Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private-Eye #121

The increasing desolation was gradual at first, but over the course of a full day’s ride, the difference was dramatic. I would not have described the coastal landscape in Anulah as lush, but as we traveled, even the prairie grass and scrub bushes began to diminish. Those that remained were stunted and pale.

I had been to dead slices before, but rarely lingered. Seeing a healthy ecosystem sicken and die out before your eyes was somehow worse, and it very effectively communicated the message: “You are going the wrong way.”

By the time that the ground was completely bare, that message was reinforced by grotesque statues. Some of them, monstrous gargoyles. Others, human figures, twisted and cowering in fear.

“I’m, ah… Starting to get the feeling that she doesn’t want us here,” said Pensky.

“No,” I said. “We’re invited, remember. This stuff is all about intimidation. And it keeps the rubes away, I’m sure.”

Ms. Moon spoke up. “You are both right as well as wrong.”

I pulled back on my horse’s reins, bringing her to a stop. The others did the same. Ms. Moon had been quiet during the first part of our trip. For her to speak up now suggested that she had something important to say.

She hesitated in her comment, watching us all gather around her with darting eyes and quickened breath. She had been hiding her anxiety well, but now that she was cracking the seal, we were getting a peek at the turmoil inside.

“You must address her as Sorceress,” she began. “You may hear me call her Caltheah, but that is a special form of address for students, and you must not use it yourselves.” She glanced to me and nodded. “I am aware that you have a relationship with another facet of her, in which you know her as Eddie Truth. My advice nonetheless would be to refer to her still as Sorceress only. Though you know your connection with her better than I, so of course, it is up to your discretion.”

“I’ll defer to your judgement on that one,” I said. “At least until I meet this version face-to-face.”

“She detests other beings,” said Ms. Moon. “Though she will pretend otherwise. Indeed, as you have observed, the transformation of our surroundings is meant to discourage travelers. And yet that is not the only reason. The presence of life energy disrupts and interferes with her magical powers. As a result, she has taken steps to deplete a large radius around her, removing anything that might distract from her visions.”

She closed her eyes and took a long, heavy breath. “The conflict, however, is that some elements of her spells actually require the presence of others, be they human, elf or otherwise. The other minds can amplify and focus the magical energy, allowing greater power. She absolutely requires the presence of educated and willing servants at some times, while finding herself disgusted by their very existence at all others.”

When Ms. Moon opened her eyes, I saw a spark of defiance dancing among the resigned exhaustion and fear. “As you might imagine,” she said, “this can make her difficult to live with.”

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