Dr. Aeon and Flux in: Who in the World is Sunset Aeon?

(Creative Consultant: Lee Ball)

Somewhere else, some other time…

Dr. Sunset Aeon, ThD

"Today, we are honored to present the degree of Doctor of Thaumaturgy in Theoretical Astralphysics with highest academic honors to Sunset Aeon," droned President Borebickle. "Mystene Aeon is the youngest woman to be awarded this degree in the history of Silversage University. Her Doctoral thesis, titled Reexamining Quantum Theurgy: A Meta- level Virtual Scalable Architecture for Energetic Manasion Evocation, has created an entirely new thaumaturgic discipline, Manasion Evocation."

In her thesis research, Sunset had proved the existence of the heretofore theoretical manasion, the fundamental particle of mana. What made the discovery so valuable was the potential to adapt manasions as an alternate source of spell energy. Theoretically, spells utilizing manasions would be much more powerful than traditional spells.

President Borebickle continued. "This exciting new field of study shows great promise for helping sufferers of manarexia to rejoin society and live normal, productive lives. All the members of the Faculty and Administration of Silversage University offer our heartfelt congratulations. Dr. Aeon, I am pleased to grant you the degree of Doctor of Thaumaturgy with all the rights, privileges and honors pertaining thereunto."

He shook hands with an attractive young lady and handed her a vellum scroll in an ornate jeweled case. Her pale blue skin and brown hair contrasted nicely with the traditional high- necked navy-blue robe of the Doctoral candidate; and the robe did little to conceal her lithe, athletic figure.

For about an hour after the conclusion of the graduation ceremony, Sunset mingled with the other graduates, the faculty, and honored guests, shaking hands and exchanging congratulations. She was then approached by Mr. Rodeling, President Borebickle's assistant. "President Borebickle would like a word with you in the faculty lounge, if you please, Dr. Aeon." He claimed that he didn't know the reason.

The Bad New and the Badder News

"I'm afraid I have some bad news for you, Dr. Aeon," the old man intoned without preamble. "I was recently informed that your Department Chair offered you a Research Professorship. I regret having to tell you that he was not authorized to make this offer; Silversage currently has no Faculty or Staff positions available."

She was stunned. "But the Astralphysics Department is seriously understaffed at the moment, given the recent passing of Professor Weiss, Professor Emeritus Einstein's sabbatical, the resignation of Professor Meitner, and Professor Copperfield not even having been born yet."

"Nonetheless, Dr. Aeon, as a result of an edict issued by the University's Board of Directors, there are no positions currently available." He paused, looked around furtively, then bent closer and continued in a whisper. "It could be dangerous for me to tell you this, but you should know that the XyZam clan warned the Board of Directors in no uncertain terms that Silversage would suffer greatly if the University offered you a position. You know their power; even the University doesn't dare cross them."

I know indeed, she thought ruefully. Years ago, Sunset had made a mortal enemy of Slywit XyZam, one of the most powerful daughters of the clan. One of the reasons she had extended her education for so long was to remain in the safety zone that Silversage's ancient and powerful protective magical shields offered her. If Slywit ever caught her outside the University grounds, she would certainly challenge Sunset to a Mystical Duel and "accidentally" kill her horribly.

All of her theoretical knowledge of Thaumaturgy wouldn't help her, as she was one of the manarexics whom President Borebickle had mentioned earlier. Manarexics had very little natural ability to work magic. Compared to even a normal member of the Magicato civilization, Sunset's reservoir of personal mana was feeble, and her ability to utilize the ambient mystical forces in the environment around her was woefully deficient. Her power compared to Slywit's as a salamander's does to a dragon's. She had hoped that by the time she was forced to confront Slywit, manasion-powered spells would provide her with a surprise advantage; but alas, she was still working to develop practical applications of her theories.

"Thank you, Mr. President. I understand," she said in a resigned tone. "And I suppose I must leave campus shortly?"

He sighed. "Yes, I've been requested to ask you to vacate by the day after tomorrow. If that doesn't give you time to pack all your things, then leave a forwarding address and we'll have them 'ported to you."

"You do realize, sir, that forcing me to leave here at this time is tantamount to a death sentence," she said slowly.

Borebickle didn't know all the details of her situation with the XyZam clan, but he knew enough to look stricken. Still, he forced jollity into his voice. "Oh, my dear, it's not as bad as all that! You'll be fine! For a promising young woman such as yourself, the world is your pearl-fruit!"

She bowed, thinking bitterly, Whatever salves your conscience, Mr. President. Aloud, she intoned, "As you say. Thank you, Mr. President; I know you've done your best for me, and that you now have to what's best for the University. I suggest you keep my things if you haven't heard from me in a week; I doubt I'll need them." With that, she turned and stalked out of his office.

She had nowhere to go; her parents had passed away years ago. But it wouldn't really matter, for Slywit would be waiting for her when she walked through the University gates for the last time.

I'm as good as dead already…

"Why have you been hiding here in the lab since yesterday?" Somanie Peledron demanded of her roommate and best friend. "What's up? Have you started working on your second doctorate already?"

"Hi, Somi!" Sunset greeted her friend with a wan smile. "I'm sorry you had to look for me. I got some bad news yesterday: President Borebickle fired me before I was even hired. I have to leave Silversage by tomorrow, and there's some research I'm desperate to complete before then. It may mean my life."

Somi was stunned and dismayed to hear this terrible news, but she tried to cheer up her friend. "That's awful, but I don't see why it's the end of your life. I'm sure you can get a better job at some other University; any one of them would be lucky to have you!"

"You don't understand, Somi. I'm not worried about the job. But leaving Silversage will put my life in immediate danger. I really need a break from this work, so let me tell you the story…"

Sunset’s Nemesis

For the first time in her life, Silversage University freshman Sunset Aeon was experiencing what it felt like to be normal. In ancient times, shortly after Silversage was founded, the faculty had realized exactly how dangerous it was to be surrounded by hundreds of active, energetic young adults still inexperienced in controlling their awesome mystical powers. Powerful magical dampening spells had been devised and put into place, wards which severely limited the power of any spell cast on campus, except in strictly regulated situations such as laboratories. For centuries, these wards had been continually strengthened and updated by Faen's most potent mages, and their effectiveness was thought to be absolute.

So although Sunset was still the weakest Mystene on campus, the difference between her power and the dampened power of her schoolmates was not overwhelming; and her devotion to her studies more than made up the difference. She was particularly respected for her ability to craft original spells, and any classmate who needed a special-purpose spell, perhaps to impress a lover or to speed recovery from a hangover, would come to her.

