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 Shuffling of Planets

Book Three of the Chained World Chronicles

By Daniel Ruth

 

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Dedication

In memory of a wonderful mother, Marti Ruth. 

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A Shuffling of Planets

Book Three of the Chained Worlds Chronicles
Copyright © 2018 by Daniel Ruth
All Rights Reserved

Kindle ASIN: B07N7NQ9PH

KDP Paperback ISBN: 9781795394918

Revision 1 

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Chapter 1

I smiled to myself as I finished engraving the last digit into the circle I had laid down in my basement.  After years of hard work, I had finally mastered the formation of the inter-dimensional portal.  I bit my thumb and let a dribble of my blood land onto the circle.  Instantly a blue and black distortion spun in place above the diagram, quickly opening into a tear in the fabric of space.

My grin diminished slightly as I saw a twenty-foot figure on the other side.  It wore no clothes but the only bare flesh it showed was shiny scar tissue.  It almost appeared as if the man’s form was made of gray wax that had been left out in the sun.  The region below its stomach was even less distinct as if a child had playfully molded two lumps and joined it into a mound he called a torso.

“Excuse me, Mr. Playdough man but I need to get home,” I started politely.  The pitiful creature was disgusting but there was no reason to be rude.  “Could you please move out of the way?”

“You haven’t paid the toll,” the creature gargled in a voice reminiscent of broken glass.  “You can’t pass unless you pay the toll.”

“I am pretty sure there isn’t a toll on interdimensional travel.”  As a dragon, I had inherited a treasure trove of knowledge.  Some of it was instinctual, some of which needed a bit of practice and training and some was simply a database of facts.  I couldn’t remember anything 

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about a toll keeper between dimensions.  “What’s the price?”

“It’s a new thing we just started,” the wax monster explained.  As I got used to its appearance, I could almost see a vaguely feline outline to the melted face.  “I’ll need twenty Twinkies,” he began as I nodded agreeably.  “And the soul of a little girl named Beth.”

“Well, I can get the Twinkies but the soul is in use by someone.  How about the soul of a creepy elf guardian who needs to be punched in the face a few times?”

“No deal...” he began before immediately being interrupted by the door chime.  I seemed to be a bit muddle-headed because it took me a moment to realize it was the front door.

“I have to get the front door,” I said as I turned to go up the stairs.  “I’ll get back to you on that soul thing.”  Trudging up the stairs glumly I wondered if I added the soul of a crime lord, would it sweeten the deal?

“Hey guys, movie night?” I asked as I passed the living room where my old friends sat on the couch passing around a carton of popcorn.

“Yep. Tonight, it’s the Matrix.  Volume one through six,” Parnell said cheerfully, sparkles flickered around his free hand as he let the magical energy in his body play in his hand.  What a show-off. 

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“I wanted to see Sucker Punch but got outvoted,” Leslie grunted.  She was playing around with some gears and circuits.  She always liked inventing or fixing things... even if I did usually blow it up by accident.

“Say aren’t you all dead?” I asked.  It did seem odd.  I mean it was movie night but weren’t there supposed to be other people here?

“If you don’t see the bodies, don’t go assuming stuff,” Parnell said loftily.  He seemed thinner than usual, almost skeletal.  Cracked, withered lips munched gustily on the popcorn.  “Besides, why the hell would you be trying to get back if we were dead?  Idiot.”

 I nodded to myself.  That was a good point.  Turning I continued to the door.  When I opened it, I saw a huge black dragon.  He looked down at me with baleful glowing eyes. 

“Hey now, you can’t come in,” I said irritably.  “Last time I let you in, you blew everyone up!”

“I was just kidding.  Can’t you take a joke?”

I suppose it was rather petty to hold that against him.  “Fine.  Come in, but no more bombs!”

“Dragon's honor!”  With that, I moved out of the way and he strode into the house.  I was about to follow when I heard another voice.

“Isn’t it rude to have a movie night without your girlfriend?” the flirty voice of Mirabel came from outside. 

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“I didn’t know your number,” I defend myself as my girlfriend strode up to the door.  I moved out of the way and she sashayed by me, with a cute twirl of her scaly tail.

 I looked back outside to be sure I wasn’t missing anyone.  I saw a bevy of demon insects marching by but they didn’t seem inclined to come my way.  Looking up I glimpsed a cowboy riding on top of a steed that was mostly a mass of tentacles.  He was hooting and hollering as he dug in his spurs.  It looked like a lot of fun.  However, he wasn’t slowing down so I simply shrugged and closed the door.

 Walking back inside I saw that the huge black dragon and the really cute dragon were jockeying for space on the couch.  They were also tugging at the box of popcorn, neither one willing to share.  On the ground, I saw old scattered and crushed popcorn and broken bones.  I frowned sadly to myself.  On the one hand the urge to have a neat lair tore into me, on the other hand, I couldn’t bear to move them.  Odd.

“Am I late?” asked a bubbly voice behind me.  Turning I saw a cheerful elf smiling at me.

“No, just in time,” said Maribel from the couch.  “We’re watching Chainsaw massacre.”

“Awesome!”  She grinned even wider and I noticed that her teeth seemed sharper than normal.  Especially the canines. 

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“Say, Stella, you didn’t by any chance get turned into a vampire?”  I asked tentatively.  “Because it gives you bad breath and lowers your IQ by at least  fifty points.”

“It’s true,” Maribel chimed in as the evil black dragon lazily nodded in agreement as he took the opportunity to steal more popcorn.

“I heard that,” a faint voice screeched out.  I ignored it.

 “I’m not a vampire, she said indignantly.  “Everyone knows how creepy and icky those are.  I would never join a club like that whose god is as stupid as the current one.”

We all nodded in agreement.  “However, I do need some blood.”

“Blood?”  I asked with some trepidation.

“Remember you promised me some blood to help me resettle my little ones.”

“You mean the horde of elemental presently terrorizing the world as they slowly go insane, trapped in our world?”  Maribel asked as she fast-forwarded the movie to the gory bits.

“Well, I was going to go with you but...”

“Sorry, I can’t wait.  You know how it is.  End of the world and all that.”

“Definitely going to be the end of the world for whatever planet they settle and transform into an 

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elemental hell on earth.”  The black dragon chuckled darkly.  “I approve.”

 “Anyway, give me blood,” the elf airily replied while reaching behind her.  When her arm pulled back she was holding a monstrous tool that resembled a jackhammer with a hypodermic needle attached to it.

“Wait a minute,” I said, backing away slowly.  “I am pretty sure there’s an easier way... or at least a less painful way.”

“Sorry, no time,” she said cheerfully.  I was getting a bit tired of that smile.  At this point, it felt a little deranged.           

“Be right back, I need to get the portal and talk to a doorman,” I said as I hastily turned around and ran for my lab.  “I am pretty sure I can get a good deal on an Álfar’s soul.”

