Unlike most of the temples in Rimaros, the city’s main temple of Knowledge was not to be found in the temple district on the island of Livaros. Instead, it could be found on the second-largest of the city’s sky islands, one of the few which could be accessed by the public. The island was primarily known for being the location of the Rimaros Magic Society campus, which held ownership and control of the island.
In a major city like Rimaros, the temple of Knowledge was an important resource for the many magical researchers and had a symbiotic relationship with the Magic Society branch. Within the temple was a chamber specifically for incoming portals. A portal appeared and two people emerged before it closed behind them.
“This had best be as important as you claim,” Rufus Remore said darkly. “I have my own concerns.”
Rufus was tall and lean, with dark skin and a bald head. He was wearing loose clothes, having come from the humid Mistrun Delta in Greenstone.
“I am a priestess of the goddess of Knowledge,” Gabrielle Pellin told him. “I am fully aware of your concerns. You used to be more polite, Mr Remore.”
Gabrielle was no longer the teenage iron-ranker that had been Humphrey’s girlfriend. With age and rank, her already impressive looks had blossomed into dangerous beauty, with olive skin, chocolate hair and graceful poise.
She led Rufus forward, out of the chamber and into the larger temple. It was mostly comprised of a vast library covering multiple wings, each with multiple storeys.
“How long have you known they were alive?” Rufus asked.
“When Jason Asano both died and came back to life, Mr Remore, he was beyond the vision of this world’s gods.”
“But you knew.”
“I serve the goddess of Knowledge, Mr Remore, not the goddess of assumptions. If I told you that Jason Asano was alive and I was wrong, how would you feel about that? And as for Miss Hurin, that came as a surprise to even the goddess.”
“Are you saying they are already here?”
“As we speak, a local Adventure Society official is directing them to the island of Livaros.”
“We’re in Rimaros?”
“We are. I imagine you will wish to greet them on their arrival at port.”
“I apologise, Priestess Pellin. You have done me a service, only to receive discourtesy in return.”
“The last member of my church you spoke with, you slapped in the face,” she said, her voice tinged with amusement. “I consider discourtesy a welcome step in the right direction.”
- Contact [Rufus Remore] has entered communication range.
- Contact [Gabrielle Pellin] has entered communication range.
The personal watercraft Shade had taken the form of all but flew over the water. Only magic kept the ultralight vehicle from flipping over. Jason was an experienced jet ski rider and this strange bamboo variant wasn’t that different. He was in a half-crouch as it skimmed over the water, moving between larger boats as he made his way into port.
Jason homed in on the familiar aura like a beacon until he spotted a bald, black head on the busy dockside. He conjured his cloak and launched himself into the air, then glided down to land in front of his friend. As the cloak dissolved around him, he flashed the stunned-looking Rufus a huge grin.
Rufus looked Jason over. The strange eyes, the aura that had yet again gone through massive changes. Now they were equal rank, Rufus had a new appreciation for its oppressiveness. As Jason’s aura withdrew to a discrete state, Rufus realised Jason had unveiled it so that Rufus would sense the personal crest marked upon it.
“Farrah thought I was a shape-shifter or something,” Jason said.
Rufus clasped Jason in a fierce hug.
“Crikey,” Jason croaked. “It’s good to see you mate, but it feels like you’re trying to juice me.”
“Farrah,” Rufus said, not letting Jason go.
“Look behind me, mate.”
Rufus released Jason and looked out at the water. Farrah was just rising from her own watercraft on wings of fire, swiftly joining them on the dock. She and Rufus joined in a wordless hug.
As they did, Jason turned to the priestess.
“Gabrielle,” he greeted.
“You were quite correct, Mr Asano. She is not the goddess of Solid Deductions Made on the Basis of Reasonable Evidence.”
“Still don’t like me much, do you?” he asked.
“I am glad that you are no longer dead.”
“That's still goodwill, so I'll take it. I assume that your boss is responsible for getting Rufus here?”
“There was a brief window before the Adventure Society starts claiming the time of every portal user, including those belonging to the church. Even my trip here will last until the monster surge is done. My Lady sent Rufus Remore here as a gesture, having not let your companions know of your likely resurrection. Your other companions are currently indisposed and by the time they reach Vitesse, it will be too late to bring them here immediately. They will need to make their own way to you.”
“They’re all alright, then?”
