The Twilight Realm II: A Softer Dream
Daniel Thomas Andrew Daly
Copyright 6178 & 6182 SC & 6183 SC
'Lucy Kinnersley. Paging Lucy Kinnersley.'
Lucy, sitting in the Heathrow airport waiting lounge, didn't hear the voice over the intercom. She was lost. Lost in her own little world.
Paul was returning on the next flight, which was always good enough reason for a celebration, but tonight they were reaching the climax of their mission. The Centriforge of Madrimar. Justin always did have a good imagination.
Lucy was a matured woman, around 50 years of age, lived life to the fullest in many ways, faithful wife to Paul Kinnersley, owner of a slowly growing international chain of fantasy adventure toy stores. Paul was always away on business, to this or that store throughout Europe, especially in France were the chain was doing well. But also America and, the recent visit, Canberra in Australia. Yet, in all this adventuring, he never once missed 'Games Night'. Down in a dingy basement, with a dingy lightglobe which seemed to have lasted forever, Lucy had been roped in on a group of 4 hardened adventurers and one nasty Domain Master in her old friend Justin. And then Alexander had joined, the smart mouthed Bradlock, who was as enigmatic as he was internationally famous. Or, at least, his father anyway.
Lucy, having found two hands suddenly placed over her eyes, said 'Who?'
Paul Kinnersly came around and sat down next to his wife, and smiled.
'Good business again?' asked Lucy, in her skirt and shirt, looking very professional and business-like.
'Aw, you know. Same as always. Met that namesake of yours Alexander is always going on about.'
'The Potter girl,' queried Lucy.
'Yep. Lucy Potter. She has a cousin here in England. Harry. Apparently a world-class wizard of great repute.'
'You hardly believe in magic, Paul Kinnersley,' she said, still looking over the airport magazine she had purchased from the newsagency.
'Yeh. Hardly,' he responded.
Lucy Kinnersley was from a world which denied the magical as nothing more than the fantastic imaginations of kooky dark age feminists on a thrill seeking ride with the devil. Nothing terribly more fascinating than that. Yet, for her husband Paul Kinnersley, a far more different dream had once occurred. Oh, he'd hinted at his adventure once or twice to his wife, and spoken dreams of this world to their two children, Benjamin and Alice, but he never wanted the Twilight Realm, as the group of friends who'd had their adventure now called it, to ever become more real than what it had been.
He'd had years now, thinking it over. The Twilight Realm. Another place, another fantasy, another world. But he knew, now, what it had been all along. Delusion. The Dark Magic, which Alexander spoke to him about, taking him and his friends aside, and placing a hold on their minds as the demons of Twilight ran among in their thoughts, leading them through a fantastic quest. That was magic, after all. The dark side of magic. Serving the power of darkness, and giving you a fantasy of your self which was never really real in the first place. What you wanted to be. What you hoped to be. But then, preyed upon, by an unsuspecting Ivor Kinnersley, who had opened the door to the dark side after the death of his wife.
The Twilight Realm had not been real - it had been a delusion of Satan – and Paul now accepted that, and, further, that magic was really the stuff of darkness old clerics whispered prayers against since the foundational centuries of his nation.
The group had discussed this for a long time now – magic and religion – and even, in the end, Justin acknowledged the point. They had not been in a real world – it had been darkness. It had been delusion. And they had each committed to church because of it, each going to an Anglican assembly each Sunday, were they met up afterwards, had lunch, and lived in the grace of Almighty God.
But still they adventured, more sensibly now, more aware now, and far less likely to allow the power of the dark magic to enter their world again.
So they thought.
'Do you think Alexander will really save you again tonight?' asked Lucy, as their BMW took off from Heathrow, headed for home.
'Somehow he does that,' said Paul in response to his wife's question. 'It is like he has this uncanny sense of what is happening in our games, and knows exactly the right things to do at the right time. Like he knows the Twilight Realm better than us in many ways.'
'Or he's just lucky,' said Lucy, taking a left.
'Yeh, sure. That must be it,' responded Paul.
