"... I'm sorry, Selarion.
I don't know why I thought this was a good idea, with my temper... but nothing I said to him was untrue."
"No," Kelan sighed, watching over Selarion's shoulder as Nefirian spoke to a man in an ornate dragon costume.
"I suppose I can't."
[[Kelan]] felt everything alive around him, and piece by tiny piece, it whittled away at him.
The ballroom was utterly teeming with people, and every heart beat in time with his own, every pulse echoing in his ears.
He felt the [[FatisMirajin Fatis Mirajin's]] energy most of all, like a wave of power coursing through everything here; oozing, soaking into the buildings and the plants and the earth and sky, the partygoers and [[Elliot]] and [[Selarion]], dripping from the tiny silver threads of life he so often drew his fingers across.
"I'd love to, but I'm not certain I can.
This place... all the feedback, the mirajin... it frightens me," Kelan admitted.
"It frightens me for you, and for Professor Christoph, and for [[Valenth]], itself.
[[Chimre]] is desperately ill, and if this is allowed to spread..."
======Book V Chapter 29: Very Special People======
"Saved my li... you're the thing that saved me from [[Dilndrou]]," [[Nefirian]] said, the voice suddenly clicking in his head as the costumed man nodded excitedly, the ears of the dragon mask flapping in time.
"... that's not really your name, though, is it? Dilndrou called you Art--"
"Dilndrou is a //clod//," [[Nigel]] said firmly.
"It's not very nice to call people names they don't go by any longer. That was from my [[BeastGod beast-god]] days, and while they were full of adventure and good times, those days are over.
You're totally down with that, though, aren't you? You've grown so much since your [[Modhan Mod'han]] days!"
Nef's head swam; was this thing //truly a beast-god?//
"How much do you know about me?" he asked, astonished.
"You were born Mod'han Nefirian of the [[AenochTrior Aen'och Trior]], disowned by your birth parents and shunned by the entire tribe for your allegedly "unnatural" hair color, which earned you the nickname //[[Banleane Ban'leane]]//, "witch-child".
You were due to be slain just before your fourteenth birthday, the day all Trior children were sent on their rite of passage into adulthood, but Dilndrou forbade the villagers from harming you, and took you in as an alchemical apprentice,// yadda yadda yadda//. Shall I go on?"
"... no, that's... that's enough... //Nigel//," he breathed, astonished. "So, you watched me grow up?"
"Nope. I watched all //three of you// grow up, from little faelings into the big, strapping [[Immortal immortals]] you are today."
"Right," Nef said, raising an eyebrow.
"But then, why didn't you kill us when we were mortal, or shortly after?
Why let us thrive-- your tribe //can't// have been in on this. Even then, the Aen'och weren't terribly amicable people..."
"I never //had// a tribe of my own, for one," Nigel giggled. "And for two, it wasn't what I was there to do.
It still isn't; I answer to a //higher authority//, and other than specific instances, I've been ordered to simply observe, rather than to interfere. We're on your side."
Nef sighed. "I hate to break it to you, but we don't have a side for you to be on. I'm here, [[Kelan Kelan's]] over there, and the rift's only getting //bigger."//
"Oh, psh. //Chira// doesn't care about all that nonsense. She knows that deep down, both of you still love each other."
"...//Chira?// What the hell does the moon have to do with this?" Nef snapped, his anger reignited.
"Listen, if you want to mess with my head, //Nigel//, or //Artemio//, or whoever you are, you picked a really awful time to do it.
I just want to go home and perform an amazingly true-to-life impression of an unhappy lump right now, not crazy talk with a bat in a dragon suit about the moon."
Getting to his feet, Nefirian turned to head back out into the ballroom--
-- and ran smack into Nigel, staggering for a moment in his confusion.
"Don't mock me, please," Nigel sighed. "It's not very nice, and I promise you're interested in what I have to say. There's a //reason// I saved you from Dilndrou."
"Oh,// is there?// By all means, do enlighten me. Does it have anything to do with deciding to kill me after all in a few hundred years?
'Cause, really, I'm a little tired of that approach already. No offense," Nef growled, turning to shuffle past him.
"//Rrrrighto.// Well, all aboard the enlightenment train," Nigel said, grabbing Nef roughly by the shoulder and pulling him backwards.
"Son of a-- //let GO of me!!"//
But somehow, between the odd man-bat-beast in a dragon suit, shuffling, and his indignant, irritated yell, Nefirian managed to fall-- or was he //thrown//, perhaps?-- backwards into a tumbling roll, landing in a sore and astonished heap against something cold, hard, and slightly damp.
He pressed his hand to his head and groaned loudly. "This is so completely// not// the way to win my favor, just so you... ?!"
One by one, he began to take note of sudden changes in his surroundings.
The floor, he had already noted, was cold, hard, and ever so slightly pockmarked; stone, not wood. The voices, laughter, and music of the Ball had vanished quite suddenly, as well as the blinding light of the mirashard-powered chandeliers.
On top of that, it was rather unpleasantly cold; cold ground, cold //air//...
Having had more than enough of this game, the little [[Chapter]] forced his eyes open, staring at the expansive gray stone temple that spread out all around him, gothic arches and dusty windows rising up as far as the eye could see.
A tiny spider skittered nonchalantly onto and over the back of his hand, and he frowned.
This was most certainly //not// anywhere in Chimre.
