I stumble to my feet. Where’s the sword? Bungisgan is clearly judging the merits of finishing off the helpless bravo with his dagger. I better interfere with a ploy, worst case he’ll just see through it like always.
― Desist at once, fleshling! I shout, relying on intuition as I quickly establish my mien. I am Bungisngis the Mad, the way he would reflect through the unique lens of Lucie-ness. It’s an easy role, which is good, as my mien-work does not feel natural in this half-dream state. ― Desist, water-slave, subsume thyself, think with like mind: we need to make haste and enter the Citadel, to close the Gate, to quench the flow from Beyond. This vessel has witnessed it, the infernal device of Dream bridging the gap to the Unreal. There is no oblivion as the furnace yet glows!
Bungisgan is… he is convinced, I am sure of it! Of course nothing shows in my mien, except an intense stare, a flinch as my eyeballs turn inexorably towards the direction of the crypt entrance. I raise my hand to sweep my hair, and it jerks as if Lucie were still struggling futilely with the dominant spirit. Bungisgan is laid bare, here; as he gazes towards the rocks, it is the face of a man given sudden hope in the face of utter damnation.
I take quick, confident looks around, trying to get a sense of the dangers around us. The man Bungisgan conjured earlier seems lifeless. I would see little beyond the fire, except for my spirit sight, showing me a living person hurrying towards us; probably one of the four bravos. The others are still further away. I even stoop down to collect the sword, making sure to seem confident, ruthlessly efficient, and ultimately disinterested in what Bungisgan does; I have the madness in me now, I know what to do and do not need the older, weaker, more tired Bungisngis host to take the lead.
Bungisgan follows me away from the campfire. I slow down and prepare to jump on him as he draws closer. The left arm’s still useless. Seemingly taking care with my steps in the dark, of course.
― You seem to have received the Prophet, bird, I hear Bungisgan say. I sweep around, but he is too quick. One word, something like “Abzhor”, and my mind tilts again.
― Too bad for you, he says. ― Things have changed. You are too powerful, and I would rather not share after all. Already you are twice-full, overcoming your own limits.
Lucie resists the mind-tearing activation, but slumps visibly. Bungisgan moves to exploit the weakness, but the Speculum seizes control and lifts Lucie’s sword to threaten. It is hardly ideal, for the Speculum is unsuited to dealing with the external world. Clumsy and slow.
― Abzhor! Bungisgan shouts again and laughs. ― I do not know why you are so vulnerable to the words of power, Martlet, but I will end you now, and once the Gate is closed I shall inherit it all, alone.
He walks as he speaks, gauging the distance. The Speculum tries to keep up. Lucie fights the dark crystal within her mind to a standstill by sheer willpower. Bungisgan fires more magic words, seemingly at random. Some few renew the struggles of the dark crystal, but most miss. Bungisgan tests it, but the Speculum guards clumsily, and Bungisgan does not dare the sword’s edge.
― You don’t seem to be entirely here, Martlet, Bungisgan taunts me. ― It is overpowering, is it not? It took me years to recover my sanity, our sanity, with the Prophet. It is no less than a melding of the minds; he needs you to exist. You should let it go, easier to just give up. Prophet, iztaem sham abnir, no need to struggle; I will finish your work soon. We don’t need her.
I am feeling better, and Bungisgan has misjudged the situation completely. I let the Speculum fight for us for now, as Bungisgan seems content to mostly wait for something; time to plan… I realize that Bungisgan’s spell words just now were not primarily for me, but for his revenant. Probably called it again. Strange feeling, to be inside running the gut-check while the Speculum’s dealing with the outside. Need to switch back, the Speculum probably can’t deal with the next bit that’s coming.
I swing clumsily towards Bungisgan, correct my posture on the recovery and take a covert look back — I was right, the revenant is shambling for us. I keep feigning weakness, and Bungisgan does not seem overly concerned. My instinct tells me that there is some other reason for Bungisgan’s care… the Speculum gets it this time, he’s essentially blind this far from the fire. Might not benefit from the moonlight, either, if it is true about the moon being illusionary. I can use this.
