• Glenn Whitlock

Dreams of Aveinha

When Casey, an average man from Los Angeles, wakes up in a fantasy world, he partners with a sorcerer and her hired hand to find a way home. However, his presence has caught the attention of a sadistic cult, bent on purging magical abominations through excruciating torture.

Photo by Magda V on Unsplash


Casey woke up, drenched with sweat. The last thing he could remember was driving home from work. It was dark out, and he was driving down a road that wound its way through the hills north of town. He followed the road around a bend…


His head was pounding, making it hard to think. He looked around his bedroom, but his vision was blurry. The room felt different, though. There was a foul stench coming from somewhere. A mixture of hard-boiled eggs and sweaty crotch. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and leaped from the bed when his vision came into focus. He definitely wasn’t in his apartment.


He was in what appeared to be a rickety loft built against one wall of a shack. The walls were made of scraps of wood, the roof was nothing more than a bunch of long sticks and branches, covered with dried grass. The bed he had been laying in was a burlap sack, stuffed with straw. And it smelled. Everything smelled. The stench of sweat and unwashed bodies invaded his nostrils. Below him, he heard a door creak. He looked down and locked gazes with a short, stout man. He was wearing a threadbare shirt and equally threadbare pants.


“Thief!” the man shouted as he trundled towards the hearth and grabbed a long metal rod. Casey jumped from the loft and crashed into the man as he was about to swing the rod at him. The man flew into the corner of the hovel near the hearth. Casey plowed through the door, ripping it off its hinges.


Outside, the sun peeked above the horizon. There was a chill in the air and the grass was wet with few. Casey bolted down a path, beaten down from who knows how many trips between the house and wherever it led. Behind him, he heard the man curse as he stumbled on the broken door. Casey left the path and ran towards the woods, pumping his arms and legs furiously. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the man struggling to catch him. Chris said a silent thanks to his ex, who had bought him a year-long gym membership for his birthday a few months ago. The ground sloped down toward a wooded ravine. Chris looked behind him again, and the man chasing him was nowhere to be seen. He picked up speed, but his foot slipped on the damp grass, sending him rolling the rest of the way to the ravine. The trunk of a fallen tree broke his fall.


He grabbed a branch of a nearby tree and pulled himself to his feet. He looked down at his filthy clothes. Dirt and grass stains from his tumble into the ravine turned his white t-shirt a brownish color. A rock had ripped open one leg of his sweatpants and left a long gash across his calf. He looked behind him, but he still didn’t see the man.


Casey climbed further into the ravine, treading carefully in his bare feet. There was a creek at the bottom of the ravine. He followed it east, towards the rising sun. When he was sure the man in whose home Casey had woken up wasn’t following him, he stopped to rest.


Casey took in the surroundings as he washed the gash in his leg. Nothing about this area was familiar. Casey lived in a third-floor apartment in the city. The only ravine he knew of was in the park a few blocks from his building. But he didn’t remember there being a thatched room hovel on top of a grassy hill. He needed to find a town or a city or something. He needed to figure out where the hell he was.


He crossed the creek and climbed out of the ravine. There was nothing around him but grass-covered hills. In the distance, he thought he saw a thin column of smoke rising from the horizon. With no other options, Casey started walking towards it.


Casey’s mind drifted as he walked. He thought maybe he would see something that would jog his memory. But all he saw was grass and the occasional tree. After about an hour of walking, he came upon the source of the smoke column. It was a small village, like something out of a renaissance fair or fantasy movie.


The village was a cluster of shacks and the occasional stone house. The peak of a larger building jutted out above the thatched roofs of the others. He entered the town and felt the eyes of its citizens staring at him. Most of them wore the same clothes as the man who had chased him into the ravine. Baggy tunics that were made of wool, with a belt or length of rope tied around their waists. Most of them didn’t have sleeves. Casey wondered if the ones with sleeves served as the upper class.

Casey worked his way down the street, which wasn’t much more than a dirt path between a cluster of shanties. He passed a group of women wearing loosely fitting blouses and simple brown skirts. They stared at him as he passed, whispering to each other and giggling.


The building with the taller roof slowly revealed itself as Casey walked through a market area. The building appeared to be a tavern or inn. At least that was what he thought, based on his experience at role-playing games.


“You there!” A man standing among baskets of fruits and vegetables. Casey stopped and looked behind him. There was no one there.


“Me?” He asked, pointing at himself.


“Yes, you!” The man said, waving Casey towards him. Casey walked up to the man. He was around the same height as Casey but thin. Almost close-to-starvation thin. White tufts of hair poked out from under a wide-brimmed hat.


“Hello, young master.” The man smiled, revealing a mouth full of broken, yellow teeth. “You are strangely dressed. Are you from around here?”


“Umm, no. A-at least I don’t think so.” Casey said, wondering how he was able to understand this man. Other than having a strange accent and speech pattern, he spoke perfect English.


“Ah, are you lost then?” The man paused, looking around before whispering. “I know of someone who can help you.”


“Who?”


“In the tavern, over yonder.” The man nodded his head toward the large building near the center of town. “There’s a wizard. Name’s Rhiun.”