'Well, the kids are ok. Alice dropped around last night. She's still seeing that singer. The one you don't like.'
'I would always have assumed it would have been Benjamin to go into heavy metal. Looks like he was born a goth, practically. But, no. Prefers Mozart to Motorhead. But Alice? Turns 9 and all she wants is not the Spice Girls, no way – nothing but hard rock. And now she never stops listening to that Amy Lee band.'
'Evanescence,' said Lucy, eyes focused on the road.
'That's the one,' said Paul.
'Her style of music. The goth metal,' said Lucy. 'No, forgive me. Emo metal.'
'She is sensitive about it,' said Paul, smirking, over the fussiness their daughter maintained in what she called quality music.
'Anyway, she certainly doesn't get it from me,' said Paul.
They drove in silence for a while, passing through the streets of London.
'Paul?' The question seemed to come out of the blue. And it seemed, laced with something.
'Yeh,' he said, staring out the window. It had started raining, and the sky was a typical miserable London grey.
'Paul. Are we good? I mean, is everything right between us?'
Paul turned instantly to his wife. 'What do you mean? Everything is fine, isn't it?'
She touched his hand for a second, saying, 'Sure.' Then, 'I mean, it is, isn't it. We have been doing this thing a while now. The family scene. Just going through the flow since the wedding, it seems. One adventure after another – literally. But it's like I haven't had chance to breathe. To take it all in. Do you know what I mean?'
'But everything is fine, isn't it?' asked Paul,' his gaze returned to his side window.
She glanced over at him briefly. 'Yeh. Sure.'
They didn't speak again. They just drove home in silence, but Paul was thinking on Lucy's words.
'Justin, you are an arrogant know-it-all.'
'Sure sis,' replied Justin to his sister Lucy Kinnersley.
'I don't think its wise, either, Jus. To go on and on about Alexander and his world. To claim you know the Bradlock Empire like the back of your hand.'
'It's this USB,' replied Jason. 'He left it here a few weeks back. It has AMAZING shit on it.'
'Watch your language,' scolded Kate to Justin, and took the USB from him. She twiddled it in her fingers for a while and looked at her old boyfriend. 'What's on it then?'
'You two are dreadful,' said Theresa. 'Alexander would be so embarrassed.'
'I think its a long process of him rubbing off his superlative arrogance on her,' said Willie. 'And I don't think Kate mind's one little bit either. You know, they are seeing each other again. After Kate's divorce, she has been off on interludes with Justin all over the West End.'
Kate kicked Willie under the table. 'Mind your own business. What happens between Justin and myself is our own affair.'
'And I am sure the reverend won't mind your shenanigans one little bit,' smirked Willie, which made Justin grin a little.
'Oh, Willie. Shut up,' said Kate, frustrated, which bought gentle laughter from the group of old friends.
They were seated around the adventure table in Ivor Kinnersley's apartment, the old man snoring upstairs, quite old now, but still hanging in there. Later, Paul and Lucy would go up with a late night supper, and sit and tell him of their night's adventure, which he adored hearing about. And he would ask questions about how Justin and Alexander had been developing Xhandarre, the Twilight Realm, which he seemed to always be curious about. Ever since their first encounter with that strange mystery world. Whenever Paul queried Ivor closely on the happenings of that night, he never really got the answers he wanted, just a glazed look coming over Ivor's eyes, and a strange, but soft, sense of humour playing on in the mind beneath. Like he was having a conversation with somebody or someone in his mind.
'So what does the Domain Master have in store for us tonight?' asked Lucy casually to her brother.
'Just you wait and see. Besides, its a joint thing tonight. Alexander is always wanting to be Domain Master as well these days, and we've been planning the final part of Madrimar Quest XVIII for months now. I doubt you'll survive so easily this time.'