I jump for Bungisgan before the revenant reaches us. Seriously now, I follow up as he scrambles to avoid me, blade reached before me, sweeping strides to break inside his footwork. He tries to jump back and shouts “Abzhor” again, but the Speculum is ready for it and I hardly falter. I lunge and he actually throws his dagger at the same time, but I am focused now and see it, and actually shift my wrist to catch it with the blade just before I strike home. The sword takes Bungisgan weakly in the chest — the block robbed me of strength — but he cries nevertheless and goes down.
I pivot in place then and swing blindly, for the revenant must be just about there. I miss it, but the body seems to falter anyway; it must need Bungisgan’s focus to force it forward.
I glance at the campfire; Vallon’s there, and another one of the four bravos with him. Nothing to stop me making sure of Bungisgan, except conditioned doubt. Ignore it, says the Speculum; Bungisgan breeds that fear in others, makes them second-guess themselves. I could have taken him any time. He’s a trick-maker, not real power.
I step in sword lowered to pierce Bungisgan and make sure he’s dead, but there’s a sparkling flash around his hips or chest. I kneel-slash, best I can with one hand, no hesitation, but the blade is repelled by the streaming mass of smoke or flesh pouring out, as if pushed through a narrow funnel. I scramble to my feet and back, away from its form.
― One more lesson in magic, Martlet, he sneers at me. ― You befoul this flesh at a price, little bird. You will not see your death as it comes!
Although his lesser in power, I do not need Bungisgan to tell me that this is one of his fetch-demons. He thinks it invisible,but I can see it nevertheless, a bright silver glow of a true spirit nature; a horrid sight, towering inhumanly high, sleek and featureless bipedal shape, yet with an elongated canine skull.
I can’t think of a way to take advantage of Bungisgan’s misconception, so as he calls for his invisible creature to slay me, I react by backing away and turning to run. It proves a mistake, the creature is powerful while the ground is rocky; I turn and slash at it, then throw myself forward to try for a surprise blow. Of course a fighting demon is too alert and strong, it catches me in a side-swipe with a claw and I fly to the ground
Bungisgan gaggles despite him probably seeing nothing of my peril in the moon-lit night. The gaggle turns into a shout of alarm, and I am saved from sure death as the demon turns back to defend its master. It is Vallon again, I think, for he is larger than the others. As the demon was killing me, he is now on Bungisgan with bare fists.
― Vallon beware! An invisible demon! I shout, knowing how little chance the big man has even then. He looks up, however, alert to danger.
The demon throws itself at Vallon, and he keeps his footing despite not foreseeing the moment of impact. For a moment the two struggle in what seems an even way in the dark, but it is just for the moment. The great head of the demon freely swoops down on the man and bites his neck in its jaws.
― Still alive, Martlet! Bungisgan shouts, and I do not know if he means me or himself. ― Worry not, the invisible stalker will remedy it for you!
Even as I get back to my feet, the demon drops Vallon and leaps with an untiring mien towards me. This time I have the measure of its speed and strength, which alone is a cause for despair. It does not even have a fore-shadow as the humans do, perhaps due to its single-minded spiritual nature.
My best chance is still to get back, but that’s conventional thinking: truth is that I cannot hope to outrun this inhuman beast. I would rather take my chances in a spirit duel, if I only knew how.
As I do, my decision is as swift as the thought: I drop the reins on the Speculum, let it drive the body again, while I try to get to sleep and into the Real Dream, to resist the fetch-demon there. I only have ten seconds at most — absurd — so I will have to forcibly unweave my own consciousness, without the Speculum to check me. I pace myself to my breath, give it one in-breath, and try to force it.
I feel something rip, and cannot think right now about what that may mean in the weaving trance. I am asleep, and I am lucid, and I can see the beast come. It is massive, and entirely visible in the dream realm, black fur gleaming upon the tortured frame of something that may have at some point been human. I will it to stop, the same way you move you perspective in the dream realm.
It is actually not that difficult. I rush towards the beast, and I feel the contact — it is like the pure sensory essence of touching a dead thing. The monster is lighter than I in this twilight realm, as on some level I knew it would be. There is no momentum, it merely stops as I catch upon its jaws with both hands, whatever the significance of that in the dream world. Were its eyes not rowing wildly, I would think it frozen in place.