“I’m an elf, not a Álfar, damn it!” The pointy-eared blond shouted indignantly and ran after me.  The corridor to the stairs seemed to stretch unnaturally before me.  I finally managed to escape these space defying physics as I reached the stairway and leaped down.

A large hand gripped my shoulder and held me in place.  Its texture was of melted wax but I could see the claws of a great cat in its basic form.  “It’s too late you know.”

All I could do was to crane my neck over my shoulder.  Sure enough, the toll keeper stood in the portal, an arm extended out to hold me. “I have 

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the Twinkies and I’ll throw in the soul of a Álfar.  The crazy is free!”

“I said it’s too late.  It was too late a hundred years ago.  Now you made me get behind schedule.”

“Ah, there you are!”  An elf approached from behind me, holding out the machine from hell.  “Don’t worry this won’t hurt much!”

“Lair!” I cried out as the abomination was jabbed into my arm.  She was indeed lying.  It hurt quite a bit.  It was also messy as the blood sprayed the entire room.  From upstairs the sound of a chainsaw echoed down.

“All done!” The blond said.    “Here, have some orange juice.”

“Take your orange juice and shove... wait a minute.  I earned this with blood and sweat,” I spat at her.  “Give me the damn juice!”

“You should get that,” The gatekeeper offered in his broken voice.  I opened my mouth to question him when the doorbell rang again.

“It’s probably someone for movie night.  You should go and invite them in.”

“Sure, I’ll do that,” I said as I stomped up the stairs again.

I was still fuming as I swung open the door.  I paused in confusion as I saw my new guest.  It appeared to be a giant plush toy.  It had a female 

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human torso and a long snake body.  It seemed familiar but I couldn’t quite remember where.

               “Shouldn’t you be taller,” I mused as I took in the doll-like form that came to my waist.  The round vacant-looking eyes squinted at me in what I assumed was anger.  Frankly, it was as if a cow chewing its cud was annoyed at me.
               “This is your fault,” its velvet paws swept over its body, then it waived them in my face.  If it had fingers it would likely be wagging them in front of me.  “It’s your damn dream, you placed me in this form.”

               “Ah.  I see,” I nodded to myself.  “So I must view you as some sort of powerless, helpless but incredibly dim-witted entity.  Makes sense.”  I nodded wisely to myself.  “So are you here for the movie?  I think we’re seeing Resident Evil, the Mars edition.”

               “No.  I am here to get you to wake up, fool!”  Her high-pitched whining was starting to irritate my ears.  “You promised to establish a high priest on each of the ten worlds.”

“I don’t remember you caring much at the time,” I said thoughtfully as faint memories drifted through my mind.  “Ah, it happened.  You blew up the world!  What you lack in power as a minor deity you make up for in poor judgment.”

“Go ahead and invite her in,” the voice of the black dragon came from the living room.  “Anyone that can destroy a civilization is alright by me.” 

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“Just wake up and get back to your promise!  You’ve already been asleep for a month.  That's enough even for one of you lazy lizards.”  She stuck her plush chin in the air.  “Your pathetically muddled clairvoyant dreams aren’t worth the wasted time.”

“Huh, your pantheon must really be on your ass to fix things but since you have no worshippers your power base is almost non-existent.”  I rubbed my chin thoughtfully. 

Above me, I heard the whistling of the wind.  An instant later a shadow flew over us and a tentacle reached out and grabbed the plush goddess.  Looking up I saw the octopus riding cowboy digging his spurs in and hollering.  A tiny snake bodied figure was wrapped up and swinging behind on a rope like a balloon on a string.

“Stupid dream,” a shrill complaint could be heard trailing away in the distance.”  I nodded in agreement.

 

 

I sat up in my bed abruptly.  Stupid dream.  Still, it could have been worse.  Compared to some of them that had made me put off sleeping, this one was almost a pleasure.  I heard a moaning sound from the side of the room. 

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“Ouch.”  Beth was laying against the wall with her arms outstretched as if she was intending on holding it up.  No. Her feet weren’t touching the ground and she was embedded in the wall.

“What the heck are you doing up there,” I asked tentatively.  She was a smart girl.  I’m sure she had some reason for being in such an odd position.  “How did you even get there?”

“That would be you,” a dry voice responded from my opposite side.  I turned to look.  A curly haired red head sat in a chair, relaxing with her feet up.  I didn’t recognize her.  “I told her not to do it.  But we’ll all laugh about it when we think about it in the future.  Or at least I will.”

“Maribel?” I asked, making an educated guess.  I sensed a dragon nearby and I didn’t think the hydra would be this polite.  “You’ve changed your face.”

“I may have caused a tiny bit of a riot the last time I came here to shop,” she replied with a casual shrug.  “You know how it is.  If you don’t show humans their place, they try to walk all over you.  Then you need to do something to keep the mobs with pitchforks away.  It was either this or kill them all.  And if I killed them all I’d have nowhere to shop.”

I certainly couldn’t argue with that logic.  “So, what’s with Beth?”  Bits of broken stone and mortar crashed to the ground as the little girl wrestled an arm free. 

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“You... you... you...” she moaned.

“Me, me, me what?”

“As funny as this is, we need to move on.  Your human tried to wake you up and you swatted her.  Fortunately, you’ve had her undergo some transformative magic or you’d be down a pet.”

“Why did you let her do that?” I whined in dismay.  Not only could I have lost one of my favorite humans but if Jeremy finds out I hit his sister it could seriously damage our relationship.

“I told her not to,” the dragon said with a shrug.  “You know you can’t be too fawning with your possessions.  Not only does it make them weak but then they won’t follow simple instructions.”

I looked at her flatly.  Her own pets loathed her so much they went into a rage whenever they saw her.  I am pretty sure the only reason they stayed with her was so they could repeatedly try to kill her.  It may also be due to the brand she had seared into their hide.  I sometimes think she wasn’t socialized around humans when she was growing up.

More rubble fell as Beth freed her other arm.  “Saying, ‘stop or I’ll say stop again’ does not count as a warning.”  I frowned again at Mirabel.  While it was true this would be hilarious to tell stories about, playing games with the lives of my people was not cool. 

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“I wanted to relive the moment when you bounced off the force field,” she said with a wicked smile.

“Derek!  I can’t believe you told her about that!” Beth squeaked with indignation.

“I didn’t! I swear!”  I really hadn’t.  Mirabel and I hadn’t really had time to talk much.

“I have a spell that allows some limited post-cognition.  Its time limited so I needed to cast it as soon as I could.”

“That’s pretty invasive,” I said mildly.  I suppose it was my own fault for not including an anti-scrying function in the wards.

“Since we're dating, I need to know what kind of dragon you are.  Don’t worry it was all good stuff.  I laughed and laughed.”

I finally got up and walked over to Beth.  With a simple tug, she was free.  She had obviously completed her transformation class and had a body closer to that of a supernatural creature so I didn’t have to worry about hurting her.  Of course, the fact that she got stuck in a wall meant we needed to figure out how to increase her strength a bit.  Since she had changed her basic constitution it shouldn’t be too hard.

