swamp, but he had worked in the hospital long enough to see corruption. Not all diseases are born of black magic, after all.



What he saw creeping from the water, from the door, along the walls... this was corruption incarnate.



Androlene had never felt anything like what he felt now. His heart pounded in his chest, filling his ears with its sound, almost loud enough to block out the scrape from the doorway. He edged away from the door slowly, trying to move silently, out of sight. Black tendrils crept along grey marble, and a faint muttering filled the air. He could not make out the words, but his ears knew the cadence, the repetition, the strange pitches. It was a voice of muttered madness. It filled the room like swamp mist, coming from every direction.



Androlene edged further, now trying to catch sight of whatever was coming, moving to position himself behind the fountain and the open arch. His eyes never strayed from the door. They would not adjust upon the darkness outside the room; the atrium was simply too bright compared to the dim hospital. And yet, he swore something shifted in the gloaming, scraped, lurked, watched. He was filled with an urge to speak, to sing, to make some noise to break the endless stream of mumbling babble, but he could not. His throat was tight. For the first time in his life, the siren was incapable of making a sound.



At this moment of realization, this height of panic, he suddenly understood the voice.



"It's ok, Asher, they won't find us here."



The voice had come from right beside him.



He hadn't thought, after all, to look behind the fountain.



The small, naked figure crouched, head bowed, close enough in the small room for Androlene to touch. It slowly raised its head, revealing a red wreck that failed to coherently resolve in Androlene's sight, as though it had been painted then doused in some diluting fluid by the horrified artist. There was just enough expression left, however, for the siren to tell that it was smiling.



"You're safe now."



Androlene found his voice once more.



He screamed.



------~o~-------


From the silhouette, hovering high above yet still perfectly visible to the watchers below, a stream of multicolored, raw power issued forth, igniting the horizon. Even at this distance the screams of humans, aven, cephalids, centaurs... all were audible in their unified cries. They were cries of pain, but they were also cries of ecstasy.



Their Goddess had come.



"It's not real," Kirsh whispered, "It's not real, it's not real, it's a nightmare!" The aven laughed in a worryingly unsteady way. "It's just a dream, Dementia summoners summon nightmares, it's not real." He turned to Asher, who had laid himself against a rock, already exhausted from their brief struggle. "Tell me it's not real," he twittered piteously.



The dementia caster blinked. "But it's real."



The aven let out a small wail.



Asher adjusted his position, closed his eyes, and breathed in the smoke from his still-burning incense. He let out the smokey air slowly, meditatively. He had calmed down quite a bit after the initial shock of finding his Dementia Space taken over by Kirsh's mind. They were, after all, away from the immediate danger of the Timmerians. And if enemies appeared from Dementia Space, well... there was only one way to deal with such foes.



"We were put in a madness... I mean, a dementia space, the torturing madness of our master. It was a heavy madness. Urborg madness."



Kirsh looked up slowly, his quaking easing somewhat. Something had steadied in Asher's voice--he seemed more coherent now. But the man was, Kirsh realized with a start, a mess. His chest was painted with blood, and his limbs were torn by a number of gores and gashes. The aven hazarded another glance at the sky. She still hovered there, surrounded by a ghastly halo of power.



Kirsh's eyes narrowed. Still shaky, he got to his feet. He focused all his attention upon Asher. He did not pay attention to the figures standing in silence around the two Planeswalkers, statue still and staring in the ash and dust cloud. His clawed feet picked unsteadily across the rubble toward the fallen dementia caster, already mechanically beginning to strip pieces of cloth from his robe, as Asher continued his thought.



"There were two of us - two left alive in that place. He said we were safe hiding. Safe in madness." Asher caught Kirsh's gaze as the aven, still trembling, began to rebind the summoner's wounds. The summoner chuckled, smoke shooting from his nose in brief bursts. "Have you ever tried to hide? From your madness?"



"What..." Kirsh's voice warbled on the word. He winced and took a deep breath, beginning again. "What happened when your friend hid?"



"Facesh-shredder," the man intoned, as though reciting, his voice briefly returning to its formerly unsteady state. "Very ra-rare. N-nearly un-un-undefeat - unstoppable."



Kirsh suppressed a shudder. He was binding Asher's arm and didn't want to jostle it. His attempts to remain steady were rendered moot by another rumble in the distance, and another chorus of souls wrenched from the world. Kirsh knew that these bursts of power would result, eventually, in a great rift in time and space that would suck most of the rest of Otaria's vitality away. "Is that what was chasing you?" Kirsh asked, half as a way of keeping Asher's mind busy, half as a way of occupying his own.



