What Must Be Done
Things became confused for Kathy after that for a while. She was escorted to a guest's quarters to bathe and change her attire, while Daggeuro remained in the throne room to speak further to the king. The guest suite was lavish, and had its own bathroom (gnomes, she was told by the elven handmaiden tending to her, had invented indoor plumbing some twelve-hundred years earlier, giving the designs as a secret gift to a handful of humans later on).
The handmaiden brought her fresh clothes of the Ether Plane variety, along with a heavy green traveler's cloak, compliments of the king. After a quick, steaming shower in the bathroom's ornate clawfoot tub, she changed into these. A simple pair of loose brown pants, a white tunic top with cloth button knots up the middle, and a pair of tall leather boots and thin cotton socks, the ensemble stressed comfort and practicality over fashion. She looked at herself in the floor-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door and smiled. She liked this look on her.
She must have been more fatigued than she realized, as laying on the plush four-poster bed quickly became waking up from a nap of indeterminate length. It couldn't have been long by her estimation, because her hair was still slightly damp.
When she at up off of the thick, fluffy pillows, she found the kennin High Knight sitting in a chair at the foot of the bed. He had his legs crossed, a thick, ancient tome open in his lap, the smell of dust heavy upon it. His attention wavered not a bit from page open before him.
"How long was I asleep," Kathy asked.
"Probably around forty minutes. I was with his majesty and Head Ranger Heimdal for most of that time. There is much to tell you." Daggeuro closed the tome and rose from his chair, setting the book on a heavy oak table set in the corner left of the door. "I will attempt to make it brief, however, and tell you only what you need to know. First, it has been confirmed that your taomen is now working with the shade, Luga. Shades are malign creatures, created when negative energies from the Ether, Spirit, and Mortal Planes collide and coalesce, forming a sentience of foul intent. They manifest in a mostly-physical form. While rare, they are ever troublesome and hostile.
"King Ovin was able to take one look at you and determine what kind of magic you have control of. Come here a moment, put on your cloak," Daggeuro said, holding her new cloak up for her. Kathy slunk out of the bed and let him help her on with the cloak. "Good. Now, close your eyes, and pull up the hood. Envision that the hood is as hard as stone." In her mind's eye, as she shut her physical ones, Kathy saw herself from the profile view. The hood of her green wool cloak slowly turned gray, hard as concrete. She felt a slight tingle at the base of her neck, not quite an itch, but something odd. A moment later, something struck her hood from the right, pushing her sideways. She stutter-stepped aside and opened her eyes, grabbing the bed for balance.
Daggeuro was holding his right hand, grinning. "You see? Hard as stone."
"Is this cloak enchanted or something," Kathy asked, lowering the hood.
"No. That is your power, Kathy. You are able to manipulate inanimate objects in any way you can imagine. You need only infuse an object with your magic, and it is yours to utilize as you see fit." Daggeuro took a seat at the table where he'd set the tome before, motioning for her to join him. As she sat, he continued. "It is a power unique to human magic wielders, called focus. You may have been able to use evocations like water, wind, fire or earth, but the taomen seems to have stripped those for itself when it was created in your Awakening."
"That would have come in handy," she said. Daggeuro reached over by the door, where he had propped up what looked like a fireman's axe. He handed it to her. Kathy took the axe in her hands, and immediately found herself standing in a field of high grass, bitter winds blowing out of the north. Before her, some ten yards away, stood a gotrin in heavy chain mail armor, locked in combat with a pinch-faced humanoid of some kind. The rat-man's opponent stood four and a half feet tall, with a greenish-brown, mottled flesh, a long, knife-like nose hooked downward, and narrow, beady eyes full of malice.
That's a goblin, Kathy thought. The gotrin used the very axe she was holding beyond this queer vision she was having to block the goblin's attacks, returning with counterstrikes, evasions and assaults of his own. As the gotrin landed a fatal blow, five more goblins came rushing out of the concealment of the taller grasses.
Kathy blinked, and found herself in the gotrin's mind. She heard his thoughts, going through a mantra, one composed entirely of the movements he then used to fend off and slay the goblins one by one. Kathy's real eyes opened, her lungs filling with a deep breath.
"I know how to use this," she whispered. "I can fight." Daggeuro put his hand out, and as soon as the axe left her hands, Kathy's newfound knowledge and skill disappeared. "Hey! What gives? I forgot already!"
"Another gift granted by focus power," he said, handing her the axe back. "You can access any object's history. In the case of weapons, you can wield them with the skill of whomsoever has wielded them before. The previous owner of that axe was one Makis Terah, a sergeant of the Watch. Retired a few years back, brilliant soldier."
"Yes, he was," said Kathy. Daggeuro handed her then a snap button holster for the axe, which she slid onto her belt. "So, what else do you have to tell me?"
"The reason why we must do what the king asks of us, to retrieve and safeguard the fragments of the Great Door. Luga is a shade, a particularly nasty one who has plagued our kingdom for centuries. But shades cannot travel through the in-between to other Planes, nor through the kalpas to other worlds."
"Think of it like this- each realm, or reality, contains three layers. There is the Mortal Plane, te Ether Plane, and the Spirit Plane. Together with an in-between used to connect any of the two, you have a realm. Kalpas are protected, largely hidden pathways between different realms."