Once I had freed the little girl, I finally got a chance to look around.  I winced.  The room looked like it had gone through several slasher movies.  Dark red blood covered all the walls.  There were 

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even splashes on the ceiling.  Even the zombie murder scene hadn’t been this bad.

“What happened here?  It looks like someone died in here.”  I glanced at the ceiling again.  “Several someones.”

“Don’t ask me.  It was like this when I got here.” Mirabel shrugged her shoulders again. 

“Um... well... I mean,” Beth stammered nervously.  Mirabel and I both stared at her.  My stare was somewhat disbelieving.  I just couldn’t equate the bloodbath with the girl.  “It was Stella.”  Right, that made more sense.  Actually.  No, it didn’t. 

“I don’t get it.  She came in and splashed blood all over?”

“Derek, I know you just woke up but surely you’ve realized all this blood is yours.”  Mirabel sighed, shaking her head.

“Huh.  How about that,” I muttered to myself.  “I thought I had dreamed that part.”  I glanced down at myself. 

I was wearing my magnificent enchanted robe that could take on the appearance of any wardrobe I wished.  Presently it was looking like my favorite suit. 

It was resistant to damage to an absurd degree and would slowly repair itself and clean itself if it was somehow harmed. Yet, somehow there were marks that resembled huge hands on my arms and 

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shoulders and my left arm was covered with fading blood stains.  Correction, the entire left side of my clothes was covered with blood. 

I pulled up my sleeve.  Apparently, I am far less self-cleaning than my clothes.  I looked like someone had painted my arms red.  I looked over to the mirror hanging from the wall and through the blood covering it, I saw that my face, too, was awash in red.

“She went into your room and locked the door,” Beth shyly continued.  “Then there was stomping around and the building shook a bit.  I think she summoned her elementals.  She cursed a bit about how difficult it was to get something.”  She looked at the walls and it was easy to know what she was thinking.  “When she left, I went in.  I thought she had killed you.”

I nodded absently to her.  This room was disgusting.  I had to resist the urge to get a mop and start scrubbing it down.  Fortunately, I had trained for this.   A wave of my hand and blood vanished from a small section of the wall.  I frowned.  Dragon blood resisted the cleaning spell.  How annoying but educational.

“How could she do this to us,” Beth said, tears pooling in the corners of her eyes.  Meanwhile, I went into a frenzy of casting, repeating my Cleaning cantrip over and over.  “She was so nonchalant about it.  She even hugged me goodbye!” 

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“Don’t worry about it,” I responded in between furious spellcasting.  Good lord, these stains were tough.  I never thought I would be expending my reserves on a simple cleaning.  “I promised her some of my blood for... various reasons.  I just didn’t expect to be asleep when she collected.  It was a bit rude but she’s an Elementalist.  You can’t expect her not to put her elementals first.”

“She’s a poor pet,” Mirabel opinioned.

“True,” I agreed.  “I can’t believe she didn’t clean up after herself.” 

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Chapter 2

“So, anything interesting happen while I was gone?  Besides Stella.” I asked as I rummaged through cupboards for food.  I frowned as I saw mostly bread, muffins, and sweet bread.  There was a big bag of something that might have been fruit.  Where was all the meat?  “Don’t you go shopping?  What do you eat?”

“The school has a cafeteria,” Beth deflected.  “I can usually get the other students to bring back food.  Clarence, Holland, and Sentha came over a few times and brought food.  As for events,” she paused in thought.  “I really haven’t been out much, except to eat.  And that’s on campus.”

“If nothing is happening why does that annoying man keep calling,” Mirabel interjected.

“Which one?” Beth asked blankly.  I stared at her.  I wasn’t expecting her to have enough people calling her to ask that.

“The whiny one,” the dragon clarified while buffing her talon-like nails.  “Makes my teeth itch.  I just want to tear him to bits when I hear his voice.”

“That would be my brother,” Beth said with a worried frown.

“Please don’t hurt Jeremy,” I asked politely.  “He’s one of my favorite people.”  I paused a moment in thought.  “I am hoping he grows out of the whining.” 

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The three of us nodded in agreement.  “Who else has the number?”

“Well, I suppose all the guys have your number.  I’m pretty sure almost everyone thinks you blew up your terminal again.  Still, Conrad called a few times but he is easy to deal with.  He’s sending a new terminal, by the way.”

“Really?  Who delivers way out here?”  I tore a chunk out of the bread.  Despite how dry it was, I chewed it vigorously, imagining it was a steak.  I pulled out a cup and with a wave of my hand and few words filled it with water.  “I guess I’ll have to call them back.”

“Just remember that you’ve been studying in the library.”

I paused in mid-bite.  “Why would I remember that?”

“I had to tell him something.  He thinks you’ve been in the library, studying magic like a crazed person.”

“That’s silly.  They don’t have any magic related books in the library.  It’s all mundane things.  I could have memorized it in a day.  Heck, you could have memorized every book in it within a week.”

“I know.  I already have, but I had to have a reason you couldn’t answer the terminal.”

“Good grief, he couldn’t wait a few days?” 

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“You’ve been asleep for over a month,” Beth responded with a frown.

“A month?  We’re lucky he didn’t come over himself.”  I stood frozen as absorbed this fact.  Then I shrugged and tore another piece of bread off.  “I was more tired than I thought.”

“You must have worn yourself out,” Mirabel thoughtfully added.  “You should get more rest.”

“There was a demon invasion and the tearing of interdimensional space, a shuffling of planets.  You know. The usual thing.  It kept getting in the way.  Anyway, I can’t believe he thought it would take me a month to go to the library.  I’ll have to check him again and make sure you didn’t damage anything when you reprogrammed him.”

“It wasn’t like that!” Beth exclaimed indignantly.  “I just made sure he didn’t notice the little things.”

“Right,” I nodded glibly. “Like his sister going off to tromp through hydra infested forests and wizards' school.”

“Is that stupid lizard still roaming the edge of my territory?” Mirabel spat out, suddenly interested in the conversation.  “I told that moron, Kregar, I would wring his necks if he didn’t stop sniffing around.”

“Oh, I didn’t realize he was an ex.”

“Ex?  Almost an ex-member of the living,” she snorted in disdain.  “Bah, hydras.  Multiple heads and their IQ is divided by how many heads they 

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have.  I’ll have to clear him out.  If the army actually gathers enough force to move him they may get ideas about my territory.”

“If it’s been a month it may be taken care of.”

“I thought you said the army we passed didn’t have enough power,” Beth asked.

“They don’t.  They probably barely have enough to make him move to the other side of the forest, but I meant Faramond.”

“What does Stella’s creepy friend have to do with the hydra?”

“When I popped over last time Faramond asked how to get back to Stella.  I couldn’t take passengers but I told him how to get to her.  How exactly is he creepy?”

“He has that intense stalker stare.  You know, the one that looks like your constipated?  Fortunately, he’s usually glaring at you.”  I nodded thoughtfully.  He really did have that look.

