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First few chapters of my NaNoWriMo Book. Original Idea thread is here.

I'd appreciate any comments or advice people are willing to give me about this. Getting a few copies that I'm likely to tear apart with editing, and any help I can get with the process would be greatly appreciated.

“Your plan won't succeed Doctor Nefario!” Detective Shield called out to me.

I merely laughed, and continued to run across the still under construction London Bridge. The ruby atop my cane began to glow with an inner light, and I unleashed it upon my pursuers. Flames surged across the gap, sending them running for cover. A few were not so lucky, and were either incinerated, or sent falling down into the river below.

“You think you can stop me? You, who have no understanding of the arcane arts? Hah!” I laughed, “The age of technology was a mistake! People have forgotten the true nature of the world! It's better to cast it down now, before the damage becomes irreversible!”

“What you're planning will only cause disaster!” The young detective shouted, his gun was in had, but he was hesitating to use it.

“Exactly!” I shouted, “By crushing this place, the heart of the new age, it will bring technology to a grinding halt, giving us a time to recuperate, to spread. Soon, the old order will be revived, and there's nothing you can do to stop it!!!”

“What about the innocents you would condemn to death?” He demanded, avoiding another attack upon him.

“Necessary sacrifices to resurrect the old ways! Technology is an aberration, a blight upon this world! It has weakened you, just like it has weakened all of humanity! You couldn't even begin to tap into the forgotten powers of the ancients!” I screamed.

“You're wrong.” He said calmly, raising his walking cane so I could see. I stared coldly, as the diamond atop his own cane. While it lacked the primal power of mine, it crackled with energy, electrical energy by the looks of it. Far from perfect, lacking in skill, but functional enough.

“So... you've learned to wield the power of the elements. You've taken the first steps into becoming an elementalist.” I said, leveling a stare at the detective.

“That's right.” He said. There was no emotion in his voice, just calm conviction.

“THEN WHY DO YOU DEFY ME?!” I roared, lashing out with a wave of flame. He ducked behind some construction supplies, and fired a few shots from behind their cover before emerging again. “You would defy the world you seek to protect?!” I shouted, looking at him incredulously.

“Not defy, I'll reconcile the two of them, and merge them, creating something greater than the sum of its parts.” He said. It wasn't particularly loud, but it was spoken with conviction. He clearly believed each and every word he had just said.

I couldn't help but laugh. His idealism was almost sickening.

“You really think the two can exist, side by side?! You've seen the devastation wrought on the spirits by this city! You've seen how they've grown weaker, how some have simply ceased to exist! The world is dying, and the only way to save it is to purge the cancerous tumors known as civilization!!!”

Another wave of flame coated the bridge, as I stood up, confident in my superior skill and power. “Not just the world and spirits within it, but humanity itself is weakening! Without the understanding of the elements, humanity will never reach it peak potential, never revive the lost wonders of ages past. Technology will become its crutch, supporting a weakening creature until it becomes too weak for that, and then you'll just build something to sustain it even longer! It's a vicious cycle, that will strip humanity of all its will, all of its potential, until there is nothing left but creatures for who death would be considered a blessing.”

“You're wrong about that!” he shouted, concealed by my own attack. “Technology doesn't have to be a crutch, it can be a stepping stone, allowing us to reach heights that have never been dreamed of before! You forsake humanity too quickly, giving up before it has a chance to find its own path! You're the fool here!”

I didn't reply with words, letting out a primal scream as I unleashed another wave of flames at him. I frantically tried to think of a way to overpower him, to maneuver him into a position where I could crush him. I began to move forward, hoping to gain an angle that he couldn't defend himself from.

I should have watched where I was stepping.

As the latest wave of fire died away, Detective Shield rolled out from behind his cover, wielding his revolver and firing at me. I dodged as best I could, hurling myself over a pile of steel bars to seek cover.

That was my mistake.

I knew he only had so many bullets, but I had forgotten about the gem he had, and more specifically, the power that he contained inside of it. I didn't have time to recognize this before my world exploded into pain.

Electricity coursed through the metal framework, and into my body. My mind exploded with pain, as my body seized up as the electrical current passed through me. It seemed to last an eternity, until finally, I fell to my knees, and then, to the scaffolding beneath me. I managed to lift my head. His gem flickered with fading energy, its power exhausted, but he had taken the opportunity to reload his gun, and had it pointed at my skull.

“You're a fool...” I managed to say, trying to struggle to my feet. “Two conflicting powers? You'll only serve to make the battle bigger, drag it on longer. More will suffer and die because of your foolish ideals! Humanity itself may very well become extinct, because of your actions here today...”

“That remains to be seen. I'm placing you under arrest.” Detective Shield said in an officious tone, moving to grab his handcuffs and take me into custody.

“Never!” I screamed, adrenaline forcing my body upright, giving me a chance to ignore the pain that defined my existence. I lashed out with a wave of flame, but he deftly dodged my attack, moving closer, still holding his gun and cane at the ready.

“It's over Nefario! Now give up!”

“IT'S NOT OVER DETECTIVE!!! FAR FROM IT!!!” I screamed, hurling another blast of fire at him before hurling my body over the side. As I fell from the heights of the bridge, I cast a final, power wave of flame. It filled my vision, seeming to set the sky alight, and hiding me from the detective's sight.

I fell into the river below me, doing what little my broken body could to stay beneath the surface, and slowly, painfully, began to make my escape. Soon, I was around the bend in the river, no longer in the detective's sight, and more importantly, no longer relevant to the story at hand.

My role was complete, for the moment. The Narrative's grip loosened on me, and I could act freely once again.

It was, after all, just a story.

I struggled to the riverbank, my wounds healing rapidly now that they were no longer necessary. The water drained away from my clothes as I climbed up the side of a wharf, and by the time I began strolling down the street, you couldn't tell that anything unusual had happened to me at all. The Narrative's grip on my identity began to loosen, now that I was no longer relevant to its purposes.

