First 21, 6106 RTR (7 Aug 2002) Envoy tries to bring the Seed to life.
(Planet Abaddon) (Dream Realms) (Envoy) (Space) (Spheres of Magic)

Mr. Thorndike and Envoy have been given a hero's and heroine's welcome in Imperial lands on Abaddon, especially when word got in about the daring inventor's amazing gizmo, capable of traversing between worlds. They have been given a grand tour of Empire Central, a life-dome complex filled with ziggurats and skyscrapers (dome-scrapers?) marked with numerous statues to glorify noteworthy Imperial citizens and governors of ages past, and their achievements for the Greater Good of the Empire.

Mr. Thorndike has been considerably handicapped in that he simply doesn't know the local language here, and thus Envoy has had to serve as translator. His wondrous device has been brought in, and he has made many demonstrations … but so far, despite many repairs and recalibrations, it has failed to do anything more than put up an entertaining light display, and make various sensor devices go haywire. No one has succeeded in traversing space or time, save for the time spent watching the display. The enthusiasm of the Imperials dropped markedly after the sixteenth such failure.

As for the matter of the Seed, Envoy has been assured that great advances have been made in the hopes of restoring it, and that any day now, they will have a breakthrough. Expectations have declined with time just like with Thorndike's device, as the Imperials have failed to present any sort of tangible evidence of real progress. They produce reams of statistics and observations, and all sorts of calculations and theories, but the bottom line is that the Seed is dead, has been dead a long time, and is very likely to remain that way. Their cloning attempts have produced plants with some interesting luminescent properties, but nothing with the potential of powering a starship – or even an iron dragon.

Jungle Sanctuary, Empire Center
At one of the highest levels of the ziggurat of the Ministry of Culture, a dome-covered microenvironment of overgrown jungle lies just beneath the web-work of supports and translucent panels of the outer Life-Dome structure. Exotic avians and reptiles of many shapes and colors – but of only one size (small) – slither, scamper or flutter about in this artificially watered (and very small) garden paradise.

Envoy has been granted the private use of this dome. As for why she should have such luxurious accommodations, it could have something to do with just how cool this area is compared to most of the rest of the city. She overheard something about a malfunction in the temperature regulators in this part of the Ministry building, though if it's cooler, it's certainly within the range of comfort for Envoy, at least.

Deciding to test the viability of magic this far from the new Forbidden Zone, Envoy picks one of the smaller trees and places her hand against its trunk. Closing her eyes, she begins to sing a simple spell of communion to see if she can assess the physical condition of the tree.

At first, there is nothing perceptible … but then, as she continues, she can feel the tell-tale signs of the building magic. It's taking longer than it would on the surface of Sinai … and, in fact, longer than it would in Rephidim … but it's unmistakable. Magic is working here. (And, incidentally, the tree is doing just fine.)

Smiling, the Aeolun winds down the spell and pats the trunk of the tree. Now she just has to convince the Imperials to let her try a ritual on the Seed, she decides, and heads for the garden exit.

Research Chamber Number 317, Ministry of Science
Deep within a column-like building that rises all the way up to form a support for the dome that covers the city is a complex arrangement of passages and chambers, their placement determined more by the needs of structural supports, power conduits, fuel lines and steam vents than by the convenience of those trying to traverse the building. This room is much like any other: large, wide, colored a bland light grayish-tan, furnished only by tables along the outer wall that hold assortments of tools and sensors, and devoid of anything as convenient as a chair or somewhere comfortable to sit down. On a central dais, enclosed in glass, is the withered remnant of the organic Seed. Other glass jars about the room holding faintly glowing results of experiments on the Seed, but none of them approaching the power that a true Seed should have.

A large serpent with spiny scales of black and metallic blue slithers into the chamber, his upper torso clad in a white pocketed smock, with a hood folded down over his back. He holds a clipboard and adjusts a pair of spectacles set on his nose. "I am preSSed for time, honored gueSt Envoy of Lothrhyn. AS you can See, the SpeCimen is quite well protected. Now, what waS thiS you were Saying about … magic?" A couple of smaller brownish-colored serpents follow in his wake, holding clipboards and papers of their own.

"I would like to attempt a magic ritual that could revive the Seed," Envoy tells the scientist. "Now that magic works here, and given the somewhat magical nature of the Seed itself, it would seem reasonable to try, don't you think?"