“I assume that was the stupid looking armored man that came through.” The redhead sniffed disdainfully.  “Even before he spoke, I assumed he was one of yours from the smoking blood he had on his forehead.  You seem entirely too free with your lifeblood.  It seems a desirable commodity.”

I didn’t really want to go into details about how my blood was effectively the key to all the dimensional portals scattered over ten worlds.  Mostly because Jeremy’s world had nuked her home and I wasn’t 

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confident that she had forgiven them.  There was a distinct possibility that if she could freely travel from one planet to the other that Jeremy’s world would suffer from a visit from an angry demi-god dragon.

“Stella and her creepy bodyguard are just like that,” I replied innocently.  From her skeptical look, I don’t think she believed me but she let the subject drop.  “He is a bear of a man.  He also has a magic sword that does... something.  He may have driven it off.”

“What if the hydra eats him?” Beth asked in a small voice.

“Hmm... I think,” I pondered the question for a moment.  “I think he would probably give it indigestion.  I like to believe he would like to go out that way.”  I bowed my head in respect.  Beth immediately slapped my arm.  “Seriously, I’m sure he’s fine.  I have no idea what method Stella used to empower him, but it was a good one.”

“The last caller was Principal Sembling.”

“You mean Acting Principal Durmont Sembling?”

“Apparently not so much ‘Acting’.  He was confirmed as the official Principal.  They also declared the previous Principal and council head a traitor and removed him from his position in absentia,” Beth informed me.  “They announced it in class.  There was a ceremony but Sentha and I went shopping instead.” 

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“What did he want?  I passed him off to Mayor Carlos.”

“President.”  Beth corrected.  I ignored her and she continued.   “He said something about being grateful and holding a dinner in your honor.”

“Dinner?” I immediately perked up.  “I’ll have to get back to him soon.  Wouldn’t want to keep an important person like him waiting too long.  “I’ll have to see if they allow plus one’s.”

“Are you sure...” Beth trailed off as Maribel glared at her.  She had a point.  Who knows if someone would annoy my little lady and be devoured?  I thoughtfully stroked my chin. 

“I’m sure it would be fine,” I said with a nod after considering it.

“If I am forced to lay waste to the pathetic fools that cross my path, I can just change my appearance and aura.  With the higher divine magics blocked, there isn’t a thing they can do to me without a great deal of preparation.”

“But...” Beth’s eyes darted around the room, obviously trying to find inspiration.

Now both Beth and I were looking at the defiant dragon woman with the beginnings of panic.  “You know, perhaps dinner with stuffy old folk wouldn’t be much fun.  How about I take you into the city to shop and then I can take you to eat at this lovely cantina I know.”  Actually, it was the only one I knew. 

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“I do like buying things,” she said thoughtfully.  “It’s not quite as satisfying as loot taken from an adversary’s broken corpse but we can still do that later.”

“Right, we can schedule that in after I buy you many shiny things,” I glanced to the side at Beth, who was still looking at the dragon with a subdued shiver.  I really wish Mirabel would say her sweet nothings out of sight of my people.  I am not particularly bloodthirsty but I was okay with her indulging in sporadic bouts of bloody vengeance as long as they were evil people.  The issue was that she insisted on talking about it near my people who were brought up in a rather peaceful civilization.  This led to the occasional awkward moment.

“Let’s go now,” Maribel giggled excitedly, grabbing my hand and pulling me towards the door.

“Now?” I asked a bit bewildered.  “I just woke up!  I have a ton of things to do.  I need to make calls, check on the growth of the crystals, check on Beth’s progress with her meditation and...”

“I’m done with the meditation, I’m working on the various states of consciousness you talked about.  The crystals are done too.  They’re in the cupboard behind the dates.”

“Excellent!  I can probably walk you through that in a week and we can start on the actual spells.”  I paused in realization, “We have dates?”  I started to head towards the cupboards again. 

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“Fine,” Maribel dropped my hand dejectedly.  “I’ll go play with Cinnamon.  I haven’t cuddled with him in a while.  I can call down Cocoa and Ceyanne too.  They should be flying above us.”

“On second thought, I think I need a little more time to get that meditation technique down,” Beth quickly interjected.  “Derek, Maribel has waited so long, why don’t you take her into the city.  I’ll stay here and you can go over those methods later tonight!”  I sighed as I looked regretfully towards the cupboards.

“Fantastic!” the dragon lady said with a grin, instantly perking up.  Grabbing my arm again she hauled me out the door.  “Let’s storm the shops!”

And so, we did.  I didn’t even know what time it was before we made our way outside.  The sun overhead showed it was noon giving us most of the day.

“Hold on,” I mumbled as we made our way to the outskirts of the academy.  I was in my older form, still wearing my relatively modern suit so I got a lot of odd looks.  Maribel was wearing some archetypical bikini chainmail that I swear must have been for appearances only since it had no protective value what so ever. Of course, she was a dragon so it wasn’t like she needed protection.  Ironically, I got more stares than she did, though the eyes of the older male students did give her a fair share of admiring looks.  

I took a brief detour behind some apartments and with a shake of my sleeve, my circa nineteen eighty 

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garb was once again a robe.  The shake was not absolutely needed but the robes can catch and bind a bit if you don’t.

At the entrance I waved my hand in the air, trying to get the attention of one of the various flying carriages.  I would have taken land bound version but it was supposed to be a date.  After thirty seconds of waving my arms, I was beginning to feel ignored.  I was contemplating encasing one in a bubble and hoping they survived the collision enough to drive us somewhere when Maribel sighed impatiently and issued a shrill whistle.

Within seconds I heard a wind at my back and I felt the familiar sensation of being in danger.  Dodging and twisting to the side, I barely got out of the way as a silhouette of a winged horse flew through where I had been.  Then I threw myself forward again to avoid a similarly fierce gryphon.

It was only after they had passed me that I realized their image was flickering and wavering as if they were screens and a projector was showing images on their fur.  It actually resembled a crude version of camouflage from out of that Predator movie Jeremy made me watch.

“Why not just use invisibility?” I asked.

She looked at me disdainfully as she wrestled with her pets.  “Everyone can see the invisible.  Even the humans have spells and items that detect it.  No one has a spell to make you more perceptive.  Although this spell is pretty obvious at close range, a mile up in the clouds you would have to be a god 

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to detect them.”  Or have radar, thought to myself as I avoided the thrashing trio.

I suppose I should have been grateful she didn’t grow to her giant form to pacify them but it still drew attention seeing a chainmail-clad human woman hugging two violently writhing magical creatures and her not being pushed about at all.

“Calm down you two silly things,” she said lovingly as they tried various means to claw, bite and impale her.  “I missed you too.  We can play later.  Right now, mommy has to go on a date and you get to go with her.”

After a few seconds of continued violence, she frowned.  “I said settle down or I’m going to have to give out spankings.” 