The summoner laughed. "The Timmerian Fiends! How can you compare... They're not like Dementia. Constructs. Following me through the outer madness... I mean, the Blind Eternities." He shook his head and gestured with his free arm, as though mimicking the chaotic spinning of the space between planes. "I tried to capture one. It's so hard. They fall to pieces."



Kirsh looked at the other arm. The swirling dust from the shattered plain had gotten into the wound. He honestly wasn't sure what that might do to the summoner, but he wasn't about to take risks. The healer drew upon his mana and called a thin trickle of water to wash the cut.



"They notice when you do that," Asher remarked conversationally.



Kirsh felt the feathers of his back raise slightly. He glanced up from his work.



The figures were closer now, and he could begin to make out their forms. They weren't attached to the ground, but hovered, as though in rigor mortis, suspended above the plain, their clothes flapping gently in the dust storm. He could almost see their faces...



"She'll be here soon. What's yours?"



"What is my what?"



Asher gestured again at the sky with his bound hand, wincing.



Kirsh swallowed. "Karona," he whispered, as though her name would draw her close. As though in answer, there was another flash of light across the sky, and the aven swallowed hard, trying not to imagine whole armies razed in an instant in the cruelest ways possible, limbs torn off, bodies boiled alive or frozen solid by bursts of pure mana, mouths agape in supplication. "The mystics referred to her as Deceit, almost as though she had always been a part of their mythology. She was a false goddess, a Planeswalker that absorbed the mana of our entire world. Our continent... our people... were her plaything," he spat bitterly, wrapping the cloth on Asher's arm a bit too tight, not noticing the summoner's wince. He glanced upward again at the hovering shadow. Strange, he was sure she had been behind him...



"You can't hide from a nightmare," Asher whispered, eyes closed, on the verge of passing out yet again.



Kirsh nodded and sighed. He understood, as much as he didn't want to. "Asher, my name is Kirsh of the Flats. Let me tell you about my nightmare."



-----~o~-----


The thing chasing Androlene smiled. It was so close. Soon it would feed.



And then, suddenly, an arm yanked its quarry out of view into a doorway. A moment later the horror collapsed as one of its legs was shattered by a large piece of metal. It screeched in pain and twisted its neck impossibly around to gaze at its attacker: a somewhat chubby man with pale olive skin and an exceptionally peeved expression, dressed in a knotted robe that used to be white but now was stained red and black. "You idiots think you're so invulnerable, don't you?" the man growled. "Well I've been studying the art of medicine for sixty years, and I know exactly how to break even a freak body like yours."



Androlene looked up in surprise to see Eurida staring at him, her hand on his arm, her other hand holding a sword. In the background were a number of other survivors--healers and patients alike--looking scared and holding makeshift weapons. "Told you I had a bad feeling," Eurida said with a nervous grin.



Androlene shook his head. "The sword...?"



"I keep it behind the front desk, just in case."



After a moment the squeals and wet concussive sounds from outside the room ceased and Krosos stalked into the double-wide hospital room. He looked over the survivors he and Eureda had gathered. "Good to see you're alright, Androlene," he said gruffly and patted the siren's shoulder.



Krosos walked to the center of the room and clapped for attention. The others winced, imagining, as one, the effect the sound would have on the fiends outside. "Listen up, people," Krosos began, "that patient we pulled in this morning had some sort of brain problem, and he seems to have pulled a whole bunch of his own issues out into reality. So, in an effort to keep everyone here from being gnawed to death by tentacled corpses, we're going to charge down to where he is, and see if we can't get whatever this is to go away."



The alarmed hospital staff and rescued patients nodded in unison.



"Now, if it was just the horrors out there we had to worry about, this would be easy." He ignored the stares of disbelief and held up the head of something that looked pasted together from a dozen different animals. "We might also run into these things! I've killed this one, as you can see, but they've got weapons, and they're formidable. They seem to be fighting the horrors as well, though, and odds are they're trying to finish the job they started earlier with our mystery patient."



"Wait," Eureda interrupted, "if they're trying to kill the patient that's causing this, couldn't we just let them do it, rather than suicidally charging down into the basement to fight monsters? There's no sense in risking more lives."



