Freebie Mondays: Across the Realms (Story 18 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Freebie Mondays: Across the Realms (Story 18 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Since I write roughly 22 stories every year, I thought it might be fun to do a project for 2022.

In 2022, the 22 shorts I write for my blog will be taken from prompts related to the 31 stories in 31 days project from January of 2022. Each will relate to the multiverse that all of my stories take place in, and I will try to keep the main characters that appear on my blog to the background (unless I get a super cool idea).

I’ve written each of these stories on stream. If you want to witness this installment as it was crafted, the VOD is on youtube!

The prompt for this one was: “a moment of rest leads to a startling revelation.”

This prompt ties in with my Mystical Island Trilogy (and specifically would take place after the final book in the series).
. . .

Exhaustion tugged at Morulin’s eyelids and weighed her limbs. She attempted to move her fingers through a complex series of gestures, but each was halting and clumsy. Her lips could barely form the words of her chant, and her mind could no longer hold the forms and figures of the spell she was trying to weave.

She felt a slight tingle and heard a small pop as her latest attempt fizzled.

Frustrated, she leaned against a nearby tree trunk momentarily taking the weight off of her feet.

It was a mistake. As soon as her body felt an ounce of relaxation, it decided it was done and she nearly fell to the ground. Only luck allowed her to catch her back against the tree trunk and slide to the ground instead of toppling.

There she rested with limp limbs and a drooping head while a frustrated growl slid past her lips.

Magic required energy. Most mages drew the bulk of that requirement from the land surrounding them – when it was available. But every spell, no matter how it was fueled, drew some part of its casting from the personal energy of the mage that wove it.

One could not bend reality without paying a price, after all, and sometimes the cost was high.

The spell Morulin had been trying for the last several hours to weave was one of the most demanding she had ever learned. It allowed her to peer through the fabric of reality shrouding the world she currently inhabited so that she could see what other dimensions lay near this one.

Usually, she did not travel with a specific intent in mind. That was the nature of her wandering. She accepted whatever world a door opened into and moved onto the next when opportunity presented itself.

But she had been long away from home this time, and she carried information that would be best utilized by her family if it was received in a timely fashion. Given that time did not always move at the same rate in every dimension and several months had already passed since she received the tip, she was beginning to feel the strain of urgency.

She thought, at first, that her wandering steps would merely carry her in a favorable direction, but that had not been the case. Damien had given her the information she needed to shuffle through the dimensions surrounding her location like a deck of cards, but it was not easy.

And there is still no guarantee that you will be able to find the path you seek, his stern voice rang in the vaults of her mind as she recalled the lesson that provided her this skill. Not all dimensions intersect along the same path.

If she knew which dimensions the one she wanted to find connected to, she could sometimes make something like a rudimentary road map. It took a lot of hopping, but she eventually wound her way to her destination.

The trouble was that her current destination was not fixed. It hopped between dimensional spaces the same way she did. So if she started toward it now, it might move halfway through her journey, forcing her to alter direction. That might happen dozens of times without success – which was why she usually just hoped to stumble into a place adjacent to her childhood home.

She was lucky that she bonded so closely with the island while she lived on it. She might never have taken control of it, and she might not have been able to choose its path through the cosmos, but it had reacted to her presence – to her wants and needs. It had a distinctive sensation to it, like rough bark of a tree’s trunk beneath seeking fingers or the smell of lavender and lilac growing beside a garden path.

That sense of place seeped into its surroundings whenever it settled for awhile. Like the smell of fresh home cooking drifting from a mother’s kitchen, Morulin could detect it from several worlds away – so long as she was close.

It lingered long enough after the island departed that it could be tracked. But again, she had to be in the right place at the right time. And right now, she clearly wasn’t.

This process could not be rushed. She had to touch each world surrounding the one she occupied individually, reaching into the deck and pulling it free before testing it for that distinctive resonance.

Having already tested a dozen of the possibilities, she was well aware that she should simply pass through the veil and start her tests somewhere else. But it felt like a defeat, like she would have to admit she’d wasted all this time and energy if she didn’t find some hint of her desired outcome before subsiding.

Just one more spell, she urged herself silently while shaking her fingers and toes to restore some of their vitality. If she checked one more world and found no hint, she would have to rest. But she did not want to be halted before making the decision on her own terms.

She dug her fingers into the soft dirt on either side of the tree trunk and attempted to push herself back to her feet. Her muscles ached in protest, and her heart hammered with the effort.

Her cells hurt! She didn’t even know if that was possible, but she could think of no other way to describe the tingling, burning sensation that seemed to radiate through her when she tried to move.