Immediately the two creatures settled down.  I have always had some doubts about the intelligence of these creatures but they knew not to cross their master when she was serious.  Still, the hate and anger in their eyes could have sent weaker souls to hell.  Naturally, she was oblivious.

Hopping on we launched into the air.  Once again, I was left with an aching feeling of missing something that was precious.  It had been a few years but I used to be able to take on the form of a flying beast, or even another dragon species that had wings and soar the skies under my own power.  Still, it was better than being in a vehicle.  It almost felt like freedom. 

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From this height, we saw the formations of flying guard mages that patrolled the air.  They gave us cautious looks; however, they didn’t interfere with our flight.  Unlike Jeremy’s world, no license was required and only the relatively rich could afford their own flying mounts.  Even flying coaches weren’t that common.  The more well-to-do merchants had floating barges that moved a large number of goods but they tended to either fly low or simply hover above the street.  There was nowhere near enough traffic to have an equivalent to the traffic buoys.  Of course, the ground traffic was significantly denser.

Off towards the side of the city, I could see the veritable walls of energy that made up the ley lines cut through the city.  It was daylight so it wasn’t as spectacular as during the night.  When it wasn’t foggy or raining it almost seemed like rivers of light were rushing through the city.

I had looked at a map and I think several lines met at a node on the far side of the city in a massive empty field used for events and parades.  Although the permanent gates were now fixed locations at specific nodes, rather than cycling through random hell dimensions, you could faintly see the old tower defenses ringing the field.  I assume they had circles and wards surrounding it as well.

It would come in handy when Vatapi reformed his body and started his invasion again.  With the large portals fixed and only the smaller ones flashing open and closed, dropping random visitors and beasts willy nilly through the land, it was actually 

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far more peaceful than before the Demon Lord had set up his fiefdom in the chained worlds.  After all, small portals opening for a few minutes in random locations, but limited to the ten worlds, was still better than monstrous holes in spaces that could lead to the any of the various heavens and hells.

“So is your grandfather going to get worried that you haven’t checked in with him or visited lately,” I asked.  I only had to raise my voice slightly over the wind so I could tell she had a simple enchantment that lowered the wind resistance. 

“You know how our kind is,” she chuckled at the thought.  “Normally we can’t stand being around kin for more than a few days before we have to separate or engage in mortal combat.  I suppose divine dragons are a bit different because I saw him for weeks at a time, but then I was the one who had to leave or suffer bouts of grumpiness.”

“That doesn’t seem to promote too many worshipers.”

“I think dragon gods may be one of the few kinds of gods where most of the worshippers aren’t the same species.”

“That’s a bit of irony, but I can completely see it.  I can’t imagine worshipping any god, even some almighty dragon.”  I paused for a moment.  “Perhaps especially an almighty dragon.”

“That makes you... fairly typical.  None the less, they don’t suffer any shortages of worshippers.  Mortal races of all stripes are drawn to power and 

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have no problems submitting to others in order to gain something in return.  Even the weakest dragon godling is equivalent to a lesser god.  A greater dragon god is powerful enough to trade blows with the greater Primals.”

“Primals?”

“Hmmm,” she eyed me thoughtfully.  “You may know them as something else.  I have no doubt your memory heritage includes some knowledge of them.  The incarnations of a concept manifested in physical form?”

“Ah, like hate and anger from the Firmament.  I have some memories.  Mostly feelings of dread.”

“That would be them.  A few hundred thousand years ago they ruled most of the multiverse.  From what grandfather says it was a miserable time.  Even the lesser Primals hated it.”

“That’s hard to imagine.”

“Well, everyone hated them,” she shrugged.  “Why wouldn’t they?  They were the physical embodiment of various negative concepts.  Even their favored minions were suppressed.”

“How are Primals different than gods?”  Peering over the beast’s shoulder I tried to get the lay of the land.  I also took a moment to change my suit back into a robe.  Maribel was welcome to the stares.

“Gods are made of energy.  They can visit the Firmament and can recover from death in the 

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Firmament, they aren’t quite as intrinsic to the fabric of existence as greater Primals.  Also, the lesser Primals seem to have a more solid body.  I am not sure I understand it but while a god’s powers fluctuated from some minimum based on their worshipper’s numbers, Primals have a fixed power level no matter where they are and how many followers they have.”

“So, are Primals indestructible?”

“The greater ones seem to be,” she nodded to herself.  “During the revolution, they couldn’t or wouldn’t kill them.  Grandfather wasn’t clear on whether they couldn’t be killed or doing so would destroy the multiverse.  Either way, they were entombed.”

“The lesser ones can be?”

“The lesser ones can be.  Compared to gods they have some strengths and weaknesses but being mostly material entities, they can be separated into races.  Mostly.”

“So only the greater ones are concepts.  I don’t see how being a race though separates them from gods.”

“Gods are energy beings.  Whether a people believe in a god so much that one spontaneously manifests form in the Firmament or a mortal or supernatural entity ascends and is reborn, they are individuals.  Even a pantheon isn’t really blood-related.  They are related by concepts and belief.” 

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I looked at her nonplussed as we flew and nudged the pegasus over a bit to the shopping area.  Her description of gods sounded a lot like greater Primals.  “Right.”

“Most of the lesser Primals I have heard of are members of a race.  They breed or bud or whatever their slimy little biology demands.  They can’t interbreed with other races either.  Maybe their ancestors came from the Firmament but their descendants are too physical to do anything except draw power from it.  Just like the rest of us do.”

“Gods seem to have an advantage.” I nudged Cocoa again and we started to drift down towards the crowded streets.  “What did you mean about slimy?”

“I am not sure about advantages.  A powerful god with a large worshipper base is about on par with a normal Primal.  A bit harder to kill perhaps.  They both tend to have followers and minions, some in the billions, over multiple dimensions.  Looks like there’s a clear spot over there.” She paused in the middle of her explanation to point to an area relatively clear of people.  “As to slimy.  Well, most of the ones I know of are huge masses of tentacles.”

I stiffened.  Tentacles. That sounded eerily familiar but I couldn’t quite place it.  Ah well, I was sure it would come to me.  “Let’s stop in here for a bite.  It’s pretty decent and I feel like I haven’t eaten in a month.” 

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She simply nodded and smiled.  If it had been Beth I am sure she would have commented on the bread I had gobbled up.  However, Maribel knew that I could easily eat several hundred pounds and barely feel full.  Truthfully, neither of us needed food in a world full of mystic energy but it sure felt good to eat.  Since it was a date we might as well feast.

“We got a bit sidetracked,” I chatted as we were seated.  “Waiter, give me one of everything.”

“Yes, sir.” The well-dressed servant bowed and smiled warily.  He might have remembered me from last time.  “Would you like anything to drink?”

I stared at him flatly.  “What part of one of everything was unclear?”

“Yes, sir.  I will get right on that.” He turned away and started to head back to the kitchen.

“Wait a minute,” I stopped him.  “You didn’t take the lady’s order.”