Krosos fixed her with a baleful glare. "Because we are healers, and if there's a way we can stop this without letting our patient die, we are going to do it! This is our calling, why we became healers. Or have you forgotten that?"



Eureda blushed and looked away from the much older healer. The others were silent. There was a pause as Krosos hefted his makeshift weapon thoughtfully.



"Besides, I just won't be satisfied without a few more swings at these bastards."



The hallways were eerily empty as the band of makeshift warriors descended down the ramp into the lower level of the hospital. In the distance, however, screams and howls echoed in the dark. Krosos and Eureda took up the forward guard as the others crowded in fearfully behind. Soon they were close to the place where Asher and Kirsh had been. Bodies lay strewn about the floor, some destroyed by mortal weapons, others ripped apart by horrors. Krosos winced and gestured his band forward. The wall surrounding the door to Asher's room had been blown out, and noises of battle came from within.



Krosos made to move forward but Eureda pushed him back and gestured emphatically to her sword, a look of determination on her face. The healer paused for a moment and then simply nodded. Androlene noted that as she turned to the wall her lips turned up slightly, suppressing a nervous smile. She edged toward the breach, with Krosos only a step behind. The others saw her head peek around the corner of the broken wall, saw her eyes widen.



Then, in a flash, before the others could react, a long, wormlike, toothy tongue lashed out of the breech, wrapped around Eureda's waist, and dragged her into a waiting draconic maw. She didn't even have time to scream.



Krosos gave a strangled cry and leaped back against the far wall. This afforded him a full glimpse of the room within. His eyes widened in shock. In the center of the room lay what could only be the engine of a titanic golem, the size of the now shattered hospital bed. It was whining and glowing in a way that clearly indicated an imminent overheating. Guarding the engine jealously was another strangely patched together creature, swinging wide with a wicked looking blade at the horrors that attacked him, keeping them just barely at bey. Where Kirsh and Asher had been a bleeding spot of glowing corruption hovered in the air, leaking a kind of radiant darkness into the room.



Androlene placed a shaky hand on Krosos's shoulder, staring at the place where the young healer had stood not a moment before. "Are we... are we going to charge?"



Krosos shook his head in stunned resignation. "There's... there's no way we can fight those things." He wiped his hand across his face and tried not to look at the bitten off blade of Eureda's sword lying amidst the corruption. "Gather the survivors together. We're going to have to evacuate, and let the monsters blow each other to oblivion."



"And..." Androlene swallowed, "And Eureda and... and... Kirsh?"



Krosos gritted his teeth. "There's nothing we can do for them now."



-----~o~-----


Kirsh coughed and hacked, dust and ash clogging his throat. Shakily drawing himself up upon his talons and knees he blearily opened his eyes. He immediately wished that he hadn't.



The bodies of the other members of the caravan lay strewn about the dusty plain. In the distance another explosion lit the sky; another chorus of adoring, dying screams issued into the air. The garish light that played across the heavens, the product of the distant war, illuminated the scene in hideous detail. There was Tereh, dead with her staff plunged through the feral, twisted form of one of the goblins that had ambushed them. Malik was lying beside three of the spiderlike pods... or at least a still smoking part of him was. Karea's headless body had impaled itself upon one of the ragged, broken spars of a tent. The other nomads--his adopted family--lay in similarly blasted and broken poses in the small dip in the dunes where the goblin ambush had taken place.



Kirsh choked back a sob and staggered to his feet, rushing through the burning remnants of the caravan, twisting his head desperately around, looking for another survivor.



"Kirsh!" a ragged voice called. The aven let out a cry of desperate relief, involuntarily spreading his wings as he ran, lifting from the ground and gliding over the rubble of the camp. He collided with the youthful looking nomad, and the man staggered back a few steps, embracing Kirsh tightly and sobbing into his feathers.



"Kol, Kol, thank the ancestors you're alive." Kirsh whispered, holding the shuddering mystic to him.



After a too brief moment, Kol pushed away from Kirsh and, wiping his tears roughly, looked around the camp. "We need to get out of here."



"Wait, Kol, let me see if there's anything that I can do to help the others."



