Chapter 8 - Seven Months
Mikaen watched in silence as the twin suns slowly descended toward the distant horizon. The smooth bark of the tree that was now his home felt comforting against his back.
"Home …" he whispered, his eyes on the glow of the distant horizon.
It had been seven months since Mikaen's arrival on Vinta, and yet he couldn't help but wonder: had so little time truly passed? It felt to Mikaen as though he'd lived in Homestead for years. It felt good to have a home; not a shared barracks room or some dingy cot in a rundown safe house, but a place he could truly call his own.
His gaze fell to the surface of the lake, the water looking like molten gold beneath the light of the fading suns. Mikaen made a point to choose a tree near Rinoa Lake; aside from the convenience of having a natural swimming pool close to his house, the sound of flowing water helped Mikaen sleep at night, especially during his first troubled weeks.
He hadn't found a way home yet or even figured out how he arrived on Vinta in the first place, but Mikaen wasn't terribly disappointed. Between the Revs, the monsters, and the Rips spewing lifestream, Earth was, as One so eloquently put it, a crap hole.
Mikaen smiled at the memory of the mysterious fellow who had helped him all those months ago. While Elduran had been looking for a way to send the wayward knight home, Mikaen took the time to do a little research on his enigmatic benefactor. Mikaen had been surprised to find many children's stories and fables in Elduran's collection, included because Elduran believed that Dreamers played significant roles in each: the wise old man with advice, the peasant in disguise, the salesman who seemed to have just the right thing at just the right time. Dreamers were rarely heroes themselves, seemingly preferring to act as the whispered voice in a hero or heroine's ear.
Unfortunately, the children's stories never went into much detail and most of the source material proved useless. Some reports claimed that Dreamers were all powerful, while others claimed that Dreamers relied on lifestream energy much as any mage. Still others claimed that Dreamers were not real at all, but manifestations of magical energy created when a person suffers a great trauma or emotional stress.
Even the most detailed sources often contradicted equally detailed reports, creating a web of misinformation and rumor that made spotting any actual truths nearly impossible. Mikaen wondered if that was by coincidence or design.
In the end, the only information Mikaen garnered from his studies was that there might be supernatural beings known as Dreamers, and that one of them might appear somewhat similar to the young man Mikaen nearly flattened.
According to the stories, One was known for his compassion, his kindness, his green and gray-striped shirt (this never failed to make Mikaen laugh), and for keeping his word without exception. When Mikaen encountered One, the Dreamer had not seemed particularly kind or compassionate about Mikaen's situation. In the end, however, One helped him a great deal. Whatever One was, Mikaen knew he owed him a debt of thanks.
"Beautiful, ain't it?"
It took Mikaen a few moments to figure out One was sitting beside him, his hands cushioning his head as he stared out at the horizon.
"Something about having two suns makes sunsets that much more impressive." One flashed Mikaen a grin. "How ya been, Mikaen?"
Mikaen continued to stare at the Dreamer in disbelief, momentarily unable to speak.
Chuckling, One stood up and brushed the bits of grass off his clothes. "I'm guessing you didn't expect to see me again."
The Dreamer walked to the edge of the lake, a smile on his face as he stared down at the tranquil waters. "Ah, Rinoa Lake. Y'know, this is where I arrived the first time I came to Homestead."
Mikaen considered this. "Nice place to arrive, I suppose."
"Not really. I appeared in the middle of the lake."
"Problems with teleporting?" said Mikaen, unable to keep a smirk off his face at the thought of One flailing around in the water.
One shrugged. "I never said I was perfect. Speaking of problems teleporting, have you found a way home yet?"
"If I had, do you think I'd still be here?"
"You tell me."
The question caught Mikaen off-guard. He glanced at One only to find the Dreamer looking curiously back at him. With a sigh, Mikaen turned his gaze back to the lake.
"Let me guess;" said One, walking back to the tree and sitting down beside Mikaen, "you want to stay, but you've got a duty to your knight buddies back on Earth, right?"
Flushing, Mikaen replied, "Then you understand that no matter how much I like it here, I still have to return."
"You value your word. I respect that." He paused a moment before adding, "You ever consider that maybe your coming here wasn't an accident?"
"Is there something I should be aware of?" Mikaen asked, raising an eyebrow.
One shrugged. "I'm just saying maybe you've got a purpose here. It's something to consider."
Mikaen and One watched as the suns sank beneath the distant horizon.
Once the suns were out of sight, One rose to his feet with a slight groan. "Well, it's been nice talking with you, but I've gotta get to work."