He stared at me, eyes wide.  “Will anyone be joining sir and madam?”

“No.  Maribel?”

“I’ll take two of everything.”

“Yes madam,” he said with a glazed look in his eyes.  I frowned at him.  I remembered the service being much better last time, but I may have eaten less.  He tottered off in a daze.  I huffed in wonder. 

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He couldn’t be thinking that we would share.  Unless I made the food myself as a gift it simply wasn’t done, even among prospective mates.

“If we ever go to Arch, I’ll take you to Sulayman’s place.  He serves a nice selection.”  I paused for a moment.  “Or maybe not...”

“Oh?  Why not?”

“He accidentally killed off most of the humans in his restaurant...”

“Sounds like the perfect place.”

“We resurrected them all...” I paused as I registered her dismissal.  After taking a moment to absorb her comment I simply decided to change the subject. 

We chatted a bit more about gods and Primals.  The conversation turned to her pets and I learned in uncomfortably intimate details about the brand on them.  As I expected, it was an excruciating process.  I made a note, again, to not let her alone with my people.

As we talked wave after wave of food and drinks made their way to the table only to be taken away as we finished them.  I vaguely noticed that there was a growing atmosphere of tension from the wait staff.  Fortunately, it didn’t interfere with our mood.

After over four hours of food and pleasant conversation, we finished the last of the deserts.  I paid with barely a hint of reluctance and we left the rather shell-shocked staff behind us. 

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Chapter 3

We wandered the streets and chatted.  Sometimes her conversation was a tad bit creepy but it was always fascinating.  I found it relaxing.  There were no humans I knew around so I wasn’t worried about offending anyone I cared about.  People and faceless strangers milled about us but most seemed to instinctively know to avoid us.

Several times as we were about to enter an alley, I had a slight premonition of danger.  Rather than ruin the mood I simply turned into the next street over.  I think Maribel might just have thought I was a bit lost or distracted.  In general, it was fun, except for the unfortunate amount of money we were spending.

I didn’t particularly mind since I had traded a huge number of gems that were practically worthless in a modern world into an even more massive amount of gold.   We even stopped at the same jeweler that I did that trading at.  Maribel’s lips curled in disgust at all the gems that didn’t have a lick of energy to them.  In her eyes they were worse than useless, they were a blight. 

While it was true those artificial gems weren’t good for anything involving magic, I am sure that the rich wives and mistresses we saw browsing the trinkets didn’t care at all.  I did notice that the gems had dropped distinctly in price.  If I wanted to trade more, I would be wise to do so in another city.

The storekeeper kept staring at me.  It wasn’t until we left, I realized that the form I had taken to sell 

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the gems was a younger version of my current one.  He was likely thinking I was a relative of his benefactor.  He certainly hadn’t offered me any deals so I found his gratitude severely lacking.

While I certainly enjoyed looking at the gold and gems for sale, and I didn’t begrudge my date a few thousand gold coins for gifts and knick knack’s, I was far more interested in the magic shops further into the market.  Maribel didn’t resist this idea.  She may have been a female but she was also a skilled magic user and I saw her eyes light up as we entered the first one.

It was a smaller building, perhaps a bit run down.  Never the less it sold magic sundries so it couldn’t have been too dilapidated.  Maribel was a bit of a snob and sniffed at the enchanted makeup and glowing sparkles.  I actually agreed.  As an alchemist, I could create a batch of this useless stuff in a few minutes with five gold worth of wilted materials.  It probably didn’t help that putting makeup on a shape changer was simply absurd.

We were both more interested in the tomes of arcane knowledge but we were rebuffed by the owner from doing more than looking through the display case since we didn’t have a graduate’s badge.

“So, you say the schools are purposely retarding their student's curriculum in order to control the mages population?” 

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“I am pretty sure,” I nodded as my lady questioned my explanation.  “They mystify a fairly straightforward process and drag out the courses that should take a few months into a five-year journey.”

“That seems a waste,” she said doubtfully.  “I would think the other kingdoms would simply swarm them with better-trained mages.”

“It appears to be a multi-kingdom agreement.  I think they are worried about out of control five-year-olds and angsty teens becoming weapons of mass destruction.  By the time they reach fifteen or sixteen and take advanced training they should be able to follow orders and be able to be converted into fully trained mages within a few months.  Until then they practice with fairly harmless cantrips.”

               “Seems pretty easy to get around.  What if one of the kingdoms raises a secret army?”

               “I suppose the other kingdoms under the agreement stomp them,” I shrugged.  While it was annoying not to be able to get to the advanced spells when they were right in front of me I did have a few ideas for the future.  I also still had the books from the year four and five students to learn, so I wasn’t in a huge rush.  “I didn’t really care enough to look into the details.”

“Are the circles and wards under the same restrictions?” 

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“I assume so,” I replied as I nosed through the exotic components.  “I haven’t seen any yet.  Circle masters have always tended towards the apprentice system.  Still, the components for them seem easily available.  Though the unicorn horn dust is atrociously expensive.”

“Don’t waste your time on that junk.  Now that I have your circle at home, I can just borrow Cinnamon’s horn and have her regenerate it back in seconds.”

“That sound a bit painful,” I said faintly as I stared at her.  I should tell Beth to spend a little less time with Maribel.  I don’t think she really needed the warning but better safe than sorry.

“She won’t mind.  She gets so excited sometimes I sometimes think she forgets the little things.”  She reached the back of the room and looked over some dusty tomes.  These weren’t under lock and key.  “Oh look, some books on alchemy.  Didn’t you say you practice it?”

“These days I mainly use it to make the pastes and paints for the circles and wards.  I just started studying them so I can make up for them being a little less than perfect by using a better-quality material base.”

“You do seem to be a bit of a scholar,” she said as I gave her an exasperated look.  A dragon that didn’t love a bit of research was no better than a stupid hydra.  We’re all inveterate scholars.  Who occasionally like to breathe fire.  Assuming you’re the kind that can.  “I mean more than usual.  I 

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talked a bit with your pet.  She says you never get out because you're always studying circles or spells.”

“Since I was trapped in Arc, I’ve been focusing on learning a method to get back.”  I opened the alchemy book and casually paged through it.  It had large sections on the characteristics of ingredients and seemed to focus mostly on the applications of herbs.  Honestly, most of it was herbology that I already knew by instinct. 

“I got involved in circles and wards because there was no mage society or even an underground I could find that taught spell craft.  It was probably just as well, circles lend themselves better to opening portals and gates.”

“Except when the dimensional fabric has been locked down by the local warlord,” Mirabel reminded me.  I frowned as I continued flipping through the second alchemy book. It was similar although it was focused on minerals with random recipes or fragments inserted.  Hmm, an invisibility potion.  I tapped the page absently.

“Well, it was a goal,” I replied absently.  The potion wasn’t very effective, it only lasted a few minutes and used difficult to acquire components.  I had my own version that could give a person the ability to turn invisible at will for over two weeks and the ingredients were all commonly available.  However, my formula had side effects that cumulatively were rather terrible.  This one seemed harmless. 