“A-a wizard?” Casey asked, thinking maybe he misheard the man. “Like a magic-wielding wizard. Named Ri-yoon?” He finished, trying to imitate the old man’s pronunciation.


“Yes, yes!” the man exclaimed. “Surely she’ll be able to help you get home.”


“Okay,” Casey said, stepping away from the man. “Thank you. For your help.”

The man smiled and nodded, before saying, “Welcome to Aveinha.”


 

Casey opened the door to the tavern and stepped inside. The smoke from the fires stung his eyes, and the revolting smell made him want to retch. Through tears in his eyes, Casey looked around the room, searching for anyone who would remotely look like a wizard. The bar was to his left, and a grizzled barman stood behind it, wiping down a wooden mug with a filthy rag. In front and to the right were rows upon rows of benches, filled with a motley assortment of peasants, large men with a lethal assortment of weaponry, and women serving drinks. None of them looked like a wizard.


Casey approached the bar. The barman finished talking to one of the serving women, and Casey called out. “Excuse me, sir.” The barman looked at him as if a pile of crap had gained sentience and began speaking.


“Wha’ ye havin’,” he bellowed.


“Is there someone one named —.”


“I say wha’ ye havin’,” he repeated, cutting Casey off.


“Um, ale, I guess?”


The barman grabbed a wooden mug from the bar and filled it from a barrel on a shelf behind the bar. He slammed the wooden mug on the bar in front of Casey, and some of the liquid splashed out. It was warm and had the look and smell of stale piss. Casey reached for the mug to at least feign taking a sip then thought better of it.


“Thank you. Is there someone named Riyoon here?” He asked before the barman could walk away.


“Aye, Rhiun’s in the back,” he said gesturing behind him.


“Thanks,” Casey said, hefting the mug of ale off of the bar. He walked through the narrow spaces between the benches, feeling the hostile stares of the patrons as he passed. The tables towards the back of the bar were emptier than the ones in the front. Casey didn’t see anyone, except for a woman sitting alone, reading an ancient book. He guessed she was who he was looking for.


Casey approached the table, but before he could say anything, the woman held up a finger, instructing him to wait. After an uncomfortably long wait, the woman placed a ribbon in the book to mark her place and set it aside. She was beautiful and completely unlike what Casey had envisioned. When the man outside said “she,” he had imagined an old crone with a hooked nose, like something out of a fairy tale.


This woman was slender and dressed in elegant burgundy robes, trimmed with gold thread. Her shiny, black hair was pulled back with a silver clasp, allowing the ends to flow down her back. Her red lips parted in a smile, revealing rows of perfect white teeth.


“How may I assist you?” She said in a husky voice.


“A-are you, Riyun?” Casey said, still unsure of the pronunciation.


“Yes, I’m Rhiun,” she said, enunciating her name as if speaking to a small child. “And you are the traveler, I presume.”


“Yes, I think. How did you know that?”


“I have many ears around Aveinha. Please, have a seat,” she waved her bejeweled hand toward the bench across from her. Casey sat and shifted, wincing as splinters from the rough-hewn bench stabbed him in the ass.


“I heard from someone that you can get me home.”


“And where is home?”


“Los Angeles,” he said, the words feeling strange in his mouth, considering where he was.


“Los Angeles,” she said, slowly, contemplating each word. “That is a peculiar name. In what tongue is that?”


“Spanish.”


Rhiun nodded, no doubt having zero clue what Casey was talking about. “Unfortunately, I am unsure of how I to help you get home, considering I have never heard of such a place. How did you get here?”


“I don’t know. I was driving my car,” Casey paused when he saw a look of confusion on Rhiun’s face.


“A wagon that can move without a horse. It was night, and I couldn’t see very well. I followed the road around a bend. Then, I woke up in someone’s bed. In a house, about an hour’s walk from here.”


Casey thought he saw Rhiun’s eyes widen when he said the last part. Did she know more than she was letting on?


“A very interesting story, indeed,” she said. “Carriages that can propel themselves. A strange land called Los Angeles.” She paused, causing Casey’s hopes to deflate. What would he do if she couldn’t help him? How would he get home? Would he have to spend the rest of his life living here? His heart raced, and he felt like he was choking on the smoky air. “But! I may be able to help you.”

Casey’s worries dissipated as quickly as they had come. “Really? Thank — .”

Rhiun held up a slender, manicured finger. “Before I can help you, I need you to do something for me.”


“Sure, anything,” Casey said, nodding. He would cut off his left arm if it meant getting back home.


“I need you to travel to another town to retrieve something for me. Something that may allow me to get you home.”


“So you know how I got here?” Casey exclaimed. “How? How did I get here? What is this place?”


“I believe your presence here results from the use of strange magics. But if you retrieve what I need, then I may be able to return you to your own world. First, let’s get you some proper clothing.” Rhiun stood, gesturing for Casey to follow her. Casey stood and fell in line behind her, when she turned and said, “Don’t forget your ale.”