Slywit XyZam was one such classmate. She was so naturally powerful that outside the University, she never had to worry about careful spell casting; if she didn't immediately achieve the effect she desired, she could always pour in more power. She'd asked Sunset for a seduction spell that would work within the University walls; she needed a better grade in one of her core courses, and the instructor was unreasonably immune to her natural charms. Her physical charms, actually, for if she had even a manasion of charm in her personality, nobody had yet discovered it. Sunset had refused for ethical reasons (which totally escaped Slywit) and had considered the incident over.

Though Sunset had told no one about that incident until today, the instructor had somehow found out, and all the power and influence of the XyZam clan wasn't enough to prevent Slywit's expulsion. Of course, she blamed Sunset, and had sworn a binding Ritual Oath of Blood Vengeance for her humiliation and the resultant loss of status she and her clan had suffered. As long as Sunset remained on the Silversage campus, even the XyZam clan didn't dare touch her. But they had finally found a way to pry her from her safe haven, before she could complete the preparations which might ensure her safety.

Last Day on Campus

"What a feebrotting bitch! Did anyone ever discover how the instructor found out?" Somi wanted to know.

"Yeah, years later, one of her 'friends' admitted that Slywit herself had spilled the beans — and more than once. For months, whenever she'd get drunk, she'd piss and moan about it to her posse, even in the campus pub, never caring if she was overheard. It could have been anyone who told the instructor. Anyone except me."

"And nobody ever reminded her of that?" Somi was indignant. "It isn't fair that she blames you for something she did to herself!"

"It wouldn't matter," Sunset responded with a shrug. "If I'd crafted a spell for her in the first place and everything hadn't gone precisely as she'd planned, she'd still believe it was my fault. That's how she is."

"So as soon as you're off campus, she's going to challenge you to a duel...and that's not fair, either! A mystic duel is supposed to be between Mystenes of similar status. Everyone knows that Slywit can easily overpower you. Won't she be ostracized afterwards for picking on someone so much less powerful than she is?"

Sunset looked at her trenchantly.

"Oops, sorry!" Somi said, realizing that she might have said something that would hurt her friend.

"Well, I can't deny the truth." Sunset shrugged again. "My status as a Mystene is equal to hers, even if my power isn't. Just yesterday, I was granted a Th.D., 'with all the rights, privileges and honors pertaining thereunto'," she quoted, mimicking Borebickle's dry delivery perfectly. "And there are responsibilities that go with it as well. There's only one way to avoid this duel, and I won't do that!" She shuddered.

"You're not just going to let her kill you." Somi knew her friend better than that. "You're up to something. So I guess I ought to leave, huh? Unless I can help. Any headway?"

Sunset hesitated for a few seconds before answering, wondering what she should say. "I've got a couple of leads," she admitted finally. "If I'm lucky, I'll have at least one surprise up my sleeve tomorrow." She shook her head. "Thanks for the offer, but there isn't anything I need help with right now. And you're right, I ought to get back to work. But maybe you can bring me something to eat in a couple of hours?"

Of course, Somi would be happy to.

Somi did return later, bearing gifts. She brought food and drink, of course, and something even more important: she gifted her friend with a Peledron family heirloom, the Bracelet of Bisarti, a powerful defensive charm. The bracelet was beautiful: five massive gems, each flashing a different color, linked together with shining gold filigree. Sunset accepted the gift gratefully, learned how to invoke the charm, and returned to her task, working desperately to save her own life.

Challenges and Insults

Sunset didn't bother to pack. All her things were marked with her unique magical signature; from anywhere on Faen, any mage who specialized in apportation could easily retrieve them for her, assuming she lived long enough to need them.

She rose before dawn on that fateful day. After her morning ablutions, she donned her dueling outfit, a form-fitting bodysuit of very tough blue and white dyed targoth leather. It was as supple as silk, yet dense enough to prevent all but the most vicious of physical attacks from penetrating it. The bodysuit was magically treated to provide even more protection against physical injury; after all, a Mystical Duel should be decided by magic, not physical blows.

She clasped the Bracelet of Bisarti around her left wrist, and in her right hand she carried her own magical focus stone, a highly polished sphere carved from a very rare crystal of multi-colored onyx. It looked very much like a miniature planet. Her parents had gifted her with this stone at birth, and she had spent thousands of hours practicing with it, enchanting it with what power she could. She wrapped herself in a long, ornately decorated robe, and she was ready to take her leave. I'll feel silly walking around dressed for a duel if Slywit doesn't show up, but what are the chances of that? she thought. I guess if she doesn't show, I can come back here and make my goodbyes.

Very soon, she would require as much mental and emotional tranquility as she could summon in order to have any hope of survival. Right now she couldn't afford the pain a series of emotional goodbyes would stir up, so she slipped out through a normally unused door in a remote part of the school.

Too bad I just can't apport to some distant planet where Slywit might not find me, she thought wistfully, then shook her head and delivered herself a stern rebuke. "No, I will not think that way! I will not spend the rest of my life in dread! One way or another, Slywit's vendetta ends today!"

She lifted into the sky and headed for the nearby town of Crystalhill. She wasn't surprised that nothing interrupted her flight; both Mystenes had their own reasons to desire a public encounter. She wants to humiliate me in public; I need witnesses to ensure an honorable duel, Sunset mused.

Less than an instant after she touched down gently in Crystalhill's public square, Slywit and her posse popped into existence.

"At last I've got you, you gutless little wiztard!" Slywit sneered at her. "Finally flushed from your hidey-hole after 10 years. I'm surprised you didn't drop dead from fear when you learned they were turning you out, you cowardly little feebrot." Her voice was loud, magically loud; she wanted everyone in Crystalhill to watch this event. "For past insults offered me, and as demanded by the Ritual Oath of Blood Vengeance to which I am sworn, I, Mystene Slywit XyZam, demand that you face me in a Mystical Duel of Mystenes. Or you may offer me satisfaction by renouncing your claim as a Mystene." The formal challenge was required by ancient tradition stronger than law; what followed was not. "And show everyone that you're nothing but a wizzle."

The residents who now crowded the square shuddered at that; breaking tradition showed even more contempt for Sunset than the three deadly insults Slywit had already uttered. Sunset had no need for magical enhancement to insure that she was heard. The crowd was completely silent as they waited for her reply.

"Slywit? Nay, I think instead your parents misspelled Slut." Sunset responded evenly, breaking tradition herself. She might die, but she would not back down! Several titters of laughter came from the crowd; Slywit had visited Crystalhill a few times during her short stay at Silversage, and hadn't left behind any friends.

"I, Mystene Sunset Aeon, Doctor of Thaumaturgy, accept your challenge." A subtle cut there; after her disgrace at Silversage, Slywit had never bothered to achieve even an undergraduate degree. "We two shall pit our mystical powers, one 'gainst the other, 'til one yields," she responded formally. "You may yet offer me satisfaction by renouncing your claim to the title of Mystene." The crowd gasped as one; the challenged rarely made this counteroffer to the challenger...and only did so when she was fully confident of winning.

