Index Picture, left
Index Picture, right

Surreal Battle

This story is the result of a collaboration between myself (Paul Spooner) and my brother Ben, along with Deborah Slagboom, Andrew Wilkinson, and Jim Stankis on our private forum back in the mid 1990s. It is offered here without editorial or comment.
With the exception that I have now added Midjourney generated illustrations.

The battle was met finally over the foggy field, troops running at speeds faster than a charging horse. The weapons clashed, bent, vaporized, sublimated. The troops warped, evaporated, faded from sight. Meanwhile in the battle dimension, they fought with higher valor, better strength, mightier mind, more powerful weapons, more impervious armor. The commander surveyed the empty field, and nodded his head in approval. Everything was perfect.

Gathering up his equipment, the commander prepared for the shift to the battle dimension. Summoning his strength of will, body and mind the commander slowly dissipated in one plane and congealed in another. While he exerted himself to join his troops he thought to himself "If only it was easier to shift without fighting. Every time it seems harder!" Suddenly, with a final snap, he was there. The mountains of the battle dimension rose around him while the great chasms between them fell away into the hazy turquoise depths. Glancing upwards for a moment, he marked the Great Galaxy that dominated the sky, seeming to be supported by the near vertical mountains, each ending in a luminescent cluster of blood red crystals. But contemplation was not the order of the day. The battle demanded his full attention.

Turning his battle trained mind on the soldiers who clashed their mighty weapons along the paths which bound the mountains, he concentrated on a cluster of his troops. Slowly, their motions increased in speed, their feet left the ground, they surrounded the enemy unit, piercing the enemy's armor from all sides. Finally, even the group of superhuman opponents collapsed under the multitude of their wounds. The commander relaxed his concentration on the cluster of men. They sunk gently to the ground, exhausted, spent, and yet victorious. Suddenly, their bodies lost their shape, flowing like water over the side of the chasm and down into the swirling mists miles below. The commander was not worried; he knew that once the battle was over he would find them safe and rested upon the misty field where the battle had started. Now he turned his attention on another group. The enemy may have had the advantage in numbers, weapons, and skill, but no one can stand against an army whose commander is an Element Wielder. The commander allowed a brief smile to flicker across his face, "You are already beaten." he whispered.

Kallan dragged herself out of bed and threw on her robe. Grumbling, she muttered a few words that helped her wake up. She had never liked traveling aboard ships, even battleships as massive as the Mage's Harbinger. Walking out to the deck, she folded her arms against her chest, her large sleeves all but enveloping her lean arms.

"Good morning, mistress," the captain greeted her, "I trust you slept well?"

Kallan's sea-green eyes stared into the blue skies beyond Captain Alduz. "As well as can be expected, thank you. When will we approach the Tower?"

"We should arrive by noon-time, if the wind continues in this path."

Kallan strode past him toward the stern, wondering what would become of their nation. The Element Wielder had invaded unannounced and unprovoked. A full brigade of Elites could not hope to stand against a handful of men aided by an Element Wielder, and the enemy was taking city after city, leaving no soldiers alive.

Her people had few Wizards among them, and certainly had no Wielders. She, her region's only Wizard, had been summoned to the King's Tower, where she assumed she would meet most of the other Wizards, hoping to find someone among them who could stand up to the Wielder.

She could only hope they could.