* * *

Casey sat alone in the back of the carriage that Rhiun had hired. He felt ridiculous in the clothes she had provided to him. A linen shirt with a deep v-neck and balloon sleeves that felt like it was three sizes too big. To go with the shirt, she gave him a pair of brown woolen pants and leather boots. While he was less conspicuous than before, with his filthy t-shirt and torn sweatpants, he didn’t like how the villagers kept referring to him as “m’lord.” Rather than feeling deferential, it felt like they were making fun of him.


“So…what’s your name?” He asked the driver of the carriage to break the uncomfortable silence that had enveloped the carriage since they had set out.


“Ilden,” he said in a gruff tone and offered no more information.


“Hi Ilden, I’m Casey.” He paused, unable to think of what else to say before adding, “It’s nice to meet you.”


Ilden grunted and cracked his whip at the team of horses, who then picked up the pace. Casey guessed that was about as much conversation as he was going to get out of him. He looked to the side of the dirt trail that wove between grassy hills and fields of grain. The sun was directly overhead now, but the temperature still felt mild.


The sun had shifted slightly toward the west when they had arrived at the outskirts of the town Rhiun had sent him.


“Yer here,” Ilden said, nodding toward the road as it snaked through the village.


“Where’s here?” Casey asked. Rhiun hadn’t told him the name of this place, much less anything else that could have been helpful. When the carriage arrives, go to the tavern in the center of town. Ask for a man named Gilmyn. Do not fall asleep.


“Viarin,” Ilden said. Casey hopped off the carriage and took a step towards town. “Might do ye well to be careful if yer runnin’ errands fer the likes of Rhiun,” Ilden said, startling Casey. “‘Specially with the Circle crawlin’ all over this place.”


“Thanks,” Casey said, more confused than he was. But now, his confusion was enhanced with more anxiety.


“I’ll be here waitin’ when yer done.”


Casey didn’t get quite as many stares as he did when he first entered Aveinha, but he still got some stares and hushed whispers as he passed. He also noticed there was a completely different Viarin, as there was in Aveinha. For one, it was cleaner and didn’t smell nearly as bad. Most of the streets were paved with cobblestones rather than dirt and mud. The tavern was fairly easy to find; it was one of the larger buildings in the town.


Casey opened the door to the tavern and stepped through. The tavern’s setup was different than the one in Aveinha. But it was just as dark and smoky. The bar was along the back wall of the tavern, directly opposite from the door. Instead of long tables and benches, it had smaller tables with chairs arranged around it. The patronage appeared to be of the same caliber, though; mostly peasants and heavily armed men that Casey assumed were mercenaries.


“Excuse me,” Casey said when he got to the bar. The barman grunted in response, turning toward him. “I’m looking for someone named Gilmyn.” The barman jerked a thumb toward a group of tables to his right. They were all empty, except one where a large bearded man with dark leather armor sat.


The man sat with his head down, staring into the bottom of a metal tankard. As Casey approached, he stepped on a creaky floorboard, and the squeaking noise caused the man to look up.


“Hi, are you Gilmyn,” he said. The man nodded. “Rhiun sent me — .”


Before he could finish, Gilmyn cut him off, “‘Bout bloody time. I have been sittin’ here on me arse fer four days. If’n I stay any longer, the Circle’s bound to find me and cut me bollocks off.”


“Um, yes, that doesn’t sound like a good thing,” Casey said, unsure of how to respond. “Did you have the thing that Rhiun wanted me to pick up?”


“Aye, and I’m glad to be rid of this cursed thing,” Gilmyn said, tossing a satchel to Casey. He stood up, towering over Casey. Gilmyn bent down and whispered in his ear, his breath smelling like a mixture of ale and something rotting. “Ye better take that and get out of here, boy. If ye know what’s good fer ye.” With that, Gilmyn staggered across the tavern and out the front door.


Casey wondered what the “Circle” was. That was the second time someone had mentioned it, with frightened and conspiratorial tones. If someone as powerfully built and well-armed as Gilmyn feared them, then Casey didn’t want to find out who they were. Casey hefted the satchel on his right shoulder and went the way Gilmyn had walked. When he was near the door, he bumped into what appeared to be a soldier, wearing chain-mail armor and a red tabard.


The man turned to face him, boring holes into Casey’s forehead with his stare. He had shoulder-length, stringy blond hair. His face was a map of wrinkles and scars, with the most prominent one down his right cheek. “Oops, sorry,” Casey said on instinct as he walked out the door. As he walked back to where Ilden had the carriage parked, he turned to look behind him and saw the man he had bumped into leading two other soldiers out of the tavern. Casey began walking faster. He wasn’t sure who those men were, but he didn’t want to stick around and have them gain an interest in him.


Casey reached the outskirts of Viarin, but Ilden and the carriage were nowhere to be seen. He saw an old man sitting in the shade of a large tree near the road. Casey remembered him sitting there when he arrived. Surely he would have seen where Ilden went.


“Excuse me, sir,” he said, approaching the man. “Do you know where the carriage that was parked here went?”


“Aye,” the old man croaked. “Took off down the road, he did. Driver must’ve got spooked when he saw them Circle boys.”


“Who is the Circle? Is that like a group or something?”


“Aye, the Silver Circle. They say they guard the people of the realm from the evils of black magic.”


