Summoning an Elder God generally doesn't work out to well. Obviously, everyone involved in casting the spell gets killed—or worse—soon after the thing shows up, and the FGA takes care of whatever they've summoned before it does too much damage. But it rarely even gets to that point.
Elder Gods don't have very good senses, you see, so once you've cast the spell and got the portal open, it takes a good deal of psychic energy to lure them out. People who summon Elder Gods don't tend to have an above-average amount of psychic energy, so it takes at least twenty of them to get enough together.
Now, pretend you're the kind of person who wants to get together a cult and summon a dark being from beyond the realm of human understanding. Just don't get too deep into character. Pretend you've got enough people together who are crazy and stupid enough to want to help you—except none of them actually want to help you, so by the time you've got enough people together, you've probably found some poison in your food the hard way and there's a new guy in charge. By that time, infighting and dissension have probably turned your nicely arranged cult into more splinter groups than there were members of the original cult, most of whom either give up or earn a Darwin Award before they get anywhere near ready to summon whatever abomination they'd planned to summon.
But what if...
In the medical wing of the Goldcrst palace, the finest medical equipment and the greatest doctors in the history of Earth found themselves put to shame. Winsoria was the place for finding what was finer than the finest, greater than the greatest, and Goldcrest doubly so.
So reviving a coma patient after a car crash should have been a simply operation for Bruce Belanger, doctor of psychic surgery (PSD.)
Should have been.
As his mind reached into the dark places in the very back of the mind of 16-year-old Trisha Elliadri and began trying to gently pull her it back to the spot in her brain where it could do some good, he wasn't surprised to feel her fighting back. He knew her to be strong willed type, who would logically have a kind of psychic inertia, not allowing anyone else to change her without her consent. Still, with a bit of patience and persuasion...
It came out of nowhere.
He was hit right in the mind by a wall of psychic energy like nothing he'd ever felt before. And he'd been in labs where experiments went very, very wrong. It was like a wave crashing over the psychic landscape of everyone with even the slightest psychic training.
I felt it, sitting on my shelf in Trouble's shop, down the street from the palace.
It was felt all over the headquarters of the Federal Guardsman's Association.
King Peter and Queen Anette felt it, and called for Margaret Belanger, Bruce Belanger's wife, to explain what had happened. She had no idea.
And 16-year-old Trisha Elliadri felt it pull on the bond tying her mind to to her doctor's so hard that the bond broke and dragged her with the wave.
He felt the bond break as well. When the wave passed, he cautiously peered back into her mind, to find it empty.
He did not want to be the one to tell her parents.
This was the first time he'd had this dream, but it wouldn't be the last. It would be different every time, but Aaron Jan'gal would have some variation of this same dream every night for five years.
It was dark all around him. Perhaps dark is not the word. Perhaps it's bes to say that all around him was blackness. There was plenty of light, but there quite literally nothing to see. The sky was black, the ground was black, smooth and featureless, and they met up a long ways off at the black horizon.
He stared of into the distance, until he spotted a figure walking towards him. It was too far away for him to be able to make out any details.
He started walking towards it, slowly, slowly closer, until curiosity got the best of him. He HAD to know who he was seeing, and so he began to run. When the figure saw that he was running, it broke out into a run as well.
It got closer.
She got closer, he could tell that now.
She was brunette, hair a dark chestnut brown.
She was young, about Jan'gal's age.
She was slender and short, with ears that pointed up and behind her. Elvish. Probably female, then.
She was wearing a hospital gown, he could tell that now, but over it was a sash and on her head a tiara, like a noblewoman would wear to a special occasion. This was a psychic projection, he later realized, so of course it would show her as she saw herself, rather than as she actually was.
He stopped when she was only a few feet away.
"Let me in," she said. "Please! Let me in!"
"How do I do that?" Jan'gal asked, and suddenly, there was a door between the two of them. No wall, not even a door-frame, just a door.
"Who are you?"
"Please, let me in." She leaned around the side of the door to see him as she spoke. "I need somewhere to be safe. I don't want to die. My parents are waiting for me. Please! Let me in!"
Jan'gal wasn't cruel-hearted. He couldn't just leave the poor girl in such a panic, so he opened the door.
"Now, will you please tell me..."
And they woke up.
"Where am I?" though Trisha.
"Who said that?" said Jan'gal.
"Oh. Right." Trisha said through Jan'gal's mouth. "Now I remember. Thanks for letting me in, by the way."