Slywit was too enraged to respond; all she could do was sputter. After waiting several seconds, Sunset intoned, "Very well. We shall continue. As the challenged, it is my right to pick the time and the place for this duel. I choose this time and this place, and I waive the right to a second."

She removed her robe, revealing her dueling outfit, and donned a deep blue targoth leather band that wrapped around her head and completely covered her eyes and ears. This was another protective device; opaque from the outside, it was magically treated to pass safe levels of light and sound, but would otherwise protect her eyes and ears from almost any physical damage

As she had hoped, Slywit appeared surprised and a little shaken by her response; no doubt she had expected Sunset to offer satisfaction, which she would have flatly rejected, with yet another unimaginative curse about cowardice. Excellent; a blow to her confidence can only help! Sunset thought triumphantly. She hoped that her own apparent confidence would raise some doubts in her foe's mind; doubts sap a Mystene's will, and the will is what drives spells. She would try and feed those doubts.

"Yes, 'Mystene', it is you who should fear the power I've learned in the last 10 years, the power for which I was presented with the Doctor of Thaumaturgy degree!" Sunset boasted loudly and confidently. Slywit actually flinched at that; she knew her mind was shielded, yet here was a powerless wizzle casually reading her thoughts, or so she believed — and exposing them for public ridicule!

"I grant you a short interval of preparation, Slut, and then our duel begins." Yes, Sunset might die, but she would not back down!

Slywit XyZam stood there with her mouth hanging open until a member of her posse nudged her. "You better get your dueling outfit on, Sly! Time's almost up."

Slywit stared at her follower as a dragon might regard an impudent inchworm, then quickly cast a spell to clothe herself in her dueling gear. In her rage, she was careless in commanding her wardrobe — and for an instant, stood in front of her posse and the residents of Crystalhill clad in an outfit designed for another sort of duel entirely. Shiny, tightly stretched black leather covered almost every inch of her body; a black leather hood completely covered her head, while silver chains bound her wrists and ankles. There was dead silence; few would dare even whisper near an enraged Mystene, especially one as powerful and careless as Slywit.

Few save her intended victim, who broke out in a peal of tinkling laughter. "Yes, I see your parents named you well, Slut!" Sunset mocked. "I thought you were insisting on a duel with an enemy, not submission to your Mystress! I note that your companions are hardly shocked; I suspect they often see you thus!"

Slywit screamed in rage, and her outfit changed in a flare of black flame. The new outfit somewhat resembled the previous one, though without the chains and openings in... well, strategic locations. This black leather body suit was studded with cruel silver spines, and the mask the face of a fearsome demon. She was finally clad in her own dueling gear. Just in time.

Mystical Duel

Sunset opened her right hand, and her focus stone rose about six inches off her palm. A brilliant yellow aura swept outwards from the sphere, a slowly expanding globe of yellow mist. It faded as it grew and soon vanished, but its subtle effects endured. The illumination of all things that had been touched by this aura changed; they became brighter and sharper, the colors crisper, almost as if an unsuspected color-blindness had just been lifted from the eyes of the viewers. Concentrating intently, Sunset began the Summoning of Low Shields, a manasion-powered dweomer that she had hurriedly crafted in the last two days. Low Shields wrapped Sunset in a softly shimmering translucent cocoon of mystical energy, blurring her outline and producing strange, intensely powerful magical emanations that all in the square could sense but none could identify.

Slywit also released her magical focus, though the process was similar in name only to what Sunset had just done. She opened her hand and a small animal appeared on her palm, a mouse magically plucked from its mean nest somewhere nearby. A globe of mystical force enclosed the unfortunate rodent, then suddenly compressed to the size of a marble. Slywit cast the gory icon from her; it rose until it was above her head and hung there, a symbol to all of her power and intent. A wave of dimness radiated from her, and the colors of everything touched by this wave seemed to shrink; they became drabber, drearier.

Slywit's posse reveled in this gloomy glamour; their eidolon's Bubble of Gray was larger by far than her enemy's Bubble of Brightness, though the colors within Sunset's bubble remained preternaturally bright.

Satisfied by her demonstration of power, Slywit chanted slowly in an arcane tongue, beginning the gestures of the Incantation of Dissolution. Her aura pulsed as she infused her power into the crescive spell. An ominous dark cloud faded into being in the air above Sunset, quickly coalescing into a black writhing mass like a giant amoeba of nothingness. The amoeba's edges drooped and it settled downward, enveloping the cocoon of Low Shields and attempting to dissolve it. The spells battled, almost as living things, two dangerous predators in a desperate encounter.

Low Shields easily resisted Dissolution, but it contained a tiny flaw. Perhaps it had crept in during the crafting, when Sunset had been rushed and exhausted; or perhaps she made the most minute error in the complex incantation or gestures she had never before even practiced. Dissolution extended a tendril into Low Shield's almost undetectable imperfection and pulsed, discharging its remaining power, and Low Shields shattered, destroying Dissolution at the same time. Even with a fatal flaw, the manasion-powered dweomer of Low Shields had succeeded, protecting Sunset from a spell cast by an immensely more powerful Mystene.

Sunset's concentration was shattered along with Low Shields. She knew that Slywit would attack again before she regained her focus; so instead of beginning another enchantment, she held her left arm in a shielding position and spoke loudly and forcefully: "Bisarti!" A golden halo, perhaps six inches across and glowing as brightly as the sun, snapped into existence between the dueling Mystenes.

Slywit swore and screamed the Invocation of Twisted Curses, producing a swarm of thousands of maggots that floated towards Sunset like a fetid fog, the larvae twisting and crawling over each other in a sickening display. Each maggot was a deadly potent curse in itself; en masse, they were a powerful Doomsday weapon of war whose only goal was total destruction. This was not a spell for a Duel between Mystenes! Once Sunset was infected by one of those loathsome curses, she would become a walking plague, and the others would search for new targets. Slywit cackled as she anticipated her revenge not only on her mortal enemy, but on all in Crystalhill. A putrid aura of malevolence engulfed the square, and the crowd vanished instantly as residents and posse alike recognized the appalling threat and desperately apported as far away as their varied powers would allow.

Sunset had one remaining ace to play, one final dweomer she had crafted in the two days past, the manasion-powered Ritual of Draining; but what if it, too, contained a flaw? She must depend on Bisarti to protect her; her own powers were like strands of straw against Slywit. Though she could not affect Slywit, if her enemy was likewise stymied by Bisarti, the duel would end in a draw, and for Sunset, that would be a win. News of Slywit's failure to best a crippled manarexic, a feebrot wizzle, would spread, causing irreparable damage to her own status and that of the XyZam clan. Slywit would be punished severely, perhaps even disowned. And by the force of tradition, she could never again challenge Sunset.

