A Prison of Worlds

Book One of the Chained Worlds Chronicles  Ybinsample 

His friends are dead and now Derek is trapped as a human and branded by magic. Not that he has anything against humans, after all, some of his best friends were human, however, it's just not for him. Now thrown out of his own reality he has to find a way to break his bindings and find a way home. Although he is an accomplished psychic Derek realizes that perhaps this may be the wrong skill set to bring to bear on ancient magics and devilish dragons. Now he has to explore the very building blocks of magic to take control of his destiny. Unexpectedly, while he's taking control, events occur that may lead to the end of the world as we know it. Mad mages, hordes of demons and unfortunate explosions follow him as he attempts to save the world. Which begs the question, what does happen after the apocalypse?

A Dragon at the Gate

Book Two of the Chained Worlds Chronicles Ybinsample

The apocalypse came and went. While civilization picks up the pieces, Derek concentrates on breaking the runic bindings placed on him by expanding his magical expertise. Cut off from the influence of their undead god, vampires are going feral as they come under the influence of a less respectable god of the dead and undead. Another thing on his list of things to do. Then there is the rogue demon lord who is due to incarnate and pick up his plans to rule the ten chained worlds where he left off. He should look into that as well...

 

 

 


A Shuffling of Planets

Book Three of the Chained Worlds Chronicles Ybinsample

After a well-deserved slumber, Derek wakes up to a few changes. His elf went off on a quest to save the elementals without him. Despite his concerns that this may lead to another disaster for someone, he has to admit there's a lot requiring his attention. New portals open, new possibilities and horizons lay before him. It is time to find out where the other permanent portals go to. This may incidentally narrow down where the army of demons is headquartered in, however with the dimensions locked down and chained up, he may have to travel the hard way. So many things to do. So little time.

With the second demon invasion on the horizon, Derek attempts to get a coalition of allies to face it. At least in between his more important research projects. However new threats continually distract him, such as vampire gods, aliens, and interplanetary attacks. Why is it always so hard to get a moments peace to read a good book?

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A Dragon at the Gate

Book Two of the Chained World Chronicles

By Daniel Ruth

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Dedication

To the three wonderful women in my life, Wendy, Krystal and Amberlyn 

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A Dragon at the Gate

Book Two of the Chained Worlds Chronicles
Copyright © 2016 by Daniel Ruth
All Rights Reserved

Kindle ASIN: B01NCNAN7L

KDP Paperback ISBN: 9781520195285

Revision 3 

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Chapter 1

As I stepped through the portal to the dimension I had called home for the more than a year, I stopped and stared at the gigantic cannon that was pointed at my face a handful of meters away.  “That’s not a good way to greet friends.  Whose porridge did I piss in this time?”

“That would be my porridge and the good citizens of this city,” announced a voice off to the side.  I glanced over and saw it was coming from a middle-aged military soldier.  I didn’t know much about the military since they had been remarkable only in their absence since I arrived.  The four stars pinned to his shoulders seemed indicative of a high rank.  “I am General Armbridge.  Give me a reason not to obliterate your sorry naked ass.”

Well, looking down at myself, I certainly had to admit I was pretty much naked.  Growing to my maximum height and then plowing through dirt and rock had pretty much had sent my clothes to the afterlife.  The little that hadn’t been burned away by hellfire.  I shrugged.  The cannon was unlikely to do much to me.  Unlike vampires and weres, my durability scaled directly with the environmental energy available.  Standing in the middle of a permanently open portal, feeling the invigorating sensation of mana rushing from one world to another... I felt invincible.  I wasn’t, of course, but that cannon wasn’t going to do much to me.  “I am Derek.  You may have heard of me from Conrad...”

“The Professor,” the soldier said dismissively.  I opened 

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my mouth to comment but then shrugged again.  He was extraordinarily brave for a human standing in front of a man holding several tons of concrete on his shoulder.  Speaking of which, I let it go and it rolled off to the side, shaking the ground as it landed.  Hmmm, still no reaction.  Ah, a faint shimmer from the buoy floating behind him.  A hologram.  Not actually very brave after all.  “I read about you.  A vigilante who got in over his head and decided to try to direct those who know better...”

“And I assume your knowledge extended to firing your satellite super gun at ground zero here and killing about half of our forces?” I asked casually.  If they hadn’t shot me yet, it wasn’t going to happen.  My gaze wandered around the area.  It had taken me a day to slowly walk back.  I had healed completely by then.  As chewed up from the hellfire as I had been, the increasing energy from the portal as I neared it had charged my regeneration along with my other abilities. 

The circle was there on the ground under me.  Of course.  It was effectively permanently etched into the ground and would remain there until the end of time. Or the ambient energy faded away.  As I said, the end of time.  The protective circle was down, which explained the presence of the military.  I couldn’t remember when it went down.  Perhaps after I had been blown through the portal. 

The crater walls were still there and along the edge was mounted military grade force field generators interspersed with large vehicles that looked like tanks.  Naturally, their turrets were pointed at me as well.  That forest I had walked through was looking nicer and nicer. 

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Of course, I had left all my stuff here so that option really wasn’t on the table.

“How dare you question my decision,” the general shouted hoarsely.  “I had to make a hard call in order to stop the Armageddon you and your kind were unleashing!  It’s unfortunate that some brave men had to be sacrificed but they knew the risk....”

“I somehow doubt they were expecting to be vaporized from above.  After all, they were expecting to be called on to fight the minions of a demon lord.  A demon lord who was actually safely ensconced behind an indestructible barrier.”  I shook my head in mock sadness.  “But that’s okay.  You ignored the advice of the experts, did your own thing and the only people we lost were a few supernatural filth.  Does that sound like what you were thinking?”

“Their race had nothing to do with my decision...” I ignored him as I noticed that there were actually some human corpses in slightly singed robes.  Odd, they must have died outside and been blasted inward past the field.  I walked over to him and started to take off the robe.  “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Getting dressed.  Or do you like my nakedness?” I replied absently to the raving loon.  Better, but I would have to get this cleaned and pressed.  The holes and singed patches made my teeth itch.  Or I could simply throw them out once I got home.  Boy, I could really use a shower.

“By God, you better start taking me seriously, son,” the 

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crazy man stated.  “I expect you to go up and turn yourself in.”

That got my attention.  “Say what?  Exactly why would I turn myself in?  I’m not the one that killed half the special forces in the city.”

“Right, and I suppose that kinetic strike wasn’t your doing?” he said while pointing to a large break in the edge of the crater.  That hadn’t been there before.  Edging over I lined myself up with the opening.  There was a large furrow in the ground that slowly sloped upward and lead to a massive opening torn into the building adjacent to the park.  And the building behind that.  And the building behind that.  And so on. 

How about that.  I suppose it was the best of bad alternatives.  Wow, I hope no one I knew died.  I turned to the projection and immediately started to lie.  “General, it’s absurd that you could attribute that amount of destruction to me.  What kind of monster do you take me for?  I would have to have the power of a veritable god in order to do that.”

“Then how do you explain...” he blustered angrily.

“What actually happened is that my fellow defenders of goodness threw ourselves into harm’s way, in the desperate attempt to stop a demon lord from bringing his armies into our world.  Brave Mei Ling tore at him with furious sword blows,” I paused a moment to verify Mei’s sword was gone.  “And the stalwart Faramond wrestled with the mighty creatures channeling his fairy power,” I paused a moment to suppress a chortle. It definitely 

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would not fit the narrative. 

“So while Estella’s minions distracted him, I was able to mitigate the circle enough stop the army of demons from crossing over.  Unfortunately, this angered the fierce demon enough that he empowered a monstrous spell to kill us all with this runic boulder,” nodding to the anchor I had tossed to the ground a moment ago.  “Thankfully, I am dreadfully clever and I was able to reverse our position at the last moment and he was struck by his own fateful blow.”