"Who are you?"
"It's kind of a long..."
"Sorry, maybe we shouldn't have this conversation out loud. My friends are just outside, I don't want them to think I'm talking to myself."
"Understood. We don't want them to think you're crazy. As I was saying, it's kind of a long story."
"Well, I think I have a right to know what it is."
"Right. Of course, you do. You do have a right. My name's Trisha."
Almost definitely female, then.
"Yes, I'm a girl. Can I know your name?"
"It's Jan'gal, first son of Jan'gal. Can I know why you're introducing yourself by your English name, then?"
"Well, Jan'gal, I don't know how long ago it was, but I was..."
He could tell she was deciding how much to tell him. It wasn't just the pause, he could sense the feeling, the intention behind the words. She probably knew that.
"I was in a car accident. The next thing I knew, there was a psychic prying into my mind. For a minute I didn't know what he was trying to do, but I soon realized that he was trying to wake me up—I must have gone comatose. Then, I felt some kind of force pushing on me. It flung me out of my body.
"This wave of energy carried me for a long time, before stopping and leaving me behind not far from here. When it stopped, I knew I had to find the nearest body as soon as I could. Do you know what happens to a psychic imprint that doesn't find a body within enough time from being separated from it's body?"
"Of course I do. The separation becomes permanent, and the imprint has to choose between wandering the Earth for a while or passing on."
"And I didn't want that to happen to me, so..."
"So the rest is history. Not that I'm not glad I could help, but... Now what? I'd really like you to be somewhere else before I have to go to the bathroom or something."
And Jan'gal couldn't help but notice she hadn't answered the question.
"We just have to go back to my parents house. They'll take us back to the hospital and get this all sorted out. Why are we in a tent, by the way? Please tell me this is one of those fancy tents that you pitch right in the middle of Goldcrest, and not in the middle of some forest thousands of kilometers out of town.."
"I'm on a camp out with my boy scout troop. We're not far from town—only about a and hour and a half to drive from here to, say, the palace. So it shouldn't be any trouble finding our way back to your parents before late evening."
Jan'gal's morning prayers were quite awkward, knowing that some strange girl couldn't stop herself from hearing every word he said, especially when she passed by the opportunity to say any sort of prayer herself.
As soon as his prayers were over, he got up, looked at the door, and noticed a sleeping charm, hanging in front of the door to his tent. It was a very potent one, the kind that would allow a person to sleep through an earthquake, a hurricane, even an Elder God attack.
That could not be a good sign.
He opened the door, and found no other tent around him, nor any person or vehicle of any kind. In fact, he didn't recognize any of his surroundings, as if his tent had been picked up and moved to a different campsite in the middle of the night. In front of the door was a compass and a map, both of which, the entire troop knew, Jan'gal had no idea how to use.
"Perhaps calling my troop 'friends' was a bit much." Trisha instantly understood what was happening, seeing that his thoughts were running through her mind as well.
"How did they convince the scoutmasters to go along with this?"
"I offered them each a memory protecting totem, but they had to get the church to approve the budget for some fancy, store bought ones with lots of bells and whistles. So, since the approval hasn't come back yet, my fellow scouts were able to convince the leaders to forget that I even came on this trip with some cheep memory charms. Again. Do you know anything about reading maps?"
"As much as a muskrat knows about chess."
"So a lot more than I do."
Fortunately, though she couldn't stop herself from hearing what he thought and heard, Trisha could stop herself from seeing out of Jan'gal's eyes, so when he found a spot in the woods to do his morning business, he was able to have at least some privacy. Not that he knew that for a fact, but he'd have to trust her word. He washed his hands in a stream and went back to the tent to try to make some sense of the map.
Thought they worked together, neither of them could see any relation between their surroundings and the pictures on the page. The compass told them which way was north. Jan'gal could tell as much by looking at the moss on the trees, and neither he nor Trisha knew which way led to Goldcrest. So that was about as useful as a compass in the hands of someone who didn't know how to use one.
Finally, Trisha spoke up.
"If you're lost in the woods and don't know where to go, aren't you supposed to stay put and wait for somebody to find you?"
"Eventually, my parents will ask the scout masters where I am, they'll realize what happened and come back for me. So if all else fails, I can count on them to come find us. But first, there's something I'd like to try."