As the mass of maggots approached the halo, the shield flared even more brightly, and the leading clumps of the putrid cloud vanished. Miniature bolts of lightning crackled and played across the interior of the glowing ring as Bisarti absorbed the energy of the attacking spell. Unheeding, the remaining maggots continued their advance; by their making they could do nothing else, and they continued to vanish. A long instant later they were all gone, and Bisarti's yellow glow was overwhelmed by the harsh bluish-white glare of the powerful lightning storm now constrained within the floating halo.

The mystical feedback unleashed by the destruction of Twisted Curses jolted both Mystenes. Slywit took the brunt of the backlash; she was staggered by the intense energy release. She had imbued Twisted Curses with a large portion of her power, and if her foe had been able to attack her at that instant, even Sunset's modest powers would have been sufficient to force her surrender. But Sunset was staggered as well, and unable to attack.

When she was not immediately attacked, the evil Mystene was emboldened by the realization that her mortal foe lacked the power to harm her. Low Shields had been Aeon's only hope, and now her hope was gone. Slywit was sure she could thwart Bisarti; she gathered her remaining power for the final spell that would destroy her foe's protective charm and exact her ultimate retribution.

She began the gestures and incantations to launch the Abjuration of Solitude. Solitude had been crafted for her by a Master Spellcrafter, created for the sole purpose of wreaking her terrible vengeance on her most hated mortal foe. Solitude would not kill Sunset; that would be much too merciful. Instead it would cast her into Limbo, where she would remain forever trapped — still able to see this universe but invisible, immaterial, and undetectable to even the most powerful mage. Unable to affect the world in any way, she would suffer the ultimate Solitude for eternity. And Slywit would be the only one who knew of her fate. What a delicious revenge!

Solitude manifested itself as a giant clawed hand, mottled with varicolored spots and covered with warts and bristly green hair, reaching slowly and ominously down from the sky towards Sunset. Bisarti's halo floated up to oppose it, but both Mystenes could sense that the ancient protective charm would soon be overwhelmed. The Bracelet of Bisarti was a magnificent example of the Spellcrafter's art, exquisitely contrived and devised to protect its bearer forever against the most powerful spells known to the Adepts of the time.

Unfortunately for Sunset, it had been crafted centuries before, and the science of Thaumaturgy had advanced greatly during those centuries. The spells it was designed to withstand at the time of its crafting were today taught to apprentices. Solitude began to close its grotesque bony fingers around Sunset, putting ever more pressure on Bisarti.

With Bisarti sure to fail, Sunset was out of choices. Ignoring the urgent need for haste, she carefully reviewed the words and gestures of the Ritual of Draining and could find no flaws. Calling on all the strength her focus stone could provide, she completed the Ritual while Bisarti still held stalwart.

Draining manifested as a small bubble, shimmering with changing colors like a child's soap bubble. It floated through Bisarti and Solitude as if they didn't exist and pursued Slywit, ignoring her every defensive spell and attempt to evade. It touched her, and far faster than the blink of an eye it started to grow. It was large enough to engulf her; it was larger than a dragon; it was touching the sky; it vanished, and Slywit crumpled to the ground. Sunset could almost have pitied her foe; she knew that Slywit would awaken to find her magical abilities stripped away forever, leaving her less than even the 'powerless wizzle' she so despised. But Sunset had no time to pity a fallen enemy; she also was confronting overwhelming circumstances.

Under pressure unimaginable to the ancient mage who had devised it, Bisarti sprang a leak. The energy Bisarti had absorbed from Twisted Curses discharged explosively through that leak, rushing towards a catastrophic encounter with Solitude. The magical energies of the two powerful spells reacted violently, and Twisted Solitude was born. Vastly more powerful than either parent spell, with unfathomable purpose and unknowable effects, Twisted Solitude inexorably continued to assault the wounded and weakened Bisarti.

Finally, Twisted Solitude triumphed, and at the same exact instant that Slywit collapsed, Sunset screamed and vanished from her own universe, never to return.

Sunset was terrified; she could feel the pressure increase as the noxious hand of Twisted Solitude squeezed ever more tightly. Bisarti's shield actually groaned; then, with an ear-splitting high-pitched shriek, disintegrated. The putrescent magic of the distorted spell slipped past the shattered fragments of Bisarti and embraced her like some obscene lover. She screamed and screamed until she was swallowed by blessed unconsciousness.

Into the Fire

She was astonished that she ever awakened. She felt as if her skin had been flayed and dipped in some kind of foul slime, and she could sense a dread terror pressing in on her, as if the environment were evil and menacing; when she opened her eyes, she discovered she was floating in a vast dark void...and hanging in clumps and clusters around her were groups of what could only be demons! Her terrified eyes registered every size and type of demon imaginable, from misshapen humanoid to horned and scaled monsters with vicious fangs to spiny sea-urchin types with poisonous barbed quills to horrible things that she couldn't even imagine, much less describe. This awful place must be the home and breeding ground of all demons!

The floating clumps were not peaceful; they were writhing and twisting as the demons in each group tore at each other in savage battle. Their vicious combat appeared to consume their entire attention, and none so far had noticed her. She quickly cast the Working of Total Insignificance, a spell she had crafted herself, to try to insure that this condition continued. Few understand Insignificance as I do, she thought wryly. How ironic that my great weakness may be my best defense! She then carefully completed the Rite of Asepsis, cleansing herself and her leather dueling suit of the filth left by Twisted Solitude.

For a time, the situation remained unchanged, save that clumps of fighting demons would break up, the injured would somehow be healed, new groups would form, and the barbarous infighting would begin anew. Sunset experimented; she found that the powers she had controlled on Faen remained to her, the power of flight allowing her to hold a safe distance from the fearsome clumps of demons. She quickly tired of the sickening sight of the demons shredding one another, and instead worked to repair the damaged spell of Bisarti. She couldn't actually make it more powerful, but she was able to make it whole again, and her knowledge of modern Spellcraft allowed her to shore up some of its weaknesses. It still wouldn't be able to stand long against a spell with the power of Twisted Solitude or Dissolution, but it was what she had. Well-crafted spells could display nearly sentient qualities; Bisarti had already proved to be both courageous and valiant.

Then something unusual happened. One of the demons in a nearby cluster was fiercely gripped by some unseen force and yanked violently away. Every nearby demon began screaming and moaning urgently, and suddenly there was a stream of demons frantically chasing the one being dragged. Soon the chosen demon looked like a comet with a vast dark tail as every demon in sight desperately joined the frenzied pursuit! The Cant of Distant Seeing allowed her to follow the forced flight of the hapless demon, and she watched with interest as a bright star appeared in the void, growing into a shining pentagon as the demon approached.