The Madrimar Quest series was one of the more popular titles Justin enjoyed using in his 'The Twilight Realm – Adventures in Xhandarre' series of adventures he had been crafting out for many years now. In a way, they were guinea pigs, Paul often thought to himself in consideration. Because while it was all original to them, the gaming experiences and the world they quested through, Paul had sought out partnership with Justin years ago, and all of them were now partners of sorts in 'Xadonemmetry Games – The Twilight Realm Series'. Yes, it was a series of Role Playing Game manuals with various adventures updated regularly, which came out from Xadonemmetry Games, the company they had all eventually formed together. Working from his Uncle's store initially, Paul had taken it over, renamed it 'Xadonemmetry Games', and it had become the primary vehicle for the selling of the main company line product. 'The Twilight Realm Gaming Universe'. Games Workshop liked them, liked them a lot, and designed figurines for their games now, in an exclusive contract they had with them. They regularly appeared in 'Dragon' magazine and their figures appeared all the time in 'White Dwarf' magazine, were their new manuals were reviewed. It was all, now, a growing and thriving business. Justin did the lions share of the design of the games, but in recent times Alexander had joined in a lot, who had fronted up a lot of the cash to get the project rolling. He had actually gone to university not too far from them growing up, and they had run into each other a few times in their youth. Of course, now, the main connection was the local Anglican Church were Alexander attended once a month. He was an ecumenist, after all, like his father, who seemed to have a grand vision for the reuniting of Christianity. A rather admirable vision, Paul some times felt. Paul was involved with a lot of things like package design, which Kate's artistic skills were often put to work on, and Willie, who in younger years had had trouble finding work, ran the postage and handling department for international orders of their products from the warehouse in a local business district. Theresa was mostly a silent partner, but had invested 20 thousand pounds initially into the project, and reaped well when regular dividends were paid. But she had her opinions also on how the company should be run, and was not afraid to offer them.
And now things were actually starting to take off a bit. Xadonemmetry was a growing world of RPGing, and the next big project, finally, was Video Games. Something Alexander promised he would handle for them. They'd taken ages getting around to it, but the timing was never quite right, nor the finances. But everything was set to go now, and it looked likely they would turn some of their earlier adventures into their first video game.
Success. Life had turned out alright for Paul Kinnersley. Life had turned out alright.
'Of course, if the ogre 'Balstiki' finds you,' said Alexander to Theresa. 'He'll extract your food and gold, and leave you naked on the floor of the mill. He'll burn your clothes in the fire, as ogres are pretty nasty. So do you risk it?'
Therese looked at the Domain Master, and shivered. That glee in Alexander's eyes always sent shivers down her spine. Like there was an otherworldly thing at work – some great and dramatic evil, really, which took on all challenges and mocked their feeble attempts at conquest.
'The scroll of Daranok had 3 spells which I haven't used yet,' said Therese. 'One of them is temptation. I choose to use the spell of temptation over my peanuts. I have a bag full.'
'Roll the dice,' said Alexander.
Therese rolled. The results were good.
'I place the peanuts all around the door of the mill,' said Theresa. 'On the outside of the door.'
Alexander nodded, and looked at his notes.
A little later...
'The ogre of course will finish those peanuts in a few minutes,' said Alexander.
'I'll go out through the upper window, and slide down the mill. You said it was slanted a bit,' replied Theresa.
'That should be fine,' said Alexander. 'I'll dock you three health points for naturally sustained bruisings.'
And the game went on and Therese joined the rest of the questers back at the location she had left them in the game.
They sat there, later, drinking cofee and eating biscuits. The rain was terrible that night, and the wind was howling. And there was this odd howl, almost like a wolf or something, practically a ghoul according to Kate.
And then he appeared. And he had a gleam, and Paul recognized the gleam in Ivor's eyes. He'd seen it before.
'It's darker than before. But softer also,' said Ivor. 'They are less angry and violent. But very moody. Sullen really. Like a vampire I think.' He looked in the distance, and smiled for no apparent reason.
And he pointed at the mirror. And they noticed the gleam. And one by one, as if under compulsion, they knew in their hearts what was transpiring, and Lucy Kinnersley knew that, if this was not a spell she was under, she was about to encounter the weird, the wonderful and the sheer dreaded mystery of the Twilight Realm. And so one by one the stepped through, and it all went dark.