He went back into the tent. Lying next to his sleeping bag was a small, red backpack that had served Jan'gal very well for the past year and a half, and still had at least another half a year in it. Three pockets large enough for school books, two smaller ones on the sides. Plenty of space for everything he needed to carry. He picked it up by the handle on top of the bag and swung the bag around as he carried it back out with him.
He place it on the ground and unzipped the largest pocket. He felt inside for a small, round object wrapped up in an old t shirt to keep it from jabbing into his back while he wore the bag.
He unwrapped the smallest cauldron Trisha had ever seen, hardly larger than Jan'gal's fist. She didn't have to wonder for long what he was going to do with it. He pulled a another package out of the bag, unwrapping it to reveal a metal box. He spun a combination into a lock and opened it, to reveal vials of powder and liquids encased in a Styrofoam padding that kept them snugly in place. She recognized the ingredients, and thought:
"He's either trying to cause a localized explosion or cast a tracking spell. I can't think of any problem that couldn't be solved with a good explosion, but I'd be more willing to bet he's going to track down his scoutmasters."
"You're pretty close. But my scoutmaster are in cars, and I'm on foot. So if they've already left, there's no hope of catching up with them.
"So what are you looking for?" It was getting complicated for the two of them trying to talk with the same mouth, especial when the two wanted to say something at the same time, and fairly pointless, since both of them knew what the other was going to say before it was said, but it made them feel better to voice their thoughts than to communicate silently.
"I'm going to track down the largest source of magic within ten kilometers. I don't want to walk much farther than that, but once we get there, it'll have to be some kind of civilization. Either a city or a town or some lone guy in a cabin, either way it'll take us to a road and someone with a car."
"You planned for this."
"I like being prepared."
"Or perhaps experience has taught you that you'd go through something like this on this trip."
The moral of this story is, you really can't tell a half truth to someone who shares your brain.
"We should probably pack the tent up first," Jan'gal said. "The potion might not last long enough to find what we're looking for if we have to pack up the tent after it's mixed."
"This is a matter of survival. The tent will slow us down, and if all goes well, we can come back for it with someone to help us carry it."
"And if all doesn't go well, we'll need it."
"In which case, we'll come back for it alone."
Jan'gal thought about it. The tent would be heavy and awkward to carry, as would his sleeping bag. He'd hate lugging it around in the woods. On top of that, he'd need a spare hand to carry the cauldron and see where it was pointing, and with one hand holding the tent and the sleeping bag in the other, well...
"Fine. But remember, you convinced me to do this, so if it gets lost, you owe my troop a new tent."
"I think it's more the boys who dragged you out here than me."
"Oh, that's an even better idea. They owe the troop a new tent."
Jan'gal poured some liquids and some powders int the cauldron—"Are you sure you want to put that much oak shavings in?" "It's to compensate for the lack of sea salt. That's what I'd use if I had any, but this'll work just as well." "Oh, that's clever." He put the lid on the cauldron and clasped it shut. Then he picked up the cauldron by a chain that was attached to the lid and shook it. Then the turned a knob on the top of the lid opening a circle of holes around the edge.
"Fancy cauldron. Where'd you get it?"
"Troubling Magical Supplies."
He gave the cauldron one more shake, and out of each hole spilled a beam orange light, which snaked forward and made a trail for them to follow.
They set off following it, still holding the cauldron by the string.
There wasn't much to do as they walked but talk.
"I'm more of a science person," Trisha was saying. "Magic is useful and all, but you can't really explain why magic works the way it does, and that bugs my. I mean, even with science if you ask 'why' enough times it boils down to 'well, that's just the way things are,' but with magic there's so little we understand. That bugs me."
"Well, isn't that how we got most of the science we have today? Somebody said 'hey, I don't understand why this works this way, so I'm going to figure it out.' Maybe you'll be the one to figure out how magic works."
They'd been walking for about half an hour. Sometimes they talked, and sometimes they were silent. A comfortable silence. It was nice.
But there was something Trisha was hiding from him. Not hiding, so much as not telling him. He didn't want to pry, but he was curious—and perhaps a bit suspicious.
"Trisha," he said, "you say you don't like magic very much, but you know enough about it to tell what kind of potion I was trying to make. And you knew what that psychic was trying to do to you, which either mean that that kind of thing happens to you a lot, or that you have a very impressive level of psychic training. Who are you?"
He could feel something—he wasn't sure if it was fear, alarm, surprise, or... well, anything else. But it quickly became clear that she was forcing herself to think about anything but the answer.
