Kingdom of Kashwin,
The First World
The flesh of the shine lizards was deadly poisonous. Elph knew it with a bone deep certainty that fascinated him. He shoved his feet into the muddy trickle of the stream and wriggled his toes in the warm water, watching the nearest lizard curiously. Its heavy body was nearly the length of Elph’s arm. Its silver scales gleamed so brightly in the hot sun that the light stung his eyes.
“If I eat you, I’ll die,” said Elph.
The lizard blinked slowly.
“Why do I know that? Are you important?”
Elph thought the lizard must be. After all, it was the first thing other than his own name that he felt truly sure of.
He had woken fifteen…or was it sixteen?…sunrisings ago in the ruins of a house, in the ruins of a village, in the middle of this hot, barren landscape that was somehow familiar and not at the same time.
The house was little more than shattered mud bricks and broken reeds, only a single wall left standing intact. Elph called out for help, but nobody answered. A feeling in his stomach, like water sloshing in a pot, told him that this was wrong. Somebody should have answered. The village was supposed to be full of somebodies, wasn’t it? Elph wasn’t supposed to be alone. Was he?
He couldn’t remember. He wasn’t sure.
His voice was hoarse, as if he’d been sick or screaming, and his clothes were stiff with dried blood.
The blood wasn’t his. Probably. He didn’t seem to be injured. The house he’d woken up in was his. He thought.
He had found a doll made of straw under one of the scattered bricks. He held it gently, rearranging the straws of its skirt, plucking the broken ones out. He felt tears running down his face, washing away some of the dust.
Surely, someone wouldn’t cry over a damaged doll they didn’t even recognize.
“You must be mine,” Elph told the doll. And now he wore it around his waist, strapped to a leather belt he’d found amidst a pile of the scoured, white stones that were arranged all over the village.
The stones made Elph uncomfortable. They made him stay away from the village, except at night, when the sounds of the desert began to feel more dangerous to him.
“What do you know about the stones in the village?” Elph asked the shine lizard, watching its tail twitch.
The lizard didn't answer.
“Since I can’t eat you. I’ll probably starve to death one day.”
He had found food in many of the ruined houses. Clay pots full of grain, oil, dried fruit, and even sweet alcohol. But it would all run out eventually. Food didn’t last forever, and Elph couldn’t remember how the pots got filled with food in the first place. You had to buy it, he thought. In the center of the village, there was supposed to be a place where you handed coins to a somebody and the somebody poured grain from a bag into your pot so that you had food to eat.
When Elph thought too hard about these things, his stomach sloshed. Once or twice, it had even spilled over, and he had vomited in the sand.
So, he didn’t think anymore if he could help it.
He decided he would hold on only to the sure things. His name was Elph. The flesh of the shine lizards was deadly poisonous.
That was enough.
Elph waited for night to fall before he left the muddy stream and headed back to the village. He crouched in the wreckage of the house that might have been his, huddling against the lone wall. He ate a handful of dried apricots and salt nuts. He drank alcohol from a jug so large that he had to wrap his arms around it to lift it.
The stinging stuff spilled all over the front of his shirt and down his chin. He even inhaled some of it, and his nostrils burned for a long time after that. But Elph didn’t care. It made him feel warm. It made him dizzy. It made it easier for him not to think.
He slept. He woke. He slept again.
And for many days after that, it was only Elph and the desert around him and the shine lizards on their rocks.
If other somebodies had once existed, he decided, they didn’t any more.
The Second World,
Cottage of the High Sorcerer Megimon Orellen
Megimon missed being wealthy. Perhaps it was unbecoming for a high sorcerer who was lucky enough to have made it across the threshold to Avorlan. But still…being poor was every bit as terrible as he had imagined.
His house was in a swamp, for heaven’s sake. And not even one of the good, mana-rich swamps of the southern regions. Lowing Swamp was a little accident of nature in the second world. A place that was devoid of real power but still full of life thanks to the climate. And all of that life--from plants that stank of rot to mosquitoes the size of fruit bats--was ugly and unpleasant.
Megimon couldn't even afford a set of robes that were up to the local standard! He'd been learning to embroider mana himself in the evenings, but he might as well have worn rags for all the pitying looks he earned when he ventured out in public.
The poverty stung even more than usual lately, since his great-great grand nephew kept offering him large sums of money in exchange for his help with the recent family trouble. If only a few chests of gold could have fixed matters! Coin and jewels from the first world were more worthless here than a barrel full of de-winged pixies.
Megimon had been in the second world for nearly fifteen years now, but he was still stuck circle farming energy for twelve hours a day just so that he could afford to buy halfway decent tea.
And Lutcha (a one-winged pixie of blessedly mild temper for her species) was once again clucking over the quality of said tea while she brewed some for both of them. “Shameful,” she said, spinning her small green fingers over the steaming tea bowls to call the ambient magic into it. “How you expect to achieve the low magus stage if you’re drinking this swill, I don’t know.”