It must be the obverse side of a pentagram, a mystical gate to another world! she thought grimly. I'm witnessing a Ritual of Demon Summoning from the inside!

The demon was dragged through the mystical gate, which closed instantly behind it. The pentagram was instantly buried under thousands of demons who battered and tore at it, trying to rip it open again. This time, at least, they failed. There was much screeching, caterwauling, wailing and gnashing of teeth, claws and other sharp appendages, and then the eternal savage combat began anew.

Sunset was awed and appalled. The gate barely closed in time. What mage or even world could resist that damned army? What idiot would take that risk?

Demon Summoning turned out to be a fairly frequent event; or at least it seemed so, since she had no way of telling how long she was trapped in the void. It was impossible to register the passage of time; even her natural bodily rhythms and requirements seemed to have been suppressed. All she could do was think and watch; and over what seemed just a very few hours, Sunset watched closely several times as demons were torn from the void and forced through other pentagrams. Once, the vanguard of pursuing demons reached the pentagram before the selected demon, and perhaps a dozen gleefully flew through the shining gate into the outer world. I can't imagine the fate awaiting the wretched mage who performed that flawed ceremony! She shuddered. Better never to have been born!

Still, the periodic opening of gates gave her hope of escape from this unholy dimension. It will take all my skill at Spellcraft and a lot of luck, and the risk is tremendous, she mused. If I fail, the demons will discover me and use me as a toy for as long as I last. Even if I succeed, might I be unleashing a plague of demons on an unsuspecting world?

After long thought, she decided to take the risks.

She spent a long time in preparation. In this seemingly eternal void, she never got hungry or tired, so she could afford to be cautious and get it right. One thought was ever-present in her mind: I must succeed. The consequences of failure, for me and the new world, would be dire! Manasion-powered dweomers didn't function in this place, so she was forced to depend on traditional magic. Unfortunately, she quickly realized that her power here was no greater than it had been on Faen, so she still needed to achieve by stealth and cleverness what she could not by brute force.

She also discovered, however, that the ambient magic in this place allowed her to cache three spells indefinitely; that is, to complete most but not all of the chanting and gestures and leave the spell incomplete, waiting to be used. A cached spell could be launched almost instantly, with as little as a single word. Back on Faen, she had only been able to cache two spells at once, and had needed to refresh them every few hours lest they fade and become useless. She thought carefully about the spells she would use; some spells couldn't be cached, and a cached spell was less potent than if you had completed that same spell in a single casting.

In addition, she prepared a number of other spells using a modern technique called 'spell compression'. This technique allowed a mage to "compress" a spell to only a few seemingly random spoken syllables and a handful of complex gestures. Her instructors at Silversage had discouraged the use of this technique, as it was easy to make mistakes in the compression process, but Sunset currently had the time to pay close attention to all the details. A compressed spell could only be launched by the Mystene who did the compression; the caster had to thoroughly understand all the details of the spell, and this intimate level of familiarity could only be gained by the intense concentration required to do the compression yourself.

Sunset could discern no pattern by which demons were summoned, but there was a pattern to the locations of the shining pentagrams. They rarely appeared twice in exactly the same spot, but once a gate appeared, it was likely that another would soon open nearby. She assumed that all the gates in a particular locus opened onto the same world. Since she had no way of knowing what any particular world would be like, she chose the locus in which gates appeared to open most frequently, completed her preparations, and settled down to wait.

October 1944

Meanwhile, Back on Earth… DarkFall

It's so sad what you find in pawnshops these days, Citlalmina Olin, better known as Flux, thought as she examined the jewelry in the large glass counter in Nick's Pawnshop in Turquoise City, New Mexico. The war economy is hurting everyone. Someone must have been in a bad way to give up such a stunning necklace. Maybe I can find out who pawned it and return it to its owner. She was looking at a necklace of thin copper chain, threaded through pearl-sized beads of alternating turquoise and obsidian, with a pendant of some beautiful brown-banded crystal carved as a coyote.

"May I see that piece, please?" she asked the clerk. "And do you know who left it here? How could anyone pawn something so beautiful?"

He hesitated, than spoke before he reached into the case. "Weren't pawned," he admitted. "It's from an estate I bought years ago. Not fer sale, neither. It's cursed. Supposed to be sacred to Huey Coyote, one of them Aztec gods."

"You mean Huehuecoyotl!" she snapped. Then, more quietly: "It's no wonder it's cursed, if that's how you pronounce his name!" She grinned to show she was kidding.

"Nah, he leaves me alone. But I sold that beauty three times afore, and the guy what buys it allus goes busted in a week'r two. And somehow that necklace allus finds its way back here, what seems ta be the only safe place for it." He still hadn't opened the case. "Times bein' tough an' all, I don't fancy puttin' someone else, 'specially a pretty lady, in the poorhouse."

"I don't believe in curses. Maybe it's really just been waiting for me."

"Rest of 'em didn't believe, neither. Don't matter none to ol' Huey Coyote. Sorry, young lady, but it's not fer sale."

Mina was disappointed. It was a beautiful piece, and Huehuecoyotl was part of her mixed heritage. But he wouldn't change his mind.

As she left the pawnshop, she heard a scream from the bank across the street, abruptly cut off. The windows of the bank showed absolute black inside, even though it was the middle of a very bright day. Her eyes widened — and then Mina simply vanished. Almost instantly, her large pocketbook dropped onto the roof of the pawnshop and the Sapphire Speedster, Flux, was crossing the street, almost faster than the eye could follow. She pushed open the door of the bank and, indeed, inside it was pitch black. She didn't go in; even a speedster needed to see!

She backed out, raced the six blocks to the Old Town Hotel, carefully removed one of the full length mirrors from the wall of the lobby, then ran back to the bank, all in under a second. She set the mirror against a car parked at the curb and angled it so that it threw bright sunlight through the doors of the bank, then rushed inside.

She was stunned to see a figure in a dark gray hooded robe, surrounded by a black energy veil of some sort, chanting loudly in an unknown tongue, arms waving as if directing an orchestra. Dimly, in the back of the room, Flux could see three black tentacles — which had seemingly sprouted from the darkness in the lobby — tearing at the door of the vault and the wall around it, guided by the villain's gestures.

Flux flashed to the attack. In the dim light, she could see that the gray-robed villain was a woman, whose half-concealed face appeared to be ghostly white. The Sapphire Speedster began raining super-speed blows on the villainess. The veil of dark energy blocked the blows, but Flux could tell it was quickly weakening, and the woman inside was being shaken around like a bean in a maraca. The dark sorceress made a frantic grasp-and-throw motion, and one of the dark tentacles picked up a desk and threw it through the door, shattering Flux's hastily improvised spotlight.

