A mythical savior, a child’s fantasy that someone, somewhere, in some unknowable reality, that a cosmic being would deign to make our pathetic little lives better.
Zippy knew the concept, he’d heard it said in passing a couple of times since the sundering. All said by ignorant mortals with hope or fancy in their hearts, this however, this was something much different.
A being of mana, a being of pure magic just said they MET a guardian angel.
Oh the Valkyries, the sweet sweet Valkyries, images of these proud warrior women filled Zippy’s mind from his time talking to Frey. Just one issue… The Valkyries weren’t servants of the gods, no. Valkyries, Guardian Angels, Flugel whatever the name of the time; one thing was true about them.
Guardian Angels heralded the gods, not as announcers or warnings. But as a child heralds and adult. Not all gods form out of guardian angels, it is merely that the guardian angel is always the first of the gods in the gigantic climatic lifecycle that makes up a pantheon’s life. There will be gods of death, gods of war, gods of nature, gods of protection… And in the end, the final god will always be the butcher.
“Will, you… you have to be mistaken, maybe it was another genie?” Zippy said, the words falling out of his mouth in a clumsy panic.
The flames that makeup Will dimmed as the mana thread slowly pulled itself all the way out of the lamp. Wills form now looked like a gargoyle itself, the head of an axolotl, the body of a genderless human, the tail of a cat and the wings of a moth.
“No, I’m sure. I even granted a wish to the person they saved. I feel it, I feel their kindness and sincerity. If you have another name for a being of magic who’s entire purpose is saving others, then please explain to me what I saw. There was no wish magic, I would have felt it, the girl… She was close, no, something helped her with its own power.” Will said in an annoyed tone, they knew what they felt.
Zippy looked downtrodden. “I… I have much to prepare for. Guardian angels are the first sign of more to come, big things to come…” Zippy paused, then let out an exasperated sigh. “No rest for the wicked. Will, If this dungeon brings folks back into line with the strength they had before the sundering, I will do anything in my power to make this a success.”
Zippy pulled out three small crystals. Precious and irreplaceable, as soon as they were used by anyone they would become useless dust. Secrets of ancient magics, of spacial magic were contained in them, all you needed to do was get them wet and press them to your head.
Zippy then put these three precious and ancient artifacts on the pedestal in front of Will’s lamp. “Here, I don’t know how much use these will be; they were made for someone more humanoid and with more limitations. Just… Don’t break the first through third dimensions okay? We kind of need those to live.”
Jerome and Billy Joe looked confused, Jamie, however, figured it out with relative ease. “Those are memory crystals aren’t they? I was wondering if those would turn out real or not.”
Zippy, smiling again, bowed at Will, “I bid you good day. Please Will… Guardian Angels are harbingers, heralds of a new age. They’re the first stage of a kind of life that only shows up in the direst of circumstances. Something… Something dangerous has to be coming and we need to be ready for whatever it turns out to be.” Keeping exactly what was coming close to Zippy’s chest, he didn’t want to offend the religious in the room. Not until there was more proof at least.
Will looked up, then back down to the crystals. “Alright, but just so you know, if you want a challenge then this will be a whole lot more dangerous than a skill-test room.”
“Wait… so this will be a real dungeon? With like full monsters and traps and all of that?!” Jamie was nearly jumping with joy as Billy Joe did her best to make sure her friend stayed on the ground.
“It’s good to see ya Will,” Jerome said quietly, softly petting his new shield.
“It’s good to see you too Jerome, how about you come visit me when it’s done. Think you can beat my challenges?” Will said, his old tone of innocence and joy returning for a brief glimpse.
All four of them nodded at the genie, which surprised them. “W..w.wait, all four of you? How am I supposed to challenge some ancient wizard or something, you’re probably like level 80 something aren’t you?”
All four of the physical beings stood shocked and confused, Zippy, after more than one awkward silence, decided to speak up. “You do know that real people don’t have levels… right?”
Will's axolotl face went slack-jawed. “NO LEVELS?! Okay, eeeeverybody out, I have so much work to do and so little time to do it!”
The small four-foot form started pushing the group all the way out of their dungeon. They got the hint halfway through and took up walking the rest of the way.
Exiting the tunnel Jamie smiled wide, Auntie Christia was coming up the slope to them. The largest smile on her own face. “You, Wizard man, what is going on?!” She nearly laughed as she asked him, using the best angry tone she could but it still came out in a pile of giggles.
