For a moment, Kifu mistook the glare of a noonday sun for a continuation of the magical light of the ritual. The light burned fiercely, but his eyes, so recently under the Ursundovan night sky, adjusted to midday in a small, yet bustling town. Streams of people were all headed in the same direction down several streets, dressed in a panoply of colors. The wizard looked in front of him and saw a partially-finished wall of yellow-brown brick. The mortar was uneven, but the bricks had clearly been set carefully. For a second, a smile spread on his face, but evaporated as he began to put the clues together.
“Not a day I would have chosen to revisit.”
“Kifu, how is your wall coming?”
Kifu reminded himself that this was a hallucination – a memory given power – but the bass rumble of his father’s voice still struck some space in his spine, sending a charge upward into his neck. He turned around.
Erutai was the broad man one expected of a builder, though he had not been a simple laborer since Kifu was a boy. Now Kifu’s father designed the homes he built, and was still trying to get his son to appreciate the work.
Kifu glanced back at his wall and did some calculations. “Probably another day.”
Erutai folded his arms, “You had best hope you have another day to give, then. I told you to start earlier in the morning.”
“I can’t recover my spells without eight hours of rest.”
“Your spells. In what world are the Arclords going to come to our little town? You’re wasting your time.”
Kifu remembered and he smiled. “They’ll come to see your houses.” He felt his throat catch oddly, “They’ll come because a man in a small border town taught himself to build strong homes that would hold zombies back.”
Erutai cocked his head at his son’s reply, but then looked back to the unfinished brick wall. “That won’t repel much of anything but slugs. Still, this is your last year. I expect you’ll get to finish tomorrow.”
“Last year, then today is…Oh, gods. Thadie.”
Kifu’s father stepped closer. “What about her? Have…” his voice dropped, “Have you seen something?”
Kifu looked at his father oddly. “This is an oddly interactive memory. I have seen it. When I was here before. The spirit of the lake will take Thadie today.”
Erutai’s face became ashen. “Why would it take my baby girl?”
Kifu’s mind reeled as his memories of that horrible day clashed with what was happening in front of him. “Because a lazy wizard summoned too powerful a spirit and couldn’t pay the price of binding it himself. So he promised it an annual sacrifice at Midsummer and how are we having a conversation that never took place?”
Erutai seized his son by the shoulders. “Can you stop it?”
“What? No. I can make an alarm spell that lasts an hour at this point in my life. I…but…I…you know, Father. I don’t know. Let’s go.”
The two men ran towards the lake at the center of the town. Kifu glanced at his father and where he had grown into a skinnier version of the man who raised him. Erutai too was bald, but broad-shouldered and thick around the middle. Kifu realized that he looked a bit as if someone had hung his father’s features on his mother’s long frame. As the reached the lakeside, he touched his forehead. He was as physically old as he had been in the ritual chamber, but there was a difference – his third eye was gone.
The lake was the center of the town, with fence lines to keep Nexian zombies from getting through and befouling the water. The whole town only gathered at the lake twice a year. On harvest day, it was a festival, with music and food.
Today, the town had gathered in their fine clothes, but the air was somber. A thousand pairs of eyes watched the water with dread in their hearts. When it began to churn, cries went up, but were quickly stifled.
Kifu scanned the crowd madly for his mother, who was one of the tallest people in town. The churning lake was rising in the center, taking on a body’s shape. The Elder Water Elemental, who helped defend the town from Geb zombies and demanded one life a year in return, found Ayo, Kifu’s mother, and Thadie, his 11-year old sister, before he could.
Ayo began a keening wail that froze Kifu’s blood. She was restrained to keep from holding back Thadie, who started the shaky walk towards the water’s edge. Kifu heard his father bellowing at him, but everything seemed distant as he tried to drink in as much of this image of his little sister as he could. He stood there, still and silent, as her feet splashed on the lakeshore and her dress, all reds and yellows, began to gather on the water’s surface. She stopped to push it down for modesty’s sake and Kifu nearly laughed at the absurdity.
Then the fireball exploded.
That snapped Kifu out of his reverie and he turned to look at the flying figure assaulting the elemental. He was a tall Garundi man in a purple robe. It took Kifu several seconds before he realized he was staring at himself, and several more before he realized the flying version of him had only one eye – the one that was presently missing from his own forehead.
“Oh, for pity’s sake.” The two-eyed Kifu frowned and began a casting of his own. His finger looped through the air several times, severing the mystical bonds that bound the elemental to the lake. He finished the gesture with a cutting motion and the water came crashing back down, the spirit dismissed back to its home plane. The entire exchange had taken less than half a minute, but the explosions, with their gouts of steam, and the angry roar of the elemental had set in a panic. Kifu looked to see his mother had snatched up Thadie and was running from the lake as fast as her long legs would carry her. He ignored it all to glare at his one-eyed doppelganger, who was even now landing near him on the shore.
“Well, that was well done.” the one-eyed Kifu said with an almost cocky smile.