The massive battleship cruised on, unhindered by the clouds, which lapped at its smooth stone sides. The captain knew his business, and would not sail the ship off course to the mountains below. The sky, holding the red stars that were so much more tangible in the battle dimension, was just fading from the daytime blue to the subdued dancing colors of night when the battleship reached the docks of the King's Tower. Kallan gazed up past the skydocks to the surreal staircase, which led to the Tower. Visible to nearly half the world, the Great Staircase was renowned for it's unbelievable unsupported spirals. Upwards it reached far above the atmosphere. Far above to the unmoving moon. Once there was air in that place, but the wars of magic had stripped its cloak before all destructive magic was banished to the battle dimension. Now only a crystal shroud contained the stairs and tower. Kallan once again heaved a sigh of resignation. The staircase was the only way to reach the Tower, and the Wizards refused to transport visitors. They said that it took too much energy and that the visitors could use the exercise that the eight-day walk provided. Emissaries didn't like it too much but there were several small time mages who lived at the skydocks that would transport visitors for a price. Personally Kallan thought that their prices bordered on gouging, but she couldn't afford to walk for over a week, time was too critical. " Watch the ship while I am away." Kallan called back to Alduz. "See if they don't have any pontu'rs plants, transportation always makes my wings ache!" " I'll look for it, but I doubt they will have any...besides, you can't use your wings in this thin air! They will have plenty of time to rest while we sail back to the teal sea." " I know, it's just a distraction, that's all." " Be careful up there. Wizards don't like being pushed around!" " I careful that is." As Kallan strode away she wished she didn't have to visit the wizards in their thin air and weighty rooms. She felt so much more at ease in her own country where she could float on the thick wind and breathe the scents of the teal sea. Alas, the procurement chiefs never had it easy...and Kallan was no exception.

Draccon, son of Draccor of the House of An'nila, and an elite of the Y'llthyrun, strode down the massive corridor, trailing a night black cloak, hemmed on each side by a forest of gigantic crystal pillars. Dancing among the millions crystal facets, the reflection of flanking elites darted up amid the forest of crystal pillars and joined with the flickering of thousands of others, all advancing steadily toward the invading foe. Draccon firmly gripped his Chalkin staff, and allowed a pulse of lifeforce to surge through it with each step. With every pulse, the staff's brilliant emerald honed more firmly into a fine cutting edge.

Draccon let his eye focus on the distant orb of soft blue light, his and his fellow elites' ultimate goal. As his eye reached into the distance he noted a fleeting darkness pass between two distant pillars. At that instant a subtle shift occurred in the environment as the reflected rainbow of power Chalkins sifted among the crystals. Twelve smooth beams of orange fire burst from the distance and sliced Draccon's vision in a myriad of thin facets. Then his own emerald blade cut diagonally, extinguishing seven of the fiery beams. The remaining missiles slammed into surrounding crystals and were pulsed vertically into the starry sky. As his eye locked upon is distant foe, Draccon felt his units' Battle Mage filling him with power. Raising his blindingly green weapon, he forced lifeforce across its length. A white-green rod sprung to life. He threw one side of the staff toward his enemy, letting it scythe 90 degrees about his second hold. The white beam blurred into a disk and ripped into the distance. The shot struck a pillar and was channeled into the sky along with an upward falling shower of multicolor blasts. Even as his first attack had left his staff, he swung his weapon again and fired another projectile. When he had fired two more, deflected five counter shot, and felt his battle strength waxing sufficiently strong, Draccon spun his weapon into a whirlwind of flame and unleashing a wave of blasts that split crystals asunder with their furry.

Then he felt it- the shift. All at once, his fellow elites surged into a blazing wave of Chalkin energy. All at once he was a war demi-god, a mad winged fire beast with a pillar of flame in his grasp. He could still dimly see his opponent- pathetically exposed behind the thin walls of the center-world. He could feel his prey's fear and growing anxiety. A blast of fire incinerated the weakling. But now, others were coming. A spectrum of his own brethren burst into life. Now the enemy exploded into full view. Now the world beneath the endless mountains and beneath the all-encompassing galaxy was aflame. And now was war.

The Element Wielder's lifeforce now pressed fully upon his own lifeforce. His element of green-life was squelched beneath the onslaught. What had been a level war field was now dipping quickly and threatening to drop the vanquished to the abyss of defeat. Perhaps he'd survive... but this was no time to hope for that... only hope that his present effort would hold wane the bloodmoon's crescent, could stop the coming tide. The Element Wielder was at work.

Kallan's fingers from under her wings tingled with tensed anxiety. Though they hung loosely at her hips, they were twitching form a dispel for the weighty silence which hung in the air.

Any century now...

