Pilgrim of the Planes
Mercae awoke in a field of fuchsia. He rose slowly; his old back creaking as he got to his feet. He felt like he had just fallen from a cliff.
He looks around in order to orient himself. He stands amidst waist-high reddish-pink grass. A soft breeze blows and sends out a ripple in a sea of long, thin blades. He notices that he is in a clearing. Around the rippling grass, about five meters from Mercae’s position, there is a line of tall objects. They seem to be trees but are alien in shape. He squints his aging, yet piercing, eyes of cerulean and sees movement. Whatever these organisms are, they are not stationary.
Mercae then ponders upon why and how he is here; in this moment, in this place. He looks down at his wrinkled hands and flexes his long, dexterous fingers. He raises them to the sky to block out the light from the sun. It is then that he realizes that there are two. One large red sphere, directly above, and a smaller lilac one, hanging about halfway between the red sun and the wavering treeline before him.
The blue man wonders if he is in a dream. He looks down and pats himself in various places. He is still clothed in his dull, cobalt robe. Upon his feet he feels the touch of soil. He clenches his toes into the dirt and feels a small rock near his right foot. He picks it up and scrutinizes it.
After a few moments he concludes aloud, “Yep, it’s a rock. But is it a dream rock?” He tosses the pebble into the air and watches and it drifts slowly upwards instead of falling back to the ground as he expected. “Hm…odd,” he remarks as he scratches his chin.
He then does a small hop, hoping he will float, but he does not. He lands a split second later, disappointed. “Damn. Maybe this isn’t a dream? This grass looks familiar as well, now that I get a good look at it…” Something then brushes the back of Mercae’s mind. A hut in a clearing. A ring of fuchsia grass. Beams of the lilac sun. A man sitting in a chair, bathing in violet sunlight.
A surge from within then convinces Mercae to move. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ll be damned if that deters me from exploring.” He then marches forward, slapping the pebbles out of the air as he heads to the edge of the grass. The small rock goes sailing off into the sky, though the blue one pays it no mind.
As he approaches the tall trees he notices why they are moving. They are covered in a pulsating moss. The moss is shifting colour as it expands and contracts, red when enlarged, orange when shrunken.
Mercae plucks a long blade of grass and prods the moss with it. The moss quivers and shrinks inwards, staying orange for a few seconds. It then returns to its normal pulsations. “Neat,” Mercae concludes before walking around the mossy trunk while observing the branches above. They are moss-free and a dull purple-gray in colour. Their leaves, however, are crimson. They stand out against the black sky but blend with the sunlight from the red and lilac orbs overhead in a fascinating way. It is almost as if they are melting into the air above.
The explorer makes his way further into the forest of mossy trunks. As he treads upon a natural path of roots he flicks the blade of grass in his hand back and forth, wondering if he could use it as a conduit for his magic. He doesn’t need to use an instrument to cast spells or pyromancies, but some natural substances could amplify one’s innate abilities under the right circumstances.
“What kind of wizard wouldn’t test things out?” He justifies to himself as he picks up a purplish-gray stick in his free hand. He then points both of his makeshift-wands ahead of himself, towards the most open area of the forest. “Fire probably isn’t a good idea, especially while not knowing the flammability of the vegetation. But…what about some physics magic? Heh heh heh…”
The dull stick and the blade of grass then begin to glow silver. “Fly!” Mercae shouts and opens both hands. The stick and blade of grass shoot forward with a speed that Mercae did not anticipate. The stick loses velocity quickly though and drops about four meters from the wizard. The blade of grass, however, keeps going. It does not seem to lose any speed or height as it deftly lodges itself into an upper branch of a tree some eight meters away.
“Nice. So this land’s weird, selective gravity combined with physics magic means I can make blades of grass into throwing knives.” Mercae smiles to himself as he plods forward, following the ghost of a memory.
It is not long before his spectral thoughts lead him to his destination. Upon rounding a particularly crooked trunk, the wizard finds himself in a grassy clearing enveloping a small purplish-gray hut. As in his memory, there is also a person seated in front of the hut. They are swaying slowly back and forth in a rocking chair seemingly made from the same wood as the hut. The figure’s cyan skin and horns are bathed in purple sunlight from above, dying the top of their bald head and antlers a blue-violet.
Mercae approaches the rocking chair, recalling the man’s identity. “Your head looks like a fruit,” he says as he stops before the seated one.