“Then why are people so scared of them?” Casey asked. Was Rhiun practicing black magic? Was magic even a thing here?


“The Circle has a very loose interpretation of black magic,” the old man said, wiping his nose on his sleeve. “Usually just a reason for them to kill and steal as they please.”


Great, if the Circle was here, then Casey needed to get out of here quick. But that was easier said than done without a carriage. He sighed and asked, “Well, what do people in the Circle look like?”


“Turn ‘round and look for yourself,” the old man pointed towards the town.


Casey turned around and saw the man he had bumped into inside the tavern. “Shit,” he groaned as he took off down the road.


 

Casey had been alternating between running and walking for about an hour. He had long since left the main road and was following a stream that headed in the general direction of Aveinha. Or at least what he thought was the general direction. He was kicking himself for trying to make small talk with Ilden and not paying attention to where he was going. That asshole didn’t even bother to wait for him like he said he would.


The billowy shirt that Rhiun gave him was drenched in sweat and clung to his body like a wet sack. He stopped every now and then to catch his breath, making sure he was somewhere that no one could see him. The sun hung lower in the sky, casting long shadows of trees across the ground. Late afternoon. He couldn’t believe that he had been here for almost a full day. It was going to be night soon, and he was stuck out in the middle of nowhere. To top it all off, he couldn’t go to sleep. What would happen to him if he fell asleep? Who knew? It’s not like Rhiun, or anyone else here has been a wealth of information.


Unable to walk any further, Casey collapsed onto the ground. His body felt like he got hit by a truck. Everything was sore. His back and right arm from the heavy satchel he had been lugging around since Viarin. His legs from all the running and walking he had done today. His feet from the boots’ shitty arch support and the crop of blisters from shoving his bare feet into them. Apparently, socks were also a luxury here.


Casey picked himself up off his hand and knees and leaned against a large tree. “What the hell is this thing, anyway?” He undid the clasp of the satchel and opened the flap. Inside was an old book, much like the one Rhiun had been reading at the tavern. The book was bound in smooth tan leather, and the title was embossed in gold on the cover. At least he was pretty sure it was the title. It was in a language he had never seen before. The spine creaked as he opened the book and flipped through the thick handwritten pages. While he couldn’t understand the words, the pictures were intriguing. They looked like something you’d see in old medieval tapestries. A bunch of knights are about to do battle with some mythical creature. Next, a panel shows the knights defeating the creature and locking it inside a castle. Then, some pictures of people sleeping —.

Casey’s concentration snapped when he heard hoofbeats. He wondered how far he was from a road. He had run in a direction perpendicular to the road for quite a while before he found the stream. But he guessed it was possible that the road bent toward the stream or the stream toward the road.


“My lord!” someone shouted, as if in response to Casey’s train of thought. “Here he is!” There was a man on a horse on top of a low rise, above the stream. He wore the same chain mail and red tabard as the man Casey had bumped into at the tavern. A circle was stitched on the front in silver thread.


Casey threw the satchel on his back and ran. Ahead was a forest. He thought that if he could reach it before the soldiers caught up to him, maybe the trees would be too close together for them to ride fast through it. Behind him, Casey heard the deafening sound of hoofbeats, the heavy breathing of horses being ridden hard, and the clanking of heavily armed and armored soldiers. Casey was almost at the tree line. His body cried out in the language of excruciating pain as he pushed himself to run faster. Just a few more steps and he would be —.


Casey felt something heavy hit him between the shoulder blades, sending a blossom of pain across his back. Casey fell to the ground and landed on a rock, knocking the wind out of him. He struggled to catch his breath and to get up, but it was no use. He felt the cold, sharp metal of a sword press against the back of his neck.


 

Casey felt a boot kick him in the ribs and roll him over. A soldier who looked to be no more than 16 years old stood above him, with the tip of his sword pressed against Casey’s neck.


“Send word to Lord Gredus!” The soldier shouted behind him, not taking his eyes off of Casey. “I caught the abomination!”


“Look, I’m no abomination. I’m just trying to get home.” Casey said, trying his best to pull off a calm and charismatic tone. However, the words came out in a halting cadence, making him sound a little like William Shatner but with a shitload of anxiety.


“Silence!” the soldier shouted, pressing his sword harder into Casey’s neck. Casey heard another soldier approaching from behind the one who had him subdued. The hoofbeats stopped, and he saw someone with dark brown boots walk up to the soldier. Casey looked up, and it was him. The soldier he had bumped into in the tavern in Viarin.


“Good work, lad,” he said, patting the younger soldier on the back.


“Thank you, my lord,” the young soldier said to Gredus, clearly in admiration of him. Casey silently marveled at how much respect the young soldier said, “my lord.” It sounded nothing like the townsfolk when they said it to him.


Two burly soldiers came from behind Gredus, and each grasped Casey by an arm, hauling him onto his feet. The two soldiers dragged Casey back the way he had come across the field, then across the stream, and finally to a wagon sitting on the road a few yards from the stream. Casey no longer wondered how they could have found him. He hadn’t realized he was so close to the road. He could have kicked himself if he wasn’t being dragged against his will.