"No!" the young man shouted, "Don't be a fool, there's nothing you can do for..." For a moment Kol was unable to continue speaking. "We need to get to a safe place. Look at this!" He gestured to the sky. They could both see an indistinct shadow hovering there, haloed by magic, spitting destruction onto the distant combatants. "That... thing is going to kill us too if we don't find somewhere to hide." He grabbed the aven by the hand and pulled him away from the caravan. Kirsh looked back once more at the carnage. The corpses began to glow as he watched, the souls of the mystics finally attaining the wings that they had longed for in life. They had trained him to see the spirits of the ancestors, and now, through their teachings, they were visible. His eyes grew wet with tears and he feared for a moment that he would stumble.



It was Kol, however, who stumbled, catching his foot upon a round, claylike object buried in the sand. There had been one last attacker, waiting dormant beneath the debris. Kirsh's eyes widened. The sides of the no longer dormant creature blazed red and cracked apart. Kirsh's tongue seemed to move sluggishly in his beak as he formed the first words of a spell of protection, and then--



He felt himself falling away, pushed by Kol's hand. As he fell, he watched the flaming feline form burst forth from the shell. Kol's sword clove into it, but the hellish cat strafed across his body, incinerating his sword arm whole. Kol collapsed to the ground as the cat dissolved back into the aether, letting out a terrible, final sigh as he fell.



Kirsh scrambled forward on his hands and knees toward Kol, already desperately summoning mana from the plains to heal his companion. Kol turned his blackened face and half smiled, half winced. His unburned hand pressed against Kirsh's talon and he shook his head. His mouth moved, trying to form words, then, realizing that he had been robbed of speech, the nomad simply pointed to the sky.



Kirsh shook his head. "No, no, you, that's ridiculous, you're not even an ancestor yet! You can't... you can't join them." The aven began to weep. "You can't leave me!"



Kol opened his mouth again. "Sorry," he formed. The mystic sighed and closed his eyes.



Kirsh rose unsteadily to his feet and looked out upon the blasted plain. Otaria was ruined. The continent had been utterly ravaged. Kirsh looked up to the sky and let out a piercing cry. In the distance, a flock of carrion birds rose into the churning dust and gloom. "It isn't fair!" the aven screamed, "How dare you rip this world apart? How dare you become a goddess? All you can do is destroy!"



Around him the souls were rising. He felt the pulse of the land churning beneath his feet. It was a caged pulse that sought release, the land itself desperate to join Karona's mad war game. Kirsh's talons clenched and his eyes glowed.



"It should have been me."



The plain was split by fissures of light. Kirsh felt power flooding into his body eagerly, a power somehow called forth by the being that floated far above. So be it. If she was the Incarnation Deceit, he would too become one with Dominaria and be the Incarnation Transcendence. There was a strange feel to the mana, but Kirsh simply did not care. This was the reason he had lived so long, he was sure, and now spark of power inside him was fanning to flame. He ignored the strange tug far above the island and began to drink in the plain, and Skycloud, all the power of his home.



Their bodies rising with a rising howl, the souls of the nomads were drawn from the sky. Their wings disintegrated, raining glowing feathers down upon the blasted scene. Kirsh raised his arms. He twisted the very nature of his healing spells into something new, something far more powerful and terrible. He rose in the air slowly, hovering over the battlefield, and let out a cry. Although the bond between soul and body was severed, he would restitch them. He would become a god and cheat death itself.



And then, as with every other being that had ever tried to harness the powers of the Mirari, that strange artifact that had called Karona into being, he felt the flow of power turn strange and hideous. What would have been impossible for a normal Planeswalker had been made possible through the influence of the strange broken artifact. But this possibility came with a price.



Kirsh finally became aware of the howling void over his head, a great rend in the fabric of the world. The sky and the land alike screamed out in anguish as his act of defiance further widened the tear that Karona had created upon entering the world. The bodies of the nomads hovered above the battlefield, frozen, souls caged in rapidly mummifying flesh. He had failed. They had not been restored to life after all, but a frozen, calcified undeath. And now, unable to stop the rush of mana, Kirsh perceived the greatest cost of all:



He had contributed his small part to the death of the world.



The aspiring god swooned in midair. The world spun around him, the howl of the rift, the land, and the corpses, frozen in their agony, roared in his ears. He fell, out through the void, out of the agony of time and space, into the Blind Eternities, and into merciful darkness.



----~o~-----


Kirsh finished his story, and finished the last binding upon Asher's leg. He looked up. The mage was no longer listening--he had passed out. Kirsh did, however, have an audience, an unfamiliar being that he had missed, so wrapped up in the story of his past. She crouched on top of the stone that Asher rested against, and each time she shifted position a light rain of ash sprinkled down over the mage. Her body was a barely recognizable burnt and rotted thing, and her forearms were extended grotesquely into gapemawed wurmlike forms.