I stared at him with as a sincere look of innocence as I could muster.  It was mostly lies, of course.  Yes, my companions had indeed distracted the demon lord so I could modify the circle to block the demons, rather than to give access to our dimension to them.  I had hoped to dismantle it altogether but there had been too much energy built up already. However, now no demons or similar supernatural horrors could pass through the linked gates without using either my blood or their master’s blood. 

The false part was that the kick ass magical boulder was part of the magic that bound me to this plane of existence.  I had figured that I might be able to modify the definitions of the anchor rune stamped on my chest enough to draw it to me instead of me being drawn to it, in the instant that I crossed the dimensional barrier and the backlash disrupted the spell.  Instant kinetic strike with an indestructible runic asteroid.  Well, almost instant.  It was up in the air for a few seconds whether the demon lord would kill me before it hit him. 

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“And the magic symbols on your chest that happen to match this cannonball of your?” the general drawled skeptically.

“An unfortunate side effect of interfering with the demon’s work,” I nodded humbly, peaking up through my bangs.

“That is the biggest load of shit I have ever...” he started to shout out in fury.  However, a disembodied hand reached out of the air behind him.  I was puzzling over this when the holographic image expanded to include Conrad.  For the first time ever in my experience, he was out of his armor and he looked terrible.  The uniform he wore was folded up at each knee and his left forearm was gone as well.  Strangely enough, he was still upright and seemed to be floating in midair.  He was wearing a large belt with multiple blocky cells on the side, so I could only assume it was some sort of levitation assistance he was using while his regeneration grew his legs back.

“That’s enough.  You had your chance,” Conrad growled in a low angry voice.  “The Professor’s answers match what we know.  What we expected.  Now you need to get out of my city.”  His eyes flashed with barely suppressed violence.  “You have a court martial to prepare for.  Good luck.”

The General stalked out of the projection area.  I didn’t pay any attention.  My mind was on other things.  I slowly climbed up the slope of the crater and peeked over the sides.  It was a little difficult to see through the tanks, cannons and unmanned military paraphernalia cluttering the park grounds, however, once I was up against the 

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glowing blue surface of the force field the military had conveniently left around the portal, I could partly see the surrounding cityscape.  I personally questioned the effectiveness of the barrier since it only went up a hundred meters and the portal towered above that as far as I could see.  It was like putting a fence around a Sequoia and patting yourself on the back for keeping out the man-eating trees.

The city looked pretty good for a post-apocalyptic landscape.  Sure, smoke billowed up from the various buildings for as far as I could see and the lack of civilian traffic was made up by the horde of military vehicles speeding to and fro among the skylines.  Seriously, was there really a point to putting camo green on a flying truck with strobe lights and sirens?  Yet I didn’t see any active fires, there were hardly any screams of panic and pain and the walking wounded winding their way in between the smashed hover cars littering the streets seemed mostly calm and barely bleeding.

“It’s terrible,” a female voice drifted over to me from behind the armored vehicles.  Mei walked out from behind one and over to the field.  She looked tired and somewhat bedraggled.  The clothing she wore still bore the rents and tears from the fight with the demon lord.  However, the dried blood was at least a day old and she looked completely healed.  “I am glad you made it back to us.  The force of the... um, rock, had us worrying there would be anything left.”

“Eh, it was nothing,” I waved negligently with one hand, still taking in the view.  “Without the rock of doom I 

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would likely be dead and the world overrun with hordes of minor demons.  This is actually way better than I thought.  In fact, this is the best end of the world scenario ever!”

Mei had come up to the barrier and I could see in more detail.  Lines of worry and tiredness etched her face.  For a moment I thought that the magics the crazy wizard had cast on her to arrest her age had failed, but I think it was merely stress and exhaustion.  Mei suppressed a laugh under a cough and shook her head.  “If this is a good outcome I am glad I didn’t see the bad one.”

“I’ll need a more detailed account of what happened,” Conrad’s voice echoed behind me from the buoy’s hologram. “We made plans for a lot of scenarios, but you seemed pretty confident there would be demons and random rifts tearing through the town.  So far most of the city’s infrastructure is down and there are very brief tears it’s been mild compared to what we expected if we had failed.”

“You’re welcome,” I said magnanimously.

“Perhaps you could clarify,” Conrad replied dryly.

“While Stella distracted the demon lord, I was conducting shenanigans on the circles.  Suffice to say I was able to modify it to mitigate the worst of the effects.  I’ll go over it in more detail when you come over.”  I looked over at Mei with some trepidation.  “I still have a home, right?”

“Yes, Jeremy, Beth, and Mat are all okay.  Once the power failed they went around the neighborhood and helped 

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with the disaster relief.  There’s been a lot of fatalities, mostly from floaters that failed when the portals opened. Most of the vehicles had impact foam but a lot of the mechanisms failed.  Where they didn’t have fatal head trauma the military is providing temporary cryogenic storage until they figure how to shield the hospitals enough to provide resuscitation services...”

“Great, glad that turned out,” I replied distractedly.  As long as my people were okay I really didn’t care about a bunch of strangers.  “Conrad, as much as I like hanging around and chatting is there any way you can turn off the barrier for a moment?  So I can actually leave?”  I gave the glowing transparent wall a poke, which elicited a fat spark.  My vision allowed me to perceive the invisible but it often took on just such an appearance.  Of course, it may actually be very visible which made me a bit hesitant to point such things out.  It can be a bit embarrassing.

A moment later the glowing wall flickered and faded.  As I stepped through, I heard the crackle of the energy reforming behind me.  I took a deep breath and sighed.  “Home again,” I glanced around at the damage and smoke.  “It feels even more like home this way.”

I heard a crackle and a wet cracking thump as something impacted the barrier behind me.  Turning I saw an eight-foot tall creature resembling a pterodactyl laying sprawled on the sloping crater wall.

“Apparently, the other side houses a large number of very aggressive dinosaurs.  The flying ones often come in low enough to hit the shield and die on impact.  Fortunately, they are not supernatural in any way and die on impact.” 

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She was gazing at the body with some ambivalence. “The remaining flyers go over the field and into the city if the guns somehow miss them.  Very hazardous to children and even adults if they are taken unaware. The city has put a bounty on them and the shifter population loves to hunt them.  Apparently, they are delicious.”

I nodded my head enthusiastically.  “They are, way better than cloned chicken.  I like the bigger breeds, though.”

“How do the bigger one’s fly?” She asked as we made our way to the edge of the park.  The smoke was getting thicker as were the sirens and various humans shouts.  “Nothing that has come through has a bit of magic.”

“No, not the flyers, I meant the land bound ones.  I think they are similar to a tyrannosaurus rex.”  I shook my head as I savored the memory.  “Though it might have been an allosaurus for all I know.  I never thought learning about extinct species would matter.”

“Damn! Is that going to be a problem?” Mei asked worriedly.

I waved away her concern as we got to the rickshaw.  It had been knocked over but I had paid for the most durable materials available and even the paint hadn’t been scratched.  “Shouldn't be, as you pointed out they are pretty fragile.  The barriers the military have up should stop them here. The ones that get through any of the smaller spontaneous portals that crop up may cause a wee outbreak.  The bounty should help, though.”

“Well yes, but what about the more fragile humans?” she 

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inquired in concern.

“Hmm,” I muttered thoughtfully.  “Good point.  One of us will have to stay near Jeremy and Beth until the city has some automated defenses in place.”

Mei looked at me flatly for a few moments as we strapped into the seats of the rickshaw.  “And what about the rest of the city?”

I glanced at her blankly for a moment before I realized what she was concerned about.  “Oh, right.  I guess we can set up some sort of neighborhood watch...”  I tapered off as she glared at my unenthusiastic reply.  “Or maybe I could adapt a ward to keep vermin away...” 