“They are well and together.”
Jason gave Gabrielle a bow of gratitude, startling her.
“Even though she already knows my gratitude, please convey my thanks to your goddess, Priestess Pellin.”
“I will do so, Mr Asano.”
“Why did she send you too?” Jason asked. “To keep an eye on me?”
“You have an important task to complete, Mr Asano.”
“And what do you know of that?”
“My goddess only told me that it is your secret to share or – and she wished to voice her strong preference on this – not to share.”
Rufus and Farrah came up behind him, Rufus’ arm slung over Farrah’s shoulder. If the smile on his face was any wider, the top half of his head would have fallen off. He clasped a hand on Jason’s shoulder.
“You have to tell me everything,” he said. “Everything.”
The trio got some directions from the Adventure Society port office and started making their way through the city. There was a lot of personal transportation magic on display in boulevards and avenues thick with essence users. Some rode mounts, others magical carriages. Personal float disks were the most common, although there were some interesting variations. Jason was particularly taken with the ones that produced a mist that made it seem like the rider was drifting about on a cloud.
“Can you do a cloud thing?” Jason asked Shade.
“I can do a black cloud,” Shade said.
“Jason,” Farrah said, “this is not the time to be playing Monkey Magic.”
“What’s monkey magic?” Rufus asked.
“She’s talking about Sun Wukong,” Jason said. “It’s a legend from my world.”
“No,” Farrah said, “I’m talking about the old Monkey TV show, as you well know.”
“That’s not what I was thinking,” Jason said.
“Are you going to stand there and tell me the theme song isn’t playing through your head right now?”
“Fine,” Jason admitted. Rufus was looking at them in horror.
“Jason… what did you do to Farrah?” he asked.
“It’s fine,” Jason said. “Shade, some horses, please.”
“Horses,” Farrah said as three dark horses with glowing white manes and hooves were formed out of Jason’s shadow.
“What’s wrong with horses?” Jason asked.
“I thought the reason you couldn't have Shade turn into a heidel in the other world was that your world didn't have heidels,” Farrah said.
“Sounds about right,” Jason said.
“Our world doesn’t have horses.”
“You probably just haven’t seen them,” Jason said.
“Shade?” Farrah asked.
“I am merely the vessel, Miss Farrah. The actual power belongs to Mr Asano, and any limitations he has, or chooses to impose, are his own.”
“Come on,” Jason said hastily as he mounted one of the horses. “Can’t hang about all day.”
On the upstairs balcony of a café, just outside the Livaros temple district, a table was covered in plates.
“This is fantastic,” Jason mumbled happily around a forkful of food. “I’ve been living almost entirely on spirit coins for the last couple of years.”
“Because of the food shortages you mentioned,” Rufus said and Jason nodded.
“His world was never equipped for monsters,” Farrah said. “Once the concentrated, localised monster surges started happening, much of the trade and transport infrastructure collapsed.”
“It sounds like your world saw some dark days,” Rufus said solemnly.
“We’ll explain more once we’re a little more secluded,” Farrah said.
Jason mumbled his agreement.
“Let’s just focus on the happy stuff for now,” he said. “Are there any more of those dumplings?”
“What we should focus on is getting ourselves organised,” Farrah said. “As it stands, we don’t have any place to stay and we remain, so far as I’m aware, dead. As far as any records are concerned, anyway.”
“We need to update your status with the Adventure Society,” Rufus said. “The others will be looking for that.”
“So, you met Dawn,” Jason said to Rufus. “How’s she doing?”
“She seemed normal,” Rufus said. “Whatever that means for a diamond-ranker. They appear how they want to appear.”
“Dawn took a little while to loosen up, but she got there,” Jason said. “Mostly. I think it was her boss’ idea. Wanted her to reconnect with her mortality.”
“You’re about as mortal as it gets,” Farrah told Jason. “Which is odd for a man who keeps coming back from the dead.”
“I was expecting something more ominous,” Jason said. “Skull motif, lots of black.”
“No,” Farrah said, “That’s more you and the god of Undeath.”
Rufus, Farrah and Jason were standing outside of what looked like a rather nice memorial centre with lots of tasteful white stone and neatly manicured gardens. It was a long way from what Jason expected from the temple of Death. The trio stepped onto the grounds to start making their way through the pleasant garden pathways to the main building. As soon as he set foot on the path, Jason froze.