It was Alexander who spoke first.
'That's the shield of Dremund Castle.'
'How do you know?' asked Teresa, smiling knowingly at the transformation to a former life. The bracelets were identical – she'd fly soon enough.
'I designed the damn thing,' said Alexander. 'Some of my investment into Xadonemmetry.'
'You know, I always questioned the wisdom of legitimizing Dremund Island,' said Justin. 'It's the bad guys, you know. The bad guys. We've spent half a dozen manual's discussing the intricacies of servant's routines to Avron Kromar, when Xhandarre is barely touched.'
'Avron Kromar is a fussy fellow,' said Paul.
'Indeed I am,' said a voice.
'The evil one,' said Kate.
The 7 adventurers looked at the figure on the throne of Dremund Castle. Avron Kromar indeed. Escaped. Pity.
'I see you have returned,' sighed Avron. 'I feared as much. Now I'll have you know I have no war with Jarmassad and Meldorion. We are in state of truce.'
'And how do we know this to be true?' queried Kate, looking cautiously around the throne room.
'Because I summoned the five of you by their permission. There is a – threat. A darkness, which is slowly overcoming Xhandarre. It is sullen, dark, depressing. It is a cold winter in much of Xhandarre, even when it is warm outside. It is in the bones you feel it, in the cockles. This biting presence of a shadow of a former dark lord, who never wished Xhandarre well, and has slept a thousand years.'
'Who is this dark lord?' asked Paul.
'An old king. They called him the Storm King and the Ice King. He was powerful in the kind of skills I notice in that one,' said Avron, pointing to Kate. But in his age, so legend goes, he caressed Xhandarre with dark thoughts of melancholy, and life ebbed. It seemed he has returned, and we need a questing group from 'Otherworld' which controls destiny in ways we do not understand.'
Justin looked at Alexander, the thought on the shield they had designed entering into the Twiligh Realm. Obvioiusly there was some connection.
'And why would we trust the likes of you?' defied Kate.
Avron raised his arms in a mock of innocence. 'I mean you no harm. You are free to go, and travel to Madrimar, and confirm these things with Jarmassad and Meldorion.'
'Why did they not summon us?' asked Alexander.
'They had not the wit,' replied Avron. 'Meldorion is not as learned as he thinks himself.'
'Where does this so called Ice King reside? Do you know where in Xhandarre he lives? Or must we find that out?' asked Justin.
Avron Kromar stood, adjusted his wizard robe, and came and stood in front of Justin.
'Nice hammer,' he said to him.
Justin instinctively touched his hammer, realizing that had been returned to him also.
'Where do we find this king?' asked Paul, taking interest.
Avron looked at Paul, and reached out and touched his amulet. 'This thing,' said Avron. 'I suspect, looking at those designs on it, will glow the more you will it to locate the Ice King. The best we surmise he is in the Shadow Realm. The place of banishment. Exiles are sent there, and it has high mountains, difficult to cross, with ice peaks. When you are taken there, you do not return. You wander those wastelands, unable to breach the oceans which are wild, or the northern escarpment, and the peaks of madness. Mad to try and cross them. There is one way in, and one way out, guarded by the Knights of Alturus. An old dedicated order, who serve the Magisterium, and take those condemned heretics, banish them, cast them away to the shadow world, never to be free men again.'
'Sounds charming. A place you'd fit I'd imagine,' said kate.
'I wandered it a while, and know of other ways in and out. My knowledge of Xhandarre – is old,' replied Avron.
'We will travel to Madrimar,' said Paul.
'We will?' queried Justin.
'Yeh, maybe a vote or something,' suggested Alexander, to which the others murmured agreement.
'We will travel to Madrimar, and we will take Avron Kromar with us, and this story will be confirmed by Prince Jarmassad, and Meldorian. Or else....' Paul trailed off.
'We finish the job,' said Willie, playing with a dagger, eying Avron.
'He is now King Jarmassad,' said Avron.
'And we will confirm that too,' said Paul. 'We are accustomed to horses. Do you have such things for our questing. If apparently you summoned us you must be prepared.'