Darn, that was not how I wanted to spend my time. Also, they weren’t magical.  Without some special characteristic, it would be almost impossible to key a ward to work on a dinosaur and exclude a human.

We wound our way through the smoking remains of crashed flyers. Several times we had to get off the bike to move a fallen vehicle or piece of a building out of the way. As a were-tiger Mei had some very significant strength and of course even as a young dragon my strength exceeded anything I was likely to encounter, now that the demons couldn’t easily transit through the gates.

It was during one of these slowdowns that I felt a fluctuation of the ambient energy levels and almost immediately afterward I heard a wailing siren go off through the city. 

“Crap! This is terrible timing.  I don’t think there's much 

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cover except the alley over there,” Mei exclaimed as she frantically gestured for me to stop again.  I slowed down, giving her a rather puzzled look.

“Is that an air raid alarm?  I thought that only happened in Jeremy’s shows.”

“Welcome to the modern age.  They have been repurposed to alert people to get cover from the energy surges.”

“Ah. That's what that was.  Wow, I never thought I would see one of those again.”

“You know what these are?” She asked as she dragged me over to the alley.

“Sure, they are minor energy imbalances.  They happen all the time and energy moves along the ley lines to rebalance things.  Totally harmless.”

“Hundreds of people have been disintegrated and the energy discharges have destroyed at least a building every time it happens.”

“Totally harmless to me, I meant,” trying to smooth over my gaffe.  She glared at me again.  What the hell is she looking at me like that for?  I didn't cause them.  “Back where I was born we got them all the time.  They just sting a bit if you’re a supernatural.  The humans had the magics users put up something like lightning rods to sink the energy safely.”

Around us, static energy was gathering and I could hear explosions going off as the energy normalized along the 

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ley line.  “So you can set something up for the city.”

I growled in frustration.  If I kept getting volunteered for all this scut work I would never get back to more important research.  “Fine.  I think I can come up with something.  But it's going to be deployed by someone else.  I have better things to do.”  Usually, the mages guild used to set something up, but wards actually worked very well to automate energy regulation.  Circles may work better, but I think I could set up some portable wards on placards that a minor psychic could place and activate. For a circle, I would have to personally be there.

We continued to huddle in the alley as explosions were heard getting closer.  There were a few moments of excitement as discharges looking remarkably similar to lighting trailed through the street in front of our hiding place like a primitive Van de Graaff generator, except larger... and more explosions.  Soon after they passed, the sirens faded and the city returned to its peaceful post-apocalyptic state.

 

 

Upon opening the door to my house I was assaulted by a tiny blond whirlwind of activity that threw itself at me and clamped around my waist.  I looked blankly at the little blond girl hugging me and then around the room at Jeremy and Mat that had come to greet me.  My social skills were a little lacking in knowing what the standard 

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responses were.  Hesitantly, I patted Beth on the head.  “Um, good girl.  Would you like a cookie?”

Mei coughed behind me, apparently amused by my situation.  Jeremy was getting an annoyed expression.  Beth seemed happy to see me and seeing all my humans together calmed a part of me I hadn’t even known was tense.

“You don’t have any cookies,” Beth’s muffled voice said.

“Do we have a ham left?  Because tyrannosaurus is like Chinese food, you’re hungry an hour later...”

“I am glad you have your priorities straight, Derek,” Jeremy growled.  He seemed fixated on my hand patting Beth’s head.  Was I doing it wrong?  I could have sworn I saw people patting their dogs like that.  “The city is arranging the distribution of rations.  Don’t expect your usual deliveries.”  Well, that is going to stink.  With all the energy floating around, I didn’t really need to eat but I had really gotten used to it.  Maybe I could sneak over to dino land and snag a bite to eat or even bring something back. 

“Derek, please stop petting my sister.  It’s disturbing,” Jeremy stated flatly, prompting more coughing from Mei.  I stopped.  It had been rather pleasant.  I wondered if I could get Mei to change into a tiger for a scratch behind the ears.

“Okay, aside from our empty larder, how are things going?”

“It’s quieted down mostly,” Mat chimed in.  His pallor had 

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improved and the slight slackness in his expression had faded away.  I assumed his ghost was getting better at possessing his body.  I was still hoping that at some point it would stop being possession and merge permanently.  At the moment he had some similarities with a zombie.  Without the corpsiness.  “We have a backup generator running, that’s powering up the neighborhood and we have invited some of the people that got hit the hardest to stay in the vacant houses.”

I twitched at that.  There were strangers staying in my houses.  Touching my stuff.  Moving things out of their preordained locations.  Making a mess.  “Derek!  Seriously, stop petting my sister.”  Ah, I hadn’t realized I was doing that again.

“How long are they staying,” I asked with trepidation.

“Well, apparently our city fared very well in comparison to most of the other large cities.  The preparations we made really made a difference.  Also, the army of demons never came so...”

“You’re welcome,” I said absently as I stopped myself from patting Beth.  Disentangling myself from her I staggered over to my favorite chair and listened to Jeremy with half an ear, as I tried to convince myself I was okay with random people pawing through my stuff.

“The army is taking advantage of most of the infrastructure being intact to set up in the city.  On the one hand, they are very helpful with the search and rescue.  On the other hand, the city is under martial law.” 

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“They didn’t interfere with us,” I said.

“We were on a rickshaw, Derek,” Mei interjected.  “While they are running search and rescue they aren’t going to care much about surface traffic unless it somehow matters.  Also, Conrad gave me one of these,” she said holding up a bracer that looked very much like the military wrist terminal I used to have before I was blown through the portal.  I had thought the ward I had inscribed would have made it indestructible but you live and learn.  “Conrad set it to act as a military transponder so I could help coordinate the shifters of the city.”

“I thought the packs wouldn’t organize without Conrad breathing over their shoulder?”

“Well, apparently the end of the world can get them all moving in the same direction.  I don’t think it will last but they are allowing me to give directions without a constant threat of violence.”

“What about the vampires?” I asked absently.  Maybe I could convince my new tenants to wear gloves and shoe covers.

“I haven’t heard from Sebastian since before we fought Vatapi,” Mei spat.  “Or anyone from Tower Plaza.”

“Who is Vatapi?” asked Beth.

“He was the demon lord we fought.”  I looked from Mei to Beth to Jeremy.  Jeremy shrugged, apparently they haven’t shared the details with his sister. “We thought we were just fighting a crazy wizard bent on world domination.  We found out it was actually a demon lord 

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bent on multi-dimensional domination.  Totally different.  If we had known, we could have dressed for the occasion.” I quipped.

“Tuxedoes optional,” Jeremy joined in.

“Okay.  Finally, where’s Stella.”

“She went to the Blight to check on the ‘roots of Yggdrasil’,” Jeremy said with a tiny bit of skepticism.

“You mean Purgatory?”

“Purgatory?  Where’s that?” Jeremy asked with a puzzled frown.  I looked at Mei and saw a look of concentration before her eyes lit up in recognition.

“Oh, I had forgotten about that place.  That’s where um, Sul...Sulayman was?” Mei asked tentatively.

“Good grief.  His damn wards.” I sighed and massaged my forehead as the others stared at me in confusion.  “He had wards all over the place to keep the peace and to keep the authorities away.  Similar to my ghetto invisibility,” I addressed to Beth as she sat curled up on my side.  She nodded in understanding.  While I had only walked her through a few psionic techniques I had talked about the more interesting ones.  “With the energy flooding the ley lines, I am guessing that the wards got supercharged.  We’re going to have to visit there eventually to get Sulayman to tone them down a bit.”

“So, who is Sulayman,” Jeremy asked with a blank look.  I stared back silently.  There was really no point in explaining it when he would just forget about it again. 