Zippy walked up, looking over her body, her skin was flashing a few colors over and over, very finely. Impossible to tell from any distance but it was there.
“Hm, Looks like you have an hour at most. I’d get somewhere comfy, you’ll be there for the whole day.” Zippy said, admiring just how many colors were flashing, he had never seen an entire rainbow on a single person.
“WHOLE DAY?! What am I gonna be doing? Just be some couch potato while I wait?” She asked incredulously.
“Well… no, and yes?” He said weakly, shrugging at the same time. “You’re going to go into the chrysalis, the final stage. When you come out, it’ll be complete.”
“And what, pray-tell am I supposed to be doing in this chrysalis or whatever?”
Zippy shrugged again, “It’s spiritual, but I don't think it’s ever the same for two people. You’ll just have to find out.”
Auntie Christa turned without another word, walking off in a huff. Only Zippy and Jamie caught a glimpse of the smile curling its way onto her lips.
The gnome let out a long sigh. “We need a meeting tomorrow after she’s changed, same for Billy Joe… The rest of the town will be doing the same thing in just a couple of days and we don’t need anyone panicking. We’re lucky everyone up here seems to be taking the max amount of time between starting and ending.”
“Sure.” Jerome said, shrugging. It sounded like a good plan and he was already out of his element.
“Wait… Why me?” Billy Joe asked incredulously.
“Well, you seem to be the outlier. Your skin is doing the same thing as hers, but far slower and with fewer colors. I’d say you have until around nightfall.” Zippy asked as if he was simply informing someone of the weather.
And with that, the group of four disbanded and went their separate ways for the day. Billy Joe and Jamie heading over to Savvy Scavengers to set up a deal with Clarise. Jerome off to find a deputy or two, already nursing a headache from all the confusing magical nonsense talk. And Zippy, to see to his new charges and prepare his own surprises for the days to come.
Something was bothering Zippy, something deep in the back of his mind began crawling and squirming. He just couldn’t pinpoint what as he walked toward his home base. Built right into the side of the mountain with no outside help he was quite proud of the open structure.
The walls outside of the mountain looking into the beautiful forest below were entirely glass. A door set in the middle was opaque, There was a sizeable gathering in the center room.
Daisuke the oni held up Brandon the Canadian leprechaun as several other diplomats, teachers, and students all circled around… something.
Unlocking the door and hopping up on his summoned cloud Zippy flew in slowly, gaining altitude so he wouldn’t have to try and make the crowd part.
In the center of the room stood Auntie Christia. Glowing with a gentle orange light… “Oh, she’s entering the final stage. That explains a lot.” Zippy mumbled under his breath.
Zippy flew over to her, offering a hand as the crowd parted for them, Zippy gently escorting her to a reclining couch. Auntie Christia said no words, a peaceful smile was on her face.
That was all Zippy could see in her expression as the woman leaned back in the reclining seat as a cocoon of orange mana surrounded her, sealing her inside and becoming solid around the seat. She looked as if she was surrounded by a rubber-band ball of pure orange energy.
Zippy smiled, it had been far too long since he had helped with the accession of another. Far too long since his days as a teacher.
Zippy’s mind wandered back to Will’s warning, whether the genie knew it or not. Guardian Angels…
“Alright, everyone, at three-thirty on the dot meet me outside. It’s time you all learned how to defend yourself in this old-new world.” Zippy spoke, not looking at any of his students. His voice was calm and even, neither loud nor quiet as everyone in the room nodded at his request.
With a little over an hour and a half before his first lesson, Zippy retreated to his private quarters.
A normal-sized room fit for an average-sized human was filled to the brim with small lab equipment. A large centrifuge stood in the corner as some things were better left their original size.
Screaming into the sound-proof room Zippy collapsed. “Gods… gods are returning.” If these were the gods the world had been calling out for, begging for… Then they would have popped into existence fully grown as soon as the mana returned.
Which means only one thing, something else, something awful was on the rise. Zippy would not be caught by surprise this time, not like with Barthalamew, not again.
Zippy held up a small green vial. Inside it was a near see-through strand of mana. Zippy knew well that if the vial had been any other color it would not have been able to contain the genie’s essence. The barest wispy trace of mana had been left on that abominable staff.