I sighed, I had enjoyed playing the well intentioned extremist, who's desire to save humanity became so twisted he became its enemy. Idly, I wondered if the path I had been given had any merit, or if it would only serve to limit humanity, as I had feared it would. I shrugged mentally. Wondering about such things was pointless in the Narrative. Odds meant nothing, chance didn't exist. All would happen as it was laid out, and there was very little you could do to change things.

Not nothing, but close enough for the most part.

I looked around for something to catch my interest. Without the pressure of the Narrative to maintain order, the world once again became more fluid. Despite having emerged from the river a few minutes ago, I found myself thirsty. Extending myself into the world around me, I willed there to be a bar nearby. When my moment of focus had passed, it just so happened that there was one a short distance down the street. With a grin, I headed on over.

As I entered, I took a look around. As I expected, there wasn't much of interest here. The few patrons lacked the weight of anyone important, little more than scenery for all intents and purposes. The bar itself was likewise bland, little more than a set piece created to give me a drink. Surprisingly, I recognized the bartender. Not her physical appearance, but the aura surrounding her. She had the presence beyond most of the people I had passed in the streets. More inertia, more presence. This was someone like me, who had enough self awareness that they could exist outside of a narrative.

“It's been awhile.” She said with a smirk, one that I recognized. The face was different, but that grin was always the same.

“Angela. It really has been awhile.” I said, gesturing for a drink. “So, how have you been?” I asked as she turned to grab something from the shelf.

“Same as ever Doctor Nefario, or should I start calling you Victor again? The Narrative is already beginning to break down.”

“Call me whatever you want. Like you said, this place won't last all that much longer, now that the Narrative has concluded, or near enough anyways.” I replied. Even as I said that, I could see part of the bar fade out, before flickering back into existence, a little less colorful, and little less detailed. I turned back to her, “So, do anything interesting in here?”

“Not particularly.” Angela replied, “This place tends to be a handout for some gentlemen ill repute. A bit of a gateway between the criminal underworld and the underworld you dwell in. I talked with your friend Detective Shield a bit, but it was in passing more than anything else. Didn't even notice my lovely earrings.” She pouted. I glanced at the jewelry in question, and noticed they had a bit of magical power of their own. Nowhere near as powerful as what I had been using so recently, but enough to be wary about, especially if she got the drop on someone.

“I see...” I mumbled, before having a sip of my drink. It was foul tasting and I could feel it burning without even swallowing. The temptation to spit it out nearly overwhelmed me, but I managed to get it down. I waited a few seconds to make sure I still had my voice, before speaking up again, “So, are you here for business or pleasure?”

“Business, but now that I've found you, I can put that on hold for a bit. Might as well enjoy this place while it lasts.”

“It won't be long now.” I agreed. The combination of business and the quality of alcohol putting me off ordering another drink. “I think I'll take a look around, before it all falls apart.”

“Suit yourself. I'll see you in a bit.” She said, turning back to the empty shells that were her patrons, serving them for no other reason than it struck her fancy to continue playing her part.

“You know where to find me.” I said, before standing

“You're not going to pay me?” She asked.

“What's the point?” I called over my shoulder, getting a laugh in return.


The streets were already in far worse shape than when I had stepped into the bar. Everything was fading in and out, constantly shifting between one form or another. A man could have dark hair one moment, blonde the next, and then be wearing a hat, and that was the least strange thing I was seeing. Like expected, the Narrative was dissolving. It's purpose had been fulfilled, so it decayed, returning to the Primordial Chaos it originated from. It would probably linger for a bit. I had no doubt that Detective Shield was wrapping up a few loose ends and figuring out where he would go from here, but once that was concluded, whatever remained of this world would decay back into what had been there before, a complete and total lack of order and structure.

I sighed. For all its faults, a Narrative was, for the most part, stable. There weren't unexpected changes, nothing happened without a purpose, it all followed a single, overriding directive, and as long as you went along with that directive, things were okay. Sometimes, great, sometimes terrible, but for the most part, they were okay.

I don't know how long I wandered around. As the Narrative weakened, so did the coherency of time. It could have been days in the Narrative, but only minutes for me. Hours could have been seconds, or instants could have been decades. It didn't really matter. At some point, I got the familiar feeling, one that I got every time before a Narrative collapsed.

It was time.

First, things became more fluid, more dreamlike. From minute to minute, street names changed, people appeared and disappeared when you weren't looking, and things became far more nonsensical. Next, it became more apparent that the world was breaking down, as the changes no longer restricted themselves to when I wasn't looking. Color began to fade, and several structures looked like they were melting, before simply dissolving. Then, finally, It was nothing but chaos, an ever shifting vortex of everything, and nothing.

Infinite possibility, but maddening all the same. Certainly not a place I cared to spend much time in. Not that it had much meaning in this state. Once the Narrative began to dissolve, once the force defining the world disappeared, everything lost its meaning.

At least, for a brief period.

I reached out, embracing the chaos, drawing it into myself. Then, I focused my will, and shaped it according to my desires. From one moment to the next, the chaos disappeared, replaced with a modest house. A forest surrounded it, brilliantly illuminated by the setting sun and the multicolored leaves of fall. I could have let something form from my subconscious, but I wasn't in the mood to try to explore my subconscious psyche, even less in the mood for something unexpected.

I opened the door, and saw what I usually did when I created this place. It was a simple place, probably best suited for a rugged mountain man. Everything inside, from the walls to the furniture to the decorations were rough hewn and sturdy, built to last.

The kitchen had the same rustic appeal, save for more technologically advanced stove, oven, and refrigerator. The table was bare, didn't even have a tablecloth.

The main room had a couple of chairs, and a sizable couch. Above the fireplace, as always, my sword hung, ready to be picked up and used at a moment's notice.

Upstairs, aside from my bedroom, I had a study. It was a bit more modern than the first floor. The walls were lined with books, and the desk had computer, complete with internet.