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“It indeed seems a bit pointless, looking back.  Well, not the limited mastery I finally gained but wasting over a year following vapor trails.”  I turned towards the shopkeeper and gave him the book to keep safe and started to pick up some ingredients from the racks.  “I’m still annoyed at the mages over there.  The end of the world came and went and they’re still cowering in hiding after screwing over the rest of the world.”

“Eh, humans,” she replied as she gestured for several of the displayed gems to be shown to her.  I suppose I should have expected that.

“I suppose that now the dimensions are locked down I don’t need to concentrate on studying so much.  But it did help me understand the demon lord’s circle enough not to destroy the ten worlds.”

“I suppose there is that,” she said with evident disinterest.  “Still, you need to get out more.  Preferably with me.”

I grunted noncommittedly.  While it was true my ultimate goal of mastering either circle or spell magic to the degree of opening a portal home was now pointless, there were other considerations.  One of them was that I really loved learning.  Not only that but I had made great strides in circles and was close to mastering the basics of spell craft. 

I was actually making progress, which felt great after an entire year of struggling through one failure after another.  There was also the fact that my breed was of the scholarly bent.  More so than 

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the average dragon.  That part of my interests was normal. 

If anything about me was abnormal it was my interest in psionics and my rather unusual strength... for my breed.  Admittedly, I was curb stomped by a certain evil ancient dragon and barely held my own with an adult hydra, but in my defense, the average dragon increases hugely in power upon reaching adulthood.  Both in magical power and pure physical strength.  Sure, I didn’t win but I had nothing to be ashamed of. Really. I didn’t. 

As I found myself dwelling on how I shouldn’t feel bad about getting crushed by the adults of my species I heard my new girlfriend squeal with excitement.  Throwing off my melancholy I marched over to the counter to pay the butcher’s bill.

 

 

It was fortunate that we both had enchanted bags, otherwise, I am sure I would look ridiculous staggering around with dozens of boxes.  Mine were mostly alchemy books and ingredients.  Maribel’s boxes were mostly gems.  It felt odd to trade the gold I had just recently gotten from artificial gems just to get gems back again.

As I contemplated life’s ironies, I noticed that more and more my limited precognition would twinge as we were about to go down one of the narrower 

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passageways.  My date didn’t mind my seeming indecisiveness but I was getting annoyed.  At this point, I was pretty sure we were being targeted.  It had been obvious for a while but I had been putting off addressing it.

Looking down the street I noticed that several overturned carriages were blocking the street.  I snorted to myself.  That was so blatant it was insulting.  If we wanted to go forward, we would have to take an alleyway a few blocks down.  Naturally, I turned into the alleyway I had just moved away from.  Better to fight them at a location I chose, even if it was an ambush.

Maribel’s eyes lit up and the corners crinkled as a wide smile slowly made its way onto her face.  She turned to me.  “You shouldn’t have.”

“I could tell you were getting bored,” I replied with a smile.  Above us, figures leaped over the gaps between the buildings and it almost seemed to rain people.  In moments we were surrounded by heavily armored men wielding glowing swords.

“Did you think we would be fooled by a flimsy disguise?  The Dark Guild has marked you for death.  Your fate was sealed the moment you crossed us.”

I stared at him for a moment.  He seemed to be waiting for a reply.  “Did you practice that?  Because it was a little hokey but I really think it worked for you.” 

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“You have no idea the pain you will suffer,” the man continued, ignoring my reply.  I glanced at him crossly.  Why bother waiting for my reply if he was just going to ignore it.  “You can’t use your little tricks now.  You will tell us where the artifact and we will not let you escape into death.”

I looked down at the runed tooth that hung from my neck.  When I wore my suit, it was vaguely covered by my jacket as it hung from my side.  Since I was wearing my robe now it was displayed prominently on my chest.

“Right.  You’re an idiot.”  I turned to Maribel.  “Try not to kill too many, I have to live here.”

“We will torture your loved ones until even you would not recognize them...”

“Change in plans.” I interrupted him, still talking to my dragon lady.  “Go ahead and kill them all except that one.”

I spread out my empty hands as if grasping something.  As they closed, psionic energy formed, lancing out from my palms and coalescing into two ridiculously huge flamberges.

Although this raised a few startled cries it also caused then armored assassins to charge us.  Glowing swords came down on my own energy blades.  The first few swords impacted on my weapons causing sparks and flashes of conflicting energy.  Any normal blade would have been shattered but both sides wielded enhanced weapons.  I then swept my blades forward.  Several 

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of the warriors skillfully moved their blades to intercept.  I admit it was somewhat satisfying to see their eyes widen as I plowed through their uplifted swords and plowed directly into their armored forms.  Six forms in front of me were catapulted backward ass over teakettle.

Unfortunately, they were all wearing armor.  Not just the leather protection that the first group wore but real plate mail.  Obviously enchanted too, or the sheer force of my blow would have exploded them unless they possessed supernaturally enhanced physiques.  They tumbled forty feet down the narrow road and jerkily got back on their feet. 

Meanwhile, the people stationed on the building above us started to shoot arrows down at us.  I snorted in disdain until a glowing arrow darted past my frantically parrying blades and skated along my cheek, leaving a shallow but bloody furrow.  I sighed, naturally it was enchanted.  It was all enchanted.  Otherwise, everything would simply bounce off of me.

I activated my forcefield and the few arrows that made it through my defense thereafter then skittered off of its surface.  I was starting to regret leaving without the psionic storage gems I had made.  If only I hadn’t been distracted by food.

I gestured and spat a command word and the ground around me became an adhesive field, a second gesture and a monstrous gout of wind gathered to sweep the archers above us onto the 

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trapped ground below.  And then it vanished.  I gestured again.  Once more the wind gathered but disbursed before having any effect.  A moment later the adhesive field vanished.

“Do you really think a group of professionals isn’t prepared to dispel a few cantrips?” Maribel’s sarcastic voice rose up behind me.  “I can see a good half of these idiots are wearing enchanted jewelry with stored spells.  Stop playing around and kill them.”

I stared at the people surrounding me balefully.  Sure, they were cantrips but they were the only spells I knew.  Aside from that, I had been embarrassed in front of my girlfriend.  Growling I increased my height to my present maximum of twelve feet and leaped at my first target, swinging both blades.

“Ah! He’s not human!”

“Stand your ground, it’s just a simple growth spell.  Dispel it!”

“It’s not going down,” was a panicked reply.

My twin blade attack took my first target in the neck, sweeping his head from his body.  Now lacking an aura to resist my influence, I swept it up with my telekinesis and started to use his magically armored corpse to sweep the archers from the roofs.  At the same time, I targeted the ground-bound assassins one at a time. 

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I was on the fifth assassin when I found my feet stuck to the ground and fireballs started to cascade around me.  As they showered my shield, I could feel my energy reserves dwindling.  Damn my appetite.