As the Dreamer started walking away, Mikaen called after him, "That's it? You come back after seven months, ask me whether or not I really want to go back to Earth, and then just disappear again?"
"Yeah, pretty much." One's face broke into a goofy smile. "Toodles!"
Mikaen raised his hand to stop the Dreamer, but it was too late. One was gone.
"Dreamers." he muttered, shaking his head.
When One went to go see Elduran, he fully intended to appear inside the Thistlethorn parlor where Kathryn was currently was watching a news program on a Visual Transmission Sphere. A VTS is typically a sphere, usually silver or clear, that is enchanted to receive data streams from the Vintan media networks and display them as holographic projections. Aside from being an impressive piece of magi-technology, the sphere itself is extremely durable and completely hollow, a fact that One found out upon his arrival.
He wasn't the only person to receive a surprise; Kathryn let out a small shriek when she deactivated the orb and found One inside, his confused face pressed against the inside of the transparent orb.
When she realized who was in her VTS, she fixed One with a stern glare. "One! I should have known! Why can't you use the door like everyone else?"
One vanished, reappearing moments later in front of Kathryn. Glancing back at the orb, he said, "Sorry about that Kathy. I hope I didn't break anything."
Kathy waved it off. "Forget the VTS. Come here and give me a hug."
Grinning, One embraced the diminutive woman. "You doin' okay? It's been a while."
"It's been more than a while!" Kathryn stepped back, her face suddenly stern again. "Why didn't you come see me when you stopped by seven months ago?"
"Well, you already had a guest, and I didn't want to intrude."
Kathryn's ears twitched. "Mikaen? I heard you had something to do with him being here, but I didn't realize he was an actual assignment. Last time I saw you working, you were saving me and those other girls from that nasty Ackibar fellow."
One remembered the assignment all too well, and not just because he had gone for a little swim upon his arrival; an idestan summoner by the name of Nelibast Ackibar tried to summon a particularly nasty demon by offering up a group of 'pure' girls. One of the girls turned out to be somewhat less than pure, sending the demon on a murderous rampage. Unable to defeat One, the demon dragged Ackibar back to the hell from which it came.
"This job won't be anywhere near that bad." One said, trying hard to sound as though he truly believed it, "Is Elduran around?"
"He's in his study. Go on in; he'll be glad to see you, I'm sure. He still can't figure out what brought Mikaen here, though." She gave him a shrewd look. "Is that why your here?"
"Maybe." One started to step forward, but Kathryn's gentle hand on his shoulder made him pause.
"Won't you stay for dinner? We'd be more than happy to have you. Besides, I'd like to hear about what sort of trouble you've been up to."
Touched by her offer, One shrugged and said, "Sure. Why not?"
"Good." Kathryn withdrew her hand. "Speaking of dinner, I'd better go make sure nothing's burning."
One watched her as she walked to the kitchen door. Something about her seemed off slightly off. A smile crossed his face when he realized what it was he was sensing from her. Shaking his head, he headed for Elduran's study.
His friend was sitting behind his desk, poring over a dusty tome of ancient runes. The last time One had been in that room, it was Elduran's father who sat in that very spot. Just like his father, Elduran didn't bother looking up when the door opened.
"So how far along is she?" One asked, making his old friend jump.
"One! I'm surprised to see you!" Elduran's head cocked as what One's words made their way through his cognitive center. "Wait, what?"
"Kathryn, dude!" One said, claiming a chair for himself across from Elduran, "How long has she been pregnant?"
Elduran stared at him, his mouth hanging open slightly.
One snorted. "I'm guessing not too long."
Picking up a book from the piles strewn across Elduran's desk, One asked, "Still looking for a way to send Mikaen home, huh?"
Elduran seemed surprised by the question. "Yes, of course, Mikaen. Are you sure?"
"Well, I'm fairly sure. You said you'd help him find-"
Elduran cut him off with an impatient wave of his hand. "Forget Mikaen! I'm talking about Kathryn! She's with child?"
"Well, it's either that or she's possessed." One chuckled at his friend's dark expression, saying, "Kidding. I'm kidding! I'm a Dreamer, remember? I can tell when someone's dreaming, even if they're … eww. Damn, that thing looks disgusting."
"I beg your pardon?!"
One pointed at an illustration in one of the open books on Elduran's desk. "What is that?"
"Oh. Let me see." Elduran peered at what appeared at first glance to be a large bogey with three bulging eyes and stubby bat-like wings. "That's a mulwook. They can teleport short distances to escape predators."