She wryly thought. Here she was, standing in the foyer, waiting to see the Amroy. She was sure that the Kael, the young apprentice that'd led her to the waiting room, had sensed her tension, impatience and growing fear. Resisting the desire to glare at the timer palm, she merely closed her wings and re-opened them. She was sure that the reason of the delay was because the Amroy wanted to put on some grand entrance just to awe Kallan.

Come out; come out wherever you are, my sweeties. Granddam'll give you a custard pie...

Sarcastically, she mentally muttered the old ditty that the grandmothers, mothers and nurses sang to the shy or disobedient children from her country. Now she called out with it to the Kael. She was sure that by now, they would be reading some of her thoughts. And if the Amroy was as powerful as legend had it, he'd be reading her mind.

There was a swish of heavy material behind her, soft footsteps and the sound of soft breathing. Turning her dark head, black hair whipping behind, she turned toward the sound.

Swathed and hooded in a patchy brown, the figure looked more like a monk or nun from the Herbedies than an all-powerful, all-glorious Wizard. The hand holding the staff wasn't wrinkled and white, either. It was smooth caramel brown, toning with a strength. Swiftly, the free hand that was tucked in the tunic swept up and drew back the hood.

Kallan was surprised to see two golden eyes framed by arched eyebrows and smooth caramel skin looking at her steadily. Following a sculpted forehead was a mane of braided red and brown hair.

The Wizardess smiled in a queer way and said;

"My Lady Kallan D'kal, your presence surprises me,"

That was lie, Kallan knew. Nothing ever surprised Wizards. Certainly not the coming of a leader in need of Wizards, as was Kallan's case.

The Wizardess continued, her crisp matter-of-fact voice brining some humanity into the heavy, mystic laden room.

"I am Amroy Sun'Ta."

She gave a nonchalant look around the room,

"But come, we shall go to my room. Little pitchers have big ears."

With a wave of her finger, the small black and silvery waiting room vanished and in its stead, a large sunny room filled the area around Kallan.

Mildly surprised to find herself already sitting, Kallan snuck a look around the room.

Spacious, it was made out of rocks and slabs of stone. Turrets and one great, wide window let the sun and stars show through. There were no glass slabs to close them, but mere purple velvet curtains billowed in their stead. Books were piled in unruly stacks. In the middle of the floor a circle with a star and constellations were drawn. Obviously meant for the rites of a Wizard. Dried herbs hung from the rafters, along with star charts and tools completed the genuine look of a Master Wizard's room.

Sun'Ta was seated across from Kallan, her legs folded up in a meditating fashion,

"So, chieftain, you are having trouble with the Wielder, I hear. You need one of my Wizards to go back with you to help you, don't you?"

Kallan nodded, resisting the urge to fluff her wings out and stretch them. She hadn't flown in eight days, and she couldn't. Not in this thin air.

Sun'Ta's golden eyes glittered,

"Chieftain, stretch your wings out, only watch out for the juku tea."

Kallan obliged herself, but only after she'd safely placed the cup of tea in her lap. If she remembered it right, that cup of tea hadn't been there five seconds ago. Quickly, she resolved it was the Wizard, letting her skill creep into her hosting.

"And no, I did not assassinate the Amroy Ashtat."

The words were no-nonsense and startling to Kallan.

Kallan growled, her usually sing-song-voice going cool,

"Get out of my mind, Sun."

Kallan permitted herself a glower at Sun'Ta, even though it was very bad manners.

Sun'Ta nodded and nonchalantly waved a silver spoon that had suddenly appeared in her hand,

" Of course, forgive me. But it's rather hard not to read a person who's screaming. Anyways, you might as well know. I was the latest Amroy's apprentice. An Amroy who has been living for two centuries must die sometime. But no, I did not kill him to get all this." Sun'Ta motioned to the room around her and Kallan relaxed in her chair.

"I can lend you a Wizard. But it'll cost you a few ditikats."

Kallan was already feeling sick,

"How many ditikats?"

Shrugging, Sun'Ta named her price,

"Oh, say, a thousand."

