Chapter 6 - The Elsewhere Effect
Traysia, Jeane, and Terry were eating pancakes when I walked into the kitchen the next morning once again in what Traysia referred to as my ‘adventurer’ outfit.
Jeane smiled at me as I approached. “Oh, good morning, Jimmy. Help yourself to some breakfast; its the least I could do to thank you for last night.”
“Glad to be of assistance.” I sat down in the chair beside Terry. “You two have fun?”
“We did.” Jeane said, putting her hand over Terry’s. “I hope we’ll get the chance to do it more often.”
Terry blushed, but I couldn’t help but notice he didn’t pull his hand away. Smiling, I slid a few pancakes from the stack on the center plate and took a seat beside Traysia.
“So, what are you doing today?” Jeane asked.
“Well, our ‘mission’ being a bust, I figure we might as well explore the town a little.” I said, “I know Terry lived here for awhile, but I don’t get out of Saybaro much. Well, not usually, anyway.”
“Sounds fun!” Traysia said. “Can I come along! I can show you all sorts of cool places.”
Jeane put her hand on her daughter’s shoulder. She leaned down closer to his ear and said, “You have school, my dear daughter.”
“No buts except yours, Traysia, walking out the front door and going to school.” Jeane pulled a small purple backpack from beneath the table and handed it to the young fional girl.
Traysia stuck her lower lip out in a pronounced pout as she took the backpack and hopped off her chair. Defeat in her voice, she said, “G’bye, Mister Jimmy.”
I held out my hand. “Thanks for your help yesterday, milady.”
I could tell she was trying to keep pouting, but her blushing smile broke through with a giggle. “My pleasure, sir knight.”
Terry and Jeane talked as I ate breakfast, mostly about residents of Brigsonstrat and events that presumably occurred during the time he’d lived in the city. I was a little surprised to hear some of the things Terry did in those days; the stories made him sound quite jovial, a far cry from the stone-faced soldier who volunteered to join my little dragon hunt.
After finishing breakfast, I rose from my chair. “Well, Missus Jeane, my thanks for both breakfast and last night’s lodgings.”
“Oh, you’re welcome to stay here as long as your in town.” Jeane said. “It’s not like anyone’s using the extra space, and Traysia does like having the company.”
“It would be nice not to have to walk back to the Saybaro, sir.” Terry said. “And Meryli will be heading this way as soon as Miss Bethany is finished with the Ascendant.”
I refrained from chuckling at Terry’s barely restrained eagerness. “I suppose I have earned a bit of a vacation. All right, if Jeane’s okay with it, then I suppose I am too.”
After finishing my pancakes, I brought the dishes to the sink. I intended to wash them, but Jeane was there in an instant, shooing me away. “I’ll clean up here; you’ll be wanting to start exploring the city, yeah?”
Shrugging, I said, “Thank you, Jeane. You ready, Terry?”
“Actually,” Jeane said, a slight blush in her cheeks, “I was wanderin’ if I could have a word with Terry for a bit.”
“What?” Terry said, sounding startled. “I really shouldn’t leave-”
“No problem. I kinda wanted to just wander a bit anyway.” I said, patting Terry on the shoulder. “Tell you what, Terry, I’ll meet you at the fountain beneath the big clock, okay?”
“Girsprung Park.” He said automatically. “Yes sir. Er, sorry, sir.”
“Nothing to apologize for.” I glanced at Jeane, and added in a soft tone, “And you’re welcome.”
He fumbled for a response, and I took advantage of the opportunity to head out the door. Apparently, the date had gone quite well. Shaking my head, I picked a direction and started walking.
It was early morning, so most of the traffic was light; a few cars puttering around, but mostly kids on foot and riding bicycles, hoverboards, skates ... the usual foot-powered transport. It reminded me more than a little of Shineside Rimstak; narrow roads and moving machinery made larger transports an unnecessary hazard. Besides, everyone had a better way of transport they’d invented themselves; what better way to show it off than to crash in public?