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“It’s the guy you told me about in Purgatory,” Beth started to explain.  At least her nascent training was enabling her to resist the effects.  It also likely helped that she hadn’t actually been there or been directly exposed to the wards.

“What’s Purgatory?” 

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Chapter 2

The next few days were spent mostly in my basement fiddling with my wards.  Ideally, I would have liked to work a little bit more with my healing circle.  Getting a true resurrection circle was still a priority.  I had lucked out with my haphazard solution to ‘reincarnating’ Mat but frankly, having his ghost possess his ghost was really sloppy.  Technically, he was still dead. 

Instead, I was futzing around with a variation of my anti-magic wards.  This was something I had perfected adequately on a small scale.  Enough that I could keep my electronics from exploding around my aura.  A situation that was only going to get worse since my body was sucking in the elevated ambient energy like a child drinks down a milkshake.

I think I had gotten it to the point that it could cancel the energy strikes from the minor surges long the key line.  I could make it feed on the energy pulses to enlarge its magic suppression field.  A poor man’s lightning rod.  One wouldn’t do it, though.  It would take one attached to the top of the building every half mile or so. The part I couldn’t figure out was how to get someone else to trigger it.  To test it out with a minor psychic, I had a little helper.

“Try it once more,” I coaxed Jeremy’s sister again.  I had affixed the hand sized placard to the bench in the corner.  The power was dialed down to the minimum since I actually needed the mana level to be normal down in the 

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basement if I was going to use it for my experiments.

“It's not doing anything.  I can sorta feel the magic energy but it's just not reacting to anything I do with my mind,” the girl pouted.  In exchange for helping her with her psionic practice, I was using her to see if a psychic could activate the ward.  So far it wasn’t a success.

“Darn, I was afraid of that,” I muttered.  I had woefully underestimated how easy this would be.  As a dragon, I could instinctively activate and use most magic devices, wards and circles that were already set up for use.  I could do this even before I trained myself in the field with my stolen books. Beth didn’t have my reservoir of mana, my instinct or training. “Maybe the vamps can do it.”  I had my doubts, though.

“Sorry,” Beth said dejectedly.

After checking her brother wasn’t around, I patted her head.  “It's not your fault.  You are turning out to be very talented in mind magic. It's simply a matter of it being a different specialty.  Just because I was hoping for something different doesn’t make it your fault that it's not working out.”

“Does this mean that your devices can’t keep our city from being blasted apart every few hours?” another voice interrupted.  Conrad was standing at the head of the stairs with his typical frown. 

“I see your legs are almost done,” I noted, seeing he was no longer wearing the hover belt and was wearing a lighter version of his armor. 

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“Yes, thanks for your concern,” he nodded gruffly.  “Now about our exploding city?”

“Well, the wards can do it,” I nodded to another corner of the room where several stacks of ceramic plates leaned precariously against one another.

“Are you sure they should be leaning that way?” Conrad nervously questioned, no doubt picturing his hopes for a non-exploding city inches away from being dashed.

“It's that new ceramic you guys like to use.  It should be able to be shot from a cannon and not chip,” I assured him.  “Once it's activated, it should be able to take a shot from that great big orbital cannon in the sky and shrug it off.”

“So why aren’t we deploying them?” the were captain asked, a hint of annoyance creeping into his voice.”

“Because if Derek had to place all of them himself he couldn’t do other important things that might save lives,” chimed in Beth from her position standing over the ward.  I smiled to myself as she recited the reason I had told her. It was mostly true, although there was a goodly dose of selfishness in the equation.

“Mei asked me to do something about the roaming dinosaurs and I still have to go to Purgatory and fix that mess.”
               “Where?” a confused were bear asked.

“Yeah, exactly,” I sighed tiredly.

“I may be able to help,” another voice drifted in from 

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behind Conrad’s large frame.

“Stella, you are back,” I exclaimed happily.  Oh, sure she started out as a bubbleheaded blond but after you got to know her you... got used to it.  That and she was the only spell caster I knew of in the world even if she came across as an old world hippie.

“Yeah, I stopped by the Blight...”

“Purgatory,” I corrected her.

“What’s Purgatory,” muttered a dazed Conrad.  His efforts to overcome Sulayman’s wards were almost literally making his eyes cross.

“Whatever you want to call it, it's cut off from Yggdrasil,” she sadly shook her head.  “I’ve never heard of it happening before.”

“Does this mean you can’t go back?”

“Well, it was the only real way I had to travel the planes,” she paused for a moment.  “I suppose I could have gotten a ride from George but he’s stuck here too.”

“Who is George,” I asked, now joining Conrad looking lost.

“He’s the elemental she summoned,” Beth offered helpfully.  “Didn’t she introduce you?”

“I wasn’t around long after she summoned him,” I explained to the girl.  “He’s trapped too?  He’s not staying in the spare room, is he?  There is no way I am letting an elemental track dirt into the house...” I paused as the elves eyes narrowed at me and I belatedly remembered 

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the Norse elves feeling on hospitality.  “Unless I can renovate the area so it feels more at home...” I trailed off gritting my teeth.  Good Lord, can you even get the maid service after the world ends?  Switching gears, I asked, “So you named him George?”

“No one here can speak the elemental tongue, except perhaps you.  I wanted something exotic.”

“So you named him George?”

“I wanted to call him Bob but Jeremy kept laughing at me for some reason.  I thought George would work.  It speaks of mysterious places.”  She was no longer glaring at me, so I suppose she could call it anything she wanted.  “As kind as it is to offer hospitality, he was not comfortable in your tiny abode.”  Pardon me for not needing a palace or decent cavern since I’ve been stuck in this scrawny body for over a year.  “He is living underneath the Primary.”

“The where?” Crap, now Conrad has me doing it.

“It’s what everyone is calling the first portal where we fought the Demon Lord,” Conrad groggily splurged as he slowly pulled himself out of his fugue.

“I guess that works,” I muttered.

“He isn’t happy about being trapped here, but at least he won’t starve.  Anyway, I am here to help.”

“Um, thanks...” I offered weakly.  “Help with what?”

“With the wards,” she prompted.  “I can help place and activate them.” 

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“You... can use wards,” I collapsed on a nearby stool, staring at her.

“Of course, focusing and routing energy is a basic skill I learned before I was even a century old,” she said in her evil bubbly voice.  “I had no need of the advanced skills but most elementalists and other schools know that.”

“So when I was training myself in the mastery of wards and circles it didn’t occur to you that I could use a little help?” A small growl may have entered my voice.  Beth must have seen something in my expression because she slowly inched out from between the two of us.

“I had mentioned my skill in wards when we first met.  I had assumed that you wanted to accomplish this on your own or you would have asked.”  I remembered tuning her out after five seconds of her rhapsodizing of the wonders of nature.  I groaned and rubbed my forehead.

“Do you have anything to offer now?  Now that I am asking?” I prompted her.

“Well, I can activate any wards you wish me to,” she said hesitantly.  “I think you have surpassed my knowledge of advanced wards and circles.  The priests were the ones to study those things along with runes.”

“So we have a solution to the lightning storms,” Conrad prompted, seemingly fully focused.

“We have a mitigation,” I corrected him absently, still distracted by the thought of all the time I had wasted.

“The wards will help damp down the minor fluctuations 

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the city is experiencing,” Stella interjected helpfully using her newly exposed knowledge of wards and magical environmental engineering.  My fingertips lightly gouged into the surface of the table as she continued her explanation.  I am sure it was totally subtle and no one noticed.  “However, a real storm will still rip through the city pretty badly.  Although enough of these wards may reduce the effects to just above what you're experiencing now.”