Walking up to the massive centrifuge Zippy connected the vial and activated the device. Spinning and spinning it went, far more effective than the pedal-powered versions he had been accustomed to before.
“If only you all knew… You’ve created magic beyond even our own dreams in your time without it.” Biting his lip with a half-smile Zippy watched for the next forty minutes as the mechanical device pulled form from substance, mana from magic.
Pulling the vial out as the centrifuge finished Zippy walked over to his alchemist space. A desk the size of him near comical considering the bottle was half as tall as the workspace by itself.
Pouring just the barest amount, only the thinnest part of the liquid into the potion Zippy waited.
“Comeon, Comeon…” Zippy mumbled to himself as he stared at the purplish potion, nothing yet had changed.
Suddenly, a crack appeared on the bottle, “yes…”
Followed by another, and then another as cracks rippled through the glass container, shattering it. The shards didn’t flow outward however as they were sucked inside.
What remained was a brilliant purple egg as the biggest most genuine smile crossed Zippy’s face. “Looks like we might actually have a chance.”
Placing the egg inside of a small incubator with only one slot. Zippy’s potion, an ancient recipe; inert for centuries even before the sundering, had been lacking one final ingredient. The last thing to make it solid and give the alchemical creature life.
The pure untainted mana of creation.
“Huh… wonder what these do.” Will said after everyone left.
“I haven’t any idea, that man, however, looked quite pow… what are you doing?” Theodore asked, raising up on his hind feet, and putting a top-hat back on his head that he mysteriously pulled out of nowhere.
“Nuuuuuuthin’,” Will responded innocently as they touched the first of the stones to their head.
Images, theories, vast mathematical concepts and maps of the night sky filled Will’s mind. They were drowning in knowledge, the changing of constellations, the differences between the third and the second and a half dimensions, the possibility of teleportation and time travel… How to form halves and quarters of dimensions, how to throw them just slightly out of phase. How to create items that are bigger on the inside.
And just like that, the images stopped.
“Wh… what just happened?” Will asked, blinking their axolotl eyes.
“Well, when you touched that gem to your forehead your mouth fell open for a good ten minutes. So, fearing the worse I came over here to lend you a hand, by pulling yours away from your forehead I mean.” Theodore responded succinctly.
“T-ten minutes? Just ten?” Will aid, feeling woozy and tired, truly tired like a flesh and blood being for the first time in their life.
“How long did you assume you had?” Theodore asked with concern in his overly formal voice.
“I don’t know.. Days, years? It’s hard to tell.” The gem in Will’s hand started blinking red as he looked down at it. A screen appearing in front of it, not in Will’s own vision, but in reality.
A truly two-dimensional object, it was completely invisible when looked at a ninety-degree angle. Words simply shown, not letters of any language currently on earth yet instantly readable to all.
Stone of ‘Magical Space’
Knowledge absorbed: 78%
Time until destruction of stone: 1:12:35
As the final number was ticking down with seconds Will let out a long breath they had been holding in. Quite the feat for someone with no lungs.
“Gadzooks! what is that?” Theodore asked, surprised and then suddenly fascinated.
“I just learned about them in the time I was gone. They had an old name, board or something, but if I’m being honest…” Will took a long drawn out look at the rectangular controllers of a grey console in front of the old tube TV in the room. “...That was a game screen.. Wasn’t it?”
Taking a look at the system which held a now antique copy of Final Fantasy, Theodore got very excited. “Yes, yes it does!”
Without the opossum’s prodding Will then placed the stone back on their forehead. Once again bathed in the knowledge of the cosmos, WHY things don’t normally just pass through each other. How to create something that does. How to create a solid that is only solid for certain people. So much knowledge…
And then, the crystal shattered, the final words held within the crystal not flowing into Will’s mind, but through the room itself.
“Power for Power’s sake is nothing. Use this wisely young conceptomancer.” The booming ancient sound of the mage echoed through the room only for an instant before vanishing.
“Learn anything that will be of use to us?” Theodore asked.
Will needed a moment to sort through all the information they were just given, far more than any book so far. Then, a smile crossed their dopey face. “I think I just figured out how we can kill someone… and they don’t actually die.”
Maniacal laughter spread throughout the cave as Will set to the next stone. The stone of spirits.