Still, while there were more people, the traffic wasn’t quite as hectic; here, people moved at a more leisurely pace, giving me plenty of time to take in the scenery.
I consulted a roadside map and noted a few places I’d like to visit, namely the local library (the Jisten-Raal Memorial Library, to be specific, named after some local hero who had stopped a critical meltdown decades ago). While my reconstruction efforts had uncovered a stately library in the Saybaro, most of the books had long since turned to dust. My own small collection of books was no match for a proper library; I just hoped they’d issue me a card.
It was as I was walking to the library that I realized I was attracting attention, and not just the ‘by the Creator, what is that guy wearing’ kind of attention either. Almost everyone I passed tried to sneak a look at me without my notice, most failing horribly. As off-setting as it was, the strange behavior of the locals slipped from my mind once I caught sight of the library.
I’m not sure what I had been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t the stately building of marble and stone. The white pillars flanking the library were covered with a healthy and well-tended growth of ivy that wound its way up to the roof. This was a library that had been here for a long time, or in the least was constructed by an architect good at his craft.
I walked up the steps, marveling at the large marble statue of Saint Cecilia, the Celestial patroness of knowledge. Most libraries had a statue of her in once place or another, always depicted with a tome in one hand and a staff in the other.
As I walked into the main lobby of the Library, the cool breeze from the air-conditioning units blew the heat of the day from my body. It was quite an impressive collection, though there was a strange industrial look to the place that I didn’t care much for. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but I prefer libraries to have wooden shelves, dark sound-dampening carpets, and soft lighting. The Jisten -Raal Memorial had metal shelves, stone-tiled floors that amplified every single step, and flourescent lighting that must’ve been hard on the eyes of those who worked there. Still, it was a big library with plenty of books. When it came down to it, I suppose that’s all it really needed.
A middle-aged Galden woman wearing glasses and a rather worried expression perked up as I approached the main desk. “Welcome to the Brigsonstrat library, largest in Wenapaj!”
“I can believe it.”
“Good morning.” I said politely. “Do I need to sign up for a library card to peruse your collection?”
“Not at all, sir. You have your Wenapaj citizen’s ID with you, yes?”
I pulled my ID from my wallet and handed it over. She scanned it through her computer and waited a moment, presumably for the data to appear onscreen.
“Ah, here we are.” She said, the words reflecting off of her glasses. “Jimmy Olsen Sakamota, Knight, Royal Guard …”
She stopped and gave me an odd glance. “Friend of the Elsewhere?”
I chuckled nervously, not sure what to say. How does one explain ties with an organization such as the Elsewhere in a few words?
Fortunately, she didn’t seem to expect an answer. She handed my card back, “Please enjoy our library, Sir Sakamota. Let me know if you need help finding anything.”
I wandered into the library, not really sure where to start. I made up my mind to pick up a few books on home repair as well as a few novels formore leisurely reading. I had picked up a few books, and was looking over a book entitled, “Wander - A Scarecrow’s Tale” when I realized someone was watching me through the shelves. Sighing, I quickly rounded the bookshelf and approached my observer, a short man with a heavily patched suit.
“Can I help you?” I asked pointedly.
He bowed his head, his hands clenched on the brim of his hat. “Meaning no offence sir, but … are you a hero?”
The bluntness of my reply took him aback. “But your clothes-”
“-are borrowed.” I told him.
“Oh. Well, you are a fighter, right? All adventurers are fighters.”
I glanced at my sword for a moment before asking, “What is it that you want?”
“Ah, right. Of course. I was just going to recommend a book to you.”
He held out a particularly decrepit old tome that looked like it would fall apart if I breathed on it too hard. I peered at the title: “Witches, Warlocks, and Wizards; a Fighter’s Guide to Dealing with Magi.”
“Okay.” I said, setting the book on a nearby trolley. “What’s up with the witch?”
The man tried to feign ingorance ... badly.
“Look.” I said, “If this is a magic-user thing, you should know I’m a streamer.”
“Oh, I’m no anti-mager!” The man said quickly. “Some of my best friends are magic-users.”