"Nigel?! What in the hell did you DO?!"
"Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry!" came Nigel's now nervous voice.
"I couldn't think of any other way to get you to--"
Suddenly, Nefirian realized the odd creature wasn't actually speaking to him, not entirely.
//"Artemio, that is quite enough. Please..."//
"I'm sorry. //I'm so sorry.//
You can convince him, though. I don't know what to--"
"Was today brought into existence// just //to test the limits of my patience?" Nef growled, rising at last to his feet and spinning on his heel.
"Someone had better tell me, and //fast//, exactly what the fuck is going on, or I'm going to..."
His words died on his lips.
"Please forgive Artemio, Dreamwaker. Subtle interaction is far from one of his strongest points, but he means you no harm.
Nor do I."
Gazing down upon him was a long, sleek indigo-scaled [[Leupak leupak]] with dainty paws, large, batlike ears, and eyes like diamonds, her tail coiled around the simple throne she lay upon, a sheer, white shawl settling neatly over her neck and shoulders.
The moon hung huge and round in the windows just behind her, illuminating her scales in a faint, otherworldly glow.
The strange leupak's eyes seemed dimmer than they aught to have been, and her head was not held high and proud as such a magnificent creature should have, as though she were quietly suffering from some mysterious ailment.
Beside her, Nigel stood in costume, the dragon's rubber head hanging with his upset as he wrung his hands.
Too many questions bubbled up from Nefirian's throat all at once, even as his heart ached within his chest, his head still pounding faintly from his collision with the floor.
"I don't understand. I don't know what this is, or what's going on.
I'm so //cold//," Nef burbled halfheartedly, glancing away and closing his eyes.
He didn't feel fit to look upon her, even though she seemed to be one of his people, outwardly.
Something was horribly off, but...
"In dreams, you and I would be considered equals," the odd leupak said softly, her ears twitching. "You carry yourself with an air of certainty, of knowledge that your power is absolute.
But here, in the realm of physical things, you are //unmistakably mortal//.
Your once-best friend has suffered at the hands of this planet and the challenges it contains for him, but he thrives in it, and with it, in a way he cannot yet understand.
He is Awake, but he has no one, nothing to guide him."
Nefirian's anger swelled within him again for a moment, but he grudgingly relented.
This... this "leupak", for he knew, somewhere, that it wasn't a leupak at all, was something he knew he couldn't dare to risk the wrath of.
He didn't want to hear about [[Kelan]]; he didn't //care// about Kelan right now, least of all to hear how fantastic he was.
How ironic; he'd come full circle in less than half an hour.
"You understand the ways of the people of [[Valenth]], and do everything necessary to win their hearts and captivate their minds.
You persuade, befriend, and manipulate to position yourself deep within every circle you can, to provide protection for yourself and a life of luxury the people who serve you would envy.
But you are still afraid, still uncertain of the influence you hold, and all too aware that a single false step means ultimate disaster for you and your way of life.
That is //your// reality in this world of flesh, blood, and souls.
Your great strength is that of the mind-- formless, infinite... but ultimately noncorporeal."
"...but why are you telling me this?" He demanded softly, stung; not a single word was incorrect, not an accusation untrue, and it shook him to his core.
He had always been a secretive person, even as he played the part of socialite and butterfly; it was a clever, careful ruse. How could someone so open, patient, and inviting have dangerous secrets to keep?
"Because all three of you have room to grow, and you must grow quickly now, or you will //die//, very soon.
And I would like to help you, if you should allow it."
She paused, raising one of her tiny paws to her mouth and coughing for a moment, before staring down at him with her shimmering eyes.
"What sort of help do you have in mind?
I apologize for my suspicion, but I've had a terrible day, and little has led me to believe that it'll improve," Nef said, his voice wavering.
"I will not lead you on, Dreamwaker.
Valenth has long been an unstable planet, with unstable powers at play within and around it.
The forces you have come to know so well have been in need of balance since well before your people had even come to pass."
"And you want me to... balance something?
I think you've got the wrong Chapter," he laughed sharply.
"I don't do balance, or telling people what they can or can't do, or punishing them when I think the planet's in danger. That's all Kelan, and to be quite frank? It suits him.
Let him keep his righteous bullshit-- I intend to stay in the market of finding new and better ways to make dreams come true for anyone who really wants it, balance and [[Vitae]] and whatever the hell else be damned. People are more than capable of punishing themselves simply by living out their lives.
Mistakes happen; it's only logical.
Anything with free will will make bad decisions and suffer for it; it's not my place to judge or punish someone for that.
I'm here to grant wishes, to make dreams come true, along with the consequences that come along with them.
Some day, //my// dreams will come true, too," he added wistfully.
The strange leupak smiled softly. "No.
I want you to carry on just the way you have."
The Dreamwaker rose an eyebrow.
"Oh? Well, if that's the case... what are the terms?"
"Complete your project as swiftly as you are able; time is of the essence.
I will assist you as best I can; my power waned many centuries ago, but soon I will have the means to leave this place. I will explain in greater detail when the time comes.
Until then, Artemio will serve as my hands-- he can provide you manpower, sorcery, and anything else you may require until your time of ascension."
Nefirian's eyes grew wide.
"My time of... S-surely, you //don't mean--//"
"Should you succeed in the task set before you," [[Chira]] said, her ears perking slightly,
"Yes. //You shall."//