She managed to make it halfway to her feet before her strength gave out, and she settled back against the tree trunk, her legs splayed out in front of her.

She sighed, cursing the weakness that brought her to this moment. But she was well aware that one more spell had become her mantra several hours ago, and she had woven at least half a dozen more since she first told herself that she would soon stop.

Obsession was a dangerous thing for mages. The singular focus of the mind drove them to expend every resource, every wisp of thought along the path to their destination.

Mages died from attempting feats beyond their ability. Her parents never let her forget that while she was training. Even Damien mentioned it when he showed her how to part the veil.

If I tried to walk between worlds now, I would evaporate into mist between, unable to reform on the other side.

It might even be messier than that.

Again, she sighed, but the proof was written all over her body; she needed rest. She could no longer avoid it.

Part of her wanted to curl up on a soft bed of leaves right at the base of that tree and simply allow oblivion to claim her. She would hardly notice the difference while she was drifting to sleep. But she was keenly aware that she would notice in several hours when she woke with stiff limbs and an aching back.

She needed more than just the quick recharge of allowing her exhaustion to overwhelm her. She needed deep sleep, restful sleep. And the only way to get that was to find her way back to a comfortable bed.

Ignoring the aches and protest of her body, Morulin once more fought to rise from her position. Now that she was not trying to muster her depleted reserves for another spell, now that she had nothing but a soft, comfortable bed on her mind, she somehow managed to lurch to her feet.

Each step was slow and halting, and she leaned heavily on each tree trunk lining her path but, somehow, she managed to retrace her steps to the edge of the forest.

Luckily, she hadn’t gone far from the small inn where she had been staying. She only needed to get a little ways away from people before she initiated her spell. Best that no one saw her vanish into thin air.

She practically crawled up the small set of stairs that led to her door, and barely managed to lock it in her wake before she fell into her bed.

Nothing could have moved her from that spot. She dozed for several hours before she roused enough to pull the covers over her shoulders and nestle deeper into the inviting warmth.

She could have been laying on a cloud in the midst of the universe’s greatest paradise – that was certainly how she felt when she finally released her hold over the waking world and drifted into the sweet release of slumber.

For many hours, she dreamed of nothing. She wasn’t even aware she had fallen asleep until she drifted closer to the surface of consciousness and dream images formed like tendrils around the edges of her awareness.

At first the dreams were meaningless – images and sensations she would no doubt forget as soon as she fully woke. She was familiar with these. They formed in the moment and vanished as soon as she roused, though from time to time she remembered a small part of the experience and smiled about how silly it was.

She was no longer in control of her fate, so she had no say in whether she would nestle deeper into the embrace of sleep or slide into one of those false realities her brain was on the edge of creating. There were times she thought of this sensation, this state of mind in the waking world and wished she could recreate it. She had never been much for day dreams, but she thought it would be interesting if magic could bring some of her fantasies to life.

Dangerous, but interesting.

Perhaps summoned by this thought, the dreams dancing along the edges of her consciousness finally took solid form, plunging her into a world that was like the island from her youth but governed by entirely different rules. Dreams were not bound by the laws of physics, after all, and magic woven by the mind in the dream state cost nothing.

She saw herself opening a yawning void, then stepping through to the forest where she played with her brothers growing up. The tree house they destroyed shortly before her departure was intact and served as the gateway between the world where she started and the one where she wanted to go.

No sooner had she danced down the small ladder to the forest floor than did the scene shift and she stood outside the magnificent bathhouse her parents had managed until handing the duties off to her brothers.

She expected one or both of them to prance from the door and throw their arms around her in greeting, but there was no movement beyond the grand courtyard that led to the bathhouse’s interior.

Under normal circumstance, this would have troubled her. The bathhouse was always full to brimming with life, not just from the staff but from their interdimensional visitors. She had never once seen it empty of activity.

But this was not the real world. And with the certainty of a dreamer, she knew that there was nothing to worry about as she glided up the stairs to the bathhouse’s main entry.

The hallways beyond were as empty and quiet as the courtyard had been. But this, too, seemed perfectly natural.

She knew the layout of the bathhouse like the back of her hand. The island’s primary contacts could shift it – if they so desired – but that was usually only done under extreme circumstances. The entrance to the bathhouse had remained constant the entire time she lived within its walls, so she recognized instantly that the hallway beyond was out of place. It looked like one of the corridors lined with guest rooms rather than the grand lobby where new guests were usually greeted.

This was the first indication that she was dreaming. And had she been any less exhausted, she might have tumbled back into the waking world right that very moment.