“Then what?” I asked. “What’s with the witch?”
“Well ... I mean, she’s a witch, yeah?”
I put my hands on my hips. “Which needs an adventurer’s touch because ...?”
“She’s a witch! Surely she’s done something wrong.”
It’s strange; even in a world where magic is commonplace, you still have people who view it as inherently evil. That he was ignoring my own talent in favor of focusing his prejudice on witchcraft did not help his case.
“I’m not going to go around slaying witches without a good reason.” I told him flatly. “And I’ve yet to hear of anything she’s done wrong, I’m not inclined to bother your witch, no matter how many hints you people try to drop.”
I put my hand on Glint’s hilt and began to channel energy through the blade as though I were about to perform a Streamer technique. Lifestream swirled around my blade as I said, “You have three seconds before my patience runs out.”
“What? You w-wouldn’t dare!”
“B-but I’m an important citizen of …”
“One.” I used my thumb to draw Glint an inch or so, just enough so that he could see the blade.
It worked; with a shriek, he rushed away.
“Good riddance.” I muttered, letting Glint sink into the scabbard again.
My pocket snorted. “Nice people skills there, buddy.”
I fished One out of my pocket and fixed him with a glare. “You’re hardly one to talk. Didn’t you once blow off a god to go play poker with your brother?”
One rubbed the back of his head. “Eh, got me there. You really been getting the NPC treament from people about this witch?”
“It’s the oddest thing.” I said as I resumed scanning the bookshelf. “Several townsfolk mentioned it, a shopkeeper tried to load me up with anti-witch gear ... though he might have just been trying a strange selling tactic. Then that guy shows up. If there’s a problem, why not just come out and say it?”
“Hmm.” One scratched his head. “Maybe they’re cursed from asking directly? A charm spread over a group? I wouldn’t put it past a witch to go meddling with people.”
“Yes, truly only a foul and evil creature would be so meddlesome.” I said, unable to suppress a smirk.
He glared at me. “Ha ha, very funny. Pick on the plush toy. Seriously though, it sounds like you’re experiencing an acute form of what I like to call ‘the Elsewhere Effect’.”
“The Elsewhere Effect?” I repeated.
One nodded. “It’s weird; Dreamers ... good Dreamers, mind you ... are all about blending in. No matter how good a disguise we put on, however, people with problems just gravitate toward us. They don’t even usually know we’re Dreamers; a distraught mother grabbing a stranger when in a blind panic, or a guard who confides in what he no doubt believes to be an innocent bystander.”
Plopping down on my shoulder, he continued, “Turns out it’s not about being a Dreamer, though; people who are good at helping people naturally attract people who need help. Grant actually tested this with over ten-thousand people, and every time, people crowd around the ones able to help.”
“So you think I should look into this witch thing?”
“Oh, hell no.” Before I could reply, he said, “Do you know what she did to set everyone on edge?”
“Well, no, but-”
“Do you know anything about this witch in particular? Hair color? Age?”
“I haven’t really had the chance to-”
“Do you even know where she is?”
“In a tower.” After a few moments, I realized just how useless that knowledge was. “Okay, fair point; but I could probably find out these things.”
“Jumping into a situation like this, especially when witchcraft might be involved, is a terrible idea. You literally have no idea what you might be getting into, and whose to say the witch is actually the bad guy? Never interfere until you know the context of a situation.”
“But the townsfolk-”
“The fact that they are unwilling to say anything tells me they’re more bothered than threatened, and even I don’t have time to deal with everything that just bothers people. Trust me, Jimmy; best course of action is the one you’ve been doin’: staying out of it.”
I heard someone below clearing her throat. I looked over the railing to see the librarian giving me a stern look from the first floor.
“Magic is prohibited in the library, sir.” She said, sounding quite severe.
“Ah, my apologies madam.” I considered explaining the situation, but decided to avoid mentioning the witch to avoid any further annoyances.
“Rules are rules.” She said stiffly. “Anyone breaking the rules is banned from the library for the day.”