Conrad looked at me in concern for confirmation.  I took a deep breath and released it, trying to let go of my remaining tension and frustration.  I nodded. “Yeah, pretty much what she said.  There are mages that specialize in routing and balancing energies to prevent the ley lines from damaging things.  It’s really unfortunate that you built a city on such a mass of closely placed nodes.  There is a reason Vatapi chose this place as the Primary.”

“He’s the demon lord Derek fought,” Beth explained helpfully. Conrad grunted in thanks.

“And without these wards, a ‘real’ storm will do how much damage?” the officer asked with obvious trepidation.

“I am not completely sure how strong your structures are but even your force fields would offer little protection.”

“It would be pretty bad.  They are fairly rare but when they do happen most unprotected cities don’t survive.  The building materials you use are mighty strong but I wouldn’t risk it.” 

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“The other cities in the world haven’t had as much damage as we have,” he looked at us for confirmation.  “I assume that’s because we have so many ley lines.”

“It can happen to them too but we are at a higher risk.  Also, there’s something about this city that makes it very uncomfortable for human psychics and mages.  I am sure that other cities have active magic users helping to smooth things over...” I trailed off.  This world's magic users last effort to ‘help’ the world involved a massive spell that wiped the knowledge of magic, the supernatural and the ability to recognize it from all mundane authorities.  The supernatural community called this the ‘Announcement’ and it, in turn, came in reaction to a visit from an extraplanar deity that had ended in a city being nuked out of existence.  This also had its own name.  The “Moscow Event”.  Yeah, the magic community probably wasn’t going to do anything useful.

“Likely, some huge necromantic sacrifice within the last millennia,” Stella explained.

“Ew,” Beth gave her opinion of the matter.

“Anyway, we are the ones at the highest risk,” I explained.  “But it can happen to any city on a node.  There should be a minor trickle down effect as the ley lines connected to ours are stabilized.”  Stella looked doubtful at this but didn’t say anything.  The look was justified; it would be very minor.

“Give me the plates.  Faramond and I can place these through the city as well as activate them.”  Stella offered again. 

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I gestured to the leaning piles of wards in the corner to help herself.  “Would it help to have an officer assigned to help you?” Conrad asked.  That was actually very generous of him.  Faramond was an unregistered supernatural.  Before the portals opened and hell was unleashed, the mayor was contemplating cracking down on vigilantes pushing for his own supernatural task force.  Conrad was now head of that very same task force but I think the enforcing of the vigilante ban had never been actually enforced.  I suppose they had other priorities now.

“I would love the company,” Stella began brightly.

“I assume this assigned officer would be flying them around from one building top to another in either a shielded military vehicle or an older flyer more resistant to the ley lines?” I asked with a smile.

“Why yes...” the burly shifter began before he was interrupted.

“Actually, never mind! Faramond and I can easily do this by ourselves,” the álfar said with a plastered smile.  A twitch began to develop in her right eye.  Looks like she still wasn’t over that whole crash.  I still say she was overreacting.  It’s not as if she got eaten by demons like poor Mat did.

“We’ll do that right now,” she said eagerly, somewhat obviously trying to avoid the officer.  “You never know when a major imbalance could wipe out the city!”  She must have been using some of that fabled elven nimbleness since she stacked the wards until they 

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teetered over her head and practically sprinted up the stairs.

“She seems a bit over-eager,” Conrad hesitantly said as we all looked up the stairs where she had disappeared.

“Always eager to help,” except when she could have saved me weeks of time.  I would get over that eventually.  “Back to work then,” I said while clapping my hands.  With Stella’s help maybe I could get some research done.

“Actually, let’s go up to the living room for a bit.  I need to get your report on what happened and you can help us make some contingency plans now the worst has happened.”  Or maybe not.

“Sure, why not,” I replied unenthusiastically.

 

 

While I was sitting in my favorite comfy chair I couldn’t help thinking that there were literally more than a dozen things I should be doing and a half dozen I would rather be doing.  I stopped by the kitchen to offer Conrad a piece of dinosaur.  Mei had really scored with her influence with the packs and finagled an entire leg of an allosaurus.  It was cut up and distributed to the local housing.  This meant that I was storing it, but since my houses were full of squatters it didn’t really count as mine.  It was a good thing I hadn’t told anyone that I didn’t need to eat or I wouldn’t even have this. 

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teetered over her head and practically sprinted up the stairs.

“She seems a bit over-eager,” Conrad hesitantly said as we all looked up the stairs where she had disappeared.

“Always eager to help,” except when she could have saved me weeks of time.  I would get over that eventually.  “Back to work then,” I said while clapping my hands.  With Stella’s help maybe I could get some research done.

“Actually, let’s go up to the living room for a bit.  I need to get your report on what happened and you can help us make some contingency plans now the worst has happened.”  Or maybe not.

“Sure, why not,” I replied unenthusiastically.

While I was sitting in my favorite comfy chair I couldn’t help thinking that there were literally more than a dozen things I should be doing and a half dozen I would rather be doing.  I stopped by the kitchen to offer Conrad a piece of dinosaur.  Mei had really scored with her influence with the packs and finagled an entire leg of an allosaurus.  It was cut up and distributed to the local housing.  This meant that I was storing it, but since my houses were full of squatters it didn’t really count as mine.  It was a good thing I hadn’t told anyone that I didn’t need to eat or I wouldn’t even have this. 

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“Okay, so our friendly fiend had a plan then went back at least a hundred years.  Apparently, he was unwelcome back home in hell and decided to make his own little interdimensional kingdom.”  I paused, tearing a strip out of the dino haunch after sharpening my teeth slightly.  Since my shape changing had been partially unlocked I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to use it.  “Either he was pretty circle savvy or he had an unbelievable circle master working for him.  Rakshasa have a reputation for being evil masterminds and magical prodigies, so I’ll go with the assumption that he did it himself.”

“And what did he do?”

“He selected ten dimensions.  I am assuming they are all earth analogs, however, that wouldn’t really be required.  Over the last several centuries he has been carefully placing circle arrays at the major nodes of the planet he has targeted.”  I paused again to activate my telekinesis to drag a towel from the kitchen so I could wipe my hands.  Nothing came.  Damn, this is why I hate people moving my stuff around.  Leaning forward to peer around the corner I spied the truant cloth’s new location and floated it to me.  “We are lucky number ten.  The last planet on his list.  Which is actually very lucky.”

“How is being last lucky?”

“The last circle array was the linchpin.  If I had gotten there ten minutes earlier I might have been able to break the master circle and diffuse the energy.  Due to unfortunate delays we got there after he had started channeling the energy into it.” 

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“I assume that was bad.”

“If I had broken the circle at that point, the backlash would have destroyed the city and the energy may have created a cascade event leading to the same energy and portals we are seeing now but with a lot less control.”

“So our worst case scenario, without a directed army of demons.”

“Yeah, random supernaturals all over from everywhere in the multiverse.  So I decided against that.”  Mostly because I didn’t want to die, but the other reasons were valid too.  “So while the demon lord was distracted I modified the circle to exclude all demons and maybe most supernaturals.  Except for Vatapi, of course.  His signature and blood were impossible to remove in the time I had.”

“So until the circle fails or is broken the demons are trapped.”  He paused in thought.  “Exactly where are they trapped?  Somewhere in this ten world network?  Why can’t they travel through some other means?”

“Ah, I don’t think I explained that part.  Vatapi was an exile.  He didn’t want anyone, especially non-aligned demons to come after him.  So he did something that was frankly pretty amazing.  He locked these ten planets he had prepared away from all the other dimensions.”

“That does sound pretty impressive,” Conrad growled.  “How does that impact us?”

“Stella is trapped here, as is her elemental.” I pointed out.  “The rest of the world is actually in a good position. 

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Because he locked away the rest of the multiverse you will only have random portals popping up from ten worlds.  Because of yours truly, most of the supernaturals are locked away without the active help of Vatapi or me.”

