When you invite people over for dinner, you usually get some good company and maybe a bottle of wine or something. I got seven years worth of immortality.
I wanted to know how Lao was doing. People are a bit creeped out by her presence, but on the whole it works out well and the Chinese community is quite proud of having an actual free spirit. Jasper has taken to her as well and has decided that she’s worthy of the quacking duck toy (Glitzy gets a piggy, I get a well-chewed dog plushy).
Lao worried about the fact that we have her spirit formula and that anyone can use it. I can understand that, but, as much as I like her, I am not going to destroy the formula just yet. So we came up with another plan, a pact. I will be the only person who can use that particular copy of her formula and it cannot be copied. In case of my death, anyone will be able to use the copy again. And while the pact lasts, I will not age. I’m not quite ready to enter this pact indefinitely, but seven years sounded like a reasonable time. Maybe we won’t need to renew it after that time. I admit, the thought of living for another hundred years or so is tempting. On the other hand, it would mean losing pretty much everyone I now consider a friend, not to mention Angus, Ciara and Fynn. But for now it’s done and I’ll think about it again in seven years.
To affirm the pact, Lao and I went on a metaquest to look for the sword of her first conjurer, a monk named Fei. He died, as far as Lao could remember, on a metaplane, fighting against insect spirits. The sword was his focus and we thought we could reforge it, so to speak, for our purposes. Entry to the metaplace was fairly easy, but it decided to chain us together in a very literal sense. Lao panicked for a moment, it hasn’t been so long since she shed her chains only to wear them again in this place. But we didn’t have much of a choice. We had an added bonus: I had brought Gihli, my dog homunkulus, along and the metaplane made him into a big, real dog…still made from wood, though. The landscape we found ourselves in were vast fields of high grass, some hills in the distance and a road. We both wore traditional Chinese clothes and my medkit had turned into a mixture of Chinese and Western medicinal supplies.
We didn’t meet anyone for hours and the sun had already started to set when another traveller crossed our path. He was a moth spirit, although I think he used to be something else. He advised us to make haste and ask for shelter in a nearby village. The night was dangerous, he said. I paid with my blood for some more information and he told us that the night was haunted by spirits here. Across the river was a city, a place he told us to avoid, and the palace of the Queen. According to the spirit, she was no longer a danger for us because she had been given peace long ago.
The village was inhabited by more moth spirits. They, too, were not aggressive at all and welcomed us. We took a room at the local inn and some tea in the common room. Here, I traded the story of how the Milky Way was created for a story of how the people of this land fought the moths until they were only save in their city. A monk and a rat arrived to fight the moth spirits, to save their own home from the Queen, until the monk sent the rat away and went to meet the Queen of the moths all alone. Whatever happened between them, no-one knows, but it ended the war and the Queen no longer sought to conquer other worlds.
So Fei, in a way, was still here, but he had made some kind of pact with the Queen and neither Lao nor I were eager to trust him. We spent the night at the inn, talking a bit more about Fei until the conversation drifted to ourselves. I find Lao very easy to talk to and very comfortable to be with, as strange as that sounds given our first meeting. In the morning, we traded some food and fire wood for a favor: bring some tea and incense sticks to a friend of the inn’s landlady. Which we did and at the place she had described, we found a cemetery. We also found the cemetery’s guard who did her best to kill me until Lao overpowered her. She was an adept and after some explanations, she agreed to take the gifts we brought to the grave they were intended for. Emma, it turned out, was trapped on the metaplane and we quickly realized that we probably were not from the same world. That, or Emma is seriously mentally ill. In any case, I agreed to take a ring to London, to St Olave Hart Street to be precise – Emma says that someone there should know what to do with it or at least can pass on a message. I’m not so sure of that, but I can try.
Crossing the river involved several ferrymen, their guards and a crowd of people trying to cross. The only ferryman actually willing to take on passengers had a guard who would hear nothing of it, fearing the crowd would sink the boat. I tried to reason with her, to find a safe way across for everyone until Lao reminded me that we had been warned at the inn that it was a trial. The people were not real, whatever that meant here. So we agreed with the guard that they would take only us across the river. We reached the other side safely, but left the others, maybe to die when the dark came.
After an uncomfortable night, both physically and mentally, we walked on and found the city, its walls crumbling. We kept away from it for now and instead climbed up the nearby hill to the Queen’s Palace. There we found Fei or what was left from him. He did look human and he recognized Lao, but she didn’t trust him and neither did I. He suggested that we help with the hunt for the shadows who are what is left of the people who used to live here. The moth spirits take over their body and, as Fei explained, it would do only good for the land. In return, he would give us his sword.
We excused ourselves and climbed down again to talk about the offer. Neither of us liked it very much and we were not very eager to base our pact on the killing of these shadows. To find out some more, we sought out one of them and talked to it. It told us that the city bound them all and they were enslaved to it, fighting in a war that was only kept going by the few inhabitants of the city. But still, we did not want to become tools for the Queen. Instead, we decided to try and give peace to the shadows. It would mean that the city was left defenseless, but in the end, it would give the land some kind of peace. I’m still not sure it was our decision to make, but it felt right.
Lao studied the memories of the city and we took a stone from its walls, then we waited for the night. I sent a watcher and Gihli across the river to Emma, warning her of our plan. When night came, we made our auras as bright as possible and ran, with just some torches to keep the shadows at bay. Our plan worked well, they started to hunt us and we only just made it in time to the cemetery. There, Emma has lit a huge fire and with the help of a spirit pact, started to read out all the names from the stone we brought with us. Lao and I wrote them down on a tree and one by one, the shadows faded. It took hours, but when dawn came, we had written out the last of the names and all the shadows were gone.
We shared a drink and Emma told us a bit more about how she was stranded on the metaplane. She very much does not come from our time, I have no idea how I am supposed to find someone who knows what to do with her ring. She could show us where Fei’s grave was, however and Lao read the memories of the gravestone, that at least gave her some closure. Fei had also buried his prayer beads there and those we took to turn into a focus to seal out pact.
I left Gihli with Emma. I don’t know how long he will last there, but I hope he will keep her company until we can bring them home. Lao and I went home – only a few hours had passed. We brought back Emmas ring, the beads and in my case, a few broken ribs from a fall I took during our chase with the shadows. But it was nothing serious, Lao helped with patching me up and she once again ended up watching me sleep on my couch. Luckily, the contents of my fridge kept her company.