"Nice story, Kirsh."



The aven's beak dropped open in horror and astonishment.



"Oh, you thought your little mental connection with my dear Asher went in but one direction? Hah! The sort of fool's error I would expect from someone who would tap into a Dementia Master's brain!" The figure leered and leaned toward the aven.



"What are you?" he gasped, fighting the urge to back away. He couldn't leave Asher unprotected. His hands felt alongside his robes to the bags of herbs and talismans that helped him to recall his less frequently used spells. Something that would help, anything...



"I suppose he didn't get a chance to tell you. He talks so slowly, with his little weird stammer, and his misused words. Pathetic. He should introduce me first! I am, after all, the love of his life." The thing laughed a wretched, rasping laugh and gestured at itself. "This is what Asher does to things. He is corruption and burnt ruin! You know what he was doing with the Timmerian Fiends?"



"No, please go on," Kirsh said politely, still feeling his robes. No, that bauble was a minor cantrip... he tossed it aside and reached for another random item. Seaweed from Arkhos? A powerful tool for memory manipulation... good enough. He pushed just a bit of mana into the bag, mentally constructing the elements of the spell as the horror continued her rant.



"This idiot was trying to capture one of them alive so that he could collect a bounty set, according to rumor, by some mysterious, mystical Planeswalker! Isn't that absurd? Risking his life on some fool's quest, for an employer he's never met! And now, this is the most wonderful part, listen." She beckoned the aven closer, placing one of her long, flaccid limbs upon his shoulder. He shuddered with revulsion as the thing writhed around on his back. But... there! His memories rearranged and the key to the spell flashed in his mind. He moved closer and pressed a hand on Asher's chest and tried to think about the Skycloud Expanse.



"Now he's managed to corrupt an entire hospital! And each time someone dies because of his stupidity, I get stronger. You can't imagine how this feels," the thing moaned. "I've never felt so alive!" It paused and then began to laugh hysterically. "Alive, can you believe it?"



The thing took its member off of Kirsh's shoulder and stood upright. "The best part is that now Asher is unconscious in his own Dementia Space. I'm going to devour him from the inside out and wear his saggy flesh as a ****ing coat." The horror stood thoughtfully for a second. "Asher always wanted someone else as an audience." She beamed a crusted, sharp toothed smile at Kirsh. "You get to watch!"



Her slithering forearms spiked down through the air toward Asher's stomach--



And were stopped dead by a wall of glittering, glistening light. A ripple moved momentarily along the surface of the shield, and, with a rush, the shield gushed forth a beam of light that punched straight through the center of the horror. The light extended into the sky and, as if in response, the floating False Goddess of Mana rained more destruction upon the distant armies.



Attachment:
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Asher's former lover stood, stunned, a massive hole in her abdomen. Kirsh stood as well, his eyes narrowed, his wings spread. Around him, close enough to touch now, close enough to see, were the warped, hovering forms of his former family. He didn't care.



"This man. Is. My. PATIENT," the Aven shouted, the dust cloud spinning around him.



"No! No, it's not fair!" the thing wailed. "I finally was so strong, so strong!" molten tears ran down its cheeks. "Fine, then, you spoilsport, if I can't have him, I'll take your skin and become his lover once more!"



"You were never my lover," a voice croaked from between them. "She died." Kirsh and the nightmare looked down in surprise. Asher staggered carefully to his feet as Kirsh quickly came to his aid, helping him to stand. His blond and bloodied hair flapping in the dust storm, his eyes piercingly green despite the haze, the young dementia summoner looked his most terrifying creation in the face.



"You... You are my lack of self control."



The thing wailed and stretched its tentacle limbs out to its creator and master, to his face, his mouth, and finally, with a slurp, down his throat. The rest of her followed.



Kirsh let go of Asher, staggered back, retched, and vomited.



"I'm feeling much better now," Asher mused. "You are a powerful healer."



Kirsh nodded weakly.



Asher looked at him carefully. Then he looked up to the sky. Kirsh looked with him, and he could feel the watching horrors looking, too. The aven spread his wings and with a jump lifted off of the ground.