"You know what I really like, though? Animorphs. Did you ever read Animorphs? Tobias was one of the coolest characters I ever read about. I loved when he walked into a trap to try to convince the yeerks that their anti-morphin ray didn't work. Gunnerkrig Court. I love adventure stories that aren't action stories, you know, where the hero at least tries to solve problems without violence. Most heroes these days just jump straight in, guns blazing whenever somebody steps a toe out of line. Especially children's action shows. No, we can't let the villain do anything actually evil, but to have the heroes brutally murder them is perfectly justified. That's what bugs me about Power Rangers."
"If you don't want to tell me, you don't have to."
"Thanks. Do you know how much further we have to go before we reach..."
Trisha couldn't say any more, because that was when Jan'gal clamped their mouth shut and ducked behind a tree. They had reached their destination.
"Quite. Do you see what we're looking at?"
She had, but she wasn't paying much attention to it. She was trying to hard not to answer Jan'gal's question.
"Do you think they heard us?"
"They're not looking over here."
Both of them recognized the scene before them. The only thing wrong with it was the numbers, there were only three of them, but every other detail revealed exactly what was about to happen.
Three figures stood around a bubbling cauldron, wearing dark blue robes that obscured their age and gender. There were hoods covering their heads, and none of them were facing Jan'gal and Trisha. Each robe was decorated with a series of symbols that cannot be described. As they looked at them without the proper enchantments, their eyes refuse to focus, and they blurred before their view. Each figure held a book, large and imposing, ominous, their covers the dark brown of very old covers, their pages the bright yellow of very old pages.
"Sorcery," Jan'gal thought.
"Do you know what they're trying to do?"
"I recognize those tomes. They're full of spells for summoning Elder Gods."
"Do you think we can get away before they cast it?"
"They're almost ready. We have to stop them."
Quietly, as quietly as he could, Jan'gal took the box out of his bag, poured out the potion, and poured new ingredients in. A cold fear gripped the back of his neck as he worked. He didn't want it to come to using the potion he was brewing, but he doubted his skills in diplomacy.
"It'll go off as soon as it touches the fire under their cauldron," he said.
But soon his dread was replaced with wonder, as a wave of unbreakable confidence over came him. It wasn't his, he knew right away, but Trisha's.
"Save that for a last resort," she said. "I think I can handle this."
"What are you going to... Oh, don't you..."
Trisha put the cauldron back in the backpack and stepped out from behind the tree.
"If they're smart enough to summon an Elder God with just three of them, they're smart enough to reason with."
"Excuse me," Jan'gal was terrified to hear his mouth say. "I'd like to know what's going on here, if it's not too much trouble."
Three faces turned up from their books to see a young man, his hands on his hips in a rather effeminate posture that nevertheless radiated authority. His tone and words were polite, but it was clear that what he'd said was an order, not a request.
"Well, you see, it's kind of awkward," Jan'gal thought, mostly to get his nerves under control. "It all started with a game of Dungeons and Dragons gone horribly right. You see, everything went exactly as the DM planned. That's how the he went crazy and dragged the rest of us down with him. And when we were already really upset, someone asked what we'd do for a Klondike bar, and things got out of hand from there."
"And just who are you?" asked the figure closest to them, the one holding the long, sharp, ceremonial dagger that clearly identified the leader of the group, in a definitely feminine voice.
"Oh, how rude of me. Here I am, asking about you lot, and I forget to introduce myself. Well, my name's Martin Harris, and let me tell you a little bit about myself. I'm a creative writing student at GCU, and when I'm stuck on ideas I like to walk around in this here forest and look for inspiration. And whenever I see a group of people hanging out in the middle of nowhere, I always try to find out what they're up to. So?"
"You don't look old enough to be a university student." It was the one to the left of the one who'd first spoken, and the former turned sharply to look at the former in what must have been a reprimanding look.
"You know, I am sick of hearing people say that. People say that to me a-a-a-a-l-l-l-l-l-l the time, and it just ticks me off. I mean, you had no way of knowing, so I'm not mad at you. But please don't say that again."
There was a long silence.