Reality was mine to define. If I wanted fresh water, electricity, and internet out in the middle of nowhere, then so be it. It didn't have to make sense. All it required was my will that it be so. This was where I currently chose to make my domain. For all intents and purposes, it was home.

I could have shaped it any way I desired. It could have a lavish palace, complete with an army of servants, concubines, and soldiers. It could have been a flying city, traversing the void of space in search of a new home, or signs of another civilization. It could have been a flat, endless expanse, empty of all distractions so I could ponder my place in the universe, never having to worry about food, water, or even air.

It was none of those things. For now, I preferred simplicity and solitude.

I could have spent an eternity there, or just a few moments, before another Narrative began to form, sweeping over my fragile illusion of a world. Time, like so many other things, remained fluid here, defined by my perceptions of it, nothing more. But I was expecting a visitor, and she didn't disappoint me.

“Anyone home?” A voice called out. I made my way downstairs, and looked to see who was paying me a visit.

As expected, It was Angela.

She looked different than when we were in the narrative. Then again, she always looked different, always embracing her protean nature, her ability to redefine herself at will. I watched as her hair shifted through every hue in the rainbow, watched as it shifted from ordinary hair, to living stone, to snakes and other stranger things. Length changed as well, with odd patterned and styles emerging as fast as I could process them. The rest of her body mirrored her hair, cycling through dozens of forms, tall and short, dark and light. Only her smile remained the same.

I waited to see if she would repeat anything. Waited to see if any combination would be reproduced. After five minutes, I stopped. She was here for a reason, and we would never get to it if I let her continue to distract me with her habit.

I reached out, and gently imposed my will on her. Not enough to force her into anything, but enough that constantly changing became a bit more difficult. She frowned for a moment, then sighed, settling into a static form for the moment, but as soon as I dropped my guard, she would probably start right up again.

“You're no fun, you know.” she pouted.

“If you want fun, stay on your own turf.” I replied easily, reminding her of the unspoken etiquette between us all, before I stepped into the kitchen to grab something to drink. As I returned, I saw that while the rest of it had stopped, she was once again changing the color of her hair. It wasn't enough to really provoke me, but I have her a look nonetheless. She just smirked at me, and continued to cycle through the colors of the rainbow.

“So, what brings you by here?” I asked, offering her a drink as I did.

“Nicholas wants to meet with you.” She said.

The drink abruptly vanished from my hand, along with my good humor. She didn't seem put off, instead creating one herself. We sat in silence for a moment, her enjoying her drink, and I trying to process what she was asking.

“Why would he want to meet?” I asked, doing my best to keep any distaste out of my voice.

“He didn't see fit to tell me, only to deliver the message.” She replied, idly toying with her drink.

“If he wanted to meet, why not just come here?” I asked.

She gave me a condescending look, “You know him. He doesn't trust you any more than you him. He won't meet anywhere he feels you could have the advantage,”

“And I wouldn't go anywhere near his creations, at least without a reason better than he wants to talk.” Creations were attuned to their creators. They resisted anyone else, and while they could be shaped, it was possibly, but far more involved and exhausting than creating your own world. It was the reason I could force Angela into a single form, for the most part. She could have fought me, but I would have won.

“That means there's only one kind of place the two of you could meet that would satisfy both of you.”

I sighed, “A Narrative.”

“Don't act so disappointed. You know you enjoy them.” She smirked at me.

“Not when I have to deal with him.” I answered.

“You're not the only one who's spent time in his experiments. Almost everyone I know has been involved at some point.” Angela said, turning her hair a brilliant green.

“He's grown more fanatical about it. Something is driving him, and he doesn't seem to care how much trouble it can cause”

“Everyone gets out. You know that. He can't think of everything, so all you need to do is try something he doesn't expect.”

I sighed, “It's not as easy for the rest of us. Most tend to pick a form and stick with it. It makes things a bit more difficult.”

“Ugh, that's so boring. We've got an entire spectrum of reality to shape however we want it, why would you settle for something so limiting? She groaned. I could already tell she was growing uncomfortable with her restricted form.

“I get plenty of variety in the Narratives. If I feel like a chance, I'll make it. I won't change just for the sake of change.”

“Suit yourself.” She said, though her distaste for familiarity was plain to hear.

I sighed, taking a moment to think to myself before speaking again, “You may not know what he's planning, but you must have met with him in his territory. You must have some idea what he's cooking up.”

“I'm mercurial enough to get anywhere I want to, but there are a lot of things to see.” Angela said, “Nicholas tends to create a lot of the same. While the size is impressive, it's far from interesting to me”

“Still, you must have gleaned something from it. If you had to guess, what would it be?.” I asked.

She paused for a moment, “It's hard to say with him, but it must be something big. He had a maniacal look in his eyes, one I haven't seen for a long, long time.”

“So tell me, what kind of Narrative does he want to use for our meeting?” I asked her. There wasn't anything else she could tell me about Nicholas' plans, but I had heard all I really needed. He rarely got excited, unless he was on the verge of a breakthrough that could affect all of us. Even if whatever theory he had come up with was proven wrong, it was worth checking out. Regardless of its success, it would have some merit that might prove useful to know.

“Somewhere fantastic. Somewhere where magic exists, yet remains collared and leashed. Where order prevails against chaos, though chaos presses ever at its borders.” She said with a flourish.

I considered for a moment. Nicholas was a creature of order, so I wasn't surprised that he requested a place where it reigned supreme. What did surprise me was the inclusion of chaos. He loathed chaos with a passion, preferring his formulas and experiments to freedom and whimsy. I suppose it was an effort to appease me, and make it seem as though he wouldn't have an advantage in our encounter.

“It sounds like he's making an effort for neutral territory.” I mused, mainly to myself, but loud enough for my companion to overhear.

“That's the plan.” Angela answered, “Do you have any conditions of your own?”

I didn't reply right away, taking a moment to go over my options.