Avron nodded. 'Remember, when all this resolves itself, I am still your foe. But I wish no destruction for Xhandarre. A wizard simply wants to enjoy his craft in peace.'
Avron clapped his hands, and a servant suddenly appeared.
'Prepare my horse. And give me rations for a voyage to Madrimar. We shall leave in the morning. Tonight we will feast, and I will tell them more detail of what Xhandarre is enduring.'
'Yes, Master Kromar,' said the servant, and disappeared.
Avron Kromar smiled at them all and Kate, still uneasy, knew not whether she should trust all that had transpired, but for the moment she would accept Paul's decision. If the wizard spoke true they would find out at Madrimar soon enough. One way or the other.
* * * * *
Paul was in Sharalidor, in the thieves quarter. The Quest to defeat the Ice King was under way, and they were plotting. In Sharalidor at the moment, and things were being considered, but he was away from the group for the afternoon, busy in the thieves quarter of Sharalidor. The thieves were part of the guild of thieves. It was an ignoble profession, but run with a point. Merchants were expected to be hardy men, capable of protecting their goods. If a thief could steal them, they could claim them. It was the only way, in reality, many of the lowlives and destitute of Xhandarre could survive. They were pitied in the end, and tolerated, and a Mandate provided them mercy to get by. It was all they had.
'Scumlord,' said Paul. 'Sell me that trinket.'
'It belonged to Arctures Firewalker. He walked on fire wearing the amulet, and cursed 17 gods doing as such,' replied the Scumlord merchant. They were called Scumlords in the thieves quarter, because, well, they were pretty much scum. The shifitest bastards in all of Xhandarre.
'Your mother likely fashioned it last week past.'
'And she did a fine job,' replied the Scumlord. '15 gold pieces, not a penny less.'
Paul forked over 2 coppers, and took the amulet. The thief merchant bowed, and threw the coppers into his purse. Paul carried on.
'You know,' said Draco the Rat, his guide this day. 'We have a mission to return to soon enough.'
'I have need to learn more of the ways of Xhandarre,' replied Paul. 'The 5 of us have a destiny here, and we have returned again, and I think it shall not be the last of times either. Seed will be in this realm. My seed, and I must know it in deep heart of my being, to be one with it, to really adapt to this strange and brave new world.'
'Aye, visitor from Earth. Tis true. But we've had your kind before. There is nothing new.'
Paul looked at Draco. 'More of us?'
'It's old. The magical portals are not uncommon. The visionaries and seers and astrologers of otherworlds connect to us often. We are a common amongst the planes of dimension. Xhandarre is strong in magic. It's what guides many here, to be tested at times, to quest, to be heroes. That is what you are about, it would seem. The making of your manhood.'
'So it would seem,' replied Paul. 'Yes, our quest awaits, but this is necessary, and the fears of Avron Kromar can wait till another day, for I wish to see this next stall, for it smells delightful.'
'Few like the smell of fried sewer rat, but to each their own,' replied Draco.
'Indeed,' said Paul, as another day passed.
* * * * *
'I want no war with you,' said the Ice King to the questing heroes. His servants had learned of the group in Sharalidor, and sent north his agents to kidnap them and bring them to his palace in the deep south.
'We were warned you are at war with the world,' said Paul.
'You have us in your power? Do away with us,' said Theresa.
'I am not the fool,' said the Ice King, seated on his white throne. 'I knew you were acquiescing in coming with my servants. You are well able to dispose of them.'
'You pose a threat to the stability of Xhandarre,' said Alexander. 'The quest has returned to us to ward off your intentions.'
'My intentions are to bring a – climactic change,' replied the Ice King. 'I will inform you. I have powers which need expressment. And their expressment is to hinge southern Xhandarre to the midlands somewhat. Nothing more. My creatures abound to find their new sanctuaries. I am merely – pushing the edge of things.'
'With great malice to they find their homes,' said Justin.
'Great malice,' said Willie.
'You want peace. It is a ruse,' said Kate. 'You merely wish to placate us.'