"You know," Trisha said, "I have a little sister. When I was a kid, when I was nine maybe, I was climbing this tree at a local park. My mom and dad weren't to far off..." they weren't alone. Jan'gal could see others in the memory, men with bullet-proof vests and guns and knives and first aid kits, a security detail. Who was this girl? "... and so I think, oh, my parents are here, I won't get hurt. So I started climbing this tree, and I don't realize how week the first branch is. And my sister was standing right behind me, wanting to go up after me—she must have been aro0und seven. And so I pulled on the first branch and managed to get myself off the ground and apparently the branch broke because the next thing I knew, I woke up in an ambulance completely hysterical. I gave the poor paramedics—that's what you call them, right?—so much trouble. I was yelling and kicking—or I wold have been, if they hadn't tied me down. I think they sedated me, because I woke up again in the hospital.
"I was up and about less than an hour after I woke up.. But when my parents took me to look at my sister, she wasn't so lucky. I'd fallen on her in such a way that I wound up breaking her leg. Don't ask me how that happened, but it did. And I felt horrible. Just felt like dirt. And I still—I mean, now I know it wasn't my fault. But I still feel so bad about it sometimes. Man, why am I sharing this with you guys? I don't know."
That was a lie. She knew exactly why she was doing it. Jan'gal could feel her trying to gain their confidence. Trusting them, so they'd trust her.
"Hey, you know, I just shared something that's really personal to me. Would you wind taking those hoods down so we can all see each other's faces? You know, so we can get to know each other." Now she was trying to make herself part of the group, including them and her in that "we."
The one with the dagger was silent for a moment. Then, the hood came down to reveal the face of a young, light-skinned woman. Mid twenties, perhaps. The other two put their hoods down. The one who'd spoken up when Trisha claimed to be a creative writing student was a woman as well, with a light brown complexion that could have belonged to any ethnicity on the planet. The third was a white man, almost completely unremarkable except for his bookish appearance, highlighted by the pair of glasses sitting on his nose.
"Fifteen years ago..." the ethnic one began.
"Don't tell him anything," the leader snapped.
"Let her talk, Liz," said the man evenly.
"Fifteen years ago, the three of us were six and seven years old. We lived in a small human village just across the river from here. Just north of where we lived was an elvish village, not quite a town, but a lot bigger than our village. Then one day the elves attacked us. We didn't know why. We were only kids. We were only..." A pause. She was having trouble going on, tears welling up in her eyes, so the man took over.
"There used to be at least a hundred people. When the elves were done, there were only six of us. The other three were all older than us. The last one died a few months ago."
The silence was solemn. Reverent.
Trisha looked at the ethnic woman.
"May I please give you a hug?" Her expression was completely serious.
"I'm alright," the woman lied.
"So what's the plan? Summon an eldricth abomination from the dark space between the dimensions, get yourselves killed but go out knowing it'll take out the elves' village before the FGA can stop is?"
"No," said the leader, Liz. "That's where the true genius of this plan comes in." She was smiling wider than any person had any right to, talking about mass murder. "We've managed to do something the most advanced magic and technology in Winsoria has never been able to accomplish. We went to Goldcrest and bought three androids. No personalities, just blank slates. And after years of research, planning, experiments, we were finally able to create a psychic link between ourselves and the machines. And do you know what that means?" She was boasting, She was the one who was enjoying this, the power, the excitement, the rush. The others were just scared and hurt and confused, and easy to manipulate. But not crazy,
"It means that right now," Jan'gal said, "your minds are spread between your bodies and the androids. As soon as you're killed, they'll switch over to the androids."
"Exactly," said Liz, her smile growing, if it was possible, even wider. "Oh, you should have been there. When we finally got it to work, there was this explosion of psychic energy. I can't describe it; it was like nothing I've ever felt before." She emphasized the word "explosion." "So we summon an Elder God. It kills us, sending us straight to Goldcrest, safely between the abomination and the FGA. Monster takes out the elves, FGA spots it and takes care of it before it can do any more damage."
"I admit," Trisha said, "it sounds like the perfect plan." She started walking towards Liz, putting herself between Liz and the cauldron—more particular between Liz and the fire under the cauldron. "Except for one thing."
"What are you doing? No, no doing that! That's my neck, mine! I like my neck, I don't have any spare necks!"
"Could you really live with yourselves if you just let that many people die? Knowing there's nobody to blame but yourselves? Why don't we find out?" She took Liz's hand, the one holding the dagger, and drew it up to her throat—Jan'gal's throat—just under the left earlobe, where the carotid artery was. Liz, in her shock, let her. "Let's just start with one our way up. How about it?"