Juku tea burned the way down Kallan's throat,

"A thousand? With a thousand I could buy a fleet! An entire fleet to defend my country."

The corners of Sun'Ta's mouth curled up into an unreadable expression. They both knew that a fleet would mean nothing against the Weilder.

"Well, how about this, Fraco. If you defeat the Wielder with the aide of my Wizard, we get a thousand from the spoils. If you lose," here Sun'Ta shrugged "we take it out of whatever is left of you."

Kallan nodded. It was the only thing she could do. It was the only hope for her country.

"Very well!" Sun'Ta continued, "A wizard will be ready and waiting for you down in the Entry Hall."

Nodding mutely, Kallan realized that she hadn't done any talking. Sun'Ta had done it for her.

Sun'Ta pointed a finger behind Kallan,

"There's the door down to the waiting room. You'll have quite a few flights of steps, so I recommend that you begin soon. My Kael is not patient."

The battle dimension faded, the vision of the roiling enemy grew further and further away. Draccon slid down the infinite abyss of the battle dimension, falling, falling... thud! There came a horrible knowledge of defeat. Draccon could feel the lifeforce seeping from his wounds. A green fog of pure life, slowly dissipating among the crystal towers. Broken they stood, frozen in the midst of an invisible hurricane. The battle dimension was not totally separate from the center-world, and the union was more complete this near to the second level power orb. The crystals were broken, some laying on the ground, some suspended in the air, ripped from their hold in the earth by the sheer energy of the battle dimension struggle. All around him, Draccon's fellow soldiers were faltering from the battle, some so far gone that their very bodies were sublimating, the spirit long since fled. The light fog of ebbing lifeforce was drawn into the scattered shards of crystal and condensed into drops of Chalkin energy. Draccon knew that if he could only reach a shard he could pull through, but his wounds were too much for him. Exhausted his body collapsed and the world faded to the subconscious throb of elemental fire...

Kallan ached all over when she reached the bottom of the stairs. Her wings ached from the transportation. Her legs ached from the nearly endless flights of stairs. Her head ached from the huge commitment she had just made. Her heart ached for her country... her heart the most. Her country could not afford the price, but then again, she could not let the Element Wielder reign unchallenged. This will not be easy. I hope this wizard is good...and polite. It's too much to hope for really, but we are sure paying enough. "I don't know about polite, but I am good...very good." Kallan looked up quickly, there, standing in the center of the waiting room with his back to her was the most unremarkable person she had ever seen. His hair was unremarkably brown, his voice was unremarkably plain, he was average height, average build, and average complexion. More than that, he was not a Gunteir like the other wizards, not even a Suntalku like Kallan; he was just a plain Pogat. This thought struck Kallan so hard that she blurted out, "A Pogat?"

"Yes, it is strange isn't it? No one knows why. But that makes me that much more amazing." and with that he turned around and Kallan saw what made him unique among an unremarkable people. His eyes. His eyes were so strange that it took Kallan's breath away. The whites of his eyes shifted like the waves of a still pond, indiscernible, yet profound. The black abyss in the center of his eye was ringed with fire, shifting, unrepeating, flat, yet inexpressibly deep. Then, in an instant the vision vanished and Kallan stood, breathlessly gazing into the eyes of a perfectly boring pogat. " Who are you?"

"I am called Mike, and yes those were my real eyes. I don't like to reveal them for to long since people tend to fall over when I do. Don't expect me to jump through hoops for you, I am in this to protect you from the Element Wielder." "Thank you for your courtesy, if you don't mind, I need to sit down for a minute." Kallan dropped heavily into a chair.

"I'm sorry if I have been rude." Mike blurted out, "it's just that no one takes me seriously since I'm a pogat...I just needed to impress you." Mike walked over to Kallan and muttered a few words. A breeze of healing wind blew through Kallan's soul, her wings felt like soaring, her legs felt like running, her mind was rested, awakened and quickened, her heart felt new hope...he was good, very good.