The storm king rose from his seat. He put his hand forward and an ice storm started emanating from it. He motioned his hand in whirls and it lept out around the room, and surrounded them, before he withdrew it. His servants watched in awe.
'This power comes from the heart of Xhandarre. I am natural to this world. It is the expressment of the heart of Xhandarre. It craves my magic.'
'Dictators always think that,' said Theresa.
'I am no dictator. I am raw power. Now go. You have heard my claim. You will be returned to Jarmassad, and I will give you space.'
And so the Ice King's servants took them from their, and they travelled northwards many leagues again, through the pass, and back to Sharalidor, where they left them at the southern gates of the city. Paul led them from their back to the main tavern where their lodgings were, and they gathered that evening to chat. It was clear – the Ice King had faith in himself. But the question was, did Xhandarre also?
* * * * *
'The problem,' said Jarmassad.
'Is that it is too cold now,' finished Meldorion.
'Sometimes his powers push north into the heart of the midlands of the world, and we feel it. The stinging touch from the presence of his creatures, which terrorize folk. He must be opposed,' said Jarmassad.
'It seems that this is apparently the heart of Xhandarre,' said Paul. 'He thinks himself natural to this world. An expressment, or so it seems.'
'He does not tell you the full truth,' said Avron Kromar, coming into the room. 'There are elements at war here. The 4 sovereign powers. Fire, Ice, Earth & Wind. He is the Avatar of Ice, seeking his claims. It has happened before. To keep the balance in Xhandarre, when the Ice Elemental appears he needs to be stopped and repelled. We can not let one claimant be superior. Balance is required in the elements of our world. Why it called on you to assist us, as we may not manage it alone.'
'I see,' said Justin, stroking his chin.
'We fight for justice don't we?' asked Theresa. 'In all our campaigning, we are the heroes. We fight to right wrongs in some ways. To oppose evil.'
'But not the natural elements,' said Paul.
'No,' agreed Alexander. 'This is a natural thing. How Xhandarre works.'
'I feared you might think as such,' said Meldorion. 'You have already turned away Avron Kromar from his ambitions. One elemental has learned his lesson. The next must learn his also, and this is your quest, to bring balance to Xhandarre. For there will be others one day also, and the Ice King must learn his power is not absolute.'
'What elemental where you?' asked Kate to Avron Kromar.
Avron lifted his staff and fire burst forth from it.
'I should have guessed,' replied Kate. 'Such a fiery personality.'
'So you will help us in battle?' asked Jarmassad.
'No,' said Paul.
The heroes looked at their leader.
'No, we won't. We will observe, and if the need is dire, we may help to ward off his passions. But I think his claims were true. He is seeking his part in this world. He is only seeking in the end what claims he can make.'
'My thinking also,' said Alexander.
'So we will observe,' said Paul. 'And if the need is dire, you may rely on us then.'
'As you wish,' said Jarmassad.
And the heroes returned to their tavern, and Paul was not given just one cautious look that evening.
Plot – The Rest of the Novel
They observe the machinations of the Ice King. He pushes north for a while, but decides the questing heroes will be too much risk for his life and person and his denizens. He decides to settle things with his southern continent coming under his control, and the midlands never travel in the southlands that much, so decide to leave it be.
The rest of the novel involves the other midland continent seeing the advent of 'Stella Earthmover' who has the power to move the Earth. She controls geological patterns, and causes some chaos coming into her powers. The Questing heroes are able to console her, though, and she is just a teenager learning her power in the magical world of Xhandarre. She comes to respect the questing heroes and she becomes queen of the other continent.
In the northlands the final elemental of Wind is brought forth, The Avatar of the Skies, and he travels in whirlwinds and uses Aviary creatures to do his bidding. He has seen the fall of the other 3 elements and their submission. He fights it to the gates of Sharalidor, but Jarmassad's powers defeat him. He relents, and pulls back, and there is an uneasy truce, before he sends word that he will not come as far south as Sharalidor, and stick to his domain in the skies of the north.
Thus Balance of the Elements comes to Xhandarre and a softer dream enters the world.