“Fantastic beast of immense power roam the world, kept at bay by the efforts of man. While no mere man could ever hope to stand against them, armies can repel them, and there are rare legends where a lone hero has stood against them and triumphed.”

She nodded. My condition meant that our own powers would have their limits. There were creatures beyond our ability to control, that could swoop down and slaughter us without any problem. While I doubted they would be a concern during the Narrative, it was meant to induce a limit to how much power we could effectively wield while in the Narrative.

This was as much to keep me from losing my temper and obliterating him as it was an effort to curtail his own powers. Extending the hand of trust wouldn't do me any harm, and it certainly wouldn't keep me from settling our affairs once the Narrative was concluded.

“Alright, that sounds like something he will find acceptable, or at least be able to tolerate.” Angela said, standing up and moving to leave, “I'll check with him, but you should proceed as though he's going to approve them and get ready. I think it goes without saying, but this is a meeting between you and him. Don't bring anyone else along, and I'll do my best to keep anyone else from interfering.”

I nodded to her, and watched as Angela exited my little home, walking a good distance away, before she shifted into some phantasmal beast and took flight. As I watched her vanish past the edge of my world, I considered her last words. I hadn't planned on bringing anyone else along. I tended to keep to myself for the most part, but the fact that Angela felt the need to mention it got me considering.

I didn't know how many of us there were. I had met dozens, and heard of dozens more, but with an infinite expanse, with infinite possibilities of form, it could very well mean an infinite number of us, each taking a different form, communicating in a different way. There could be a thousand others surrounding me, in some form that could not perceive or be perceived by my own. Something to think about at another time, but right now, I had a meeting to get to. I sighed again, before moving towards my cabin to gather a few things. I could think about this another time, when I didn't have somewhere to be. Anything that I brought with me would probably be useless in the narrative, but it never hurt to be prepared.

As I prepared myself, I thought about what a meeting in a Narrative would mean. Narratives were the closest thing we had the neutral territory. There, reality was far more stable, more defined. It was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to violate their established rules. While betrayal was certainly still a possibility, it would require far more effort.

There were countless Narratives, each unique in their own way. It was because of this that conditions were necessary. Navigating was more about qualities than locations. If you wanted to find someone who embraced sorrow, you had to go somewhere sad. If you wanted to find a giant robot junkie, you needed to find a Narrative featuring them.

Navigating the chaos between realms and narratives was more of an art than a science. Locations shifted, ceased to exist, and were reborn in a new form. You couldn't simply head north and take a right after a few miles. You had to seek out locations with the qualities you were aiming to reach. It was because of this that people were notoriously difficult to locate directly. A Scientist could experience a moment of whimsy and magic, whisking him away from his laboratories and white boards. While a person dedicated to exploring every aspect of chaos might decide to settle down for a period of time in a single form in an interesting realm. This was the reason that Narratives were preferred. It was far easier to find a place with the qualities you were seeking, and waiting to see a person who would often frequent it, than to seek out the person directly.

Narratives were a shared experience. Without a force actively trying to reshape it, it would probably maintain its state for ages, perhaps even permanently if enough of us visited it with any frequency. There were a number of these way points, places that were maintained by general consensus between us to make life easier.

I stepped into one of them. It wasn't a particularly impressive location, nothing more than a field with a few structures in the distance. The primary quality that defined it was peace. Here, there would never be war. There would never be storms. Conflict of any kind would be difficult, making it a good place for meetings. Of course, it wasn't a perfect set up. If someone wanted to attack someone else badly enough, they could seize control of it, and attack them. Once that started, the entire thing would begin to shift and twist, as violence led to more violence.

I'm sure there was a lesson in that, but I wasn't sure how applicable it was. Just having thoughts could make them more likely to manifest in some form or another, and the fights never did any real harm. Besides, there were plenty of way points where violence wasn't prohibited, so why bother coming here if you wanted to start something?

The reason I had come here, aside from getting my bearings, was to get a drink, and give Angela some time to contact Nicholas. His realm wasn't too distant from my own, but it was far enough away to keep from provoking me, which meant Angela needed some time to get there and make sure everything was going according to plan. Not much point meeting with Nicholas if he didn't agree to show up himself.

I entered one of the few structures at this way point. It was a rundown bar, lacking any of the fancy drinks you might find at a more sophisticated location, but it had the basics, plus a soda machine.

The bartender was an empty shell, put there to serve drinks, and offer reassuring grunts. Not the bartender I was hoping for, but the taste of that last drink from the earlier Narrative was still lingering somehow, and getting that out was more than enough reason order something. I simple hand gesture and he walked over, grunted, and handed me a drink.

I wasn't quite sure what he served me. I hadn't had anything specific in mind, so I received something nonspecific. A quick sip didn't tell me anything, not even if it was alcoholic or not. It didn't really matter, the taste was gone and that was all I really cared about for the moment.

I got up to leave, refocusing my mind on my next way point destination, and more importantly, what I was going to do to Nicholas.

While it was impossible for us to kill each other, it didn't prevent us from making life exceedingly unpleasant. Nicholas, with his preferences and hobbies, was extremely skilled at that. I had dealt with it before, and had no plans to repeat the experience. I had made my... displeasure known to him, and he had been avoiding me ever since.

The fact that he wanted to meet at all showed that whatever it was he wanted, was important to him. The question was: what was it, and what could he possibly have to offer me?

I still hadn't determined what Nicholas might want by the next way point, a massive hurricane fueled by an ancient beast. I found myself standing on the deck of a trawler, struggling to keep my balance as waves crashed against the ship. I shouted at the captain, demanding that he continue deeper into the storm. He shouted something back, but I couldn't hear, it, and didn't need to hear it.

The eye of the storm was peaceful, and was the reason it was so close to the previous way point. I took a moment to get my bearings, willing a compass to appear in my hand so I could determine which way to go. The beast creating this unnatural storm generally spent its time in the northwest section of the storm, bringing it closer to land that didn't exist.