Though she could no longer see, Flux could hear enough to guess what was happening. The vault door was violently ripped from the wall, and then the villain began another chant, with different words and cadence. A few seconds later, the darkness vanished. The villainess was also gone, along with the contents of the vault.

In the paper that night, the headlines dubbed the new mystery villainess DarkFall.

It had been sheer good luck that Mina had been nearby when the bank robbery occurred. Over the next few days, DarkFall struck again: at a museum, an art gallery, the home of a rich collector of antiquities, and even at Nick's Pawnshop, where she stole the cursed necklace of Huehuecoyotl. By the time Flux was able to reach each of the scenes, DarkFall was long gone. Her MO was different each time, but one thing was constant:

She brought darkness with her, and was able to command the dark to do her bidding.

I Don’t Believe in Magic, but...

"So, this sorceress DarkFall's been stealing sacred artifacts?" Dr. Lambda asked his colleague. Flux had come to Marble City to ask for his help.

"Since the bank robbery, yes. She's stolen a tiara supposedly worn by Isis, a bracelet owned by Freya, a necklace with a coyote pendant representing Huehuecoyotl, and a dagger reputed to have been used by Kali."

"I see." Lambda stroked his chin. "So...what can I do for you? I don't know much about magic; if Major Power didn't have magical abilities, I probably wouldn't even believe in it."

Citlalmina didn't "believe" in magic either. "Believe in magic" implied something out of the ordinary, and to her, magic was a part of everyday life. Mina was descended from the people we now call the Aztecs and one of the Spaniards who had invaded their empire, then settled there, captured by the exotic beauty of a daughter of the tlatoana of Otompan (roughly, the princess of the Otompan city-state). Mina had grown up knowing the gods, goddesses, and legendary heroes of her ancestors, and had chosen Huehuecoyotl, the ancient trickster, as her patron. She suspected that he had something to do with her powers; but for her own reasons, she had kept her own origin as a mystery hero a secret.

"A group called the Hawaiian Artistic and Cultural Exchange, an advocacy group for Hawaiian statehood, is currently making the rounds of all the state college campuses. They're scheduled to be in Turquoise City next week," Flux pointed out. "They are escorting a display of Hawaiian artifacts. I want to bait a trap for DarkFall, and I'd like to be able to track her once she takes the bait. Can you make me some kind of homing beacon?"

"Easy as pi. Give me a half an hour to adapt something in my lab."

He was as good as his word; twenty-seven minutes later, Dr. Lambda handed her a metal carrying case the size of a shoebox. There were two smaller metal boxes and a pile of flat batteries inside. "I pulled the homing beacon from a spare helmet," he said, indicating the smaller of the two boxes. He tapped the other and said, "This is the tracker; just flip this switch to turn it on. When it's receiving the signal, this light will glow and the needle in this dial will point at the beacon. Batteries are good for 18 hours; I suggest you change them twice a day. That gives you at least six hours worst-case, which ought to be enough time for you to track her down."

"If it's not, I'll probably retire," she agreed with a smile.

"The beacon is too big to hide in the kinds of things she's swiped so far," he noted. "So how do you make sure she steals whatever you hide it in?"

"Already taken care of. On Friday, the Turquoise City Daily Journal ran an interview with the leader of the Hawaiian group. She recounted the legend of one of the small idols in their display, a carved wooden statuette of the shark goddess Kaahu-pahau. The legend says that the teeth in the statue are actually her teeth, recovered from the flank of a humpback whale. That statue sits on a wooden pedestal. We're going to replace that pedestal with one that's hollow and has a surprise inside. "

They shook hands. "If you need any help, give the Alliance a call. We're a team, remember," Lambda reminded her. "Good luck."

Before the echo of his words died away, she was gone.


The Hawaiian exhibit arrived and was set up in an exhibit hall on the campus of the State College. On the first day, a couple of hundred people came to see the exhibit, and to listen to reasons why Hawaii should be allowed to become a state. Mina hung around all day, in disguise as one of the monitors provided by the College, and nothing happened. She had arranged to stay in one of the College's VIP guest rooms for several days so she could be nearby when DarkFall showed up, but wasn't disappointed that she didn't have to wait the full time. Her phone rang about 2:00 a.m. that night, the agreed-upon signal from an observer in another building.

A special knife switch had been hastily affixed to the wall near the exhibit hall; Flux threw the switch as she approached, and the special high-intensity lights in the hall were energized. She vibrated into intangibility and passed through the closed door. The room was dimly lit; the powerful lights she'd turned on had only partially counteracted DarkFall's magical gloom. As she rushed towards the gray-robed sorceress, the Sapphire Speedster realized that there was some kind of nearly-transparent mirror between the two of them, and a distorted reflection of herself was racing towards her. Her reflection's uniform was shades of black and gray instead of blue, yellow and red. Flux immediately halted, but the dark image of herself didn't: it continued to race towards her, and managed to clip her with a blow to the chin as she tried to dodge. She tumbled backward and just managed to avoid smashing into the wall by vibrating through it and the bushes beyond, rolling to a stop on the lawn outside. Already, her doppelganger was rocketing towards her again.

Flux had never faced a super-speed opponent before; her foe's speed cancelled any advantage her own speed might have provided. But she had spent hours in hand-to-hand combat training with the Volunteer — her teammates in the Alliance of Mystery Heroes had insisted that she learn to fight without depending on her speed. Whether that would help her now depended on how similar her duplicate was. There was only one way to find out!

Flux ran, and her foe pursued. She headed towards the High Mesa Desert; she wanted to get this battle away from the unsuspecting residents of Turquoise City. She had to hope that DarkFall was here for the statue of Kaahu -pahau; until she defeated 'AntiFlux', she wasn't going to have time to spare to go after the sorceress.

Once they reached the desert, Flux launched an attack sequence that the Volunteer had taught her, and was dismayed to find that AntiFlux smoothly blocked each attack, using exactly the techniques that the Volunteer had taught her. She rushed forward, hoping to catch her foe off-guard, but AntiFlux was as fast as she, and simply moved aside. Flux then picked up some stones and fired them at the Dark Dasher. Unable to dodge, the AntiFlux simply vibrated into intangibility and the stones passed through it.

It then launched an attack of its own, using the same sequence that Flux had used earlier. Instead of using the defensive techniques that Volunteer had shown her, the Sapphire Speedster used some alternates, and this appeared to confuse the magical construct; Flux was able to launch a counterattack after a risky block, and she managed to land several blows before AntiFlux could retreat out of range.

"Whatever you are, you're not very smart!" Flux said to her foe as they circled each other, looking for openings. AntiFlux said nothing. The Sapphire Speedster began running again, and her dark doppelganger pursued. Flux did some zig-zags, and AntiFlux followed her like a shadow — and suddenly she realized that it probably was a kind of a magical shadow, with a mandate to attack her but no initiative of its own. She stopped and stepped aside, stuck out her foot, and the pursuing Dark Dasher was unable to react in time. It tripped, then rolled and bounced for about 20 miles before finally regaining control.