The wagon was little more than a cage on two wooden wheels. It was made of wooden rods, tied together with heavy rope. One guard undid the clasp keeping the cage door shut, while the other put a burlap sack over his head. Then they unceremoniously threw Casey into it. Finally, the guards chained his hands on the floor of the wagon and shut the door.


Casey sat on the wooden floor of the cage wagon. The guards had chained his hands behind his back so that he couldn’t remove the sack. Outside, the sounds of a flurry of activity permeated the cage and filtered through the hood. Hoofbeats from soldiers presumably arriving back from searching for him. A gruff voice that commanded, “Fall in!” The cart shook, and he heard the thud of what Casey thought was someone sitting down. Then he heard the crack of a whip, and the cart lurched forward.


Casey wasn’t sure how long they had traveled before they finally stopped. It could have been an hour, or it could have been 5. He was too busy trying not to throw up with the back-and-forth swaying of the cart. However, less and less light shone through the fibers of the hood, and the air grew a little chillier. Mercifully, they finally stopped. Behind him, he heard the jangling of keys and felt someone working the lock binding his hands. The cage door creaked open, and someone yanked him out of it by the collar of his shirt. Two burly hands grabbed each of his arms and dragged him for a few feet, then down a flight of stairs. One guard removed the hood, and the two threw him onto the ground. While Casey got his bearings, the guards disappeared up the stairs and through a door, shutting it behind them.


Casey looked around but could not see much in the darkened room. He stumbled around, trying to get an idea of where he was by the feel. He felt the splintery wood of something round and about waist high. Probably a barrel. He bumped into a wall, his fingers scraping on cold stone. If he had to guess, he was in some sort of cellar.


Casey heard the creak of the door behind him, and warm light flooded into the cellar. Three men descended the stairs, two of them with lanterns. The third was the one he had bumped into in the tavern. The one, the young soldier, had called “Lord Gredus.”


“I apologize if these accommodations leave a little to be desired,” Gredus said as he hit the bottom step. “It is difficult to find proper lodging when traveling.” The lantern light reflected off of Gredus’s face, accentuating the deep crevices of scars. Combined with the smile on his face, this made him look even more sinister than Casey had already thought.


“What did you want with me?”


“Just to talk about what you were doing in Viarin,” Gredus said, pacing around the room. “Who sent you there?”


“No one,” Casey said, lying on instinct. He didn’t exactly trust Rhiun, but he trusted this guy even less. What’s not to trust about someone whose soldiers chase you down and lock you in someone’s basement. “I went there on my own.”


“Are you certain? Because I’ve heard whispers about you from Aveinha.” Gredus was staring at him, and it felt like his eyes were boring into Casey’s soul. Casey sat as still as possible, trying not to respond to any of Gredus’ questions. “Appeared in a farmer’s home from thin air. Arrived in Aveinha dressed in strange clothing.” Gredus paused for an uncomfortably long moment, waiting for Casey to say something or react in a way that would give him away. “Spoke to a black mage in the town inn. Someone named Rhiun.”


Casey blinked. It was clear Gredus knew everything about him. Why was he asking these questions then? What did he want then? Probably another piece of information he didn’t have but thought Casey did.


“Is that look I see on your face recognition? Maybe I can make it worth your while to tell us what you know. Wouldn’t you like to know how you came to this world?”


Gredus paused as his words permeated Casey’s consciousness. Casey opened his mouth, then closed it. How would Gredus know how he got here? Is Gredus a mage too? He seemed to be even less helpful than Rhiun in getting Casey home if that was possible.


“But if you won’t respond to the carrot, maybe you will to the stick. My associates here are experts in loosening the tongues of those who feign ignorance.” The two burly soldiers flanking Gredus stared at Casey, presumably imagining doing horrible things to his extremities.


“Think about it. But not for too long; It’s getting late. Didn’t your friend Rhiun say not to fall asleep?” Gredus gestured toward the stairs, and the two burly soldiers followed him up.


How did he know that? Casey wondered as the door slammed shut, leaving Casey in darkness. Maybe he heard it from one of his spies in Aveinha. It wouldn’t have been that hard for one of them to hear the conversation he had with Rhiun in the tavern. But didn’t she tell him about not falling asleep when they were in private?


Casey crumpled to the floor as the questions swirled around in his mind. He felt like a toy being fought over by two spoiled children. One, trying to manipulate him into doing some unknown task, and the other tries to get him to do another using threats. Casey rested his arms on his knees and his forehead on his arms. He felt the energy drain from his body and into the dirt floor of the cellar. He felt the events of the day weigh down upon him. How long had it been since he had woken up? Casey wondered what would happen if he fell asleep. It couldn’t be any worse than what he was going through now.


As Casey sat, pondering his situation, an unknown amount of time passed. He didn’t know how long it was. It could have been a few minutes or a few hours. It all felt the same, sitting in the dark, alone with his thoughts. Outside, he heard a crash that made him jump. It was immediately followed by shouting and the clanging of metal striking metal. Then an explosion rocked the structure above him, causing dirt to filter down from the ceiling. The door to the cellar flew open, nearly coming loose from its hinges. Faint torch light filled the inky blackness of the cellar. The silhouette of an enormous man blocked the torchlight for an instance. Casey squinted to see who it was. Could it be…


“Oi, get off your arse, and let’s go!” Gilmyn shouted. Casey jumped up and ran towards the stairs.