Liz stared into Jan'gal's eyes, and saw sincerity, pleading. She knew that Trisha's words meant exactly the opposite of what she said, that she was begging her to make the right choice. She wanted to help her.
"It's not that easy when you have to look them in the eyes, is it?" Trisha said softly, gently. "When you don't have to see them, don't have to look into their eyes as their lifeblood flows out of them. You can pretend that they're not people. But they are, and you know it. And if you do this, you'll regret it for the rest of your life, and it'll only get worse with time. What if there's an afterlife? The guilt, the pain, getting worse and worse by the second, to the end of the Earth and beyond. All for something that, yeah, it was was terrible, but it happened fifteen years ago. Do any of you even know why they attacked? Maybe your village's chief was threatening to attack them. Don't do this. Please, don't."
The ethnic one licked her lips, nervously, like lubricating them would make the words come out easier.
"Listen to him, Lizzie. Don't go through with this." Lizzie turned to look at her friend. "We've... We've been so scared of you lately." The tears were coming back to her eyes.
"We never thought it would get this far," the man said. "I was even in denial when we were in the car on the way here. We thought you'd have given up on this a long time ago."
"We kept thinking, any day now, she'll wake up and forget about all of this, and go back to the old Lizzie, who used to be happy before she stopped thinking about anything but revenge."
Lizzie turned back to look in Jan'gal's eyes again. Slowly, wordlessly, she lowered the knife arm. She dropped the dagger.
Trisha put one foot one the side of the cauldron. She looked at Lizzie's two friends. They walked over and helped push, until the cauldron tipped over and fell to the ground, spilling it's contents.
"The three of you need some serious counseling. She's the one who thought she wanted to go through with this, but the two of you were willing to do it to avoid upsetting a friend. That's not a very good reason to summon an Elder God." Again, Jan'gal knew what she was trying to do before anyone else did. She couldn't let them know know what was about to happen, but in her own subtle way, she was asking for permission to do it,
"Yes sir, " the two said in unison.
"Can I get a ride back to Goldcrest?"
As five people in four bodies walked in silence, Jan'gal and Trisha talked.
"If she'd stabbed us, my bag would've fallen in the fire, and the bomb would've gone off."
"There's no reason for them to know that."
"Still. When we saw them, my first thought was to build a bomb. I went straight to violence, while your first thought was to use words."
"You'd be surprised how many problems can be solved with words."
"If I was alone, I would've gotten us all killed."
"You would've saved a lot of lives."
"You saved more."
"... Jan'gal... I don't know the city very well. I don't get out of my house much. I'll need you to lead them where we're going."
"Of course. I understand."
"And take a left here," Jan'gal said from the passenger seat of Lizzie's car, a nine passenger van with the five back seats taken out to make room for spell components; books, cauldrons, wands, potion ingredients. "And this is where we go our separate ways." The drive had been an uninterrupted stream of quiet contemplation, except when Jan'gal gave directions to the young man with the glasses in the driver seat.
The sight before them was unmistakable. There were no cars in the parking lot—employee parking was behind the building. The walls of the building were gray stone, and the great oak doorway was decorated along both sides of the frame with mystic runes and symbols that were commonly used to protect homes and residences. The only difference was that the symbols found on homes were designed for keeping people with violent intentions out, whereas these were designed for keeping people who intended to do violence in.
Atop the door was a well-known symbol with no magical influence whatsoever. A dove perched on the hilt of a sword.
Jan'gal had brought them to the local guardsman's office.
He unbuckled his seat belt as quick as he could, but Lizzie had figured out what he'd done before they opened the door. She grabbed his shoulder and growled at him.
"You're turning us in."
"You need help," Trisha said. She looked at the ethnic woman, sitting next to Lizzie in the back seat. "I have to make sure you get it."
The woman looked hurt, but she nodded understandingly, and put her hand on Lizzie's, who slowly took it off Jan'gal's shoulder.
Trisha looked at the man.
"You should have told us you were going to do this."
"Probably. But I didn't know if you'd come along quietly if I did."
He close his eyes and sighed, upset, but understanding.
"Thank you," he said.
Before the conversation had even begun, a smiling guardsman had already stepped out that great oak door, heading for the car. He looked in the driver's side window.
"Hello," he said genially. "How may I help you?"
The man put his hands over his face, then took a deep breath and took them down again.
"My friends and I would like to confess our involvement in the dark arts. We would also like to submit to the proper punishments the law would have us submit to, and more particularly to any counseling and corrective therapy."