"JuSt what would thiS magical ritual involve?" the scientist asks, looking skeptical. "And how long would it take?"

"I would need to inscribe a circuit of sorts around the containment platform with some chalk or charcoal," the Earth Mage explains, looking at the glass-covered Seed. "That, and about… oh… sixteen hours of singing should do it."

"Possibly twenty," Envoy amends, rubbing her chin. "So I'd like some water brought in every so often if that's alright?"

The serpent gawks at Envoy for a moment, then recovers his composure. He mulls over this, then, with an air of reluctance says, "It can be done." His serpentine frown is very pronounced. "ChapeSSi," the scientist hisses, more loudly, and the right-hand chocolate-scaled assistant snaps to attention. "ASSiSt our honored gueSt in her … ritual. I muSt tend to other, more preSSing conCernS."

"Y-yeSS, MaSter Bannai," the assistant hisses, bobbing his head several times, and looking very glum at the prospect of doing much of anything for going on twenty hours.

Envoy smiles to the assistant, and whispers, "Cheer up! This could be a very historic occasion after all." Opening her pouch, she checks to see if she has enough chalk for the task ahead.

Bannai is long gone, and though some serpents have stopped by now and again to check on Envoy, none have stayed very long to observe – just long enough to watch her bizarre ritual with some mild curiosity, then to move along when it proved to be too boring (or too weird) for their tastes. Chapessi has been the only regular visitor, bringing water and various supplies as requested, and looking increasingly fatigued as the day has stretched on into the night. There are no windows here, but there are enough mechanical clocks in this city to put Chronotopia to shame – including one up on the wall – so it's been a fairly simple matter to tell that the spell has stretched on much longer than would have been required even in Rephidim.

There is the buzz of magic in the air, of a powerful ritual … but so far, nothing interesting has happened to the Seed. This isn't entirely surprising, as the full force of a spell generally doesn't go off until it is fully complete, but a little pre-dweomer stirring certainly would have been a welcome sign. As it is, the Seed is as lifeless as ever. It is very fortunate that Envoy is not in as great of need of sleep as most, or she would have bored herself to sleep by now … but as it is, there's still a matter of fatigue, as her body aches from repetitious motions.

As with any ritual requiring extended casting time, Envoy could sorely benefit from an apprentice or two to back her up. As it is, she must constantly switch between the main ritual and the various 'maintenance' tasks needed to ensure that the building charge of magic doesn't simply leak away or else spontaneously form a spirit or other unwanted effect – the real reason hedge wizardry is considered dangerous, in her eyes. She is already at her physical limits, having never had to maintain this sort of effort for so long before, and even her voice is sounding dry despite frequent water breaks. It is with great relief that she finally begins applying the rejuvenation spell to the Seed.

As Envoy turns the spell on the Seed, the chalk dust forming the ritual circle changes from bright red to black, and several of the machines monitoring the various experiments in the room also react with warning beeps, alarms and the occasional puff of smoke or sparks. Even the Aeolun seems to shrink inward, as the last of the energy channels through her.

The glass containment shivers with the Earth Magic passing through it, and the Seed for a moment seems to quiver with a powerful dweomer…

… but … nothing happens.

Sinking to her knees, Envoy pants until she has her breath back, and then licks her dry lips. "Time for a nap, I think," she wheezes, not really certain if there is anybody else in the room to even hear her.

A faint hiss gives away the position of Chapessi, who has curled up into a little coil in the corner, sleeping soundly.

Envoy decides the Naga has the right idea, and wraps her wings around herself to sleep as well.

The Puppeteer's Shop
A small shop is crowded with all manners of puppets – hand-puppets, finger puppets, marionettes, and complicated devices that would require a small troupe to operate. The shop might very well fit in somewhere like Gallis or Chronotopia, Rephidim or New Zion, but for now, there are no clientele – the shop is closed and very dark, with only a faint glow coming in through the skylight, and where the starlight reflects off of a few mirrors on the higher shelves. Staring eyes, vacuous grins, hooked noses and sharp chins and muzzles point out from the walls, as the puppets lifelessly look off into space. So cluttered and crowded is the store that one might manage to overlook the absence of any visible windows or doors.

Envoy awakens in a strange store, feeling sore and exhausted, as if her sleep has done her no good whatsoever. Her perspective is odd, and it takes her a moment to realize that it's because she's hanging from one of the walls, flanked by puppets on either side. Her arms, legs and wings are tangled in cords running upward into the deeper shadows. Across the room, somewhere, the artificial, tinny sound of a music box breaks the silence, its music speeding up, then slowing down, chiming off tune.