― What’s going on, Martlet? I hear Bungisgan somewhere far away. ― Are you dead yet?
I suppose I can hear him because half of me is still awake, in the form of the Speculum. The beast heaves and I jump up to bring my armpit over its muzzle, forcing it down to its knees. The Speculum lowers my body towards the ground, I can see, perhaps to stay more hidden. It is a strange sight, as I am now connected to my own body with a visible cord, and the body is… quite not awake, yet not asleep either. It is precisely the way I imagine a person with half a soul to look like. Disconcerting that the body is my own, but I trust the Speculum. It is me, after all, even if it can be clumsy. The part I do not trust is the dark crystal I can see so clearly embedded within her — me — but I know the Speculum can handle that if it has to.
The situation seems funny, and I laugh there in the dream world, with no Speculum to keep my amusement for me. I do not quite know what to do with the beast, so I continue holding it in a sort of an arm-lock around its jaws, ready to kick it if it gives me any trouble; the evident size difference between us does not seem to be a concern here. I think it is afraid of me, now.
Really, how exactly do I think myself different from these wizards and acolytes? If Bungisgan’s Second Law is “self mutilation”, what is this, then? I just split myself in half, and as I look by, my second self crawls forth as I continue to hold the demon in place. Perhaps she’s going to murder Bungisgan for us, I don’t know. I should probably figure out the magical reasoning for unsummoning the thing. That’s all there is to True Magic, true reasoning on the precepts of magical thinking.
As I look around me, the view here in the Real Dream is somewhat disorienting; I do not really see the campfire, and to my consternation I actually do see the Lunar Citadel towering above us. If it weren’t for the people, painted clearly for me, and the Anti-Dream aura of Bungisgan’s, I couldn’t say where anything is. My best navigation aid is the Speculum — the flesh-Lucie I should say — as I can hardly lose her, what with the cord between us.
― Stay back Castelmore, you treacherous cur! I hear Bungisgan shout. ― Gazal marek on you Castelmore, fear me! I own you still!
I make my decision and kick the loathsome fetch-demon back. I would rather get closer to what is happening, even if it means going near Bungisgan and his Anti-Dream again. I check sideways on the monster as I go, but it seems content to stay where it is for now. Perhaps I hurt it somehow?
I think I might be getting some visuals from flesh-Lucie, too, as I float closer. Several of the bravos are there near the camp fire, which might mean that they have settled with the Kryfis. They are respecting Bungisgan’s threat, now, though, and I am not there to break the spell for them. I need to get back to my body, the Speculum can’t handle the last leg of this confrontation.
Except… I do not know how. Waking up does not seem to work. I will need time to untangle this state I have gotten myself into, it seems.
― Oh, is that you I hear sneaking there, Martlet? I hear Bungisgan now in a conversational tone. Flesh-Lucie is much too close to him!
― You are a bad man, Bungisgan, she says of her own accord. Annoyingly childish intonation, too, but if this does not get Bungisgan off his stride then I do not know what will.
I truly have very little idea of what the Speculum is going to do now, but I have a creeping feeling that she may not be equipped to handle the outside world in adult terms. The speculum is not intended to, nothing of this sort is intended by the flamine creed. She’s been my inner voice ever since I split us apart, and I was still a child then myself. I try drawing myself in by the silver cord, but although I can sort of draw on the cord, this only serves to move my viewpoint closer to my body; clearly waking up is different from simply moving coterminous with myself.
I cannot really see anything of what Bungisgan is doing, and I cannot touch him; he genuinely has no presence in the spiritual dimension. If you can hear me, Speculum, beware — Bungisgan can’t see us in the dark, but he can still hear you!
― Bungisgan, stop! I hear a new voice. It’s Besnik, I can see him wide awake among the rocks. He must have hid when the battle started.
― Don’t come close Besnik, I hear flesh- Lucie say, but her attention is distracted, and Bungisgan was ready to strike. I feel the dagger tagging me, distant as it is, and we go down under the choking Anti-Dream. It is cold and burning, and I have to scramble away even if it means leaving the Speculum alone to struggle with Bungisgan. It still burns somehow, and I fear that Bungisgan might cut our cord, or throttle it with his immediate presence.