Asher grinned and closed his eyes. He bent down gingerly and picked up his incense censer. He lit it and swung it contemplatively from side to side. Kirsh's healing magic had worked wonders on him, and he had just enough strength now to properly deal with the Timmerians. The world began to slide and ooze around him, buckling and twisting and, eventually, sliding up his legs and back into his body. It was time to return to the world.



There were fiends to capture.



Far above him, Kirsh approached the shadow. He had, of course, never met Karona. He knew her only as a silhouette, and as a historical figure, her significance explained to him after the fact by Raleris and Mondemere. If she looked anything like Asher's fiends...



The clouds began to part. Her halo glistened like a second son, golden and blue, radiant and terrible. Her limbs were skeletal, and her wings...



Her wings...



Kirsh almost forgot to keep flapping his own wings, so great was his surprise. For before him floated not Karona, the False God of Mana, but a twisted, hovering aven, a creature wearing a carved mask of blue coral and pearl. Now he could see the truth of the halo: it was a wheel of souls, souls long denied the sleep of ancestors, howling their pain and adulation.



"I've been waiting a long time."



Kirsh nodded, throat dry. "I know. I know, but I've always held you back before, and I can still do it now."



The thing laughed coldly. "But you don't have to. I am Transcendence. You can embrace me and defy all the boundaries of reason and nature!"



Kirsh shook his head. "For this... I will have to. But you... but I am not Transcendence. I am not a god. And you..."



He looked directly at his nightmare's masked face. His own eyes stared back at him, but strange, cold, stripped of compassion, stripped of concern for anything but his own monomania.



"You are my loss of humanity."



The veil of dementia space was torn asunder; the dream collapsed.



----~o~----


With a shudder, Asher's horrors stopped moving and split apart. From out of them stepped--no, floated--skeletal forms, glowing as though touched by a distant, dusty sun. The watchers--Krosos, Androlene, and the other survivors--stood stunned at the sudden shift. The solitary remaining fiend seemed also confused. The engine, however, continued to wind up in the background, its high pitched whine going higher and higher as it overheated.



And then, a god stepped into the world.



He was radiant and terrible, his wings glittering shards of light. On his face, covering his beak, was a pearl and coral mask. The roof, weakened by the discharges of power within, collapsed. The being gestured, not even deigning to look, and blocks were suspended, then repelled far into the air. Even the great, twisted draconic horror that had crowded the room so fully before now crouched, stunned in the sudden light of sun and magic.



The Timmerian, sensing its end, began to draw upon the mana from Asher's dementia space... and found it blocked once more by Ameran's natural aura. The dementia space had been closed. For the first time in its unlife, the construct felt something like panic. It did not fear death. The Timmerian Fiends had, however, been imprinted with one prime command: never, ever be taken alive.



The glowing figure gestured with one clawed hand and the Timmerian felt itself frozen to the spot, constrained. A network of white lines spread across its body, holding it fast. Slowly but surely, each twisted limb was paralyzed. The bony, frozen mouth, for the first time since its creation, attempted to open, ripping flesh and teeth from their bearings as it struggled to scream. And then it was still, frozen in its silent terror, only its glass bead eyes rolling in its patchwork face.



The whine in the background was overtaken by a howl that stunned the listeners. The skeletal beings clustered around the overheating engine and, at another gestured command, began to twist and writhe, almost as though crumpled by some invisible hand. Their hollow eyes gazed up at their creator with a kind of adulation as, one by one, they disappeared, exiled to the void between worlds, taking whole chunks of the engine with them. In moments, the rig was gone.



And a second later, so was the god, as the final horror--the black dragon--swallowed this new sun whole.



Androlene involuntarily took a step forward and let out a cry as the figure was consumed. And then his eyes widened as the sides of the dragon split like an overripe fruit, acrid blood and ichor spilling across the floor. The dragon vomited light and bled glory, writhing around and howling its agony. From its bloated belly a clawed hand burst forth. It was followed by the strange figure of the glowing bird-man, carrying a bundle that could only be Eureda, bleeding from countless places, half of her left leg already dissolved. There was a brief moment when Androlene swore he could see her soul emerging from her body, but with a burst of light her wounds began to close and she gasped for breath. The figure strode over to the watchers and handed the body to a gape-mouthed Krosos.



And at that, the survivors did what came naturally.



Shakily, they knelt in reverence.