After struggling with the cords for a moment, Envoy calls out, "Hello? Is anyone here?"

"Hello? Is anyone here? Is anyone here? Is anyone here?" Envoy's voice echoes eerily in the high-ceilinged shop. As she looks about, she can see that the skylight is quite some distance above, as this shop occupies at least two stories, with this central lobby spanning both floors, and stairs leading up to the upper balconies – though the stairs are blocked by a clutter of more puppets, and ribbon-wrapped boxes. The cords are tangled and reluctant to let go, but it doesn't seem that they've been securely tied for the purpose of holding Envoy prisoner … at least, not very effectively so. Perhaps with a bit of work, she can free herself up a bit more … There! Her right hand is free.

Using her free hand, Envoy tries to untangle her other limbs, and begins to wonder just where she is and how she got here. I doubt that I could have been abducted from the laboratory area without anyone noticing, she thinks.

The puppets hanging about are of greatly varied species, though many of them look like grotesque caricatures of humans. One that looks a great deal like an ancient Earth character called "Punch" hangs near Envoy's left hand, almost looking menacing as she tries to free it. A bit of work, and she's got it free, though she has to cling to the cords to keep from falling forward and risking breaking her still-tangled wings in addition to falling face-first onto the hardwood floor.

A buzz of tiny fluttering wings echoes, the sound of some bug or beetle that must have gotten in during the daytime hours, and is now trapped, trying to find its way out at night. bap bap bap goes the sound of the little bug bouncing against the wall.

Frowning at the puppets, the Aeolun clings to the cords with her right hand while trying to reach behind to free her wings. She can't help but consider the irony of being stuck in a puppet store, given her own origins. "Or maybe that's the point someone is trying to make?" she mutters out loud. "Are you out there, Barada?" she calls, figuring one of the Seven Sisters would certainly find this amusing.

As Envoy looks about, she sees it – a marionette hanging on a shelf nearby, made of a light tan-colored wood, adorned in glittery baubles and shiny robes, posed with an impish smile and one hand that just happens to be hanging in front of its mouth in a "Shhh!" gesture. The marks on the face couldn't be mistaken for anyone other than Barada by someone in the know, but the puppet makes no move. Nearby hangs a puppet of a hideous-looking black Kattha with long spiraling horns coming from its head, glittering red eyes, broad shoulders, and cloven hooves. Over another way is a spotted feline puppet with gaunt features, wrapped in gauzy robes. Envoy's right wing is free. The buzzing gets louder.

Envoy changes hands, holding herself up against the weight of gravity and fatigue with her left hand now while she tries to free her other wing. "The gods as puppets," she says. "So where is the puppet master?" she wonders out loud, and also tries to spot the source of the buzzing. There are so many nasty things that buzz that she can imagine, after all.

Envoy almost falls forward as she pulls her wing free, and some of the cords pull loose from wherever they're hanging, but she catches herself in time. Only two feet to free. A shadow passes in front of the skylight, and Envoy catches, out of the corner of her eye, a circular shape flying by – a large bug of some sort (though, thankfully, not large on the scale of, say, a horrib).

Sliding down so she can reach her feet, Envoy works at the cords there while trying to reason out her predicament. "The Imperials have a lot of technology, so I could be under an interface helmet right now, in which case this is all just a simulation," she says, addressing the bug for now, since talking to puppets just doesn't feel right. "Or, this is a magic-induced dream of some kind," she adds, running through the options. "Both would seem more likely than this all being real, since Nagai don't use stairs and certainly wouldn't be keeping puppets of Sinaian deities on Abaddon."

Envoy at last frees her right foot, so that she can – with considerable discomfort – manage to get one foot down to the floor, as she works on the other one. The bug courses this way and that, and then flutters closer. It vanishes into the darkness … and then alights upon the top of a shelf, where the light coming from the skylight forms a "spotlight" on a gap between some of the seated puppets. Once it sits still, it looks like a piece of jewelry more than a bug, though its bug-like style is very distinctive. It looks like a scarab broach, with shell wings of Lapis lazuli, and inlaid with golden foil.