The combination of magical forces and chaos meant that I was probably drawing close to my destination, especially considering the massive beast capable of sinking my ship with nothing more than an unfortunate motion, but I wasn't there yet. It had most of the qualities, but the chaos reigned here. I needed a way point where chaos was strong, but constrained.

I commanded the captain to set a course for the northwest. He screamed something at me, but I ignored him. He was not important, serving no other purpose but to serve my will. As soon as we left this way point behind, he would dissolve back into chaos like the ship we were aboard.

I was surprised when the beast didn't rear its head above the waves. I had expected it to make an appearance at some point, if not to make the journey more difficult, than simply to show that it was present and that I only lived by its grace. Then again, it could be something as simple as the behemoth being in a different part of the way point. Stranger things have happened before, and wondering about my good fortune would serve no purpose, save perhaps to draw the beast here.

The storm slowly faded away, and the ship along with it. Up until he finally vanished, the captain continued to yell at me, warning me about something. I still wasn't paying attention to him, but a small smile appeared on my face at his stubborn tenacity.

I lingered in the chaos for a moment, trying to discern how close I was to my destination. While the storm and beast were close to what I wanted, I needed something with more order to it. Rather than a raging storm, it needed to be contained, barely controlled, but controlled nonetheless.

The next way point was a desolate wasteland. No life had ever dwelt here, nothing but the barren landscape had ever existed here. I looked up to the sky, seeing a phantasmagoria of colors swirling around some imaginary point. This world was the calm before the storm, poised on the edge of its birth, waiting for some unknowable trigger to unleash the potential gathered above me.

This way point had been set up as an experiment. The energy swirling above my head was contributed by every person who passed it, adding to its potential, flavoring the world that would be with their perceptions and intentions. No one had any idea what would be created when it finally accumulated enough power that it could no longer be constrained. It could be a realm of order, a virtual utopia. It could be a horrify world that created only suffering. It could be at either of those two extremes, somewhere in between, or something completely different. There was no way to know for sure.

Personally, I though it would dissolve back into chaos. There was no way that something created so haphazardly would have enough stability to remain for more than a short period of time. It would burst into existence and then quickly merge with the chaos surrounding it.

Still, I offered up my own thoughts to the power above, envisioning stone pillars that served as a foundation, an anchor against the tides of chaos that surrounded it. Even if it dissolved back into the chaos, whatever existed during that brief period would be interesting, and something worth exploring. Hopefully my own addition would serve to keep it in place long enough for me to see it for myself. Having nothing else to do, I sat down, watching the brilliant light show above me as I waited for Angela.

The chaos of an unborn world barely contained. Seemed like a perfect place to wait for Angela.

It was close enough that I could reach my final destination quite quickly, and calm enough that I could relax without creating trouble for myself. Now, I just needed to wait to get the confirmation from Angela.

Idly, I wondered what Nicholas was paying her. Physical wealth had almost no use here. It was child's play to reach out into the chaos and craft whatever you needed, so most deals took took the form of favors or barter. Nicholas had more clout than most. His constant delving into the workings of chaos, realms, way points, and narratives meant that he had a better understanding of the world than most. He was willing to trade that knowledge, but the price tended to be steep. Whatever knowledge he traded would most likely be shared at some point, so the first customer always shouldered the burden of cost for the inevitable dissemination of the information.

Most of us traded in favors, creating something we were particularly skilled or familiar with, or aiding in some project or another. There were a few who did research besides Nicholas, I had counted myself among them at one point of another, but the majority of transactions took the form of lending additional power to the creation of a realm or something specific within said realm.

I watched as more power flowed into the display above me, and turned my head. Angela offered a brief smile at her own contribution before giving me a nod. I mirrored her gesture, and stood up. That was all the confirmation that I needed. I quickly stepped out, heading back into the chaos surrounding this way point.

I focused on the qualities that we had agreed upon. A world of magic, where order reigned, but fought against chaos at every turn. A world where monsters roamed freely, held at bay by endless toil and sacrifice. As I wandered through the Chaos that was our existence, I could feel those qualities around me. They only existed for a brief fragment of a second, but they grew more and more common, until I felt that I was in the right place.

Narratives weren't entirely random. They didn't just appear out of nowhere without regard for what had been dreamed up. Sure, there were occasions where that had happened, where entire realms had been obliterated in the blink of an eye, replaced by whatever the Narrative contained, but they were rare, and there generally were other circumstances that led to that occurring. Mostly they tended to form in areas of chaos where the qualities that would feature prominently were present, and not particularly attached to anything, such as a way point or a realm. It could take moments, days, or years for a Narrative to form, but in the chaos, time was meaningless. Unless you set out to reach a certain point, more likely than not you would be swept up into a Narrative fairly quickly.

After the first few times that happened, you start to develop a sense when a Narrative was forming, like a storm brewing on the horizon. Not an inaccurate metaphor. I could feel one building around me now, like the sensation of static electricity in the air.

Likewise, they didn't draw you in indiscriminately. If you didn't want to part of a narrative, you could resist, and if you were lucky, it would let you go, creating another persona to take the role you were chosen for, or sweeping someone else into it in your place. Of course, that only applied before the Narrative fully formed. Once you were a part of it, it was far more difficult, sometimes outright impossible, to escape from until it had concluded. Once I crossed that threshold, there was no going back. I would have to see it through to the end, no matter how things went with Nicholas.

I sighed. No point in delaying. With that thought I reached out to the forming story, trying to find my way into it, and was swept along into the Narrative.

The creation of a Narrative is different from when it decays back into chaos. When it breaks down, there's still some momentum carrying it forward, so things happen slowly. Here, all of the momentum, everything about the potential story was still present, it was like going from zero to light speed in a fraction of a second. There wasn't any time to process what was happening. By the time I could even begin to wrap my mind around it, it was already over. All I had were a few brief, contradictory impressions, infused with nonsense and madness. It had been a whirlwind of chaos and creation, that was all that mattered.