I started to argue the point, but one look at her face made it clear she wasn’t going to budge. With a sigh, I followed her to the entrance and left the building.
“You may return tomorrow if you wish to borrow a book. In the meantime, I suggest you read the rules” She shoved a heavy pamphlet into my hands before turning sharply and marching back into the library.
Shaking my head, I slipped the pamphlet into my pocket and headed for the exit, Plush One sticking his tiny pink tongue out at the librarian as we passed.
“Bah.” Plush One said as I walked down the steps. “Stupid rule; even normal books produce their own magic. I thought every librarian knew that. Oh well. What’s next, Jimmy?”
“You’re staying?” I asked, surprised.
He shrugged. “I’ve got time. Teria might pull me away later; we’re still trying to settle on names. Until then, I don’t mind spending some time with my favorite Sleeper.”
Blushing, I said, “Well ... I thought I’d just take in the sights, really.”
“Sounds great!” One said, sitting down on my shoulder. “Onward!”
We walked through the streets of Brigsostrat with no destination until we came to a nice park that made me forget all about the witch. The leaves of the calgonne trees had begun to turn blue, a sign that winter wasn’t terribly far away. As I sat beneath the shade of one of the majestic trees with Plush One dozing on my shoulder, I imagined the Saybaro at winter; it had always been lonely before, but now, with all my friends, I was looking forward to it. Perhaps we’d even celebrate Christmas or the Winter Solstice.
We eventually found our way to the park where Terry was to join us. We’d passed it the day before, the large clock in the center of the park making quite the landmark. While waiting for Terry to arrive, I checked out several of the small shops near the park. Most were small shops dealing with various knick-knacks, souveniirs, antiques ... family-owned businesses that were kept open more for hsitorical value.
I spotted what appeared to be a camping store named , “Muggins.”
“Not a promising name.” One said as we entered, but I paid him no mind. With my cabin gone and Terry’s with Meryli, I wanted some sort of shelter in case we had to walk home.
The store smelled strongly of crystallic, a strange but not unpleasant scent that filled the air with a blue-green haze. It was indeed filled with the sort of gear for spending time in the great outdoors: tents and portable cabins, cooking fixtures that ran on portable stream canisters, bug repellant. As the lingering stream suggested, it also carried some magical devices; firestones for campfires, weather charms that would block the rain, a variety of fishing lures that were enchanted to twitch like the creatures they resembled, and more.
“This is a sporting good store?” One said, looking at several hand-carved animal calls. “This looks more like the kinda place you go when planning a safari.”
“Hello?” I asked, glancing around behind the counter only to find no one there. Shaking my head, I started to turn away when something metallic caught my eye.
It was sitting beside a few odds and ends on sale, but it appeared to be a service bell. Seeing as it was the only thing without a price tag, I went ahead and gave it a ring.
A person completely covered in bits of clothing and armor (he/she even had sunglasses over his/her eyes) popped up behind the counter like a jack in the box, only inches from my nose. I was startled, seeing as no one had been behind the counter when I checked just a few moments prior.
No one knows why Cleftans wear so much clothing, but some suspect that it is an exaggerated sense of modesty. Still, while I had heard something of their strange appearance in books and on the Weave, I had yet to see a Cleftan in person.
“Ah …” I said, startled by the shopkeeper’s sudden appearance.
“Not a word!” He hissed, holding a gloved finger up to his mouth for a moment before turning to his shelves.
One and I watched in startled silence as the shopkeeper set bottle after pouch after box on the counter, each filled with something stranger than the last.
He eventually stopped, and looked at me. Well, at least I think he was looking at me. While I couldn’t see his eyes, I had the feeling he was waiting expectantly for me to say or do something. Plush One only shrugged, the Dreamer within apparently just as confused as I.
“Uh …” I said, not really sure what to say.
He held up a bottle filled with a grayish liquid with little golden specks. “This is a specially prepared Miltzer formula. If you drink just a single drop, you will be completely resistant to a witch’s curses.”
“That’s interesting, but-”
“This,” he continued, holding up a leather pouch, “Is filled with powdered durien tail. When you sprinkle it on the ground, the air in front of you will provide a spell-resistant field.”