Flux raced ahead, and was waiting when the shadow got to its feet. She attacked immediately, this time choosing her techniques randomly, always pressing forward. AntiFlux used the Volunteer-approved counter to each move Flux made, but couldn't change from counter to counter as quickly and fluidly as Flux was able to flow from attack to attack, and finally it got so far behind that Flux got through its defenses and began raining blows on the hapless shadow thing. She noticed that the blows from her yellow glove seemed to be more effective than those from her blue glove, so she concentrated on attacking with her right arm and leg. The apparition was growing noticeably weaker and less able to defend itself, so Flux gritted her teeth and put more effort into her attacks, and suddenly the AntiFlux thing just disappeared, leaving nothing behind to indicate that it had ever existed in the first place. "Except for a lot of bruises!" Flux chuckled.

DarkFall’s Pentagram

In another two instants, she was back in the exhibit hall. As she had expected, DarkFall was gone; as she had hoped, so was the statue. If Doc's tracker works, I may be able to wrap this up tonight! she thought enthusiastically. She recovered the tracking controller and switched it on; the light glowed and the needle swung completely around several times, then settled down pointing steadily to the south. In a flash, she was on her way.

The tracker led her into the Oscura Mountains; she was running through a valley when the needle indicated a change in direction. She slowed and circled around; the tracker showed that the beacon was somewhere up the side of a mountain, though she couldn't see anything. Must be a cave, she thought. Even at super-speed, it took her a few minutes to find the entrance, concealed behind a rock fall that looked totally natural.

It was dark in the cave, even for Flux, whose speed powers gave her enhanced ability to see in the dark. (Dr. Lambda had said something about "simulated red shift" and "transposition of ultraviolet to visible light," but she wasn't scientifically inclined.) The only light source she had was the peanut bulb on the tracker, and by that light she could see scuff marks in the dust on the floor. Someone had recently passed this way. Flux moved slowly through the cave until she saw a dim light ahead; as she got nearer, she could hear DarkFall chanting. And she could feel something evil in the air, growing more powerful as the chanting continued.

Whatever DarkFall was doing, she had to be stopped!

At invisible velocity, the Sapphire Speedster burst into a cavernous chamber. It was strangely lighted; a large ball, glowing flat white, floated several feet above the uneven floor, but it was hidden behind a very large boulder so that most of the chamber was in shadow. DarkFall stood in the darkest shadow, her arms raised. In front of her, a pentagram was inscribed into the rocky floor of the chamber with lines of lava. The five stolen items of power were set at the points of that pentagram, and from it grew a strange dark column. It was so black that it glowed ebony, darker than the deepest night, and it was full of brilliant points of red light that seemed to radiate evil but shed no visible illumination on the surroundings.

Flux raced into the dark shadow and was instantly halted, between one step and the next, as if time had stopped for her. Though it hadn't; she could still see, hear and think. And this is what she heard:

"You idiotic fool! Don't you know better than to interrupt…" DarkFall's screeching became an anguished scream driven by anger and terror, and the beginnings of agonizing pain. At the same time, something started happening within the dark column.

Frantic Escape

Sunset was alerted to her chance when the demons started screaming and moaning again. A gate began forming; not as near as she'd hoped, but this was the closest she'd been to one so far, and she was tired of waiting. "Go!" she shouted and pointed. The Invocation of Ethereal Gravitation snapped into effect, pulling her towards the gate. She added her own power of flight, though it felt to her as if she were flying straight down, and she was already approaching the expanding gate faster than she could normally fly.

"Bisarti!" she cried, followed quickly by "Entrammel!" Behind her, she hoped, the Shroud of Entropic Entanglement was opening like a parachute, not to slow her down but to gather mana from the environment and use that mana to grow stronger. She had one cached spell remaining, for use if…no, for use when she got through the gate. The gate was still growing, and it looked as if she would reach it before the chosen demon. Not much before, no, but the gate still wasn't quite large enough for the demon, and she hoped Entanglement might slow it down a little more.

She was aware of thousands of demons approaching her, demons that would instantly tear her to shreds in frustration if she failed. If that was the case, she hoped she wouldn't regenerate like the demons did!

The Shroud of Entropic Entanglement trailing her was supposed to drape itself over the gate and at least slow down the summoned demon, but if she made it through, there would be nothing more she could do about events in this space. "Moogus'Der!" she screamed out, activating the Evocation of Elastic Encasement. Until Encasement was dispelled, she would be protected from almost any physical impact, but she would be unable to perform any other actions.

And then she was through.

Half a Demon is Better than One

The black column with its red stars shattered, the intangible made solid for but a moment, raining its glowing dark shards to the cavern's floor, where they silently vanished upon contact with the stone. In that same moment, DarkFall's scream was cut short as she fell to the ground, like someone just shot. A human figure in blue and white erupted from the shattering magic, slamming into the chamber's ceiling before falling to the floor and then bouncing high again. Before Flux had an opportunity to check on the newcomer, her attention was drawn back to where the column had been.

A dark figure, large and mockingly humanoid, was emerging from the shadows. Spots of flame, to which it paid no mind, flared and danced on its body. Long, coarse hair hung from it like a tattered cloak, while the large bat wings rooted between its shoulder blades flexed and retracted. Sickly green eyes peered out of the darkness from beneath a heavy brow and two massive, curled horns. Cocking its head slightly, it sniffed the area with wide nostrils; and a gleam lit within its deep-set eyes as the creature realized that only a hint of binding magic remained. It glanced at the form of DarkFall crumpled nearby and sneered. "Pathetic meat-sack," it rumbled, in some strange language which was not English but which Flux, somehow, understood completely. "I shall have fun with your flesh before I devour your soul."

As the demon leaned towards its would-be master, the portal by which it had entered this realm, now invisible on this side, snapped shut. An inhuman screech erupted from the creature's lips as its upper body fell to the ground. Flux watched in fascinated horror as the demon, now missing all of its body from the hips down, flopped on the ground in pain.

Unearthly flames dripped from the thing's torso, briefly, as its wound began to cauterize itself. When the flames burning in its hair flickered out, the cavern was filled with the sickening stench of burnt, rotting flesh. Pushing itself up with its long, muscular arms, the demon rose into the air on the remains of its tattered wings — unsteadily at first, but with increasing confidence.

At that moment, Flux moved. Zipping in faster than the eye, human or demonic, could see, she scooped up her fallen enemy and then ran towards the newcomer, who had finally stopped bouncing. She hoped to find an ally, but was prepared for another enemy.