Dispel was a fifth-year spell I hadn’t gotten to yet.  I was also starting to regret not getting any magical jewelry.  It wasn’t as if they weren’t commonly available.  Spellbooks may be illegal but sparklies that stored limited numbers of spells were perfectly legal.  I just hadn’t felt the need.  I may, just perhaps, have let my pride go to my head.

Cursing to myself I braced myself and felt large parts of my psionic energy slip away as I focused on the space above me and teleported next to the archers.  Although my dimensional teleportation abilities had been locked away by a rune for well over a year, I could still use a more local, limited psionic version.  It was just bit more slippery and less accurate than it used to be.  Frankly, it felt like moving against an undertow.  Despite my compensation, I landed a step away from my target.  This one wasn’t shooting, he was pointing his hand downward and raining fire where I had been a moment ago.  I took that last step and cleaved another one in two. 

“He’s up here!  The dispel isn’t working,” panicked cries erupted from the group around me.  “That’s not magic, he’s an Adept!” 

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“Get the girl, we can use her... by the gods!  She’s changing into some sort of hideous creature!  She’s over thirty feet tall!”

“Hey now,” I felt the need to interrupt.  “She’s a perfectly attractive dragon!  No need to talk crap before you die!”

“Thanks, Derek!” her voice echoed out from below. It had an odd reverberation to it and it took me a moment to realize that the area around us had a concealment spell that was dampening sound.

“Retreat!  Scatter!  Let the guild know our target has a pet dragon!”

Now they’d done it.  Maribel was going to be pissed off at being called a pet.  Sure enough, a moment later a deep roar shook the building I was on, spurring the people around me to turn and run.  I dissipated my blades and theatrically spread my arms. 

“Since you’ve come this far, there’s no need to leave,” I said theatrically as I started trapping groups of fleeing assassins in force bubbles.  There were only a few places to run so it only took five bubbles before they were all trapped. 

They frantically slammed against the barriers with swords and fireballs as they attempted to escape before the dragon got to them.  She was gingerly popping each bubble and viciously dealing with each small group.  A claw swipe, a bite, and a body slam and it was the end of each group. 

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“This is the best date ever!” Maribel squealed in delight.

Looking around the alley, I shook my head in dismay. What a mess. Muttering my favorite spell under my breath, I pointed at the massive swathes of blood stains on the walls and ground.  Mortal blood didn’t require multiple casting to remove.

"Are you done?" Mirabel asked impatiently. I looked around again. The bloodstains were gone; however, the dismembered corpses still told a tale of violence.

"Clean up all you want, but the Dark Guild will find out what you did and will avenge us." This non sequitur came from the last living assassin, gasping under my girlfriend's massive claw.

I looked at him blankly. “You think I'm hiding evidence?" I shrugged in embarrassment. I suppose it was better than thinking I was tidying up a random alleyway. Still, it was such a neat spell. "Right, they'll never catch me," I replied flatly, ignoring the bodies littering the area.

"As fun as this was, let's keep shopping," opined Mirabel. "I'll just clean up this last tidbit."

"Hold on," I sighed.  I had been enjoying the afternoon too. "I can't let this Dark Club thing keep running wild. They have already threatened my friends."

"Yes, but it was so fun. If we leave them alone, they can attack us again later," she countered. 

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"What if they hurt Cinnamon?"  I saw conflict behind her eyes as she wavered from being outraged at her things being hurt and the bother of resurrecting them. Indignation eventually won. "Kill them all!"

"If you ransom me..." the killer on the ground began before Mirabel exerted a bit of force and he no longer had spare breath.

“Where was your sense of self-preservation five minutes ago?" I asked in exasperation as I walked over to him. I quickly checked his aura to ensure he wasn’t insane. Finding he was simply a sociopath, I placed my hands on his temples and merged my mind with his.

"Hmm, they are actually fairly large," I said quietly to myself, "They also have the backing of some fairly high-level nobles. It's going to be messy."

"Oh my god! Oh my god!" The assassin babbled frantically, somehow getting enough air to panic. "Forgive..." At this point, Mirabel ruthlessly crushed downward again and his panicked cries died down.

I looked down at him with disdain. The murders, human trafficking, and sheer pettiness were disgusting. Not to mention massively inconvenient.  In order to eliminate the Dark Guild, I was going to have to waste weeks shapeshifting, infiltrating and climbing up some silly hierarchy to eliminate hundreds of parasites. 

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"Well, if we can't go shopping can we do this again?" Mirabel asked hopefully.

I looked at her, an idea coming to me. Smiling I said, "I can't at the moment, but you can start without me."

I moved next to her and placed a hand on her head. I had no intention of merging minds with her, however, as a powerful dragon, she was a natural psychic even if she hadn't developed these skills as far as I had my own. I communicated with her for several minutes.

"You got all of that from a touch," she asked a moment later in bafflement.

"It's got some drawbacks but it’s a useful trick," I said shrugging.

"No wonder they call you Professor."

"What? No, it had nothing to do with that." I paused and took a deep breath to calm myself. "Never mind. Anyway, consider this the final gift of the day. Hundreds of humans to kill and no need to feel guilty about any of them."

"Guilty?" she asked slowly as if was a foreign word.

"Never mind. Go. Have fun! Please don't kill anyone not on that list unless they are evil. When you are done come back and we can go on another date. It may be hard to top this one though."

"All right. I better go now. They aren't all going to kill themselves." She coiled herself in preparation 

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to fly off when I gestured for her attention.  “At least I hope they aren’t.”

"Oh, wait a minute," I finally called out as she ignored my waving. She paused just before taking off. Under my gaze body parts flew through the air in a veritable rain as I used my telekinesis to gather the bodies into a pile. "Could you incinerate these before you head out. I don't have a fire hot enough and it would be pretty gross to put them in my pouch."

"You should work on that," Mirabel suggested helpfully.  "Fire is pretty fun," she immediately and enthusiastically put words into action and breathed magical flames over the pile.

As she flew off, I nodded to myself. In the pile of ashes were magical armor and softly glowing swords and rings as well as various jewelry. Magical items are far more durable than humans, even enhanced humans. With a wave of my hand, I cast my cleaning spell and all of the items were pristine once more.

I opened my pouch and with an admittedly dramatic gesture and the objects littering the ground leaped into it. Sighing in satisfaction I turned around, only to stumble on the somewhat flattened corpse of the last assassin. I must have forgotten him in the last-minute rush to clean up.

I felt the magic around me, the light tickling caused by the assassin team's exclusion zone start to fragment. Faint sounds of the street were getting louder as the sound suppression began to fade. 

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Cursing to myself, I began to think about my options. I really didn't have anything that would get rid of bodies. With flying patrols about tossing it to the roof simply wouldn't work. As the suppression spell finally faded, I sullenly placed the corpse in my pouch.

Imagining how I would sanitize my storage container I stalked back to the academy. 

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