“I have rarely been so disappointed in myself.” The two-eyed Kifu muttered.
“What?” One-eye looked at the lake. “I mean, we’ve triggered a panic, but the spirit…”
“I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about you.” Kifu had to shout to be heard over the growing riot around them, so he raised a hand and clenched it into a fist. The crowd froze in mid-riot and the sudden silence was more potent than any shout.
“We don’t know that spell.” One-eye said.
“We know any spell we want here, it’s our head.” Two-eyed Kifu retorted. “Besides, this is all a hallucination, which explains why my father would respond to me out of character. What I’m disappointed in is that my own sense of self appears to be subject to dreary literary metaphor. My emotional half bound up in a copy of me, but with the mystic third eye.”
“I thought it was rather clever.”
“Oh, you would.”
“Just because the only thing you’ve ever used me for is to develop a dry sense of humor and a healthy love of Galtan wine…”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You ought to.” One-eye swept his arm at the frozen tableaux of panic around the two of them. “You suppress all of these memories so that you can focus on problems that don’t hurt you so specifically.”
“Whereas you waste time rewriting history to make us feel better with a comforting lie. No one saved Thadie that day.”
“But we wanted to. We desperately wanted to.”
“Want and a small stone will possibly break a window.”
“But you forgot! You forgot that we’re supposed to care about people! In all your politics, prose, pronouncements, and prestidigitation, you forgot about the people.”
“Am I really so dreadfully poetic?”
“When I drink.”
“Ah, and in all your poetry, did you notice that Daargan Vul is among the rioting crowd today?”
“Eh?” One-eyed Kifu followed Two-eyed Kifu’s pointing finger to where a dark-robed figure was still, but was certainly not running. He was watching the exchange between the two Kifus with a malicious grin of his filed and sharpened teeth.
“I didn’t put that there.” One-eye said.
“Nor did I.”
“Of course not.” Daargan purred, to the astonishment of both Kifus. “I have always been here.” The sorcerer stretched out his hands and lightning flashed through several of the crowd and into both forms of Kifu. They both screamed and tumbled backwards, shaking from the blast.
One-eye struggled for breath, “Less arguing…”
“…more defending.” Two-eyes finished and both Kifus began layering magical defenses.
Daargan chuckled, “I’ve been in your head for months, Usurper. Watching as your primitive magics continually failed to reach the heights possible in Candlemere, and all out of your fear to simply take what could have been yours. Well, I’m done waiting.” The sorcerer thrust out his hand and a scattering of bolts of light streaked from his fingers and burned into One-eye’s chest.”Now, I will wipe you away and return to glory, albeit in a borrowed body.”
Both Kifus backed rapidly away from the dark-robed figure, continuing to cast spells. “So,” Two-eyes said, “this is a construct of thought.”
“Yes,” One-eye said, bumping into a frozen runner.
“One we can remake.”
“In any way we wish…”
One-eye looked at his counterpart. “Try it.”
Two-eyes seemed to take a moment to do a calculation, then stamped the ground with his foot. A crack appeared in the earth that immediately began to spread and widen. In a matter of moments, the ground had crumbled and fallen away, swallowing the frozen figures of Kifu’s youth. The daytime sky also evaporated as only chunks of earth swirled in a starlit heaven. Daargan fell through space for several seconds before launching into flight. He planted himself on one the larger rocks and looked around for his quarry.
“Where are you? You cannot leave – it’s your head, after all.”
“Quite right.” Kifu’s voice filled the vastness of space and Daargan turned to look behind him. The Garundi wizard’s head was a glowing blue structure, at least 30 feet tall, and had three eyes once again.
“This is my head – my mind. And you are not welcome here.” A star fell from heaven, streaking at Daargan, who howled when the fiery sphere shattered through him and the rock he had been perched on. The rock exploded in a shower of dust and fire. The blue glowing head of Kifu tracked as Daargan’s body reeled backwards through space. The dark robes took on a smoky character, wisping black fog, and the sorcerer righted himself as he floated, his right eye glowing an ever-brighter red.
“Fool!” Daargan howled. “Your invented events are nothing but phantasms. Let me show you what can be done with real magic. Daargan exploded in a racing swarm of crows and ravens that plunged through Kifu’s giant glowing head, shredding the image. Kifu’s body reappeared, still bifurcated into a one-eyed and two-eyed variant. Elemental blasts of fire and lightning fell on both of them, hammering against an array of magical defenses.
“Magical dog!” Daargan roared as he hurled spell after spell. “You have wasted what chance you had and now you will die! Die here in your own mind!” As he spoke, Daargan became ever larger and more smoky, the tendrils of smoke moving as with a will of their own. He paused in his elemental onslaught to find both Kifu’s at the bottom of a rock crater on a small floating island. They were on their knees, but seemed not significantly harmed.
“Is that enough, do you think?” One-eye asked?
“Oh, I think so.” Two-eyes replied. Together they looked up at the monstrous form in the sky and they smiled.