Working to free her final foot, Envoy glances back to the bug every so often to see if it's staying in place. "You could at least tell me if I'm getting warm, couldn't you?" she says to the creature. "Or are you perhaps a bit of clockwork? You're pretty at least," she notes.

The last bit of cord proves to be increasingly difficult to work loose – quite unlike the rest of the cords. The music box chimes away with even more erratic starting and stopping, and sounding out of tune. As Envoy looks toward the creature, her perspective seems to shift. The rest of the store seems to grow even darker, and out of the corner of her eyes, the wide-eyed stares of the puppets grow more wild and feral, and perhaps it's just a trick of the breeze, but there's a hint of movement. The scarab, however, demands her attention, and Envoy is filled with a certainty that even if she tried to shut her eyes, she would still see it, still feel its presence. The scarab hardly looks intimidating – It's just a small bug, or maybe some little toy, after all – but somehow it seems large, more present, and though it lacks eyes, Envoy has the very real sensation that it's watching her.

Envoy tries to pull on the cord binding her foot now, to see if she can pull it free from whatever it's connected to in this nightmare place. "Have we met before?" she asks the scarab. "On… on Fortunatis?"

The cord pulls against Envoy, lifting her foot higher up, making her balance a very precarious thing. Cloth rustles and wood scrapes, and the music box's cacophony grows louder. The scarab grows larger in Envoy's sight, and the wings split open. With an amazingly complex splaying of parts, the bug begins to unfold into a little mechanical doll … a little mechanical doll that looks very much like a sword-wielding fennec in Himaatian robes and jewelry, with a cruel look in his eyes. The cord pulls free, and Envoy falls in a tumble … on the shelf? Somehow, in this distortion of perspective, her surroundings have changed. She's no longer suspended against the wall. Rather, she is no larger than the scarab-fox, and she's now lying on the shelf. A multitude of gleaming glass eyes stare out at her from the shadows, as she lies in the stark spotlight cast from the window in the ceiling that is now even further above than ever before.

"You toy with things you don't understand," the mechanical contraption says in a tinny voice. "You pretend that you do, but you hardly realize the consequences."

"I don't toy with things," Envoy retorts. "But you'll have to be a bit more specific – just which things do you object to my 'toying' with?"

The mechanical fennec turns around, looking at Envoy with hard eyes. A miniature scarab hangs around its own neck, an exact copy of the scarab this creature formed out of. A chain hangs on the chest of the creature as well – a chain of the Caroban Watch. "You toy with fates of entire worlds," the automaton intones. "Lives are playthings for you; magic a curiosity. Your pride won't let you stop. But you must. You give us no choice." With a ring of steel, he draws a glass-jeweled scimitar from its scabbard at his side.

Envoy steps back to try and stay out of reach. "Just who are you to decide this? I'm trying to prevent disaster and gain knowledge."

The cords, though they have pulled free from the wall – or whatever it was that they were tied to – still hang around Envoy's left foot, and hamper her movements somewhat. The automaton, however, moves forward with an ease of motion that seems at odds with the idea of some creation of clockwork. "This has already been decided. You have escaped, but no more. You have sealed your own fate. You have provided the means to reach you. Your dreams are the death of you, Envoy of Lothrhyn." And then the toy fox springs forward, bringing the sharp blade of the scimitar to bear!

Thinking fast, Envoy dodges to the right and tries to use the cord still attached to her leg to trip up her attacker.

The toy fox lets out a shrill cry as he flips forward, smacks against the shelving, then plummets off the edge! But scarcely a moment later, Envoy can hear the buzz of the scarab's wings beating, somewhere below, instead of something more satisfying, like a crash.

Cautiously, Envoy peeks over the side of the shelf. This is probably just a Dream Ritual; some sort of trap Shrikendune set up, she thinks, and eyes the cord binding her leg. "Cut the cord and end the dream?" she wonders out loud.

As Envoy goes to look toward the edge, something makes the fur on the back of her neck stand up and bristle. There's no logical reason why just going over to the edge should put her in undue peril … but she just has this sense that to do so would bring her considerable trouble. She sees the cord running from her foot, and over the edge. It feels very heavy … and something about her strikes her that it may just have a life of its own. It certainly wasn't as tight about her ankle before as it is now.

Envoy shuffles back towards the wall, and grabs the cord. With what strength she has left, she tries to pull in any slack.