The light slowly filtered into Draccon's eyes. Someone was pressing a crystal against his forehead. The condensed life force captured in a shard of the crystal towers was flowing back into his body. Through his blurry vision he could make out a figure hunched over him. " Don't move, the Wielder will finish you off if he finds out you have survived. I will come back for you when it is safe." Draccon tried to thank the figure, but the shape fled out of his vision, and he was not strong enough yet to follow, or even turn his head. Once again he drifted into the fiery world of elite dreams.

Draccon lay among the crystals. His mind slowly recovering from the other-dimensional struggle. But around him, other things were happening. The Shattered crystals were slowly melting, flowing not towards the ground, but falling to the power orb. Slowly, the drops fell, some hitting other melting crystals, others falling on Draccon, adding to his waxing strength. Hours passed, and finally the crystals were gone. Draccon was left unconscious on a flat plain of hard stone, the power orb pulsing in the distance. Then it came, the inevitable shift. In a moment the orb vanished, then reappeared larger, more violent, the light more harsh. The second level was replaced with the third. Then, just as slowly as the crystals melted, a new forest began to grow, but this time not of pillars. This time of grass, trees, a forest of crystal plants, swaying in the otherworldly wind, which blew from the orb. In the gathering twilight, the shift was complete. And Draccon awoke.

"We should probably get going, every minute passes." Kallan addressed Mike. As she rose, she asked politely, "Would you be so kind as to transport us?" "No hoops, remember?" replied Mike firmly, "Besides, that revive took more power than it may have seemed, I need to get into practice again..." Great! Kallan thought to herself a highly unusual Pogat that is moody, self-conscious, very strong in magic, but out of practice! Mike had turned away from her as he was heading towards the stairs. Just as Kallan was thinking to herself, Mike turned his head, glared at her, and then let out a short nasal chuckle. Kallan blushed, but did not apologize, what she had thought was the truth. Mike again began to walk towards the stairs, "We will not walk the whole way, probably only a few hours until I get my strength back." at this he paused on the threshold of the Great Staircase and once again turned his head towards Kallan, "Besides, the solitude will allow you to inform me as to the situation, digging information out of someone else's brain is so messy..." Kallan decided not to ask.

The weapon was taking shape. Perhaps he should have settled for something a little less powerful. Applying a blade/fire spell to one end had used much more energy than he had expected, and most of the surrounding grass had been drained in the creation of the purematter necessary for spell fixture. Draccon wondered for the hundredth time how far the hidespell, that his unknown caretaker had cast, extended, and how long it would last. Once again, he decided that it would be too risky to expose himself to detection against so explicit commands of "don't move." Even the forging of a Chalkin weapon could be sensed, but Draccon needed something to do, and most moderate hidespells could easily conceal anything less than a duel within their scope. Setting his unfinished weapon on the dull grass, Draccon gazed once more about him, wondering if anyone else had survived the disastrous encounter with the element wielder. Even then, he realized that it was pointless, if any had pulled through, it was only with the help of the mysterious figure. And if they had evaded the detection of the element wielder, a mere elemental could not hope to see thorough the shroud. Draccon resolved to rest until the grass had renewed, so that he could continue the construction of his new weapon. Perhaps he should have settled for something a little less powerful, then again, the resources were there if he would wait for them, and he had all the time in the center-world...

Why had Mike become tired? Even Kallan knew enough about magic to realize that even a Wizard's aide could revive a hundred people and not break a sweat. Something else must be going on, but what? "Where shall we begin?" Mike interrupted her thoughts. "How about starting at the beginning?"

Kallan took a deep breath.

"My people live on edge of the teal sea. Our farms cover most of the country, most of our houses and towns are built on solid-clouds. The pogat nations to the north farm our land, and we pay them in food and weapons. Recently a force of elementals came out of the south. They met with one of our patrolling Elite forces, but the battle was short and decisive. I left immediately as soon as I heard the news that an Element Wielder had attacked. Shortly after I left we sent a force of Elemental Elites to intercept the Wielder's force at one of the power orbs. We assumed that would be one of the Wielder's objectives. I have told you everything I know, unless you want a more detailed description of Atliva."