 

Casey reached the top of the stairs and felt the cold air caress his face. He took a deep breath and felt the sweet air, tinged with smoke, fill his lungs. Despite the smoke from the copious amount of buildings on fire, the air was still fresher than in the cellar. He followed Gilmyn through a maze of destroyed buildings, smashed carts, and broken Circle soldiers.


“How did you guys find me?” Casey asked, equal parts relieved and suspicious. Did Gilmyn follow him from Viarin? Casey wasn’t sure how he could have, since he had run all over creation trying to evade the Circle.


“Rhiun,” Gilmyn said as if the answer were perfectly obvious. “She has the Gift of the All-Seeing Eye.”


“What the hell is that?”


“Save yer questions for after we get out of this hive of wretchedness.”


Casey stopped. “Fuck that,” he said, clenching his fist and digging in his heels. He had been jerked around by Rhiun, Gilmyn, and the Circle ever since he arrived. “I’m tired of being dicked over by all of you.” Gilmyn stopped and spun around. Casey looked him in the eyes, trying to will his knees to stop shaking. “I’m not doing shit until I get answers.”


“Well, if ye want answers, there she be,” Gilmyn said. Casey turned around and saw Rhiun emerge from the smoke of the burning village, or whatever this place used to be. A Circle member ran up to her from behind, holding his sword high above his head. Without looking, she held up her hand and flicked her wrist. A bolt of energy shot out of her hand and enveloped the soldier. The soldier stopped and his body shook violently before collapsing.


“Jesus, is that guy gonna be okay?”


“No, he’s dead,” Gilmyn said, then called out to Rhiun. “Ye get it?”


“I did,” she said holding up her non-magical killing hand. She held the book Casey had been sent to retrieve. It had what looked like a silver necklace wrapped around it. “And I see you have retrieved the last piece.”


“Aye,” Gilmyn said. Before he could continue, Casey cut in.


“Ok wait, so why — .”


Rhiun narrowed her eyes at Casey, looking at him as if he were some sort of curiosity. “Oh, he has questions,” Gilmyn said, gesturing to Casey, irritation plain in his voice.


“I am sure that he does,” Rhiun said, as she joined them. “Come, I will explain on the way,” she sighed and started walking towards the woods.


Casey followed Rhiun and Gilmyn into the woods that bordered the settlement. They approached a carriage sitting just inside the treeline. Gilmyn climbed into the driver’s seat, and Casey followed Rhiun inside.


“So, you have questions,” Rhiun said, climbing into one seat as Casey took the one across from her. “I’m sure all this is very confusing for you. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.”

Casey opened his mouth, then shut it again. Now that he was talking to someone who seemed willing to answer his questions, he froze. All the questions he has had over the past day swirled around his mind as he tried to pluck one out, only for them to slip from his grasp. “What’s the Gift of the All-Seeing Eye?” He finally choked out.


Rhiun pondered the question for a long moment as if she were trying to condense eons of knowledge into a succinct answer. “Well, it’s a power I have that allows me to see through someone else’s eyes. As long as I have something that belongs to them.”


“What do you have of mine?”


“Your clothes,” she said. “Using your shirt, I performed the incantation to look through your eyes on your journey to Viarin and on your flight from the Circle. Based on where they captured you and where their keep is located, it was a simple process of elimination.” Rhiun gestured with her hand, like the solution to the problem was completely obvious. Casey half expected her to say elementary somewhere in the explanation.


“That guy… the dude that’s in charge of the Circle,” Casey said, struggling to think of the name.

The day was taking its toll on Casey’s mind. His brain felt like it had been through a meat grinder.


“Lord Gredus,” Rhiun said, helping him out.


“Yes, Gredus! He said I was an abomination. And you were a ‘black mage — .’”


“What do you think of when you hear the term ‘black mage?’” She asked, cutting him off.


Casey thought for a second, pictures of the villains from different fantasy novels flashing in his mind. “Some… evil guy, or person. Uses magic to kill people.”


Rhiun chuckled, “Such simple ideas. Unfortunately, ones that the Circle leverages for their own gain. Magic is not inherently good or evil. It just is. I could use my powers to help a farmer’s crops grow, and it would be called a miracle. Or I could use them to kill the crops, and it would be called an abomination. Yet I would use the same powers for both tasks.”


“So, why’s the Circle going around, rounding up mages then? Why’d they call me an abomination?”


“The Circle, especially Lord Gredus, is a group of religious fanatics who take barbaric pleasure in torturing people under the guise of purging them of dark magic.” She sighed, then continued, “As for calling you an abomination, they likely knew where you had come from and that I had sent you there. They have spies everywhere.”


Casey nodded in explanation. Everything Rhiun was saying made perfect sense. Gredus seemed like a psycho. So did his soldiers. Yet, something still wasn’t sitting right with Casey. Rhiun had called him the last piece earlier. She also had the book she sent Casey to fetch, but the necklace…


“Did you send me to Viarin knowing the Circle would capture me?”