“You haven’t seen yours recently, have you?” the more wizened one retorts with vigor, not missing a beat. “Take a good look into that pond there, and then tell me whose head looks like produce.” The rocking chair rider nods his head to a small, clear pool of water to Mercae’s right. Strange honking plants surround it with yellow bell-like flowers. There are also translucent orange domes on the surface that wobble on occasion.
Mercae heeds his companion and walks over to the pond and stares at his reflection. What stares back is his face, unsurprisingly. Though, his horns are different from how he remembers them. Instead of simply curling upward like two hooks, they now curl upwards from his temples and bloom. Halfway up they seem to have unraveled and continued arcing upwards, each strand in ever more chaotic paths.
“My head doesn’t look like a fruit, but it does resemble a cluster of roots,” Mercae remarks. “But yours were always like that, weren’t they Shaw?”
“Not always, but have been for a long time,” Shaw responds. “It happens to us all.” Shaw scratches absent-mindedly at the base of his antlers. They are almost completely unwoven. Only the last centimeter near his skull remains thick and together. “It is no bother,” he then adds. “Anyways, what brings you to my abode, traveler?”
“I don’t know. I woke up in a clearing near here and was wondering if you knew anything.” Mercae states more than asked, stepping away from the pond.
“I know nothing about your situation. The last time you darkened my doorstep was because you were cast out of another dimension. I recall you mentioning something about a tentacle monster and flipping a tower.” Shaw replies slowly, the creaking of his chair filling the silence between words.
“In hindsight, I should have expected such a retaliation. The reason I flipped that fiend’s tower in the first place was because it was harvesting bodies for its sinister agenda.” Mercae says before walking over to the wall of the wooden hut nearest to the seated Shaw. He leans upon it, enjoying the coolness of the shade. “What was I supposed to do? Not try to foil its sick plans?” He asks, trying to justify his actions.
“You could have talked to it. Found out its motives and asked it to stop or otherwise come to an agreement,” Shaw replies, his ancient voice raspy, yet direct.
“I did, but it basically told me that I wasn’t worth its time. I’m no archmage, but I am not one to be ignored and dismissed.” Mercae explains.
“It’s always fire and physics with you.” Shaw pointed out. “I bet that’s why you’re here now as well. You probably got yourself thrown out of another dimension and into my wrinkled hands.”
Mercae is about to retort with a quip, but something tugs at his mind, giving him pause. A ghostly hand crawls up his spine until it embeds a recollection into the base of his aging skull. A stone-skinned swordsman in an orange toga. A living shadow. An owl-serpent hybrid. A flying leviathan. These visions swim within his mind’s eye before fading away.
“You alright?” Shaw asks, noticing the distant look in his companion’s eyes. He reaches within his beige robe and pulls out a biscuit. He then tosses it at Mercae without warning.
Mercae blinks back to attention and halts the biscuit with a physics spell. He reaches out with a thin hand and plucks it out of the air. He consumes it in a single bite before responding. “I think I just remembered how I got here,” he says.
“And how’s that?” Shaw acknowledges.
“I was with a few others. We were a group of half a dozen, ready to strike at that same tentacle fiend that had sent me here last time. The parts about the battle are hazy, probably due to the brain damage that I must have suffered. I believe that I perished in that fight,” the wizard responded, eyes becoming unfocused in reflection.
“I hope your team won, then. Otherwise, your demise would have been for naught.” Shaw rolls his eyes, doubting Mercae’s tale.
“There’s a way to find out,” Mercae replies, ignoring the sarcasm, before snapping back into focus once more. He straightens his back and walks a few meters away from Shaw and the hut.
“What are you up to?” The seated one asks from the comfort of his rocking chair, still in perpetual motion.
“I think it’s time for a portal,” the wizard replies. He picks up a few nearby sticks and tosses them into the air in front of him. Because of the strange, selective gravity, the sticks float. Mercae then uses physics enchantments on the sticks to make them capable of writing on their own as well as causing them to glow silver. “Dear twigs, make a portal if you would be so kind,” he suggests. The twigs wiggle agreeably before dipping down to the ground and began etching symbols into the soil. In a few moments, they are done.
Shaw whistles from his seat. He seems to be impressed. “That’s some good enchanting. Where’s the portal lead?”
“Home,” Mercae replies. He looks at the hovering sticks, “okay, nice job, you can de-chant now.” The sticks then plop onto the ground. Their silvery glow fades as they cease moving. Mercae inspects the portal, “Okay, should be ready to go,” he says as he inspects the circular drawing in the ground. He leans over and presses both of his hands into one of the symbols closest to him. Nothing happens.