I shook my head, trying to clear it. There was time for philosophy and looking deeper later. Right now, I had a goal, and the first step in reaching it was figuring out where I belonged in this narrative.

I took stock of where and who I was. I was in a stone chamber, lacking windows and decorations. Something about it told me I was underground, whether it was natural instincts or instinct from my new identity. I brief burst of will, and I had a mirror to size myself up.

I was wearing simple, black robes, complimented with black boots. In fact, everything I was black, from the gloves, to the cloak, all the way down to my socks and boots. It wasn't anything fancy, lacking decorations, but it was obviously of high quality.

I was a bit about what I assumed was average height. My hair and eyes were both a faded grey color, the hair tied back loosely and hanging over my shoulders. My face was average. It wasn't inhumanly handsome, but it was good looking, and lacking any major scars or disfigurements.

It didn't really tell me that much about who I was, and what role I played, but I always liked to familiarize myself with, well, myself. The only way to do that was to sink into the Narrative, and pull the information.

The Narrative was all around me. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to say I was submerged in it, like it was a river and I was standing in the middle of it. If I wasn't careful, and didn't watch my step, I could get swept away until the Narrative reached its end. I had experienced that a few times, the core of my identity sealed away and superseded by the persona the Narrative had given me. It wasn't pleasant, but I could deal with it. However, this time I had a purpose in the Narrative, and I couldn't afford any missteps. The Narrative contained all the information I could possibly need, ready for the taking, but if I wasn't careful, I would fall in, be subsumed. and would have to wait until the Narrative concluded

I didn't want to have to repeat this meeting. I drew in a deep breath, more out of habit than any real benefit, and reached out to the Narrative.

Instantly, a lifetime filled my mind. Memories of past loves, great adventures, hours of studying, flooded into me, trying to overwhelming my personal experiences. While I had lived a great deal longer than this Narrative, I lacked the sheer force behind them. I frantically fought against the weight behind it, trying to hold on to my own identity against the howling storm of past experiences that battered me, filling my mind. I weathered it as best I could, and slowly, it began to die down. I gradually began to return to my center, balancing the new persona given to me against everything else I was.

As always, it was a difficult balancing act, but one I had grown adept at. It took only a few tense minutes to settle into something resembling comfort. The Narrative was a part of me now, I could draw on its knowledge freely, so long as I was careful.

Of course, I still had to balance what the Narrative told me against what actually happened in the Narrative. What I knew only gave me enough information to function, the broad strokes that any person in this world could be expected to know.

I learned my name, Arannis. Arannis the undying, the Supreme Necromancer, the Black King. These and countless others were titles given to me by the citizens of Nullos, the Kingdom which I served. I had existed before its foundation, mastering my art for centuries. I was content with having eternity to perfect my skills, and avoided creating so many of the troubles that others had in their pursuit of power.

This world was called Cerros, a world of magic. The Gods had forged it in eons past, and vanished from it, either dead or simply gone. Ages passed, and slowly the primal creatures that had dominated the world were driven back, and nations, kingdoms and empires were forged in the space they left behind. Those nations warred against the frontier and each other, wars devastated them, tore them down, and new ones sprang up. It was after another empire had been torn down that Nullos had been formed, crafted out of the chaos of war.

Far more interesting than the information, was the persona I had been given. Arannis was a researcher, more than anything else. Every one of his actions and goals served to further his research and understanding of the world around him, especially magic. He would always take that fraction of a second to consider before acting, whether it was an important treaty, or a knife hurled as his head. He would take that time to determine what the best course of action was to further his goal, and that was the one, unchanging thing about him.

It was an unusual fit for me. I tended to prefer to face things head on, hammering my way through to my goals instead of looking for another path. Being someone for who patience was a virtue would be interesting, on both sides of the equation. I had to strike a balance between the two, willing to hold back and analyze a situation, but not afraid to act.

Still, if I was going to be interacting with Nicholas, it was better to have a persona like this, one that would incline me to wait and study, instead of plowing in without thinking things through. It would balance me a bit, and hopefully, help me avoid any traps he might set, and find any falsehoods or loopholes in the offer he intended to make to me.

I wanted to take some time to familiarize myself with my temporary identity, but was denied the opportunity. A presence filled my mind, telling me that there was some who wanted to meet with me. The Narrative compelled me to recognize and respond to it, and I found myself walking briskly out of the room and down the hall. There were a number of branches, twists and turns, but I walked towards my destination unerringly.

I entered into a vast chamber. The walls were covered in stone carvings, depicting a number of scenes related to burials. They ranged from simple affairs with only a few people present, to grand processions of hundred, perhaps even thousands. I only had a second to look at them before my attention was forcibly drawn to a small gathering near the end of the cavernous room.

Most of them were robed in a manner similar to my own. They lacked the extensive embroidery that I possessed, and bowed upon my approach, so I could only assume they were my underlings.

“Lord Arannis, you have a visitor.” One of them said, stepping aside as I drew near. I nodded, before turning my attention to the only one present who was wearing armor.

“Arannis.” The man before me said shortly, clearly not all that happy to see me. I took a moment to study him. Like with the formation of a Narrative, you developed a sense for who someone was within the narrative.

It was partially visual. People who weren't important lacked details. Nothing out of place, just a general blandness permeating their existence. It didn't help that their features could change over time, or from one moment to the next. If you placed them in a crowd, it would be almost impossible to pick them out. The more relevant and important a person was, the sharper and more defined they tended to be. They had a solidity that the others lacked, and it bound them more tightly, locking them into a single appearance.

This man looked important. His hair was cut short, and jet black. His face was youthful, but possessed a hardness, accentuated by a few faded scars. His armor was well cared for, and didn't seem to have a speck of dust or a hint of a dent anywhere on him. His sword hung within easy reach, ready to be used if anyone made trouble.

