Pilgrim of the Planes
Mercae awoke in a field of fuchsia. He rose slowly; his old back creaked as he got to his feet. He felt like he had just fallen from a cliff.
He looked around and oriented himself. He stood amidst waist-high reddish-pink grass. A soft breeze blew and sent out a ripple in a sea of long, thin blades. He noticed that he was in a clearing. Around the rippling grass, about five meters from Mercae’s position, there was a line of tall objects. They seemed to be trees but were alien in shape. He squinted his aging, yet piercing, eyes of cerulean and saw movement. Whatever these organisms were, they were not stationary.
Mercae then pondered upon why and how he was here; at that moment, in this place. He looked down at his wrinkled hands and flexed his long, dexterous fingers. He raised them to the sky and blocked out the light from the sun. It was then that he realized that there were 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. They were both tremendously vibrant against a pitch-black sky.
The blue man wondered if he was in a dream. He looked down and pated himself in various places. He was still clothed in his cobalt robe, though upon his feet he felt the touch of soil. He clenched his toes in the dirt and felt a small rock near his right foot. He picked it up and scrutinized it.
After a few moments he concluded aloud, “Yep, it’s a rock. But is it a dream rock?” He tossed the pebble into the air and watched as it drifted slowly upward instead of falling back to the ground as he expected. “Hm… odd,” he remarked as he scratched his chin.
He then did a small hop, hoping he would float as well, but he did not. He landed 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 brushed the back of Mercae’s mind: a hut in a clearing, a ring of fuchsia grass, beams of the lilac sun, and a man sitting in a chair, bathing in violet sunlight.
A surge from within then convinced Mercae to move. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ll be damned if that deters me from exploring.” He then marched forward, slapping the pebble out of his way as he headed to the edge of the grass. The small rock went sailing off into the sky, though the blue one paid it no mind.
As he approached the tall trees he noticed why they were moving. They were covered in a pulsating moss. The moss was shifting colour as it expanded and contracted; red when enlarged, orange when shrunken.
Mercae plucked a long blade of grass and prodded the moss with it. The moss quivered, shrank inward, and stayed orange for a few seconds. It then returned to its normal pulsations. “Neat,” Mercae concluded before he walked around the mossy trunk while he observed the branches above. They were moss-free and a dull purple-gray in colour. Their leaves, however, were crimson. They stood out against the black sky but blended with the sunlight from the red and lilac orbs overhead in a fascinating way. It was almost as if they were melting into the air.
The explorer made his way further into the forest of mossy trunks. As he trod upon a natural path of roots he flicked the blade of grass in his hand back and forth, wondering if he could use it as a conduit for his magic. He didn’t need to use an instrument to cast spells but some natural substances could amplify one’s innate abilities under the right circumstances.
“What kind of wizard wouldn’t test things out?” He justified to himself as he picked up a purplish-gray stick in his free hand. He then pointed 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 began to glow silver. “Fly!” Mercae shouted and opened both hands. The stick and blade of grass shot forward with a speed that Mercae did not anticipate. Though, the stick lost velocity quickly and dropped to the forest floor about four meters from the wizard. The blade of grass, however, kept going. It did not seem to lose any speed or height as it deftly lodged 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 smiled to himself as he plodded forward, following the ghost of a memory.
It is not long before his spectral thoughts led him to his destination. After rounding a particularly crooked trunk, the wizard found himself in a grassy clearing that enveloped a small purplish-gray hut. As in his memory, there was also a person seated in front of the hut. They were swaying slowly back and forth in a rocking chair seemingly made from the same wood as the hut. The figure’s sapphire skin and periwinkle horns were bathed in purple sunlight from above, dying parts of the top of their bald head and antlers a blue-violet.
Mercae approached the rocking chair and recalled the man’s identity. “Your head looks like a fruit,” he said as he stopped before the seated one.
“You haven’t seen yours recently, have you?” the more wizened one retorted 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 nodded his head to a small, clear pool of water to Mercae’s right. Strange honking plants surrounded it with yellow bell-like flowers. There were also translucent orange domes on the water’s surface that wobbled on occasion.
Mercae heeded his companion and walked over to the pond and stared at his reflection. What stared back was his face, unsurprisingly. Though, his horns were different from how he remembered them. Instead of simply curling upward like two hooks, they now curved outward from his temples and bloomed. Halfway up from their bases, they seemed 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 remarked. “But yours were always like that, weren’t they Shaw?”
“Not always, but have been for a long time,” Shaw responded. “It happens to us all.” Shaw scratched absent-mindedly at the base of his antlers. They were almost completely unwoven. Only the last centimeter near his skull remained thick and together. “It is no bother,” he then added. “Anyway, 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 stated more than asked as he stepped 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 replied slowly, the creaking of his chair filled 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 said before he walked over to the wall of the wooden hut nearest to the seated Shaw. He leaned upon it in a spot under the roof, enjoying the coolness of the shade. “What was I supposed to do? Not try to foil its sick plans?” He asked, 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 replied, his ancient voice raspy, yet direct.
“I did, but it basically told me that I wasn’t worth its time. I may not be an archmage, but I am not one to be ignored and dismissed,” Mercae explained.