After a bit of confusion, it was confirmed that Jan'gal was not involved in the dark arts, the guardsmen took an account of Jan'gal and Trisha's testimony, and, upon hearing Trisha's full name and having a registered psychic confirm her identity, were more than glad to help her find her way back to her parents. In fact, they insisted on sending a squadron of eight guardsmen to escort her personally back home.
When Trisha told them her name, Jan'gal felt a sense of deep rooted respect, almost reverence. Trisha cared for her name and it's honor, he realized, even more than she cared about her own life.
"Who are you?" He asked again.
And then she was humming the theme song from Greatest American Hero, concentrating on it like you concentrate when you're thirty miles above a bottomless pit with spikes on the bottom and the only thing holding you up is a psychic chain connected to a metal rod slowly turning you down, down, down, and you've got to keep the chain solid while trying to make the rod turn in the other direction.
Jan'gal gave up asking her. They both knew he'd find out soon enough. Why was she trying to delay the reveal so long? It couldn't be shame. Fear? The only time he'd felt any fear from her was when that knife was pressed against his throat. Did she just want the reveal to be dramatic when it happened?
Yeah, that was probably it.
The Guardsmen wanted to bring Jan'gal and Trisha straight to her family, which probably was the wisest thing to do. Definitely, in fact.
Unfortunately, Trisha was being difficult.
"I understand your concern, officer," she was saying to the chief of the squadron who was accompanying them, "but before I go see my parents, I have to see a man about a thing."
"Your uncle will have us all fired if we don't take you straight to the palace."
"On the other hand, of the eight of us, I am the highest ranking agent of the empire present. And if you disobey my orders, I can have you on trial for treason." This struck Jan'gal as perfectly ordinary, not because he'd been expecting it, but because being surprised simply wasn't worth the effort at this point. He also knew that Trisha wouldn't have the guards hanged, but she would see to it they were punished.
So did the chief guardsman.
"Fine. Do as you please, My Lady. You always do anyway."
Trouble was used to people coming into his shop in times of distress. Everyone knew that he had the means, the method and the motive to help the helpless and set right what was wrong. Guardsmen came by from time to time, looking for help with a case or for new useful gadgets for staying alive when a man points a gun at you.
Still, having four of them in his shop, and knowing that there were two more outside and two on the roof, was a bit unusual. Even more so just to guard one young man who was in know particular danger that anyone knew of, nor was he any member of the nobility.
When the guardsmen told him who else was sharing that young man's body, it started to make much more sense.
"Trisha," he said. "Your uncle has a quarter of all the agents in the NGA and the local guardsmen of Goldcrest and six of it's surrounding cities looking for you, and instead of going home to put your family at ease and those guardsmen at rest, you come to me. All this rebellion, breaking rules, leaving people worrying. If it was anyone else, I'd think something important was going on."
"Like the time you burned some Spaghetti and came here, nearly having a heart attack, and asked me to send you back in time so you could warn yourself not to forget to set the timer?"
"I was seven."
"Look. As you know, I'm on my way back to the palace hospital to have a psychic place my consciousness back into my own body. As you also know, the operation is known for having certain side effects that I'd like to avoid. I'm willing to offer you fifteen thousand notes if you can help me do so. Side effects? What kind of side effects? Stop that, I'm trying to negotiate here. Ooh, I don't like those side effects."
"You think I know how to make it better? I'm a wizard, not a psychic. I have no training in psyonics." But Trisha knew Trouble well enough to understand what he meant by that.
"See, there you had the chance to say that you didn't know how to make it better and you didn't, which means you do. Along with that, saying that you don't have any training in psyonics is far from saying that you don't know anything about it."
"All your life, Trisha, you've been coming to me expecting special privileges because I'm friends with your uncle, and because you have money. But it doesn't work that way."
"Oh, Evan you idiot."
"You mean Trouble? Trouble has a real name?"
"I know that now. But I also know what you're really in this business for. Sure, you like the money. But what you really love is stories. People come to you, wanting things, impossible things. You make them tell you their story, a true story, and you give them what they want. Because stories are about people, and people matter to you. Any story that can help you understand them, figure them out, you can't resist."
"You think you've got one that'll make me break the laws of psychic energy as modern medicine understands them for you?"
"I know I do."
So Trisha and Jan'gal told him about the time they saved an elven village from sure destruction.
It was quite sufficient.