The cord puts up a fight, so much so that any illusions of its being an inanimate object are dispelled. It's also obvious that the puppets around the shop are not content to stay in place, either, as they cackle and plot, and whisper and mutter amongst themselves, some of them pulling themselves free from where their strings hang. The hand puppets stand on wobbly bodies, and slowly hop along the shelves. But with considerable effort, Envoy manages to pull the cord far enough to make some slack. Still, she hasn't reached the end of the cord … if there even is an end to the cord, that is.

As desperation begins to eat away at Envoy's resolve, she tries casting a Mold spell on the cord to see if it will make it any easier to break.

"No magic allowed! No magic allowed!" comes a shrill voice from behind Envoy as she starts to chant, and she hardly has time to spin around in reflex before a hand-puppet of Punch leaps down from the wall, slamming a club against the hardwood shelf with such force that it almost knocks Envoy off of her feet! "Heeheeheeheehee!" the ugly puppet cackles, as it turns its head to look at the Aeolun with a leering grin that only thinly shows between the crescent curve of its hook noise and pointed chin, as its beady little eyes stare off in opposite directions. "Naughty, naughty!"

"Stay away from me!" Envoy yells at the demented hand-puppet, as she lashes out with her free foot.

"Whoo hoo!" the puppet of ceramic and cloth laughs, in mid-swing with his club, but Envoy's foot catches him in his soft midsection. He lets out a toyish squeak, and then flies backward, off the shelf. "No faiiiiiiiiiiiiiiir!" the puppet shrieks, and then a moment later, Envoy hears a shattering sound far below. She has little time to savor victory, however, as the buzzing noise is distinctly louder now, and she can hear the scraping of wooden hands against the supports of the shelves, and feel a slight rocking.

Spreading her wings in case she needs to jump free of the shelf, Envoy pulls the cord up and tries to bite through it this time.

Envoy can feel the cord writhe under her teeth in a way that cords are not prone to do, but with a determination borne of desperation, she chews through every last strand, until at last the cord snaps free! The remainder around her foot hangs loosely, easy enough now to shake free … and just in time! Borne on fluttering scarab wings, the toy fox rises over the edge of the shelf, scimitar glittering in hand, and wooden "gloved" hands come into view, scrabbling over the edges, even as the whole shelving unit begins to rock precariously, in time to high-pitched chants of "Heave … HO! Heave … HO!" far below.

Now freed, Envoy doesn't waste time! She leaps off of the shelf and beats her wings to try and get clear before it can be tipped over.

And not a moment too soon! Just as the wooden puppets triumphantly cheer when they reach the top, and prepare to rush Envoy, the shelves topple, sending their contents spilling and shrieking, flailing all the way to the floor below, and a great number of the cheering puppets at the base of the shelf are subsequently crushed in its fall, as it knocks down shelf after shelf in a domino effect, kicking up great clouds of dust, and sending debris flying every which way. The scarab-winged toy fox is not turned away from its determined pursuit of Envoy, however, flying after her, sharp sword ever ready to strike!

Straining to climb higher above the dust, Envoy heads towards the skylight. "Morpheus!" she calls out, "If you can hear me, I could really use some help!"

As Envoy calls out the name, out of the corner of her eye, she notices a wooden box high up on one of the wall-mounted shelves. It is fashioned like a magician's stage cabinet, festooned with little silvery stars, and with a large crescent moon on its cover, split by the two cabinet doors. Finely engraved lettering, inlaid with silver dust, reads "Morpheus" across the top, and "Master of Dreams" across the base.

Changing course, Envoy heads for the box, checking back over her shoulder to see how close her armed pursuer is.

He takes a swipe at her, and she feels the rush of air at her toes, but then a flailing sock puppet makes a kamikaze dive for Envoy, missing her by inches … and hitting the scarab-fox instead! The sock-puppet lets out a loud squeak, and is soon reduced to a scattering of shredded fluff by the wild strokes of the scarab-fox … but it still manages to buy Envoy some time. She lands on the shelf. The box stands before her.

Panting for breath, Envoy tries to open the cabinet doors of the box. "Please, don't be locked… " she mutters.

As if in a tease, she notices that there's a clasp on the doors, and they stubbornly refuse to open … but then there's an audible click, and they pop open with ease. Inside is a finely sculpted black marionette that looks like a cross between an Eeee and a Khatta, dressed in a tuxedo and a tall top hat. The marionette stares out into space with its glassy eyes, and then one of them winks. He reaches up with an ebony hand to doff his hat, and then leans forward, taking Envoy's hand and brushing the air over her knuckles with his lips. "I thought you'd never ask," he whispers, straightening again to smile at her.