Rhiun stared at him with piercing eyes but didn’t speak. Casey shifted nervously in his seat.


Finally, she said, “Yes, to get the necklace. I knew Gredus had it on his person, but it was too risky to attack them outright at their keep. And, I do not have any thieves in my employ. But, I had a hunch that if I had sent you and the tome to Viarin, then they would leave their keep to capture you and the book.”


“So you used me as bait,” Casey said, a crawling feeling spreading over his skin. He wondered what would have happened if Rhiun’s hunch was wrong. But she didn’t exactly look like someone who made a habit of having wrong gut feelings.


“Yes,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone.


Casey shook his head. It was nice that she had rescued him and was finally answering his questions. But he wasn’t getting a warm, fuzzy feeling that she wouldn’t dispose of him as soon as he had outlived his usefulness. Casey wondered who the good guys were here, or it was just a world full of villains. “So, what happens now? Are you going to send me home?”


“Yes, I have all the tools I require to send you back to your universe. We just have to go back to Aveinha to perform the ritual.”


“Why do we have to go back there? Why can’t we just do it here if you have everything?”


“You’ll see,” she said, turning her head toward the window.


 

You’ll see. Rhiun’s words echoed in Casey’s mind the whole way back to Aveinha. Casey shuddered at the thought of what that might mean. Either it was something that Rhiun couldn’t explain. Or, it was something so horrific that she couldn’t form the words to explain. Neither explanation sat well with him for the rest of the carriage ride.


They pulled into Aveinha just as the moon was rising, casting a faint glow over the town. Casey pondered how long he had been awake, and how long days actually were here. His body felt like he had just pulled three all-nighters in a row. Casey followed Rhiun into the tavern. Most of the patrons had formed a half-circle in front of a bard. Casey slowed down as he heard the lyrics of the song the bard was singing.


Gather ‘round my friends

And hear my tale of wonder.

’Tis about a simpleton

Who tore the Circle asunder.


“Is she singing about me?” Casey called to Rhiun. “I mean, none of that’s true if she is.” And simpleton didn’t exactly sound complementary.


Rhiun dismissed the question. “Bards sing about all manner of things which never occur. Follow me.”


Rhiun walked behind the stairs that led to the second floor. Casey wondered what they were going to do since there was no door. Rhiun waved her hand in front of the wall behind the stairs, and the wall vanished, revealing torch-lit stairs leading to a chamber under the tavern.


“Is the owner of this place cool with you doing magic stuff under it?”


“They should be,” she said, descending the stairs. “I’m the one who owns it.”


At the bottom of the stairs, the room opened up to a vast chamber, with walls of stone and lined with shelves upon shelves of books and oddities and jars filled with what looked like body parts. Overhead, Casey saw the wooden beams supporting the tavern. In one corner was a workbench that looked like a sinister science kit, with numerous glass vials and beakers containing liquid of every color imaginable. In the other corner was…


“What the fuck is that?” Casey asked, pointing at a floating strip of light. It was nearly as tall as the chamber’s ceiling and took up an entire corner. The more Casey looked at it, the more it seemed to shimmer and change color.


“That is why I need to get you back to your world.” Rhiun set the book and necklace on some kind of podium positioned near the light strip.


“Yeah, but what is it?”


“It’s a rip… in the fabric holding the universes together.”

Casey’s eyes went wide. “Universes? Like parallel universes?”


“Yes, an infinite amount. And they are bound together by a sort of fabric that keeps everything together and prevents things or people from going between them.”


“So that’s why I’m here? It ripped and crapped me out in that dude’s house.”


“Yes, that is the gist of it.”


“But why me? Why was I the one who fell through the rip, or whatever?”


Rhiun stopped what she was doing, looking down at the book and amulet in front of her. “The link of the one who tears the fabric is the one to get pulled through.”


“What?” Casey felt a dull throb in his temples and rubbed them. “What does that even mean?”


Rhiun looked up. “I was the one who caused the tear. And the tear pulled you through because you are my link to your universe. To put it simply, you are I are one and the same.”


The throbbing from Casey’s headache intensified at her words. He felt a twinge in his chest as if his heart stopped mid-beat. He wanted to ask so many questions at once, but all his mouth could say was, “But, I’m a dude.”


Rhiun scoffed. “Gender means nothing. It’s a concept that differs between universes based on the enlightenment of its people. Or the lack thereof, in the case of yours. For instance, here, gender is more of a sliding scale. And where you fall on that scale can change at any time.”


Casey nodded as if he understood, yet his brain was uncooperative in processing the information.

“So, are there others of…us…in the other universes?”


“In some, yes, in others, no. It all depends on how the universe developed.”


“So, if we’re the same person, then why don’t we look anything alike?”


“Our bodies are just a vessel to hold our essence. Our nayaza. The vessel does not matter, only the soul.”


Casey shook his head in amazement. “How do you know all this stuff? Is there a school or something where you learn all of this?”


“Every universe has those who can see into other universes or those who can touch them. I am blessed with the gift of being able to touch them.”