She was aware of a long exhale escaping her throat. But then she shrugged and merely traversed the corridor as if it made perfect sense for it to wait just beyond the bathhouse’s front door.

Her footsteps made no sound as her bare feet padded along the plush carpet. Unlike in the real world where each of the doorways would have been fitted with a thick wooden door, these entries stood open, revealing the contents of each room.

Rather than the beds and couches she expected, Morulin glimpsed bright sunlight beyond the first door. Water glimmered in the distance at the base of a steep hill. She recognized the green hill that stretched between there and here. A few weeks ago, she’d picnicked on that hill with a bunch of festival attendees shortly before slipping into another world.

Beyond the next doorway was a glimmer of dark forest and hints of starlight between the canopy branches.

She moved at a steady pace, spending barely a moment in front of each doorway, but she instantly recognized each landscape as it stretched out before her. There was the desert she had spent only three days in before deciding it wasn’t worth exploring. There was the windswept ocean where she had lingered for nearly three months, trying to learn the ins and outs of the strange culture that lived on its shores. There was the base of a mountain she once climbed, and in the next door was its broad, craggy summit packed with odd buildings in which monks made their homes.

Each of those rooms represented a story, an adventure she had lived in the recent past. And several of these she recognized as cards in the deck she had been shifting through while seeking her next destination.

She could return to any of these places right now, if she so wished. She discovered and catalogued these worlds while searching for a route back to the island.

But the bathhouse had not recently occupied any of these spaces, which made her pause and ponder why the dream so readily reminded her of her failures.

As far as she knew, the island on which the bathhouse resided did possess some form of rudimentary consciousness. Her mother often said it clearly knew where it wanted to go – and when – though she could override that sense of destination and replace it with another desire once their connection grew strong enough.

What was this dream trying to tell her?

She resumed her march down the corridor, checking each of the doors more rapidly. She reached the point where there would usually be a turn off or staircase, but the corridor kept stretching into infinity.

She picked up her pace until she ran through the open space, her feet slapping the carpet as she passed, though her breath never quickened. Doorways and worlds shot past the edges of her vision, new and different for long moments until the landscapes started to repeat.

So there were rules to this corridor. It did not present infinite possibilities.

At last she stumbled to a halt. In the dream, she felt as though she should be winded, though slow even breathing moving in and out of her chest.

She spun in a small circle to gain her bearings and noticed a door she hadn’t seen before. When she approached, the image beyond was shrouded in shadow, but a thin, bright strip of moonlight soon illuminated the singular room.

This was what she had expected to see all along – table, nightstand, desk. But there was a figure sleeping in this bed, and the decor didn’t match any of the styles usually included in the bathhouse.

Without hesitation, Morulin stepped through the doorway. The bathhouse faded into shadow behind her and the moonlight grew brighter.

The sleeping figure shifted, and she caught a glimpse of her own face, serene with slumber.

She gasped and her eyes flew open. The moonlight was gone and shadows clung to the corners of the space, but enough light seeped from beneath the curtains that she could see the outline of her small room.

She tossed back her covers and felt cool air caress her flesh. That was the moment she knew she was properly awake, no longer traversing the corridors of her dreams.

But it had been so vivid! So realistic now that she looked back on the experience. She could still remember the contours of each world she glimpsed through each doorway, though perhaps that was because she had so recently brushed up against so many of them.

Normally, she did not attribute specific meanings to her dreams. That was her mother’s territory. But something about this one tugged at her. Why had she been in the final room? Why had the island wanted her to be so aware of the worlds next to her?

Because that was how she felt about the dream images as they began to fade. Like the island had been asking a question.

Which door do you want to pass through?

Where do you want to meet?

A second gasp escaped Morulin’s lips, and she raised one hand to cover her mouth when it fell open.

That distinctive sensation she had spent so long looking for felt close to her this morning, wrapped around her like a familiar blanket. It was like arranging a meeting with a long lost friend and feeling the tingle of anticipation that indicated the time of the rendezvous was near.

She might not know where the island was, but it seemed aware of her location. And willing to bridge the gap.

I don’t have to go to the island! The realization washed over her like a bucket of cold water and she fell backwards to sprawl once more across her bed. The island will come to me!

But how to indicate where she intended to go?

Choose a doorway, some half-asleep portion of her brain suggested. That did, after all, seem to be the point of the dream.

No sooner had she thought it than did weight tug at her eyelids again, gently pulling them closed. Decisions were far easier to make when they weren’t over-contemplated, and she still needed a few hours of rest before she would be back in top form.

It was enough to know that the conundrum was solved. And not just this one – many more for the future!

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