But Besnik runs there, and jumps unafraid into the black fog. I cannot see what happens, but I can hear through flesh-Lucie. Struggle? She crawls away, and she is actually sobbing as she gains space in between herself and Bungisgan.
― Ho, soapsman, I hear Bungisgan’s venomous voice. He’s winded. ― We were wondering where you got to. Good show for courage, as always, am I right?
― Just, just shut up, you monster, Besnik mutters in a choked way. ― You are the most horrible thing I have ever met. You deserve to die.
― You dare not touch me, loser, Bungisgan growls. I think they are both standing upright now. Does either have a weapon?
I can actually see it now, how dark threads reach out from Bungisgan’s Anti-Dream aura towards Besnik. There is a magical element to his magnetic personality, and I feel sick thinking of how those threads must have worked me over in the past. Besnik is surely lost, unless we do something.
I move to his side and do my best against the threads. It is painful, and I think there must be a better way, but for now the only thing I can think of is to swat at them. I don’t even have a weapon here. The threads burn coldly to my spirit skin, same as Bungis himself, and I don’t think that I can stop them all this way.
I hear distant voices. “No Fere, do not interfere! Do the surgery on Vallon now, I’ll stand guard!” No reprieve from that quarter.
Besnik, though, is still standing and he actually has his arms up. Some sort of wrestling stance. Still fighting.
― You want to die so much, wretch? Bungisgan growls as his aura surges towards Besnik. I have to give way, the Anti-Dream is absolute in this realm.
― It is simply stupid, he continues cleaving on Besnik verbally. ― Utterly stupid, just the way you are. Your every decision is in doubt. Following the bird-girl was the stupidest of all, and that is counting you laying hand on me just now. You always make the wrong choice when it counts.
I am uncomfortably aware of how what he is doing is something that I, too, have within my power. I believe Mother could kill with her words, and perhaps I could as well. It is an application of reading, and forcing them to listen by moving quicker than they can formulate the decision to stop. Once you identify the core beliefs and shatter them, the cord of the self has a chance to unravel. Bungisgan must be at the end of his rope to choose such a slow way, though.
― Don’t listen to him Besnik, I hear her now. It’s the Speculum. At least it’s trying something. Bungisgan boldly talks over her, but she pointedly raises her voice, and hers is stronger than his anyway. She will have her say.
― We are foolish, us people… we are weak and vain, and come upon necessary decisions with incomplete knowledge. We fail to fill in the syllogistic forms, and instead are compelled to move forward, ever onward, in a state of uncertain grace. In a word, we make mistakes, and furthermore: we must make them, for doing otherwise would not be living. You cannot shame me with the errors I have made, Bungisgan.
It is beautiful, what she is saying. What I am saying. It is true, of course, for she believes in the same things I do. I thought she had stopped, but she gives the conclusion, too: ― What’s important about our choices is not how correct they are, but the principles they’re based on. Being mistaken is no big deal as long as you were right in making the choice. I do not regret my choices, and the one I particularly don’t regret is trusting in Besnik there.
The part I cannot wrap my head around is that us not being together must mean that she is being sincere — I do not believe that the Speculum could lie that well, the tone is so empathetic that she couldn’t do the mien without me. Disconcertingly so, considering where we are, and how she just decided to engage in a debate fight with a dark wizard.
But perhaps I really do trust in Besnik, and for a reason, as I can hear him growl now. If I am any judge of character, and I am, it is frustration and anger that he is determined to release. The man has an iron discipline in his own way, for he has ever been willing to trade his pride for his duty, no matter how humble. I shall be sorry if breaking his code breaks the soul as well.
Bungisgan clears his throat, as if to give a retort to flesh-Lucie, but Besnik chooses that moment to leap. He dives again into the Anti-Dream, and I cannot say what is happening, except for the wild shouting, and the Speculum joining in the noise. It seems to go on for a long time, but I suppose the outcome cannot be in doubt, as ultimately Bungisgan is an old, frail man, while Besnik has a wool-washer’s fingers.