“Shit,” Casey said, his eyes burning from not blinking for some time. “So, does that mean there’s something special about me? Can I see or touch the universe too?”


“No,” Rhiun said flatly. “Other than being my link, there’s nothing special about you.” She held out the necklace in her hand. “Here. Take this and stand next to the tear.”


Casey fetched the necklace from her and looked at it while he walked toward the tear. The chain was made of silver, and a massive jewel hung from a silver loop fused to the top of it.


“So, how did you make the tear?” Casey asked when he stopped next to it.


Rhiun flipped through pages of the book while she answered. “I attempted a new incantation, and unfortunately, this happened.”


“What was the incantation supposed to do?”


“Not this. Now, put the amulet around your neck.”


“What is it?”


“It’s a focus of sorts. It will concentrate my powers into you and transport you back. Without it, you would be reduced to a pile of ashes.”


Casey froze as he was putting on the amulet. “So, you’re sure this will work, right?”


“No, but it has the best possibility of success.”


Casey’s heart raced, and his hands trembled as he finished putting on the amulet. “So, shouldn’t we wait until you find something that will definitely work?”


“We can’t. If you stay here for much longer, the tear will widen, enveloping both of our universes and eventually the others. Also, the incantation only transferred the waking part of your nayaza here. If you fall asleep, you have no sleeping mind to take over and you will die.” Rhiun stopped flipping pages and looked at him. “Do you have more questions, or can we continue?”


Casey shook his head. Those were more answers than he imagined he could ever get out of Rhiun. If they were true, he wasn’t sure. But the longer they were together, the more he felt like he could trust her. Like they were on the same wavelength. Maybe she was right about the whole “you are me” thing.


“So, what do I do?”


“Just stand there and don’t speak.” Rhiun raised her hands above her head and chanted something in a language that sounded like nothing Casey had ever heard. Balls of orange light formed in her hands, growing to the size of softballs. They emitted snake-like wisps of light that encircled her arms, then her torso, and finally her legs. As she chanted, the light became brighter and brighter. It became so bright, it was like trying to look directly at the sun. Casey turned his head to spare his eyes from the blinding energy.


“VA MAKHZA!” Rhiun shouted, pointing her hands at Casey. All the light encircling her collapsed into a sphere about the size of a flashlight for a split second before blasting into the amulet. Casey’s body writhed and contorted as the energy permeated him. The room seemed to be getting smaller, and it felt like he was falling through a tunnel until everything turned to white.


 

The lights of the oncoming car blinded Casey, as he jerked the wheel toward the side of the road. He felt the front end of the other car slam into the side of his car, throwing him into a spin. The back end slammed into the guard rail, catching for a moment, before giving way and letting the car roll down the ravine.


 

“CLEAR!” someone shouted as they pressed cold metal to Casey’s chest. Another shock of energy exploded into his chest, causing his whole body to convulse. He tried to look around, but his vision was blurry. All he could see was a bright light and flashes of color. Casey closed his eyes.


 

Casey opened his eyes again and saw another light. This time, it wasn’t as bright and was in the shape of a rectangle. He heard a faint chirping sound coming from the distance. He blinked a few times as his vision came into focus. Surrounding the light were rectangular panels with tiny divots in them. Ceiling tiles. He tried to turn his head but couldn’t. Some unseen force was keeping his head in place.


“Hey, hey, don’t move,” a soothing female voice said as he felt a warm hand touch his forehead. A woman’s face appeared over him. She was pretty, and her face had the lines of someone approaching their 60s. His mother.


“Wh-where’s — ,” Casey tried to say but ended up making a croaking sound. His throat felt like he had swallowed a bag of sand. Casey tried to move again, but invisible bonds held him down. It felt like a cocoon had encased his body.


“Casey, it’s okay,” his mom repeated, her voice soothing his nerves.


“What happened to me?” He croaked.


“Car accident, up in the hills,” she said, continuing to stroke his forehead. “Your heart stopped in the ER, but they brought you back.” Tears welled up in the corner of her eyes and dripped onto him. “I’m sorry,” she said as she grabbed a tissue and wiped the tears off of his cheek.


“H-how long — ?”


“How long were you out?” His mom helped finish. “You’ve been in a coma for about a week. We thought you were not gonna make it for a while, but you pulled through.”


Casey heard a door swing open and footsteps clicking on the tile floor.


“And it was all thanks to your doctor,” his mother continued with admiration in her voice.


“Hello,” a familiar voice said. A woman’s voice. “The nurses told me that he is awake.”

The footsteps got closer to the bed, and a woman leaned over him. Her silky dark hair was pulled back into a bun, except for two locks which hung on either side of her head, framing her face. Her red lips smiled, revealing rows of perfect white teeth.


“Casey, this is the doctor that saved you.”


Casey stared at the doctor’s face, his eyes growing wide. He tried to blink, but it felt like his eyelids were uncooperative. He finally trained his eyes down to something hanging from her neck. It was a silver necklace, with a huge massive jewel hanging off of it. Casey stared into the jewel and saw a strip of light. The more he looked at it, the more it seemed to shimmer. And change color.

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