- You have entered a spirit domain.
- You may not claim this territory as a spirit domain unless it is surrendered to you.
Jason cautiously probed with his aura but got no negative reactions.
“What’s wrong?” Rufus asked.
“I’ll tell you later,” Jason said. “It’s fine.”
“Are these gardens laid out as an array?” Jason asked.
“Good eye,” Farrah said. “The dead are stored in temples of Death, so they all have arrays of ritual formations to protect against any necromantic power, be it inadvertent or deliberate.”
“You can get accidental zombies?” Jason asked.
“It’s magic,” Rufus said. “You can get anything.”
“So, does the god of Undeath get a temple?” Jason asked. “It’d be more of a secret thing that people try and wipe out as soon as they find it, right?”
“Yes,” Rufus said. “It’s the same for most of the purely harmful gods, although Undeath is one of the worst. They have to hide them because the Adventure Society, the churches and any local authorities will raze them to the ground. Unless the local authorities are in league with them, which is a complete mess.”
“That was actually how Rufus, Gary and I met,” Farrah said. “We’ve told you about the zombie plague we all ended up fighting together. There was a temple of Undeath at the heart of it all. The local mayor was the high priest; it was a huge mess.”
“I’ve never seen that many undead,” Rufus said.
“I wish I could say the same,” Farrah said, Jason nodding his agreement. Rufus gave them both a worried look.
The main building of Death’s temple proved oddly pleasant, with clergy wandering around in white robes, open space and plenty of light.
“This is not a place for the dead,” an acolyte explained as he led Jason and Farrah through the halls while Rufus waited in the lobby. “The dead have already passed on and their sacred remains are respectfully prepared for their ultimate disposition in the deep places of the temple. This place is truly for those who remain. A place to come together and celebrate their lost love ones and the life that remains.”
“Death care is really exploitative where I come from,” Jason said. “Your goddess probably stops that kind of thing from happening here, right?”
“My goddess stops it from happening everywhere,” the acolyte said.
“Our definition of everywhere,” Farrah said, “is more expansive than what you're thinking of.”
They were shown into an office where a bronze-rank priest got up from his chair to meet them. His hair and eyes were a matching sea-green colour and he had an easy smile. He appeared to be in his thirties, which meant closer to fifty for a bronze-ranker. Jason and Farrah shared a look.
“I think I’m going insane,” Jason said. “People keep wondering and now it’s finally happened.”
“I’m sorry?” the priest asked.
“Your name isn't Al by any chance, is it?” Farrah asked.
“Ah,” the priest said. “You must have met one of my brothers.”
“It’s happening again,” Jason muttered.
“I’m Aldrich Albericci,” the priest introduced himself. “But everyone calls me Al.”
“You don’t happen to have seven brothers do you, Al?” Farrah asked.
“I do,” Aldrich said. “Alvin, Alexander, Alan, Albert, Alistair, Alfred and…”
Aldrich rolled his eyes.
“…Alejandro. He’s the sexy one.”
“You aren’t all identical?” Farrah asked.
“No, we are,” Aldrich said. “Mr Asano, Miss Hurin, please do sit.”
Jason was shaking his head as he sat down across the desk from the priest.
“Is he alright?” Aldrich asked. “He didn’t come back from the dead a bit funny did he? We get that sometimes.”
“You know who we are,” Farrah said. “You know why we’re here, then.”
“I do,” Aldrich said. He took an envelope from his desk drawer and placed it on the table. “Identity certifications for you both. It's quite unusual for people to both die and come back from the dead outside of our goddess' gaze. She is, however, still the goddess of Death. She knows of each time you have fallen and each time you have returned. She gave me specific instruction to ask you to be more careful, Mr Asano. She may not know the details, but she is aware that death is becoming an unfortunate habit for you.”
“Yeah,” Jason said wanly. “Coming back from the dead is kind of my thing.”
“She would rather it wasn't, so please do her a favour and stop dying in the first place.”
“Thank you for this,” Farrah said, taking the envelope.
“Helping the living with the affairs of the dead is why we are here,” Aldrich said. “It's just that when the living and the dead are the same person, there's more paperwork.”
As they were about to leave, something occurred to Jason and he turned around in the door.
“Al,” he said. “I don’t suppose one of your brothers is a tailor?”