My Lord Peter and My Lady Mary Elliadri were upset, sad and scared, but not defeated. These were people who had seen their nation on the brink of war, and talked their enemies out of it. People whose every decision effected the lives of millions. They worried about their daughter, but if she died or if they never saw her again, they would move on. It would take time, yes, but they would.
Doctor Balanger's career would be ruined, of course, though they knew it was no fault of his. No one would hire the doctor who killed Trisha Elliadri, and it was hard for them to feel much sympathy for him.
So when the Guardsmen called, with the news that Trisha had been found, Doctor Belanger watched as the two said a polite "thank you" and hung up. There was no leap for joy, no laughter or crying out relief. But he did notice the two look at each other with a faint smile and sit back down beside Trisha's pristine, white hospital bed.
When the chief guardsman came in, followed by Jan'gal, followed by Trouble, though, Lord and Lady Elliadri had some fleeting difficulty believing that their daughter had found her way into that body until they heard it speak.
"Your father is Peter Elliadri? The Peter Elliadri. You are the king of elfland's daughter. Well, it's not something I tell everyone until I've known them a while, until I know they like me for me. How in the world does a princess get hit by a car? When she ditches her security detail to go visit a friend from school."
Doctor Belanger, who'd been looking at the boy through a round, black stone that appeared totally opaque and had been bought at Troubling Magical Supplies, nodded decisively.
"As you can see, Lord and Lady Elliadri," he said, "Trisha is sharing this body with the young man who is the technical owner of the same. As I have previously informed you, I can easily replace her mind into her body."
"Trisha has requested my help performing the operation," Trouble added. "She's offered me fifteen thousand notes to try to reduce the impact of the side effects of the surgery."
"Would that increase the risk of something going wrong?" Lord Elliadri asked.
"It depends on what course of action Mr..."
"Call me Trouble."
"Mr. Trouble intends to take."
"Oh, nothing much. Just going to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow."
"Now seriously, sir, I need to know what you intend to do."
"Well, I can't really explain it, you're just going to have to see it."
"Then I can't authorize you to do it. Do you even have a license to perform..."
"Doctor!" Lord Elliadri snapped. Doctor Belanger slowly turned to look at his king. "I wasn't asking you. Trouble. Be honest with me." And for the first time, Doctor Belanger saw a trace of emotion in the man's eyes, a sincere sort of pleading. "Will what you want to do increase the risk of the surgery?"
"You have our permission," Lady Elliadri said.
Doctor Belanger couldn't believe what he was hearing. But he wasn't about to disobey an order from My Lord and Lady. He sat cross-legged on the floor and closed his eyes. A moment later, Trouble did as well.
A few moments later, Trisha opened her eyes, and Jan'gal stared at himself out of them, and Trisha stared at him out of them, and Jan'gal stared back out of his own eyes at Trisha lying on the bed, and Trisha stared out of Jan'gal's eyes at herself.
To say that the overall effect was very disorientating for the two of them would be the understatement of the hour. Not the day, though. It is hard to explain much in Winsoria without drastically understating it.
Doctor Belanger looked at Trouble, his eyes wider than the eyes of a boy who'd been taught all his life that science was all there was to the universe on the day his acceptance letter from Hogwarts comes.
"What did you... Alright, I saw what you did, but why? What will that cause?"
"It set up a few barriers between their minds. They'll still have a psychic link for a few years, still be seeing out of each other's eyes and hearing out of each other's ears, but with a little concentrating they'll be able to keep their thoughts from crossing into each other's minds."
"What happens if you just break the link?" Jan'gal asked, not realizing until later that he'd asked it out of Trisha's mouth.
"They could," Trisha said out of Jan'gal's mouth, realized she'd done it, then continued with her own, "but it would kill both of us instantly."
"I vote riding it out until it ends naturally and not dieing," Jan'gal said.
The next day, the four day holiday weekend was over, and Jan'gal got out of bed at 5:30 as he did every day. He said his prayers, showered, dressed, ate breakfast, and hugged his parents goodbye. At 6:30 he was about to leave by the front door, when he stopped.
"Are you ready for this?" He thought.
"You get up this freaking early to go study the Bible with a bunch of high-schoolers?"
"Every school day."
"And every time you wake up, that's going to wake me up, too?"
"According to Doctor Belanger."
"I don't hate Mormons. But if you suddenly stopped being one, I wouldn't be too upset with you."
"I love you, too."