Seeing that its prey had been stolen, the demon roared and raised its clawed hands towards Flux. Streams of red-hot fire blasted at her. "Meddler! You shall suffer as none have suffered before!"

The newcomer started to scream a warning, but Flux easily dodged the demon's attack. She dropped DarkFall at the mystery woman's feet and then turned back towards the creature. Before the demon could react, the Sapphire Speedster raced forward, dodging the dying flames of the first assault, and punched the demon. Despite the speed at which she struck, her hand was painfully chilled by that single touch; she felt as if she'd held it in a bucket of dry ice for hours. Cradling her hand to her breast, she raced back to the newcomer.

A sickly pale ray burst forth from the demon's right eye and followed her back, blasting a ditch in the stony ground behind her. Unable to keep up with its foe, the demon roared again. "You can't run forever!"

"Watch me," Flux said, suddenly darting to the left and into the shadows.

As the demon tried to follow the speedster's movements, Sunset stepped from behind a rock and called forth a spell. "Indestructible Eiseledy, lend me strength! Moogus'Der!" She waved her hands and a white sphere formed around the demon. "How do YOU like Elastic Encasement, foul beast?" The ray from the demon's eye struck Sunset's construct as it gathered around its head. She grunted as the two energies collided, but hers proved to be the stronger and held. For the moment.

"Begone!" the demon roared, from inside Sunset's spell of Encasement. It opened its mouth, unnaturally wide, and belched out a glob of mystical goo. The instant it made contact with Sunset's spell, the sphere shattered.

The few moments the demon was trapped, however, gave Flux time to prepare another attack. Before the demon had time to take advantage of the spell's breaking, a barrage of stones slammed into its head, chest, and what was left of its stomach.

Sunset now took advantage of the speedy woman's distraction of the demon and stepped back. Removing her focus stone from its pouch, she tossed it up and whispered an arcane phrase. As it floated above her hand, it began to glow. Within seconds, the white glow suffused through the chamber, eliciting a hideous whispering scream from the demon as it was washed by the pale light. It fell to the ground and toppled over, curses erupting from its lips as it struggled upright and tried to return to the air.

"Abominable witch!" it screeched at Sunset. "I shall dine on your entrails and bury you alive in the offal of stygian hounds!"

Sunset ignored the threat and bellowed "Gret'aftiber'ty!" launching the Transfiguration of Luminous Piercing. As she pointed her forefinger at the demon's chest, a glowing white spear appeared and flew towards its target. The force with which it struck the demon was enough to send it back against the boulder that had previously hidden DarkFall's glowing orb, and pin it there.

Half flying and half pushing against the stone behind it, the demon tried to force its way off the glowing spear. For a moment, Flux was afraid that the noise of its pained caterwauling was going to bring the cavern down on their heads.

Sunset could feel that the demon was drawing mystical power from somewhere nearby, and, as Flux began another barrage of stones, she concentrated on finding the source. Sensing that the power was coming from the artifacts still set at the points of a pentagram, Sunset reached for the one closest to her. As her fingers brushed against it, Bisarti reacted with a magical barrier surrounding the item, and she was slammed backwards off her feet. She picked herself up and cast a quick Chimera of Communication at Flux. While Flux listened to the construct, its creator stepped between the speedster and the demon, screamed "Aftiber'ty!", and a flight of Shining Arrows of Perforation streaked towards the monster.

The demon responded with mystical spells of its own, and even though Bisarti protected Sunset from their arcane impact, she was physically battered as they exploded around her. The halo projected by her talisman was glowing blue-white as it constrained another lightning storm, a sign that it was again nearing an overload. She prayed it would hold on for just a few more seconds. She fired back, arrow after glowing arrow, but Shining Arrows was just a low-powered version of Luminous Piercing. All she was doing was stinging the beast, which by now had almost worked its way off the spear.

With the instructions relayed to her perfectly by Sunset's illusion, Flux found a broken stalactite and used it like a baseball bat on the statue the illusion referred to as "Kaahu- pahau." She swung with all the speed and might she could muster, and it was barely enough; the mystical barrier shattered the stalactite and sent Flux flying, but the statue itself only moved a couple of centimeters. Still, it was enough to disrupt the magical alignment, and the demon screamed again.

Sunset ignored the demon, trusting Bisarti to protect her just a few moments longer, and kicked the rest of the artifacts into the shadows. With the alignment completely destroyed, the demon and its curses simply faded away.

Fluent Interlocution

The two women looked at each other, and began to speak. "I'm Flux. Thanks a lot for your help!"

"Ces Magner Ruggy. Sed encirs Ce?" <<I'm Sunset Aeon. Where am I?>> Sunset held up her hand, palm out. "Reconse!" <<Hold on, wait!>> She chanted and beckoned, the opening gestures of the Hour of Fluent Interlocution.

Flux was a little worried. She had just had a lot of trouble because of a chanting sorceress; could she trust this new mage? But this one had fought at her side. Thinking of DarkFall, she looked around, and was unpleasantly disappointed when she discovered that the gray villainess was no longer sprawled on the floor, or anywhere in sight. "She might have vanished with that demon, but I doubt it," she muttered. "She must have recovered and escaped during the fight."

"Who escaped? The Mystene who summoned the demon?" Sunset wanted to know.

"Hey! You speak English!" Flux was surprised. But Sunset shook her head.

"To me, it sounds as if you are speaking Thalusian. The spell I just cast, Fluent Interlocution, will allow us to speak for about an hour. Who summoned that demon? You have an aura of magic around you but you are not a Mystene, and I detect no evil in you."

"Nope, wasn't me. Some witch named DarkFall. Wears gray and likes the dark. Given me a lot of trouble recently." She examined her new blue-skinned acquaintance closely. "Who are you? You're not from around here, that's for sure!"

The two exchanged names and stories. When Sunset was finished, Flux made her an offer.

"I don't know if any of my friends in the Alliance of Mystery Heroes can help you find your way back home. I've never heard of other universes before this but I'm sure we'll be happy to try. Alternate universes sounds like EXACTLY the kind of thing that Dr. Lambda would LOVE to investigate. Would you be interested in being an associate member until you figure out how to go back?"

"Honestly, I'm not sure I even want to go back," Sunset admitted. "On Faen, I'm one of the weakest Mystenes alive. From what you tell me, magic is very rare here. We have a saying on Faen: 'In the realm of the powerless, the wizzle rules.'" Flux must have looked alarmed, because she continued quickly, apologetically, "Don't worry, I don't really want to rule, but it might be fun being powerful for a change." She smiled; this could be her first bit of good luck since she graduated...which could have been days ago, or years; she had no idea how long she'd been in the demon dimension.

"That's swell! Tell you what, you can use my spare bedroom tonight, and tomorrow I'll call an Alliance meeting and introduce you to the gang!"

It was settled.