“You always shoot first and think later,” 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 was about to retort with a quip, but something tugged at his mind, giving him pause. A ghostly hand crawled up his spine until it embedded a recollection into the base of his aging skull: a stone-skinned swordsman in an orange toga, a living shadow, an owl-serpent hybrid, and a flying leviathan. These visions swam within his mind’s eye for a few moments before they faded away.
“You alright?” Shaw asked, noticing the distant look in his companion’s eyes. He reached within his beige robe and pulled out a biscuit. He then tossed it at Mercae without warning.
Mercae blinked back to attention and halted the biscuit with a physics spell. He reached out with a thin hand and plucked it out of the air. He consumed it in a single bite before responding. “I think I just remembered how I got here,” he said.
“And how’s that?” Shaw acknowledged.
“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 rolled his eyes, doubting Mercae’s tale.
“There’s a way to find out,” Mercae replied, ignoring the sarcasm. He straightened his back and walked a few meters away from Shaw and the hut.
“What are you up to?” The seated one asked from the comfort of his rocking chair, still in perpetual motion.
“I think it’s time for a portal,” the wizard replied. He picked up a few nearby sticks and tossed them into the air in front of him. Because of the strange, selective gravity, the sticks floated. Mercae then used physics enchantments on the sticks to make them capable of writing on their own as well as cause them to glow silver. “Dear twigs, make a portal. If you would be so kind,” he suggested. The twigs wiggled agreeably before they dipped down to the ground and began etching symbols into the soil. In a few moments, they were done.
Shaw whistled from his seat. He seemed to be impressed. “That’s some good enchanting. Where’s the portal lead?”
“Home,” Mercae replied. He looked at the hovering sticks, “okay, nice job, you can de-chant now.” The sticks then plopped onto the ground. Their silvery glow faded as they ceased moving. Mercae inspected the portal, “Okay, should be ready to go,” he said as he inspected the circular drawing on the ground. He leaned over and pressed both of his hands into one of the symbols closest to him. Nothing happened.
“You sure that’s a portal? Just looks like vandalism,” the wizened one stated.
“The edges of the circle should have started glowing before creating some sort of window,” Mercae scratched his temple in confusion. “Maybe a portal to somewhere else?” He asked himself more than Shaw. The azure one repeated the process with the sticks and transformed the first portal into a new one with different symbols around a triangular outline. He pressed his hands against one of the symbols, like before, but again nothing happened.
“Now it just looks like you’re doing geometry homework,” Shaw chimed in.
“Strange…” the wizard said as he stood up and stretched his back. “I’ve never had problems opening portals to these planes…” he grumbled.
“You could be locked out,” Shaw suggested.
“Locked out?” Mercae repeated, recalling a concept from past reading. If someone had a piece of your essence, be it hair, skin, or phlegm, they could 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 could 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 instead of a temporary one bound to an individual’s energy.
The rocking one sighed as he read Mercae’s expression. “You’ll need a key,” he suggested.
“Obviously,” Mercae responded, annoyed. “But now I need to find a 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 stated nonchalantly.
“You are?” Mercae asked quickly, surprised and hopeful.
“Nope. Just messing with you, hehehe…” he chuckled. Before Mercae could fling an insult at him, he stopped laughing and pulled a small scroll from his robe. He tossed it with more force than necessary at his companion.
The wizard caught it in his hands this time. His energy was beginning to wane from the excessive usage of magic. He opened the scroll, revealing a blue glyph. After coming in contact with the air, the glyph began to glow brightly before burning the paper around it to ashes. Mercae pulled his hands away cautiously. The burning glyph, now floating, then began to speak.
“Need a way into somewhere you can’t currently go?” an oily voice rang out from the glyph. “I can help… for a price. No law enforcement allowed!” The glyph then transformed into two separate symbols. One, now coloured green, cycled 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 depicted the opposites in red.
“You know this guy?” Mercae asked Shaw, doubting the reputation of the advertisement.
“Yeah. He’s slimy but he knows his spatial magic,” the older one replied.
“Right then,” Mercae acknowledged. He extended a thin finger toward the green symbol and poked it. A pleasant chiming sound was then heard before a small portal began to open where the green symbol was. In moments, the portal was large enough to walk through comfortably. “Do I want to know how you know this guy?” Mercae then asked the seated Shaw.
“Nope. Hehehe…” Shaw then halted his chuckling suddenly, like before. “Don’t worry about the scroll, by the way, I can get more,” he added.
“Thanks for the help. I didn’t expect it, but I welcome it,” Mercae then turned his attention to the portal before him. Unlike the ones he usually created for himself, it was not like a transparent window. Instead, it was an opaque yellow light. It also gave 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 followed up jokingly before he walked through the portal. After he entered, it closed in upon itself and shrunk down to the size of a pea before popping with a small crack. Nothing remained that would reveal that there was a portal here moments ago.
Shaw smiled while he continued to rock back and forth. He closed his eyes and eased his head back, resting his neck. A pleasant breeze then wrapped around the hut and its owner, drifting him off into an easy sleep. In his dreams, he revisited 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.