The being gazed around at his audience and seemed, suddenly, confused. There was a pause, and Androlene saw hesitation in the god's body language, a hesitation that confused him even as he knelt with the others, a hesitation that seemed to suggest a being at war with itself.



The mask cracked and split apart, and the glow faded, revealing the bloody, haggard face of Kirsh of the Flats. The aven blinked once, twice, and intoned, "It used to be much easier." And collapsed.



In the ensuing chaos, no one noticed a dark figure stand up from the corner, smile, and limp over to the still frozen Timmerian Fiend, gingerly shrugging on his pants and armor as he went. He sorted through his bag of things and dug out enough gold to, presumably, cover the damages, placing it conscientiously on the floor. And he added just a bit extra to pay for the cost of his healing. Kirsh had, after all, done a stunningly good job.



Wearing a smile on his face, Asher gripped the arm of the Timmerian Fiend and turned, sliding out of reality and into the chaos of the Blind Eternities.



---------~o~---------


EPILOGUE

Kirsh opened the door gingerly. He was still weak from the ridiculous burst of power his body had channeled less than one week prior. It had been so long since he used even the furthest extent of his healing strength. It had been centuries since he had used true combat magic.



The inside of the room was bright; they had taken down the window slats in order to ensure that the light would be almost blinding. Eureda sat huddled on her bed, dressed in a simple robe. Her face was covered with a pale mask that hid the scarring from the dragon horror's stomach. Her left leg and right arms ended in blackened stumps, still healing. Kirsh sighed and shut the door once more.



"She hasn't spoken to anyone since the event." The voice, though quiet, startled the aven and he jumped. He turned to see Krosos gazing at him. "I'll be honest, Kirsh, I've never dealt with something like this. I can heal her body, but her mind..."



Kirsh felt his taloned hand clench. "It would have been a greater mercy to let her die."



A moment later he was on the floor, Krosos standing over him angrily. "Never, ever let me hear you say that again. If it was only me and my staff here... sure, you would be right. There's nothing we can do for her. But we watched you get swallowed by that thing, and you clawed your way out with your bare hands. If anyone can fix her... it's you."



Kirsh shuddered and shook his head. "I don't want to play god. I can't!"



The head healer reached down, grabbed Kirsh by the front of his robes, and hauled him up to his face. "You think you can just hide from this?"



Kirsh's eyes opened and he stared at the man. With a start, he realized that Krosos was trembling and holding back tears. He thought back to that shadow in the sky, and to Asher's words.



"I can't help her yet," he began slowly, "because I don't know how."



Krosos set him down on his feet. "You don't know how to treat this sort of madness?"



Kirsh shook his head. "I have always studied the body and... neglected the mind. I will need to gather information. I may be gone quite a while..."



"Are you going after Asher?"



The aven shook his head again. "I may eventually try to track him down, but he has covered his tracks well. He got what he wanted, after all, and he did pay for our services." Kirsh sighed. "I thought for a moment, while in his Dementia Space, that I might offer to heal his mind, if I could only find a way. I think he would refuse the offer. He has made too many enemies, now, and he needs his nightmares to survive."



Krosos nodded. "He's found a way to coexist." The healer looked Kirsh over and finally nodded. "Until you return, Eureda is locked in her own mind. Please, for her sake, be fast."



Kirsh could not speak. He simply nodded tersely and, sensing that their audience was over, turned and walked down the hall. He would need to gather a great many things for this journey. It was the first time in years that he had Planeswalked for more than a brief period.



Turning a corner, lost in thought, the aven nearly collided with Androlene. The siren started back and Kirsh winced inwardly at Androlene's eyes twisted away from his own, looking at the wall. "You're going, then," the siren stated flatly, as always a powerful reader of character.



Kirsh nodded. "I need to find something to help that woman. I can't do that here."



Androlene nodded sharply. Kirsh waited for a response and, receiving none, moved to leave. He was nearly down the hall when he heard Androlene's musical voice once more.



"Just what are you?"



The aven turned and gazed at the man that had once teased him incessantly and now gazed at him with a mix of awe and terror.



"Are you an Incarnation? A god? What are you?" His musical voice was almost pleading now. In that voice, Kirsh sensed a mirror of his own memories, a reflection across time and the planes of that broken, blasted plain and the silhouette of a mortal that took on the mantle of godhood. The aven shook his head.



"No. I am a Planeswalker."



The aven turned and walked down the shaded hospital corridor, out into the light, his body a shadowed outline in the sun.



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