“So Vatapi is dead and... wait. You?”  The were stared at me in surprise.

“Well, it seemed smart to have a key just in case we needed to actually go somewhere.  It was pretty easy to modify that part.  It’s meant to be flexible until it's activated.”

“Okay, our position is stable until the circle is broken or degrades.”  Conrad nodded to himself in satisfaction.  I looked at him in sympathy.

“That circle is activated on top of the largest node I have ever seen.  It not going to break or degrade... ever.  The planet itself is more likely to be destroyed than that thing.”

“Hmm.  Not the best news but as I said, the situation is stable.”

I shook my head, “Death means something else to gods and demons than it does to you or me.”

“What? Do you mean...” A look of dread crossed his normally stoic face.

“Yeah, demons come back from the dead unless you kill them on their own plane.  Normally their essence goes to their home plane and in a decade to a hundred years they are back and ready to cause more trouble.” 

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“And in a situation not so normal?”

“It gets a lot trickier to say.  Vatapi was a smart, if somewhat megalomaniacal, fellow,” I say thoughtfully, rubbing some stubble on my chin.  I like that look so I generally keep some there.  “There is no way he would chain himself inside a network of worlds if he didn’t have a way to restore himself.  Chances are that there is a tenth world that he has set up with his little horde of demons and he is in the process of restoring himself.  Once that happens, he is one of the keys that unlocked the portals and the demons can continue their invasion plan.”

The conversation was muted after this revelation.  Conrad was obviously mulling over the implications.  Within minutes he had excused himself.  I shrugged and headed back downstairs.  So much to do and so little time. 

So, of course, the bell tolled. 

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Chapter 3

When I opened the front door, I was expecting a vampire.  It only made sense.  The house was warded and I had already accidentally vaporized several fine upstanding vampire members of the undead community.  I hadn’t really cared, until the council member Vivian Delargo came to my door, practically frothing at the mouth and threw a rock at my head.  I may be a little insensitive, however in my defense, back in the dimension where I am from the vampires are all evil psychopaths.  Here in this new world, they seem to be pretty much just like humans.  Of course, humans that eat other humans, don’t breathe and... who am I kidding?  I can’t stand the things. 

I had turned off my wards long enough for the undead to reform and leave the perimeter and then placed a bell out on the lawn so the undead could ring it if they needed me to come out and talk to them.  I almost felt bad about the temporarily deader undead, since they had burned up trying to deliver messages to me that the service I had arranged was complete.  I still get a chuckle thinking about that crazy mixed up time.  Vivian was far less amused.

So when I opened the door I fully expected to see a vampire on my lawn.  It still took me by surprise.  Standing in the street, barely in arm’s length of the bell stood a tall, slender, impeccably dressed man in a black Victorian style suit.  I wasn’t quite sure why his hand was missing and the apparently freshly cauterized wrist was smoking.  It would explain why he was glaring angrily at 

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me, but I wasn’t sure how it was my fault.  Since it was late afternoon, he wore gloves... on his remaining hand... and he had a black parasol shading his head and face.

Next to him stood his funhouse mirror image.  A short, stout fellow whose waist crept over what most would have defined as overweight.  He wore a gray pinstriped suit that wouldn’t have been out of place in an Al Capone movie.  Undead love their anachronisms.  Though he wasn’t wearing gloves or a parasol and wasn’t smoking.  Hmmm, must be a minion.  Usually, minions try to match fashions with their boss.  What a bad minion.

“What the hell?  A disintegration field in a public place is so freaking illegal I’m surprised the army isn’t on your ass already,” shouted the distraught mortal.

“Idiot.  It is his wards.  Mistress Vivian warned me about them but apparently he moved the bell inside the field.  How droll,” spat the thin vampire in a tightly controlled voice brimming with anger.

“I don’t care if the thing works by chanting ‘Hari Krishna’.  That thing almost killed me!”  Shouted the near hysterical man, getting another disgusted look from the undead.  “If Mr. Prince didn’t need you I would pop a cap in you.”

Good grief. That horrible outdated colloquialism had to be an affectation.  Sure the people around here had a fetish with various old time periods but it was usually restrained to fashion, housing and the odd vehicle here and there.

A tug on my sleeve made me look down to find Beth at my elbow.  “Are they doing a Laurel and Hardy act?” she 

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whispered.  The vampire winced, apparently catching the reference with his unnaturally sharp senses.  The human continued to curse me, though he seemed to be losing steam.  From his reference to my erstwhile victim, the less than upstanding citizen Eddie Prince, it may be that these two were actually not together.  Great, now I have two problems instead of one.

“Yes.  Yes, they are,” I told the little girl. 

“Why does he have an umbrella?”

“I prefer to think of it as a parasol”

“Isn’t that for girls?”

“Yes,” I said with a hand on her shoulder.  “But I won’t judge.”  Ah, the skinny undead flinched.  Obviously, created in a time where people did exactly that.  “Better get back inside.  The only thing worse that a herd of crazy people are mimes.”  Once she had gone back inside I closed the door and walked over to the comedy act gathered in front of my house.

“So, what do I owe the dubious pleasure of your company?” I asked as I examined the bell and swept my hand in the area around it.  Well, what do you know?  The increased ambient energy was absorbed by the wards and seemed to have been partially expressed by a larger radius.  I guess I hadn’t defined the area of affect very tightly on the ward so the extra energy went there.  Admittedly sloppy of me, but I didn’t expect the apocalypse to come so soon.  Actually, I just didn’t expect the world to be standing afterward.  Still sloppy, though. 

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In the background, the comedy act had stopped talking.  I guess I had missed the introduction, but I didn’t care very much.  “Okay Laurel, why did Vivian send you here.  I haven’t seen hide nor hair of the undead sort since the world’s end.  Actually, I didn’t even see your sort much before it.  Why now?”

“My name isn’t Laurel.  It's...”

“Something I’d forget in about five minutes anyway.  Stick to the point.”  Was I being too rude?  “Please.”

“Mistress Vivian required your presence at the Tower Plaza.  She promises to make it worth your time.”

“Well that is unfortunate for you since Mr. Prince requires the Professor’s presence immediately,” the shorter fellow said pompously, finally over his irate rambling.

“I am not sure why I should go with either half of the Laurel and Hardy troupe,” I pointed out.  I had a lot of things that needed to get done and the most important of them involved research in my basement, not gallivanting around the city.

“Hardy?  Why I ought to...” began the human.

“Be quiet in front of your betters, little man.  Before I shove this stump down your throat and...” the vampire trailed off, obviously getting a grip on his temper.  I looked on in interest.  The modern vampires of this world were almost universally polite.  Since they had come out of the shadows they had run a concerted campaign to convince the mortals they were harmless.  The loss of control was concerning.  More so, since Vivian had reason 

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to send one of her more polite minions to me if she wanted my help.  I had helped them out with a problem and they had, in turn, helped me out with some information.  I owed her nothing and the reverse was true.

“Right.  Perhaps you could discuss who has precedence while I go have a cup of hot chocolate.”

“Mr. Prince is calling in his marker.  By your oath you are bound to his service until the debt is paid,” the stout mortal rushed out, clearly quoting another’s words.

“Vivian said to tell you that unless you are willing to lend your expertise to her problem, it may overflow and what’s left of the city will burn,” the simultaneous statement came from the one handed undead.

I looked from one to the other for a moment in silence and then stomped my foot angrily.  “Dammit!  One more interruption and I’ll summon the damn demon army myself, just so I can get some peace!”

 

 

Once I had calmed down slightly, I did the only sensible thing I could think of.  I flipped a coin.  Eddie Prince won.  Neither one would let me out of their sight and likewise neither one would get into the other’s vehicle so we ended up in my rickshaw.  I tried to ignore the odd couple in the back as the long silences were broken with bouts of 

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bickering.