“The path to the third world is a long one,” Megimon grumbled.
“You’re not on the path,” the pixie said with a snort. “You’re off by the side of the road gnawing at the weeds like a cow. You’ll die before your three-hundredth birthday at this rate. I hope you’ll remember to include me in your will.”
“I will do no such thing, you expensive menace.”
“And there you go again. Stupid human…thinking a pixie’s services ought to come cheap.”
You’re only half a pixie, thought Megimon. But he’d never say it. Lutcha’s magic was very stable for a one-wing. She was the only bit of luck he’d had since ascending to this magical plane.
“What you should have done, if you’d any sense at all, was wait until you'd reached the supremacy stage of your sorcererership before coming to Avorlan. At least. Should’ve taken up a bit of demon summoning if necessary to boost your magic and trusted to the gateway to cleanse you of a little sin as you crossed over the threshold. But nooooo…you were too precious and pure for anything like that, and now you’re the weakest adult practitioner in the whole second world.”
The pixie was about the size of a human toddler, too small to reach the top of Megimon’s work desk. She levitated the tea bowl over to rest on the dark wood beside one of the amplifying constructs he’d been tinkering with for months.
He stared down into the bowl. The tea looked like any standard black tea from his former life, but it smelled like power.
“I’m sure I’m not,” he said, a little disturbed now as he pondered Lutcha’s words.
“I’m sure I’m not the weakest in the second world. One of them, perhaps. But I’m not the weakest.”
The pixie, sitting on the floor with her spindly legs crossed, paused in the act of sipping her tea. “Well,” she said after a moment’s thought, “at the very least I shouldn’t have been snide about it.”
“What? You mean I am the—”
“The point for you to take away from all of this is that you should spend your time in study and magical contemplation,” said the pixie, “instead of gallivanting off to help your descendants every third minute. And you should buy better tea for my sake if not your own.”
“It’s not a small matter I’m helping them with. There’s a very real risk that they’ll be wiped out.”
“Poor them,” said Lutcha, without a trace of sympathy in her voice.
“You just don’t understand humans,” said Megimon. “We don’t eat our own young if they’re born without power or skill.”
Lutcha clucked her tongue. “That’s why so few of you make something of yourselves. Anyway, if you want to waste your time playing savior, your little tracking bauble has been going off for a couple of days now.”
“What?” said Megimon, looking around in confusion. To his shock, the space on the bookshelf where he’d been keeping the Disc of the Sacred Fate was empty. “Lutcha!”
“I threw it in the flycarp pond,” said Lutcha. “Nasty, noisy thing. I thought it would stop me from hearing that racket at all hours, but unfortunately, I’m attuned to it now. It’s ringing away. Must have found another dead child for you. How many is this now?”
“Nine hundred forty-three,” said Megimon, standing up from the desk. “If it’s been damaged, I’ll rip off your wing and feed you feet first to a crocodile.”
Lutcha's eyes, iridescent and faceted like an insect's, shone suddenly bright. "I would hold onto you," she said in a cold voice. "And I would drag you into the belly of the beast with me."
Megimon stared at her.
"Have fun finding lost souls and stuffing them into corpses!" the pixie said, her temper switching to chipper in an alarming instant. "Bring me back a present! I'd like a kitten. Or a goat."
"I brought you a kitten last time, and I never saw it again. So no."
A few minutes later, the High Sorcerer Megimon stepped out of a portal into the world of his birth. He stared up at the sun, blazing almost white in the sky overhead. He suddenly remembered, with an odd mix of pride and nostalgia, that this same sun had once been too bright to look at directly. Before he'd set out on his journey to greatness, he had only ever seen the lifegiving star out of the corner of his eye. To stare directly at a power much greater than your own was to blind yourself.
But now his eyes beheld it as easily as they did the chaotic waves of magic rising from the ground like a heat shimmer.
Strange, thought Megimon. Was there always a convergence on the outskirts of the Erberen?
He had never actually visited this part of the world, but he thought he'd have read about a place of power like this during the course of his studies.
In his hands, the Disc of the Sacred Fate was ringing insistently.
"Fine, fine..." Megimon sighed. "Let's find the soul and get on with it."
In the distance, he saw the outline of a small settlement. That would be the most likely place. He shoved the disk into his flowing white robes and set off across the blasted, barren landscape. A spell speeded his steps.
Megimon was sure this job would be done quickly, and he'd be back to his studies before the bowl of tea on his desk went cold. After all, that was how it had gone the other nine hundred and forty-two times he'd done it. The family handled the awkward and complicated parts of this nasty business. And at this point, Megimon's role in the process was more habit than hard work.
Of course, the other nine hundred and forty-two times the high sorcerer had come to this world to steal a soul, the owner of it had already died.