“You sure that’s a portal? Just looks like vandalism,” the wizened one states.
“The edges of the circle should have started glowing before creating some sort of window.” Mercae scratches his temple in confusion. “Maybe a portal to somewhere else?” He asks himself more than his companion. The azure one repeats the process with the sticks and transforms the first portal into a new one, with different symbols around a triangular outline. He presses his hands against one of the symbols, like before, but again nothing happens.
“Now it just looks like you’re doing geometry homework,” Shaw chimes in.
“Strange…” the wizard says as he stands up and stretches his back. “I’ve never had problems opening portals to these planes…” he grumbles.
“You could be locked out,” Shaw suggests.
“Locked out?” Mercae repeats, recalling a concept from past reading. If someone has a piece of your essence, be it hair, skin, or phlegm, they can enchant an area to prevent you from physically entering. Applying such an enchantment on a dimensional scale would take an absurd amount of energy; more than any mortal could provide, even in vast groups. Mercae pondered upon his foe, one likely far from being mortal. He shuddered at the thought of its dark tentacles and piercing yellow gaze. Furthermore, locks can apparently be applied after the death of the one creating it, in the form of a curse activated upon their demise. This would result in a permanent lock, rather than a temporary one bound to an individual one’s energy.
The rocking one sighs, reading Mercae’s expression. “You’ll need a key,” he suggests.
“Obviously,” Mercae responds, annoyed. “But now I need to find spacial locksmith. One that preferably knows about curses, in case this actually is one. Where the hell am I going to find one of those on this backwoods plane of existence?”
“I’m one of those,” Shaw then states nonchalantly.
“You are?” Mercae asks quickly, hopeful.
“Nope. Just messing with you, hehehe…” he chuckles. Before Mercae can fling an insult at him he stops laughing and pulls a small scroll from his robe. He tosses it with more force than necessary at his companion.
The wizard catches it in his hands this time. His energy is beginning to wane from the excessive usage of magic. He opens the scroll, revealing a blue glyph. After coming in contact with the air the glyph begins to glow brightly before burning the paper around it to ashes. Mercae pulls his hands away, cautiously. The burning glyph then begins to speak.
“Need a way into somewhere you can’t currently go?” an oily voice rings out from the glyph. “I can help…for a price. No law enforcement allowed!” The glyph then transforms into two separate symbols. One, now coloured green, cycles through different forms of saying ‘yes’ in various languages and moving images, such as a figure nodding, a hand giving a thumbs-up, and a figure entering a portal. The other depicts the opposites in red.
“You know this guy?” Mercae asks Shaw, doubting the reputation of the advertisement.
“Yeah, he’s slimy but he knows his spatial magic.” The older one responds.
“Right then,” Mercae acknowledges. He extends a thin finger towards the green symbol and pokes it. A pleasant beeping sound is then heard before a small portal begins to open where the green symbol was. In moments the portal is large enough to walk through comfortably and remains at that size. “Do I want to know how you know this guy?” Mercae then asks the seated man.
“Nope. Hehehe…” Shaw then chuckles again before halting suddenly, like before. “Don’t worry about the scroll, by the way, I can get more,” he adds.
“Thanks for the help. I didn’t expect it, but I welcome it,” Mercae then turns his attention to the portal before him. Unlike the ones he usually creates for himself, it is not like a transparent window. Instead, it is an opaque yellow light. It also gives off warm air. “If this guy tries to harvest my essence, or anything weird, I’ll come back here and burn down your hut,” Mercae follows up jokingly before walking through the portal. After he enters, it closes in upon itself, shrinking down to the size of a pea before popping with a small crack. Nothing remains that reveals that there was a portal here moments ago.
Shaw smiles while he continues to rock back and forth. He closes his eyes and eases his head back, resting his neck. A pleasant breeze then winds about the hut and its owner, drifting him off into an easy sleep. In his dreams, he revisits the days of his youth, when he gallivanted about the cosmos as well. Ones with portals, fiends, and adventures aplenty.
Thank you for reading Pilgrim of the Planes!
Mercae the wizard is actually a character from my book Inner Expanses.
Although not directly connected to the events of my novel, this story is meant to expand upon the universe in a subtle way that can be enjoyed before or after one reads Inner Expanses.