The reason I owed Eddie Prince a favor was simple.  When I had come into this world I was destitute.  I was living out of the free housing given to the homeless.  Jeremy had offered to help, but pride and an unwillingness to live out of his parent’s basement pushed me to take actions of some dubious morality. 

In short, I snuck into a local mob boss’s hideout using a combination of psionics and shape changing.  I stole his identity, then his money and then his memory of what I did.  In my defense, he was a very bad, if talented, man.  He was also thoroughly mad.  In order to steal his memories and skills, I actually had to cure him of his mental illness.  I left his comatose body with the local hospital secure in the knowledge that he would wake up with no memory of me in a week, and even though he would undoubtedly sink back into madness, at least he would do so without any resources.

I later found out he had woken up and beaten the odds, simply by finding psychiatric help to make my cure stick.  A year later, he has dragged himself up by his bootstraps and now has an even larger criminal empire.  He didn’t thank me for any of that, though.  He actually hired a vampire assassin to kill me.  When I tracked him down we had a heart to heart and he agreed to drop his vendetta in return for several favors.  His timing could have been better.

I was distracted from my internal grumblings by the sound of screams from an alleyway we passed.  I contemplated driving onward, but I thought about what 

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Jeremy would do.  I promptly ignored that.  Then I thought about what Mei Ling would do.  I threw that out too.  It was when I was thinking about what Beth would do when I finally gave in.  Apparently, I live with a bunch of nosey busy bodies and they would all have issues if I passed on panicked screams.

I brought the vehicle to a rapid halt, that threw the human up against my back before he rebounded into his seat.  He was still groaning in pain when I leaped off the bike and rushed into the alley.  I was pretty sure he had recovered enough to shout curses at me as I left.  The vampire simply sighed impatiently and tapped his foot.  Naturally, he hadn’t been inconvenienced by the sudden stop.

The alley turned into a short street that dead ended in what appeared to be a small shared plaza for the neighborhood residences.  A shimmering opening, the size of a truck, blocked most of the exit and a large dinosaur was enjoying itself briskly chasing down the two humans desperately ducking behind overturned flyers and the several decent sized trees.  As I maneuvered around the edge of the dimensional tear I tried to identify the creature more exactly.  The beast was little smaller than the tyrannosaur I killed hiking my way back to the Primary portal in the park, only twelve feet tall.  Perhaps an evolutionary offshoot.  It looked like an allosaurus but I understood that was an entirely different time period.  At least in this dimension.

I finally managed to get around the portal without slipping into it and dashed toward the overgrown lizard. 

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It was just about to bite down on one of the heftier examples of humanity it was playing with, but it must have noticed my movement out of the corner of its eyes.  Swinging around its large head, it glared at me, before leaning forward to tear at me with its toothy maw.

I wasn’t too worried.  These creatures weren’t supernatural and that meant I was in another category of predator altogether.  The energies of the world flowed through me, reinforcing my strength and durability.  Not to mention this pipsqueak was less than half my size in my true form.  I moved to the side, brought my doubled fists together down at an angle on its snout.  Blood exploded from the destroyed skull as the force of my blow blew the skull backward, dragging the body of the beast along behind it.  It landing twenty feet away plowing into the ground whereupon the body flipped over and the carcass came to a rolling stop.

“Oh, my god!  What happened?  It was lunging at me and then it exploded backward,” the man said dazedly as he staggered towards me.  “Did you shoot it?”

I looked at him as I tried to brush bits of torn flesh and blood off my suit.  Really?  Did it look like I had a gun?  Admittedly, I wouldn’t be covered in blood and shattered teeth if I had used one.  “Yes.  I shot him with my invisible rifle.”

“How can we thank you!” This exclamation came from the woman approaching from the side.  She had been slightly better at hiding and now the beast was dead had come out and was hugging the man. 

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“No need to thank me,” I nobly declared as I stared at the deceased creature.  “I know this has been traumatic for you folks.  Let me take this thing away and I’ll be satisfied at having made the world a better place.”  I absently spouted, as I salivated over the dinosaur.  Oh yeah, steak tonight. 

I ignored the babble of the couple as I walked over to the carcass and grabbed the tail.  This would be a little tricky to get traction on.  Carefully leaning into the weight, I began to drag the body behind me.  The weight itself was trivial but my feet kept slipping until I concentrated on bringing more of my mass into my form.  The rune that fixed me into a humanoid form ached and burned as I pushed my crippled shapeshifting to the limit.  My form didn’t change but the impression I left on the world did and my steps became heavier and slipped less. 

The couple quieted and huddled away as I dragged the corpse away.  I guess they were squeamish.  More for me!

Back at the rickshaw, the vampire was still tapping his foot.  I had heard a steady stream of obscenities from Hardy but that died down as I came around the corner.  His face took on a grayish cast as I approached.  Humans are really silly around dead things.  Funny, considering how violent they were.

While he was catching flies and the vampire the very picture of impatience, I dug around the rear utility box behind the carriage.  As I came up with generous coils of straps, I promised myself to give Beth a raise.  I felt a little disloyal in thinking it but in some ways, she was a way better assistant than her brother.  I went about tying the 

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straps around the carcass and fastening it the frame of the bike.  It should hold, I did ask Beth to get the strongest available.

When I got back on the rickshaw and started pedaling, I realized the flaw in my plan.  The bike was certainly sturdy enough but the wheels simply spun in place.  The vampire snorted at my predicament and I spared him a brief glare.  There was no way in hell I was abandoning this feast on the roadside.

I sighed as I realized the only way I was going to get this home was to use pure psychic brute force.  With a frown, I concentrated and I encompassed the corpse in a telekinetic grip.  I didn’t want to waste my energy so I pushed more strength into my power until I barely countered the sheer mass and the bike’s wheels regained traction. 

It was with renewed exuberance I pedaled forth.  I may be constantly distracted from more important things and my time wasted by renegades from a black and white comedy skit but at the end of this day, I was going have a barbecue.

 

 

The last time I was at Mountain High was at night.  The buildings looked more mundane and the cracks in the windows and the flat out missing panes lent a certain war torn look to a previously very exclusive neighborhood. 

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Even now, smoking construction buoys waivers drunkenly in the air looking like they were about to come crashing down onto the people below. 

That was another difference.  The people.  Previously there were scattered well-dressed elite and a security bot at every corner.  The security bots were long gone and the people in the streets far more numerous. They were also a lot less well dressed.  I would venture to say that many of them looked like refugees from a night club after an all-night bender.  The clothes themselves were excellent quality but it was obvious that they hadn’t been washed in days, smudged with dirt and grime and often torn.  I suppose the laundry service after the city had been subjected to power outages, massive lightning storms, and dinosaur rampages was somewhat lacking.

With only military vehicles patrolling the air, most people were getting from place to place on ancient bicycles and a surprising number of well cared antique land vehicles I am sure were never intended to be seen outside some very rich people's garage.  Still, necessity will always triumph and here they were.  The people and what traffic there was, were remarkably accommodating in getting out of the way despite the very sparse coverage of functioning traffic buoys.  There were many glances at the large corpse we were dragging and many whispers as we passed.  I politely nodded and smiled at them in sympathy.  They were obviously jealous of the delicious meal I had with me.

Even with the traffic being so cooperative, I still had to slow as I approached the entrance to Mountain High. 

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Wheeled vehicles and people just couldn’t move that fast.  Hopefully, the traffic buoys would be fixed soon, the entire mob of people in the middle of the street was very chaotic and the constant honking was getting on my nerves.