Snorting, One set the book back on the desk. "I wouldn't call the space between Earth and Vinta a short distance, even on a galactic scale."
Elduran shut the book with a resigned sigh. "Well, it was a long shot anyway."
One sat down in the hair across from the desk and rested his elbows on two large tomes. "Research not going too well, eh?"
"To put it mildly." Elduran rubbed his forehead, looking very tired. "I'm almost out of reference material regarding teleportation."
"Have you tried asking Trystan?" One asked. "He is still the Seed, right?"
Nodding, Elduran gestured to the jumbled pile of books. "Every book he has on teleportation, including a number of rare and ancient texts. No luck."
One hopped out of the chair and walked over to the pile. Most of the books were about magical theory: lengthy, descriptive, and extremely boring to those not arcanically inclined. One couldn't help but shake his head; it took a special kind of mind to take something as wondrous as magic and present it in such a mind-numbingly dull fashion.
"You know," he said idly, "I just had a bit of a teleportation goof myself. Ended up in your orb-thingy downstairs."
"The VTS? Wish I could've seen that." A thoughtful expression flashed across Elduran's face. "I don't suppose-"
One shook his head. "I'm pretty sure Mikaen didn't teleport here the same way I do."
"Humor me; how do Dreamer's teleport?"
His face a mask of seriousness, One replied, "Pixie dust."
One chuckled. "It's a bit complicated but seeing as you're an old friend, I'll tell you."
Picking up a book with a picture of a woman with wings on the cover from Elduran's desk, One set it on the opposite side as the book he had been poking through earlier.
"Now assume that I'm hanging here with the mugwump-"
"Mulwook." Elduran corrected.
"Whatever. Now, if I want to go to this other place, I send a bit of my stream energy … you do know what lifestream energy is, right?"
Elduran gave One a sharp look. "I'm a spell-shaper, One. How in the name of the Creator could I not know about the lifestream?"
"Just making sure." With an apologetic smile, One continued, "Anyway, I send a bit of my stream energy to where I want to go, kinda like setting up a lifestream beacon. When I reduce my physical shell to pure stream energy, it zooms to the beacon. From there, I simply reform my body and get back to whatever I'm up to."
Elduran frowned at him. "Sounds complicated."
"I try not to think about it too much." One replied, leaning back in his chair with his arms behind his head. "It works better that way."
Chuckling, Elduran tossed another book onto the pile. "So how did you end up in my VTS?"
"Just a goof on my part. I can't exchange places with existing matter, so I thought if I used the orb as a focal point, I'd be fine."
"VTSs are hollow."
"Yeah, I figured that one out."
Elduran laughed. "Magic is by its very nature unpredictable, even to the strongest of minds. I've been trying to help Mikaen focus his magical talent for months, and he still doesn't have complete control over it."
Leaning forward, One asked, "Is he adjusting okay? Magic aside, I mean."
Elduran leaned back, putting his hands behind his head. "He's been a real boon to this community. He helped with the harvest, took care of a few local creatures that have been plaguing us ... he even saved the Dewdrop family two months ago when their tree caught fire."
Elduran shook his head. "He just dove into the flames, pulled them out, and dropped half of the lake on their house. I'm telling you, I've never seen a manipulative energist even half as strong as Mikaen."
"Energist? I thought he was an elementalist."
Elduran let out a snort. "Elementalism is video game magic. Energists manipulate the flow of lifestream into heat or energy. Everything else is a matter of degrees."
He gave One a knowing look. "You're here to help him, aren't you?"
"Hey! No poking around in my head!"
Elduran chuckled. "Oh, please. It's been sticking from your mind like an arrow since you walked in. You feel sorry for him."
"Shhhhh!" One glanced around as though expecting someone to be hiding nearby. "Not so loud. I told Teach it was because I didn't think I'd get a break at the Elsewhere."
Elduran shot a sly look at One. "Would it have anything to do with this 'Luck' you keep thinking about?"
Further conversation was interrupted by a creak as the study door opened.
Kathryn poked her head through the open door. "Sorry to interrupt you two, but dinner's ready."
Elduran rose to his feet and headed toward the door. "Staying for dinner?"
"Yeah, Kathryn invited me. Does Mikaen eat with you?"
Elduran shook his head. "He's still a bit of a loner. After what I've seen delving into his mind for the past few months, I can't say I blame him. Is that a problem?"
"Nah. Just wanted to avoid a possibly uncomfortable situation. Eating dinner with an assignment glaring at me always gives me a tummy ache."