"Okay, so each set of Planes makes up one reality," Kathy said, boggled. "Kind of got it. Sounds like quantum physics. My brother Jack used to try to explain it to me, but I'm with you so far."
"Good. Now, every realm has a Great Door, and all connect to a central hub. This could allow for quick and infinite travel, but also leads to untold chaos if unchecked. For this reason, most Great Doors are either sealed or broken apart, like ours. The kalpas are guarded, and not every creature can pass through every kalpa. Nobody's entirely sure how they work, but I believe they were the last wise creation of the gods.
"Now, a Great Door could easily bypass the need for kalpas, and shades cannot use those or the in-between anyhow. Luga could use the Great Door to seek out any manner of horrific ally or beast, and set them loose here, or in the Mortal Plane, for the Great Door can take him anywhere he wishes, with the right rituals."
"Oh, shit. That'd be bad news," Kathy breathed. "But wait, I'm still confused about the taomen. Why does he need her if he gets the fragments?"
"Because the taomen created when you were Awakened took a part of your human essence with it. The Great Door of our realm requires human essence to be repaired and opened once more." Kathy blanched, lower lip trembling. "Yes. He is going to use a part of you to unleash hell, if given a chance. That's why you, me and the Baron are being dispatched in three days to the Gaeding Goblin's home, to retrieve his fragment."
"Aren't goblins kind of nasty?"
"The Gaedling is a long-time friend of Ovin's court, a true gentleman and wise man. Though he is distrusted by some of his kind for his friendliness with the king, few goblins would go against his will. Only the goblin king holds more sway, and even that is tentative."
"Every faerie race has its own king. Most of us swear fealty to them, but only as a symbolic gesture. Few faerie hold to it anymore. Goblins and orcs are two major exceptions, and the fellins are close behind. Anyhow, despite past grievances between Dimanche and myself, the king is sending us and you to retrieve the fragment from the Gaedling Goblin. King Ovin fears that Luga has agents watching for large troop movements, so a small trio won't be noticed leaving the capital."
Kathy took all of this in, feeling groggy again, as well as overwhelmed by information. "Well, I assume he doesn't want me staying here while we get ready, right?"
"Quite right." Daggeuro reached into his cloak and set from within a purple and a gray cloth pouch on the table. "Purple bag has black coins in it, drakes. Gray bag has copper coins, bits. Twenty bits to a drake. The king offers you this coin to make things easier while you're here in the Ether Plane. We'll get you to the Phoenix Inn on the west side of the outer city. I'll make all of the travel arrangements."
As they were exiting the manor minutes later, gear bags over their shoulders, he draped one arm over her shoulders and whispered conspiratorially in her ear. "Baron Dimanche follows us, for he too is staying at the Phoenix Inn. Avoid him when you can; he would not be a good influence upon you."
"What happened with you two, anyway?"
"One of his pranks gone horribly awry, as usual when he comes to the Ether. He thought to have me hoisted up into the air by a cleverly concealed rope snare. Instead of my foot, it caught my tail and ripped it off." Kathy winced sympathetically.
"What is he? He seems familiar."
"He is a voodoo spirit, of the Loa pantheon. You probably know of his brother, Baron Samedi." Kathy snapped her fingers. "Yes, nasty fellows, them. But Dimanche spoke true of one thing- he pays his debts, unlike Samedi. His prank is why he is indebted to king Ovin. I had to take two grueling weeks to regain my balance, which resulted in many things slipping out of joint throughout the Watch and the Royal Guard."
Kathy and Daggeuro reached the barbican gates out int the outer city, heading west through evening markets closing down for the night. Kathy accidentally bumped into a owl-man faerie, who sneered at her. "Filthy hume," it grumbled.
"Pay him no mind," Daggeuro said, taking Kathy's hand once more. "Some fae folken wear their ignorant prejudices on their sleeves."
"That's nothing," said Kathy. "I've been to a Westboro Baptist Church funeral protest. Now that's hateful crap right there." Daggeuro looked over at Kathy quizzically. "You've been to my side and haven't heard of those idiots?"
"I'm afraid not," the kennin High Knight said.
"Trust me, you're better off," she replied, flapping one hand to dismiss the idea. As night fell in earnest, the moon much more brilliant in the Ether than in the Mortal Plane, Kathy saw medieval street lamps, filled with slow-burning oil, lit by torches carried by watchmen on patrol.
It took nearly forty minutes at a relaxed but by no means sluggish pace to get to the Phoenix Inn. Sitting on the wide front steps of the quaint, country-style inn, Baron Dimanche wore a sloppy grin as a king cobra writhed around his shoulders and arms, hissing at the approaching kennin and human.
"Easy dere, my friend," the Baron hushed, grabbing the snake by the head and whipping it around. The snake make a cracking sound like a whip, glowed a faint golden hue, then appeared to return to its previous state as a cane and nothing more. "Salutations, High Knight and Miss Kathy," he said, springing up onto the street before them. "De king assures me dat we are going to be working togedder for a while, so I just want to say dis now," the Baron declared, leaning on his cane, doffing his top hat at a jaunty angle. "I, Baron Dimanche, do declare truce and peace between us until such time as my debt is repaid. Do you accept, my friends?"
Daggeuro reached out his hand. The Baron shook at once. When Kathy did the same, she felt a glimmer of his power, and felt instantly sorry for anything that came against the combined threat of Daggeuro and Baron Dimanche.