I pulled up to the front and got off, unhappily brushing the dried gore from my suit.  It was tweed.  I think Jeremy was making a joke when he stocked them, but it had been remarkably comfortable.  I had more at home but since dry cleaning wasn’t the world’s main concern I had to assume it would be a while before I would be able to get the shredded flesh out of the fabric.  There was a spell that cleaned things with a wave of the hand.  It was supposedly a stupidly simple spell.  Ingrained so deeply into the firmament that apprentices used it with impunity.  Definitely my first priority.

“Watch the vehicle Laurel,” I said to the thin undead as he looked at me down his long nose in disdain.  “Guard the dino too.”

“Why would I care if someone took off with the carcass,” he asked sarcastically.

“If I lose my barbecue, you’ll have to explain to the lovely Vivian why we were delayed hunting down a replacement.”

“Fine.”

“If you’ll come this way Professor I’ll take you to Mister Prince,” Hardy politely offered as he staggered out of the cart.  He wobbled a little as if his legs were partially 

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asleep.  Strange, he was significantly more congenial since I brought the dinosaur back.

“Just Derek...” I trailed off in the middle of my protest.  “Fine.  Professor, it is.” I gave up.  I sucked at the whole undercover thing anyway and the end of the world made the point rather moot.  They can call me whatever they wanted to.

Then I went in to meet the Prince of the underworld.

The “Prince” wasn’t that impressive.  He was a middle-aged plump man with thinning hair.  Considering all of this could be fixed with a pill you had to wonder if his insanity was actually completely cured.  Even when I had shape changed into him to steal him blind, I thought his form was a tad creepy.

So there I was, sitting in his office, surrounded by his bookcases and luxurious carpets.  Eddie sat at his huge desk and I was in a very comfortable chair in front of him.  The chair was new.  I had smashed the old one in a fit of rage during our last meeting.  The carpet was not quite as smooth as previously and I could tell it covered a large crack in the floor that went all the way across the room and up the wall.  There were no windows in the room but from looking at the outside of the building, this floor had been hit pretty hard.  Most of the windows were gone or half melted from ley line energy strikes. 

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“So we meet again,” I nodded with a neutral expression on my face, my fingertips forming a triangle.  “How are things going?”

“We survived,” he paused.  “Most of us.”

“You’re welcome.”

“What?” he asked, distracted for a moment.  “Never mind.  I called you here to collect on one of your favors.”

“I was hoping for some tea,” I feigned disappointment.  “And maybe a steak.  It’s getting hard to get the bare necessities.”

“Well it’s only going to get worse,” Eddie said with some disgust.  “The military helped initially, but now that we don’t have constant lightning storms I heard they plan to use this city as a base to help organize the aid to the rest of the world.”

“You’re welcome.” He continued his monolog, completely ignoring me.

“Ironically, this is going to mean that all their resources are going to be outside this city except to re-supply.  We’re going to have to deal with the monster jack in the boxes ourselves.”

“True. The good side of that is they are delicious.”

He stared at me for a moment in silence.  “I sometimes forget you aren’t human.  Then you do something like that and it’s in your face.  Fine.  Your bad ass. You’re the monster that eats other monsters for snacks.  You and the 

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other shape changing freaks can be useful and eat the ones that don’t know their place.”

“Right.  I had almost forgotten why I didn’t like you.” I was lying.  I hadn’t forgotten.

“You don’t need to like me.  We had an agreement.  Seven wishes.”

“Favors,” I chuckled.  “I am not a genie.  I can’t just wave my hand and have reality bend to my whims.  But we do have an agreement.  What do you need.”

“I need you to resurrect some people,” he stated.  I stared at him for a moment.

“Can you wait a couple of weeks,” I asked.  “I am still working on that.”

By the widening of his eyes, I could see he was surprised.  Ah, I see.  He was opening with something he ‘knew’ was impossible so when I denied him he would have an advantage.

“You can raise the dead,” he stated flatly.  Yeah, he was fishing now.

“Right now I can only do it to the very recently dead.”  Both my psionic healing and circle were more than adequate for such a purpose.  “I have been researching more powerful methods.  Given a few weeks of ‘uninterrupted’ time, I think I can do it without that limitation.”

“Hmm,” he was silent.  I could see plans form behind his 

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eyes.  “So as of this moment, you cannot do what I ask.”

I looked at him in annoyance.  “I told you before I don’t do wishes.  If I can do something I will.  If you want something I can’t do, go somewhere else.”

“When you say you can resuscitate the recently dead, so this include the brain damaged?”

“Ah, you mean the ones that are illegal to revive, by law.  I have a couple of methods that can do that, as long as their spirit hasn’t left their body.”

“Like their soul?”

“No, not...” I paused.  I really didn’t want to get into a semantics argument with Eddie. “Okay, let’s go with ‘soul’.  If their soul hasn’t left their body, I can repair the damage one way or another.  Otherwise, we need a better method.”

“A lot of people are in limbo due to the recent disaster.  Technically dead.  The military apparently has a god awful number of cryogenic pods and has placed almost all of the people that have recoverable remains in stasis.”  He snorted, “They promised that once services have been restored, doctors will examine the victims and those that meet the legal criteria for recovery will be revived.”

“And I assume you have some pals that may not meet this definition.”

“Some of my people were technically killed during the events.  We have our own stasis pods.  Significantly better than the military’s mothballed versions.” 

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“You don’t want to wait?”

“That and also some of the people may be wanted for questioning.  Others may not meet the letter of the law due to some head trauma.  I want them back. I don’t give a damn if some bureaucrat thinks they know better.”

“Fair enough,” I nodded.  I actually thought the laws regarding reviving brain damaged people or making copies of memories and then restoring them to healed bodies or even new clones, were a bit excessive.

Nodding, he got up and lead me out the back of the office, through several corridors to a storage room.  I tried to reign in my aura.  I doubted it would be appreciated if I blew out the support equipment for the fourteen people I was supposed to be reviving. 

There before me were fifteen capsules.  All lined up like coffins ready for burial.  Coffins with a transparent faceplate.

“So you want me to heal seven of them,” I asked with a raised eyebrow.

“This would be a single favor,” he said firmly, staring me steadily in the eyes.  “I would expect six more services in the future.”

I stared at the pods and then back at Eddie.  The definition of ‘service’ wasn’t really defined.  As annoying as this was, it wouldn’t take me too long.  In the end, I decided it simply wasn’t worth arguing over and nodded.

“Doing this surrounded by stasis technology is asking for 

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trouble.  Take me to a separate room and bring them in one at a time.  I’ll see what I can do.  Assuming they aren’t truly dead, I can either heal them here or back at my home.”

“What you do disrupts technology?  Like what happened to all the quantum level tech?”  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised people noticed the common theme of the most advanced technology dying with the coming of the portals.

“Yeah, I should be able to keep most of it in check, especially if I am reviving them anyway. However, let’s not tempt fate.”  I didn’t feel like getting into an explanation of my aura as a supernatural creature disrupting technology versus my psionics, which happily worked with conventional physics.

 

 

 

It turned out that eleven of the recently dead could be repaired enough that no mental damage was detectable through simple psychic surgery.  Yes, massaging their brain through their skull with my healing fingers worked.  Three were far enough gone that my psychic talents couldn’t recover their personality or memories.  I told Eddie to bring them in a shielded truck to my home.  The circle that mostly resurrected Mat should be able to do something simple as regenerate the brain as good as new.  That type of healing magic could coax the recorded 

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templates of people from the firmament. 

The last body in stasis was so far gone it would have to wait for the more advanced circle.  There was nothing I could do for it at the moment.  I could tell Eddie wasn’t happy, but frankly, it was more than anyone else could do.  Legally, that is.  Someday my upgraded circle would be able to wrest the entire template from the primal layer of reality and stuff it back in the body.  If that wasn’t resurrection, I am not sure what else, short of a god, would do it.

 

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