Sidereal Days — Tuesday


Part 2 of Sidereal Days.



Part 1: Monday


Not much to report today. Metablade and I spent most of the day trying to track down, get this, a real estate agent of all things. A real scumbag, too. Oh, look at me. Calling someone a scumbag. That’s never the sort of thing I would have done, a few years ago. It makes me sound like my old Uncle Randy. He was a cop, and he was always telling us kids stories about the criminals he used to chase down or get into shootouts with. Uncle Randy always called them scumbags, or dirtbags, or unkind epithets like that. A few times he used the word “shitbird,” which cause my mother to pull him into the kitchen and scold him about corrupting the children. I didn’t like that word, because I loved birds and that was a horrible image. It turned out most of Uncle Randy’s stories about the heroic things he did to scumbags were big old lies. Because Uncle Randy was kind of a scumbag.

So what were two Warriors –one of them Metablade, no less– doing spending their valuable time tracking down a real estate agent? It’s a tiny bit complicated. The first time I heard about how many of your dodgier real estate investors and developers were involved in otherworldly properties it blew my mind. This was about eight years ago, so it was after I spent those three weeks in Orc prison, and even after the Astrapede Invasion. Even with everything I’d seen, I was shocked to learn that rich moguls sank venture capital dollars into places like the Fields of Endless Blades or the Ten Thousand Planes of Purity.

It’s not strictly against the Echos of the Transcendent to do it, but it can be really dangerous if people aren’t careful. I don’t know about you, but when I think of dodgy real estate investors, “careful” isn’t the first word that springs to mind. For example, the Gardens of Verdant Weaponry used to be called the Gardens of Verdant Plenty. It was sort of the breadbasket of the Scattered Realms. Until some American prospector in the mid 19th century discovered it, and realized that anything you planted would grow there. So he started buying it up from the Dryads that ran the place. It’s not that they didn’t have a concept of property so much as that they loved opium. You’d think they could just grown their own opium, but I guess they didn’t think of it. Anyway, the prospector bought the whole place out, started planting weapons, and the rest is history.

This has been a problem forever, but it got worse after the housing bubble collapsed. It was bad enough when it was just a few greedy bastards here and there with access to a thaumaturge or a hula-hoop with dimensional transport powers. But in the last few years it’s turned into a whole industry, with Wall Street money and everything. It’s all run by a couple of agents with the right contacts or abilities. The worst of them is named Sebastian McGovern, also known as Whitecrest. Because his business card has a white crest on it. I said he was a scumbag; I didn’t say he was creative.

Anyway, for the last year or so Whitecrest has been buying up small pieces of land all over the Realms with seemingly no value connection to each other. Infinite String has been tracking it because…she’s Infinite String. That’s what she does. It turns out all of those pieces of land contain weak spots between Realms. All Whitecrest would have to do was blast through the weak spots, and he’d have the beginnings of a trans-dimensional roadway system that anyone could access and use. That is not a good idea.

So Metablade decided it was time to take him out. He didn’t want to be found. He wasn’t anywhere on earth, or Infinite String would have been able to find him. We chased leads to Ilginheim, the Single Point Forest, and the Gem Seas, where I managed to get Metablade to stop and have lunch. I had the most amazing lobster I’ve ever tasted, even if I needed to energize my teeth in order to bite through it.

Finally a sentient group-mind of corundum-sponges told us the Seas told them Whitecrest had passed through the cold south and off world into the Yceflows.

“I hate the Yceflows,” I told Metablade as we walked through the doorway. “They’re so cold.”

“The second coldest place in all the Realms,” Metablade said, pathologically didactic as usual, “after Wintervoid. Put on your red armor. And don’t let your guard down. A breach of your defenses like yesterday could lead to your instant death.”

I rolled my eyes, and did as he said.

We emerged into a vast plane of freezing whiteness. The Yceflows is exactly what it sounds like. A sunless world of ice and cold and nothing. There’s no ground, or sky, or anything. Just continents of glowing glaciers suspended in the frozen air. They have their own gravity, so each one is like a small planet of its own. There’s no way to get from one to the other, unless you have wings that cannot freeze.

Or you can propel yourself by starlight. That works for me.