"Thank you, but no. Your description was quite sufficient...Well, I have gotten enough power to transport, are you ready?"

Kallan stopped and turned to Mike, who continued for a few more steps. "I thought you said it would be a few hours!" Kallan said.

"And you are disappointed? Come Kallan, you don't like me that much already do you?" Mike scolded in an admonishing tone, however he immediately broke into a smile, and Kallan found herself on the deck of the battleship.

The Mage's Harbinger sailed swiftly through the open skies of En'Daëliël, making best speed for her home port. The drop in altitude was both pleasant and uncomfortable to Kallan, as the winds grew thick enough to offer resistance to her wings, but made her ears cry in anguish as she tried to pop them.

Mike, however, was only miserable. Mysteriously unwilling to spare any power to cast a regenerative spell on himself, he sat on the deck, staring only forward as the pressure difference took its toll on his body. He had lived his whole life above the thunderheads and, while the flying Suntalku were relatively unaffected by elevation shifts, Pogat physiology took much less kindly to it.

Pumping her powerful wings once, Kallan glided over to the silent Kael. "All this rush, and you won't even cast a simple healing spell?"

Mike's words were quiet and slow. "Patience. Patience. I must…rest. When the time comes, I will revive. Until then, enjoy the wind while you can."

The figure was back, crouched over and shaking him urgently. Draccon opened his eyes, and then sat up in alarm. He was sitting in the center of a rail less balcony. On one side a wall of solid stone curved nearly straight upward, until it's arch turned it into a roof. On the other side a chasm stretched as far as his eyes could reach. Draccon recognized it immediately, even though he had never been there. It was the artisan dimension. Turning, Draccon stood and faced the dark and hazy figure, "What are we doing here?" He questioned in amazement." I have completed your weapon." the figure stated, "You must stay here for as long as you can, creating Chalkin weapons. I will

assemble the rest of your men; we will be ready when you surface. I must return to my body; Use this energy, and work hard." The dark figure's hand-like blur reached towards Draccon, releasing a blazing stream of Chalkin power, which fell to the stone floor as small pyramids of shining crystal. Draccon watched as the pile of energy grew to a mound as high as his waist, and then the figure was gone. Looking around him one more time, Draccon spotted his weapon, lying on the floor near the edge of the balcony. "Incredible!" He exclaimed as he stooped to retrieve the Chalkin weapon. Its once plain hilt was now studded with chalkin energy nubs, and as he touched it, a new strength came over him, and the last of his wounds disappeared. "He must be immensely powerful, to take us both to the artisan dimension, create this mighty weapon, and then lend me a wealth of Chalkin energy..." Draccon crouched down, picked up a handful of chalkin crystals, and began to work.

Mike opened his eyes. Standing slowly he wished he had saved just a little energy to revive himself, but immediately recanted. "It is well spent." he murmured, "And it is good to be back."

The Mage's Harbinger settled lightly onto a huge white mountain. Lines were thrown to the dock, figures flashed overhead, and lighted on the sails, bringing them up and securing the ship. Kallan had flown from the ship half an hour before. Returning, she greeted Mike, who was sitting on the bow. "Mike, are you ready to go? The King is waiting to speak to you."

"Fine." was Mike's terse reply.

Swift and silent as the dusk of dust strewn mists, the Jundred Snarers slid through the spectral realm, weaving in between the wafts of space and whispering among the gaunt clouds of reality. The Eye of Element Wielder would pierce his enemies!

The seat was hard, and ill fit to Mike, but he had other things to worry about. As he was carried with the strength of two Suntalku far above the solid-clouds, Mike pondered his meeting with the King. He would probably have an assignment for him, and much to tell him. Mike was sure that Kallan had already informed the King of the outrageous price that Sun'Ta had demanded. It was of no concern. Mike would prove to them that he was worth every spare tikemeh that they would pay for him. The King will probably want a demonstration, and some assurance that I am loyal. There have been too many times when a mage has joined with an element wielder. But I will assure him.

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