Another was body language. Like appearance, the more important they were, the more distinct they tended to be. This man had a tension about him, partly our of nervousness and fear, but another, larger part was more like a coiled spring, or a crouching tiger. One wrong move or comment could easily set him off, venting his rage on the nearest available target. In this case, most likely, it was me.

The third was simply presence. The Narrative hung around him, empowering him with its will. Of the countless thousands in this city, only a select few had that aura, just those who happened to be important to the Narrative's purpose. I had a portion of that same aura, tempered with my own nature, but it paled in comparison to the amount surrounding him. The Narrative was almost overpowering around him, any unusual deviations from its flow would be eliminated before they could even fully manifest. I would have to be careful around him.

“Sir Erek, what brings you my domain? Have I done something to upset the newly appointed captain?” I found myself saying. As the words left my mouth, I could feel knowledge of who he was entering my mind, surging forward from the Narrative inside me. Erek was one of the knights of the city, recently promoted to the rank of captain. He was generally assigned to protect the royal family, though he often went out on patrols looking for bandits and other sources of trouble. He was disciplined, and well trained, despite having immigrated from a neighboring country. He didn't particularly care for mages, especially not me.

“Could we talk inside?” He asked.

“Of course. In fact, I would prefer it.” I answered, moving aside to allow him passage. As he entered, I gave him a once over. He was tense, and the fact that he was here, talking to me, told me that something was terribly, terribly wrong.

It was interesting. I had no idea what his problem was with me, but I knew it existed. The Narrative could be funny that way.

He paced back and forth for a minute, before turning to me. He opened his mouth to speak, but I held up my hand. “If privacy is your concern, I have a better location.”

I began walking down the corridors, and after a few moments, he began to follow. We walked in silence, always heading downward. It took a few minutes for him to realize where we were going, but I could see in his face the instant he realized it. That grimace made up of hate, disgust, and fear told me more clearly than words. I chuckled lightly, and it was only a short time after that that we reached the edge of our destination.


Undertown was the name of the necropolis built beneath the city. It's original name was so old, and had fallen so out of fashion, that even I, the founder of it, had difficulty recalling it. It was far easier to call it Undertown. I watched him as we descended deeper into the cavernous depths beneath the city. I could see the tension in him growing stronger. Paradoxically, it seemed to relax him in a strange way, as if dealing with the known discomfort was better than whatever had brought him to me.

“Is this the first time you've set foot in Undertown, sir knight?” I asked him.

“Not the first, though it's been many years since I've been here. I'd have preferred if the wait had been a lot longer.” He answered. I grinned at him, which he appeared to find quite unsettling.

“There are only a few types of people who venture into Undertown, for the most part.” I began, “The dead, the mourning, and the thieves. You clearly still walk amongst the living, so which one were you, a mourner, or a thief?”

“A mourner.” He answered.

“And who were you mourning, if I may be so bold as to ask?”

“My mother. And my brother.” He said, doing his best to keep his emotions in check.

I sighed, “I'm sorry to hear that.”

“Are you really?” He asked, a hint of the smoldering emotions showing.

“Loss is loss, and no matter how accustom one grows to it, it never loses its bite. I'm well aware of my reputation amongst the light dwellers, but I was human once, and part of me still is.”

.“Whatever humanity you had died with your body, necromancer.”

“If it pleases you to think so, I bear you no ill will for that. Does thinking of me as a monster make you feel better about yourself, or does it remind you that your fallen family is very much like me right now?”

“You bastard! They should have been buried, not turned into those... things!!!” He shouted at me, anger boiling over as I pressed his buttons. I almost expected him to draw his blade, and it probably took all of his willpower to resist doing just that.

“That is one of the terms of my agreement with the Royal Family. All bodies become mine once the life has left them. In exchange, they receive significant resources extracted from beneath the city, enabling our lucrative trade contracts with surrounding nations. If I were to make a single exception, I would be forced to make countless more, until no new bodies worked in Undertown. Those trade good would dry up, and then where would you all be?”

He glared at me. I merely smiled.

“I understand. You were not born here, you did not grow up knowing our customs, but they are the laws of the city you swore to serve. I'm pleased and impressed that you can put those laws above your own desires. I look forward to how your career progresses.”

With a grunt, he turned away from me, and continued walking. I quickly caught up with him, and the rest of our journey progressed in stoic silence. Within a few short minutes we arrived at our destination. It was a small room, capable of fitting perhaps a dozen people if comfort wasn't an issue. What set it apart from everything I had seen so far were the runes covering every surface. The sheer number of them was impressive, but they were all perfectly placed. Each and every one of them was aligned with the countless others without a single one out of place. The room hummed with power and, I noticed, it was all connected to me.

“This room is enchanted with every ward and protection I am capable of performing. There are only a select few mages who might be capable of penetrating them, and I doubt that any of them could do so undetected. Now,” I said, beginning to shut the door behind us, “what was it you wanted to talk about?”

“The Princess is missing.” He said bluntly the instant the door was closed. All humor and amusement drained away, leaving only my calculating reason.

“I see...” I muttered, more to myself than to him.

“Did you have anything to do with this?” He demanded.

“My dear knight, I find it offensive that you would accuse me of something of that magnitude.” I answered him, maintaining my calm. “Endangering the Royal family would only serve to endanger my own power base. Without the order they impose, the supply of bodies would dry up, and the thin veneer of tolerance would vanish along with it. While I would most likely survive whatever followed after that, the rest of Undertown would not be so fortunate, and my research would most likely be set back decades, or even more.”

He didn't answer, but he seemed a bit less suspicious.

“Indeed, it would serve me best to ascertain her location and retrieve her as quickly as possible. Though it does raise a question in my mind...” I trailed off.

Erek took the unspoken prompt, “And just what would that be?”

“Tell me, sir knight, why is it so important that you retrieve the princess?” I asked, partly out of compulsion, and partly out of my own curiosity.

“You know why it is so important to recover the Princess immediately!” He answered angrily. Instantly, I was informed why her safety was so important, and why her absence was such a concern.