We flew through the icy void for almost an hour before we found what we were looking for. A ten-mile diameter glacier, part of it carved into a huge fortress shaped like a familiar white crest. As we approached, I saw the ramparts and the roads leading up to the fortress were guarded, but hundreds and hundreds of…

“Frost trolls?” I scoffed. “Seriously? I didn’t think anyone used those things anymore. You’d think if McGovern could afford to have an entire glacier carved into a fortress he’d be able to buy himself some better bodyguards.”

“Don’t underestimate them,” said Metablade. “They are ideally suited for this environment. Even through your armor and my imagined protections, the cold hampers us.”

I rolled my eyes again. Then we landed, and got to work.

I’m not going to say it was an easy battle, but it didn’t hold a candle to the Neverghasts from yesterday. There were a lot of these trolls – I counted 567 – but none of them were a match for my Sidereal Fire or Metablade’s many katana. Like he said, the cold was more of a threat than the trolls. By the time we broke through to the inner sanctum – which of course was on the top floor of the stupid fortress – I could feel the chill biting into my skin.

We caught Whitecrest completely by surprise. I mean, he had watched the whole battle through a scrying glass, but he hadn’t expected anyone to be able to find him all the way out here. So he didn’t have an escape route. Pretty dumb, for someone running such an elaborate scheme. The thought tickled my mind as we dragged Whitecrest back out of the Yceflows and over to the Spheres of Incarceration. As we were leaving — after a drink with Tamael the Guardian, of course – something finally occurred to me.

“That was way too clever a plan for Whitecrest,” I said as we stepped back onto earth.

Metablade furrowed his brow. I wish my mask could do that. “He has engaged in complicated endeavors before. Do not forget he has developed his brand of development into a thriving industry, where once it was simply a collection of incidents.”

“He’s good with numbers,” I said. “And he’s fantastic with wheeling and dealing. But this takes serious lorecraft. A route through the Realms? I mean, nothing like that’s ever been done, right?”

“That is correct,” said Metablade. “You may be on to something.”

“Yeah,” I said. We talked about it for a few more minutes, but nothing came of it. Like I said, it was just an idea. And it was late. I really did need to get home.

As I walked up to the front door of my house, I mentally prepared myself to get ready to order more pizzas. When Doug gets into a funk – and nothing gets him funky like his manuscript being rejected again – it usually lasts for days. So I was wonderfully surprised when I stepped inside to the luscious aroma of sizzle beef.

“Sam, is that you?” Doug said from the kitchen.

“Yeah,” I called out.

“Excellent!” he slid into the dining room across the wood floor on his socks. He was wearing an oven mitt on each hand, and an apron that said “____ the cook.” He didn’t like his clothing to be too prescriptive.

“Taste this,” he said, and he put a wooden spoon to my mouth.

Wow,” I said. “That’s amazing.”

“Caramelized shallots, glace de viande, and a reduction made from that wine that was aged in clay.”

“But that wine was terrible,” I said.

He shrugged. “I found something to do with it.”

“Yeah you did.”

“Have a seat. The wine is already decanted. I cooked the beef sous-vide, now I have to sear it. I’ll be back!” He slid back into the kitchen.

We ate the dinner – which was exactly as good as it sounds – to the sound of violins. I asked Doug where all of this energy came from. He told me he started up again on the manuscript. He realized what was wrong with it, and he was going to rewrite the whole thing. He knew exactly what to do.

“It was so obvious,” he said, his eyes alight. “I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.”

“That’s fantasic, honey,” I said. And I smiled and kissed him and stroked the side of his face.

But inwardly, I cringed. I loved to see him this happy, but last time he rewrote the manuscript, things got…complicated. Maybe this time Metablade would realize what the manuscript really was, and what I had done. Or worse: one of the Guardians would realize it. Maybe this time I wouldn’t be able to hide it.

No. I can’t think like that. It’s unproductive. And besides, it doesn’t matter. Once Doug has changed the story in his head, it’s already different. Sure, nothing will happen until he gets the words down. But it’s inevitable. I don’t even want to think what would happen if I tried to stop it.

Doug’s energy lasted through dinner, into dessert, and…afterwards. But I’m not going to write down the details. There are some things between a husband and wife best not committed to words. I will say it was really nice, though. Slow, and passionate, and occasionally silly. As we lay there afterwards, my head resting on his chest, I thought maybe I wouldn’t mind how many times he rewrote the stupid manuscript, if this was the Doug I got in return.


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