Sighing in relief, Envoy tries to climb into the box with the hybrid. "Can you get me out of here, Morpheus?"

"And for my next trick," Morpheus says, with a twirl of his baton in one hand, and pulling Envoy to his side as the scarab-fox flies into view, "I and my lovely assistant will perform my famous Vanishing Act!"

"Noooooo!" howls the scarab-fox, as he rushes toward the box, but the doors pull closed, shutting out the sight of the puppet store, clasping with a satisfying snap.

"And … Presto!" Morpheus proclaims, as the inside of the "magic cabinet" spins around. "Although, I always wondered … when the magician's lovely assistant disappears, just where does she go to? Maybe you could help me answer that question."

"I assumed she went out through the back of the box," Envoy says, holding tight to Morpheus.

"Well, that would be the easy answer, I suppose," Morpheus says, sounding faintly disappointed. There's a pop and a click, and the back of the box starts to open.

Envoy holds her breath, half expecting a scimitar wielding robot to be waiting on the other side.

And far be it from the dream to disappoint Envoy! The door pops open, and the scarab-fox is on the other side. "Aha!" he shouts, thrusting his scimitar inward – but Morpheus deflects it with his wand.

"Fly away!" Morpheus cries to Envoy. "I'll deal with him!"

"Ahh!" Envoy shrieks, and tries to fly free of the box without getting clipped by the fox. "Why do robots always try to kill me!?" she laments.

The scarab-fox tries to free his scimitar to take a swipe at Envoy's fleeing form, but she flies free of the box, and Morpheus sends the scarab-fox sprawling backward as he leaps out to follow. Envoy and Morpheus are not the only flying things, as there are several winged puppets – mostly Eeee – that flutter about awkwardly, as if drunk, with their strings trailing behind them.

Once again, Envoy tries to climb towards the skylight, since it seems the only thing close to a way out. "If Shrikendune is behind all of this, I hope he grows an extra tail or something," she grumbles.

The flying puppets converge upon Envoy's position, and by their movements, it seems they're determined not to let her reach that skylight. "You're a puppet, too!" one sing-songs. "Stay with us!" another pleads.

"I'm not a puppet anymore!" Envoy yells at the puppets, and wearily tries to dodge them.

"Look out!" Morpheus cries, as the scarab-fox makes a lunge at Envoy with his sharp blade – but just then, the marionette of Morpheus loosens the snaps of his velvety cape and flings it to land over the head of the scarab-fox. The bat-winged cat magician then flies toward the scarab-fox, giving him a one-two kick that sends him spinning, before he can extract himself from the cape.

Despite Envoy's weariness, she manages to dodge the ungainly puppets, as burdened as they are with their own dangling strings. Some of them tangle into each other, and others crash headlong, sending pieces of wood and ceramic flying every which way. Somehow, through the midst of the turmoil, Envoy bursts free, soaring up toward the skylight, pursued by a bat-winged black cat magician … and a stubbornly determined scarab-winged fox toy.

Just a little further, Envoy thinks. I made it out of the Sea of Souls, so I can do this, she adds by way of self encouragement.

"I've got you now!" the scarab-fox shouts, as he bursts past Morpheus, but just then, the magician doffs his hat, and pulls out of it … a fluffy bunny rabbit? He tosses the rabbit at the scarab-fox. The little stuffed rabbit wiggles its cute little button nose as it arcs through the air at the scarab-fox … but as soon as it hits the flying toy, it transforms into a whirling dervish of teeth, claws and snarling fury! "YAAAAAAAA!" shrieks the scarab-fox, as Envoy slips away … and reaches the skylight. It's slightly ajar, and she can feel the cool breeze of the night sky wafting through.

Clinging to the frame, the Aeolun tries to push it open far enough to squeeze through.

With a reluctant creak, the skylight shoves open. Envoy squeezes through, out, and into the night sky. Just behind her, a bat-winged top-hatted black cat flies through, alighting upon the shingled rooftop.

Once Morpheus is through, Envoy turns back and pushes on the skylight to try and close it again. "I hope this is enough to stop that maniac," she says.