“I'm well aware of the Princess's importance. The Royal family's bloodline is what empowers your Spell breaker blades. Without them, you lack the means to effectively control the many mages throughout the city, and the country. It's entirely possible some of the more ambitious would rise up against the kingdom, breaking away to form their own states.” I said, before my smile returned, “However, that isn't a pressing concern. Her father, while old, is healthy, and her elder brother is fighting and winning our current war. I doubt any of his honor guard would allow any harm to come to him. I doubt you would be dismissed for this. While it is a crisis of great magnitude, you were not the only one who failed to protect her. So that means your urgency is more personal than professional. So again, I ask you, what is the hurry? Why are you so eager to rescue the Princess?”

I stared at him watching emotions war in what was undoubtedly an epic inner struggle. Eventually, it seemed he resolved it, and with a deep sigh to calm himself, he answered, “She's important to me. Is that good enough?”

My smile grew. Another piece of the puzzle fell into place, and I had a better understanding about where this was going. It could be simple duty, a way for him to maintain his honor, but I doubted that was the whole story. Perhaps a love story? The lone knight saving the damsel in distress had been crafted time and time again, and more often than not, he is rewarded with a kiss.

I mentally shook my head. This wasn't the time to lose focus. Privately, I had enjoyed that little exchange. It wasn't often I got to play as a puppeteer, manipulating others and having them dance to my whims. I lacked the subtlety and patience for it most of the time, and most of the roles I was given tended to reflect that. It was only because of who I was meeting I had deviated from that standard, though I wouldn't mind doing it again sometime.

Something to consider in another time in place. I had left Erek in uncomfortable silence for long enough. It was time to return to the matter at hand.

“Needless to say, I'll be assisting you in whatever way I can. As I said, Undertown depends on the stability of the kingdom, and as its caretaker, it is my responsibility to maintain that stability. Have you already approached the rest of the mage's council?”

He shook his head. “So far, only the king and a few select knights know. I had hoped the inquiry would end here.” he said with a baleful look at me.

“I do have a bit of a reputation...” I admitted. “But I assure you, I don't have her hidden away down here. My position is precarious enough without adding more fuel to the fire. You would do well to contact the mages council, while I make my own preparations. Undoubtedly, the full council will be called to meet with the king about this problem. Speaking of which, what of the king? While he is healthy, as far as I know, have any additional protections been put into place? He is the sole remaining anchor to the spell breaker's power in the capital. If something were to happen to him...”

“As far as I know, he's fine, and well protected, but he is old, and with the prince away settling the Western Conflict...”

I nodded in response. “I can see why you would be concerned. As I have said, I share them with you, Sir Erek.”

“Are you really?” He asked skeptically.

“I won't deny that a return to the previous age, when a mage only had to fear another mage, where the only limit to your power was how far you were willing to go, but I've grown fond of Undertown. A place where I can continue my experiments, unmolested. Where I am respected, as well as feared.” I answered, “If it were a few centuries ago, I might have considered it, but I am well settled into my current lifestyle, and any large scale conflict would only serve to set my research and study back years, if not decades. It might even destroy it outright if the conflict were to involve Undertown.” I stopped, turning to face the crystal window,

It was the core of Undertown, a vast, natural cavern that had slowly been worked over the course of centuries into a functional city. It's population was only a quarter the size of Caros above, at best, but the scale of it dwarfed anything that might exist on the surface. It was capable of housing the population of three cities comfortably, ever growing, construction driven by an endless supply of the Dead.

They worked without tiring, without stopping. They had no need of food, of sleep. The only limitation was they needed a necromancer of sufficient skill to manage them, and I had had centuries to gather and train enough students and apprentices to keep them under control and on task..

“For every year of life, one year of death is owed as well.” I said, looking over the tireless dead laboring beneath the crown jewel of the kingdom. “For that reason, Undertown shall continue to grow. In time, it may even eclipse Caros in glory.”

“And what of those unwilling to pay that price? What about those who don't want life after death?” Erek demanded.

“They are free to choose that path. Undertown is both city, and graveyard. It has people who work side by side with the dead, ever improving, ever expanding. If they have no desire to continue, as most people do not, then after their term has been served, they are buried according to their wills.”

“All I see are corpses. It doesn't matter that some of them are still moving.” He said coldly, distaste filling his voice.

I paused for a moment, “Undertown is more than any mere graveyard, Erek. It is the place where many choose to live our their eternity. It is a home for those shunned for fearing death. All men fear something, and if you look down on them for doing something about it...” I trailed off. He could fill in the gap with whatever he felt was appropriate. A man of honor like that would do a far better job chiding himself than I ever could.

I was tempted to let him stew for awhile, but as long as he was here, the Narrative was as well. I would be bound to follow its strictures until he departed, so I opened the door, motioning for one of my aides to enter. Once they were inside, and the door was shut once more, I began speaking once more.

“It seems that the Princess has gone missing. We have very little to go on at the moment, but Undertown is my domain. I will not tolerate any secrets within its depths. Secure every passage and corridor, leave no stone unturned. If she has passed within Undertown, however briefly, I want to know about it.” I commanded. He lacked any indication that the Narrative was empowering him, so I didn't bother with anything more extensive than delivering my orders.

“Make sure to do it discreetly. If we can avoid a panic on the surface, it would be in our best interests to do so.” I said, almost as an afterthought. He bowed briefly, before departing to carry out my will.

“Continue searching for her in the city. I'll see what information Undertown has about her. I doubt there is anything to be found down here, but it wouldn't hurt to be thorough.” I dismissed him, already making preparations to instigate my own search. “I'm sure the king is already planning to convene the mage's council should nothing turn up, so I must begin my own search immediately.”

As Erek vanished towards the surface, I felt the weight of the Narrative lift from me, freeing me from my obligations, at least, for the moment. It was only a matter of time before I was needed again, so I needed to make the most of it.