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The Will of the Many: Part 4 – Synchronism

THE BURNING SENSATION WANES, TOO slowly, so much so that I’m not sure when it actually ends and becomes simply a memory that makes me twitch in place.

I don’t know how long passes after that. Shadowed bronze blades glower around me. I just lie there on the cold stone, shivering, staring up at the darkness, my mind doing all it can to cover over the pain and fear.

Finally I sit. The eerie red light has returned to the room. Everything’s as it was. The stairs down which I entered are still the only way to leave.

Uneasy though it makes me, there’s nowhere else to go, and right now I want nothing more than to be out of… whatever this place is. I’m about to stand when I register the persisting ache in my left arm, notice that my tunic’s dark there. Sodden and sticky. I gingerly roll up the sleeve, using it to dab away the worst of the blood so that I can see the source of the wound.

There are lines, etched into my skin. I feel a chill as I wipe away more crimson.

The red, puffy incisions form a single word.


I stagger to my feet, staring in apprehensive horror at the message carved into my flesh. Stand there, frozen by indecision, for a full minute. Two. The air blurs and shimmers out beyond the encircling metal talons. Nothing happens. I shift from foot to foot. No idea whether I can trust the grisly warning.

Then there’s a sudden, stinging burn on the same arm. I rip back my sleeve as new lines of blood begin to well, slithering cuts opening unnervingly in the skin.



I run.

Back the way I came, everything bathed in dark red light that fuzzes and twitches in the corners of my eyes. There’s a minute where there’s nothing but my gasping breath and the vibrating air around me. I’m nauseous, dizzy from whatever just happened to me.

I ease to a jog only when the dead end of the Labyrinth greets me. Trembling, I check my left arm. Still only RU scored into the skin. Blood drips onto the floor.

I look for the bracer. It should be where I dropped it in the corner.

It’s gone.

Another thirty seconds of fruitless searching does nothing to quell my rising panic. My hands ball into fists as I pace back and forth. The red, hazing light burns my vision.

I’m distressed enough that I almost don’t notice the writing on the stone.

I stumble to a stop. Squint at the inscription on the wall that blocks the way to the Labyrinth. It wasn’t there before, I’m certain of it. Written in old Vetusian, just like the message around the bronze blades. I slow my rattled breathing and focus.


There are two circles etched below it, each less than a foot across. Positioned at about my chest height and shoulder width apart. Both contain the symbol of the Hierarchy.

I read the words again. And again. The passage to Luceum.

I’m too tired and confused and afraid to second-guess myself. I need to get out of this place, and it seems clear what I’m supposed to do.

I place my hands in the two circles, palms against cool stone. The pyramid symbols pulse to life beneath my touch.

There’s a flash. Encompassing. White and blinding.

Then searing, unimaginable pain in my left shoulder.

I’m suddenly on the floor. Screaming, writhing. I clutch across with my right hand, but it slides away sticky and wet and warm. My vision clears just enough to take in the pulsing red stump where my arm used to be.

Through the shock and agony, I register I’m not in the passageway anymore. I’m lying in the middle of a vast rotunda, surrounded by columns. White stone everywhere, except where I’m staining it crimson. Icy wind whips my face. There’s white beyond the columns too. Snow. We’re high up. Cloud-topped mountains in the distance.

Everything flickers. For a heartbeat I’m back in the darkness. Like an afterimage. The way in front of me is open, exposing the vast hall beyond that contains both the Labyrinth and the platform out.

Then it’s gone again. Snow and ashen stone reasserting itself.

There are people rushing toward me. Two men and a woman. Yelling at one another in a language I don’t know. Their tone is panicked. Vaguely, I’m aware that two of them are skidding to their knees next to me, while the other hurries off out of sight.

“Traveller. Traveller, stay with us.” The man with the red beard is cradling my head. He’s talking in rough Vetusian. “The other from your world will be coming.”

He turns to the woman, says something I don’t understand. She argues.

Their voices mix and mutter and fade, and pass from my consciousness.

THE BURNING SENSATION WANES, TOO slowly, so much so that I’m not sure when it actually ends and becomes simply a memory that makes me twitch in place.

I don’t know how long passes after that. Shadowed bronze blades glower around me. I just lie there on the cold stone, shivering, staring up at the darkness, my mind doing all it can to cover over the pain and fear.

“Get up.”

The voice penetrates my consciousness. Soft and urgent. I prop myself up with a groan. The eerie red light has returned to the room. There’s someone crouching a few feet away, just beyond the surrounding talons.

“We don’t have much time.” The man peers in at me. He’s five, maybe ten years older than me. Dark and slim, with a thick, unkempt beard and mop of curly black hair. There’s a mass of scar tissue across his cheek, stretching back to replace his left ear. Serious brown eyes bore into mine. “What’s your name?”


“Welcome to Obiteum, Vis. Did Veridius send you?”

“What? Not really. I… no.” I look past him. Head still spinning. “This… is Obiteum? It looks the same.”

“You’ll change your mind once we get outside.” He says it dryly. “You do know Veridius, though?”

“Yes. He’s the Principalis at the Academy.” I stagger to my feet. Anxious to leave this ring of metal, but wary of the man beyond it. He doesn’t seem inclined to enter the circle. “Who are you?”

“Principalis. Of course he is,” the stranger murmurs to himself, a small smile on his lips. He focuses back on me. “My name is Caeror. I don’t know how much you know, but we have about two minutes to save you back in Res. So you need to trust me, and come out of there now.”

I struggle to comprehend it. Look at him again, really look this time. The similarities are so obvious that I feel foolish for not noticing it before.

“Rotting hells. It’s you. Your brother thinks you’re dead.”

Caeror freezes. “You know Ulciscor? Is he well? Is he…” He trails off, shaking himself back into motion. “Later.” He beckons urgently.

Uncertainty still arrests my feet. “What do you mean, ‘save me back in Res’?”

Caeror grits his teeth. Breathlessly fretful. “You’ve been… copied, I suppose. The same way the world was thousands of years ago in the war against the Concurrence. It’s how you got here.” He grunts as he sees my look. “Came as a surprise to me, too. But it’s not important right now. You’re still strongly connected back to Res and Luceum, but that’s going to fade fast. I can explain more later, but only if you’re not dead.” He’s speaking so quickly that it’s hard to follow. There’s no mistaking his desperation, though. He’s pleading with me to believe him.

I close my eyes. I’m in over my head. Don’t understand what’s going on.

I could do worse than trust someone who apparently does.

“Alright.” I’m still shaky. The red light fuzzes and flickers. I take a step toward him. Another, then another, until I’m stumbling between the gap in the bronze.

Caeror steadies me as I reach him. Grips me tight and nods reassuringly. “Good. The first thing we need to do is get a message to you in Res, so you don’t move out of the gate just yet.”

He draws a short blade from his belt. Apologetic as he presses the hilt firmly into my hand.

“Pull back your sleeve, Vis.”


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