“Fascinating. Look, I-”
He pulled a small stone about the size of his thumb. “Take this enchanted pill and you’ll be able to dodge even her fastest spells!”
I looked at the stone. “There’s no way I could swallow that. It’s bigger than my thumb!”
“Ah, well you don’t have to. It’s a suppository.”
One let out a snort and quickly pressed a hand to his stitched mouth.
“That’s not exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for.” I said, suppressing a shudder.
“Ah, yes! Of course!” He pulled a small box from the supplies, saying, “One portable prison cell, magic resistant of course. It can withstand stream flux of up to five million strands.”
I looked at him, my eyes slowly narrowing as my annoyance grew. He continued prattling on, describing everything he had gathered. As you may have already surmised, it was all the sort of thing you might find on the shopping list of someone out to give a witch a bad time.
“So,” he said after describing the final item, some kind of frog-proof hat that I wouldn’t have worn even if I was going to fight the witch. “That will be seven-thousand shards and fifty-three flicks. Hey, where are you going?”
I just kept walking, making a point to slam the door behind me. Once we were outside, Plush One burst into laughter.
“Demons, witches, and crazy shopkeepers.” I muttered, ignoring the doll’s chortles as I headed back toward the park. “What’s next?”
“Please don’t provoke reality, Jimmy.” One said, a pained look on his plush face. “Trust me; it doesn’t end well.”
Terry was still nowhere to be seen when we reached the park, so I wandered over to the obelisk supporting the large clock. It was made of a smooth black stone that had been polished to a fine reflective sheen.
“Mrxstalline.” One said. “Flux-reactive alloy.”
“Put your hand against the stone.”
Curious, I put my hand on the side. The obelisk rippled, as though it were made of water. Moments later, the blackness was replaced by the most dazzeling display of greens, blues, and purples..
“Cool, huh?” Plush One said with a grin. “It translates flux into a pattern of light and color. It’s different for everyone.”
“Really?” I said, the stone going black as I removed my hand. “May I see how it reacts to you?”
Shrugging, Plush One raised his arms. I picked him up and held him close to the stone. As his plush hands touched the stone, the obelisk was quickly overtaken by green and gray stripes. A single glowing sigil was there as well, a larger version of the same symbol stitched on the back of the plush hand now resting against the stone.
One let out a quiet chuckle. “Yeah, I suppose it would show the Anti-ka Maru.”
“Because you’re a Dreamer?” I asked.
“Among other things.”
I set One back on my shoulder. As I did so, however, I heard someone nearby whisper loudly, “There he is!”
“Oh, lord.” Plush One said, glancing behind me. “Just ignore them, and maybe they’ll go away.”
I followed his advice, but it became clear that the voice was moving closer ... and it had brought friends.
“He’s come to save us.”
“He’s come to stop the witch.”
Against my better judgement, I turned to face whoever was behind me. I was surprised to find a small crowd looking at me expectantly.
“Creeeeeepy.” One said. “Uh, maybe this is a good time for a strategic retreat?”
I needed no other prompting; before anyone could react, I was running away as fast as my legs could carry me. I made it back to the shopping district before I realized I was still being followed. I quickened my pace, but the group hurried forward as well.
“Alley!” One said, pointing at a break between two nearby buildings.
I dashed into the alley and took a quick look around for cover. One of the buildings must’ve been an armory, as much of the alleyway was filled with crates of weapons, mostly ceremonial. Hearing the approach of many feet, I quickly hid behind a stack of shields.
The group chasing me rushed through the alley. To my relief, not one of them looked my way. One and I shared a sigh of relief as I rose to my feet.
“By the Creator.” One said, “I thought I had it bad when I went out in public.”
My relief turned into a sudden panic when I heard someone nearby whisper, “Sir!”
I spun about to see a man, no older than myself, motioning me into a nearby shop. The man again motioned me to follow, his eyes also on the departing crowd. Seeing that prompted me to trust him enough to hurry into the shop.