As Envoy pushes on the skylight, it seems that the skylight has shrunk considerably … or, rather, that Envoy is her normal size again (as normal as it ever might be in dreams). The skylight creaks shut and latches with a snap. A muffled buzz and a persistent bap bap bap can be heard as the little bug bounces against the glass, but to no avail. Morpheus – more himself now, and not a mere marionette – takes his top hat off, and runs a hand through his head-fur. "I think that should do the trick," he says.

Envoy practically collapses onto the roof from exhaustion. "It sure is good to see you again, Morpheus. That was just the work of Dream Mages, right? I really don't want to more supernatural enemies."

"Oh, most certainly it was," Morpheus says. "So, we're on Abaddon now, are we? In a manner of speaking, that is. You've been quite busy, I see."

"Have you been following my… er… progress?" Envoy asks, turning onto her side to face Morpheus. "And yes, it's Abaddon now. I hope I can convince the Mages Guild to stop trying to kill me. Thank you for the flower, by the way. I've got a box full of trinkets for you, once I manage to visit in person again."

"For me? I'm flattered," Morpheus says. "And for the flower – you're more than welcome. So … aside from mages trying to kill you, how are you, Envoy? I have been trying to follow your progress, yes … but my resources are limited and unreliable. The glass through which I see the real world is often distorted."

"Well, all in all, I'm doing pretty well I think," Envoy replies. "I've gotten all my faculties back, although I can't use them all at the same time still, and I've picked up a few more skills on Behemoth thanks to that crown you gave me. On the down side, I have to find a way to tell the authorities on Sinai that the 'engine' powering the planet could fail in the next few years, and that they'll need to plan for the possibility of the Sky Islands falling and other things they won't want to hear."

"That is, if Fortunatis doesn't crash into them first," she adds, rubbing at her eyes with the heel of her hand.

"Before you spread such tales of doom and gloom… " Morpheus pauses a moment, as if considering his words.

Envoy looks up at Morpheus, hoping for good news.

"I cannot give you certainties, Envoy," Morpheus says, almost sounding apologetic in tone – an effort for him, given his stilted mannerisms, "but I am – however slowly – learning more. I do not think that Fortunatis is in danger of crashing into any of the planets. I also do not think that the sky islands will fall. I do see a trend … a building toward something that may not be in the interests of all who live on Sinai … but I do not think it is something that will be determined by the passage of a short span of time … but rather by a succession of events." He gazes off into the starry sky, which at the moment very much resembles the sky above Morpheus more than it might that of Sinai or Abaddon.

"Events," Envoy echoes. "Am I making things worse though? The Svartifin of Behemoth seemed to think I was here for a purpose."

Morpheus says, "The Sifra are real, but they are alien – even to me. I can sense them … and I realize that they have been around a very long time. This system has been here … millions of years, Envoy. I cannot hope to look back into the origins of the Primus System, but I have seen evidence of cycles that the worlds have gone through. Many of the stories to be found on Sinai have been repeated countless times before. Sinai is not an end product. It is a means … and to what, I am not entirely certain."

"I often think it may be a test of some sort," Envoy says, looking up at the stars as well now. "Or a path. But so much of it seems to be wearing out or malfunctioning. Shouldn't I try to fix it if I can?"

"I do not know, Envoy," Morpheus says. "If it is all to wear out or break, then those who live on Sinai will surely perish. That is, of course, unacceptable. But I do not know what ultimate purpose all this machinery serves. I do not even know what purpose I serve, but I would go mad if I tried too hard to second-guess my own motivations." He turns to Envoy. "For now, I think you are on the right path. What you have done may help people, and make things possible that were not before. Toward this end, I will do what I can to help you. I am only wary – and I expect you to be as well. Neither of us knows enough to piece together the entire story yet … but perhaps … in time… "

"I'd like to bring you some worn out pieces of the Engines to examine," Envoy says. "Maybe you can find out if they can be repaired or replaced. I don't want Sinai to end up like Abaddon did; barely habitable. I worry that these Surges are responsible for the downfall of the First Ones, and the Svartifin say that Sinai's Engine probably wouldn't recover from the next one."

Morpheus nods. "Come to me, and I will look at them, then. And I wish you well with your other quest – Perhaps with three of us, we will be all the better equipped to deal with these mysteries." It looks awkward and forced, but Morpheus manages a faint smile.

Envoy grins as well. "Four, if you count Sutaranakh. I just hope waking up the Leviathan will not be as draining as trying to wake up the Seed has been."


GMed by Greywolf

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