Riva walked softly into Bastion’s room one morning. He was standing with his back to her, looking at something on the table, and she grinned at the opportunity. It had been several months since the nightmare that had sent her to him in the darkness, the night that dreams had changed for both of them.
There was still no word from Dramsol. There were no indications that he had been captured, either. They held to the hope that he had either jumped forward in the timeline of the world, or that he was simply laying low for a while. There had also been no attempts by Emperor Marus to kidnap his sister. He seemed as content as she to leave things as they were for the time being, and eventually even Bastion had been able to relax slightly and simply enjoy being near Riva, though he still had made no move to sign the betrothal documents and complete the formalities of their relationship.
She ran up to him and threw her arms around him, pressing herself into his back and relishing the feeling of his muscles as he straightened in startled surprise and twisted around to look at her. He smiled at the expression on her face and took her hands in his. “You seem happy.”
“That was a very nice dream last night. We need to have dreams like that much more often.”
He managed to control his instinct to flush red at the memory of what they had been doing in that particular dream. She wasn’t the one who had needed to completely change their bedclothes upon waking. “You think that?”
“Yes, I do. Seeing you as a Pirate Captain was very different, and something I think I like. Still, there were a few good lines. ‘The plundering Pirate being plundered?’ I may have to remember that one.” She stepped around him, with her arms still encircling his stomach, to get a good angle to kiss him.
He did enjoy kissing her. “But why was I a Pirate? Dalziel made the offer, but we haven’t taken him up on it and I’m not certain that we will.”
She shrugged. “I haven’t the foggiest idea.”
He paused for a moment, to gather his thoughts, before continuing. “There’s something I need to know, Riva. Before… before I entered the chamber where you were waiting I… I walked through a gallery of those who had tried before me. Riva, Gabriel was there. I need to hear you tell me that all he did was kiss you.” Bastion looked her in the face, his eyes worried.
She sighed, losing the impishness to seriousness. “That is going to be a complicated answer. Yes, all he did was kiss me. It was rough and not at all enjoyable and it was for all the wrong reasons, but it was just a kiss. Still, he considered worse. He considered and he made a choice… and that means that the possibility exists that he might have chosen otherwise.”
“A possibility? I don’t understand.”
She sighed. “I’m not sure I would expect you to. It has to do with the unique worldview that Travelers have, and our understanding of the worlds, and how they interact, and how they branch away from each other. Choices… choices have incredible consequences, both the ones we take and the ones we do not. It’s why some Travelers refuse to do anything of great consequence without making certain that a choice has been knowingly and willfully made.” She paused. “How familiar are you with dimensional theory?”
He blinked. “Dimensional what?”
She sighed deeply, her eyes full of sympathy. “Each world has an intended path, a story that it is supposed to tell. Occasionally there are choices that develop that can affect that intended line of cause and effect. When that happens, an Alternaverse is created that follows the path of what-might-have-been. Not all choices can create Alternaverses, and not all choices that can create them ever do. With who and what I am, and where I come from… things get infinitely more complicated because I’m complicated.”
“So the dream… was from an Alternaverse?”
She sighed. “I think that might be so. It’s hard to tell. I knew the possibility was there, but I don’t know if one was actually created or not. That moment was a likely branching-off point, it was when events turned and created ripples. Most Alternaverses are an exploration of those ripples and how they change what was intended to be. Or don’t change as the case may be.” She paused. “It was a dream of an Alternaverse-that-could-have-been that made me write that last letter to you.” Her words were softly spoken and she looked down at the floor, away from Bastion.
Bastion put his hands on either side of Riva’s face, making her look him in the eyes. “Are you telling me that there is a world where my brother chose to do worse to you than merely kiss you?”
“I don’t know. Alternaverses are complicated because… well, because of the bleed-over. It creates alternate versions of everyone involved and with Traveler powers in the mix that can create some messy situations. An Alternaverse collapsed at one point because it followed an alternate storyline to the ultimate conclusion, and a few survivors escaped into this multiverse. I’ll have to see if Shadeslayer can explain where he came from to you if we ever meet up with him.”
“What are you that makes this so complicated?”
She paused. “I’m … I’m a shard.” She paused and sighed in frustration. “I don’t really know how much I can tell you and how much would only confuse you without purpose. There are people who can touch worlds outside their own, even if they never awaken the power to Travel there. It has to do with imagination and dreams. I was one of them and the day I became a Traveler I put myself in subservience to another one. I became her hands and her voice in worlds she could not walk. Believe me when I tell you that she would not have allowed Gabriel to do what he considered.”
“If he had…” Bastion found that he was very angry.
Riva put a hand to his lips. “But he chose not to. He made the choice not to follow that path. I’m not going to worry about an Alternaverse that might not actually exist. It didn’t happen. I ran from Pallantia and I came here so I could find you, and you are what matters to me right now.”
He took hold of her hand, lowering it slightly so he could lean towards her and kiss her deeply. When they parted he held her close, her head resting on his chest. “I swear to you, if he ever reconsiders that choice, I will make him pay. Brother or not.”
She sighed. “I have every reason to believe that there would be quite a number of people racing you to cut pieces off him, and that’s if I didn’t kill him first.” She put both her hands on Bastion’s chest and looked at him. “Now, all this seriousness is not what I had in mind when I came in here this morning, so if we can please get back to my teasing you about a delightfully accomplished dream, I would really appreciate it.” The impishness was back and he had to smile.
“You teasing me?” He ran his fingers down her sides so that she twisted in ticklishness. “I thought it was my turn to tease you. You had plenty of time to tease me in that dream.”
“Don’t you dare make me laugh, Bastion, you know it hurts for me to laugh.” But she was grinning, even as she wagged a finger in his face. He responded by increasing his attempts to tickle her until she was breathless with laughter. They were both in lighthearted moods when they left their rooms for the day.
— — —
Unfortunately, the lightheartedness didn’t last.
Rumors ran unchecked through the city of Castellan, rumors of future war and worries about what would happen when battles raged outside the city walls. The Empire had announced that Reis-Bohnen, Castellan’s long-time ally and sister-nation, had sent the assassins into the Imperial City seeking the life of the Princess, which attack was responsible for her continued seclusion. It didn’t help that there were rogue elements in Reis-Bohnen which had applauded the announcement of that attack, or had stated that they would have done something similar, only with the intention of kidnapping the sister that the Emperor so doted upon. Or that the King himself was of the opinion that Marus was a liar and his sister was not in seclusion in Pallantia.
So Marus had responded with aggression and violent intent. And Reis-Bohnen had sent delegates to Castellan to request aid from their longtime ally.
Riva heard the news about her brother’s announcement with characteristic restraint.
“Oh that is the biggest load of horse manure I have ever heard!” Her voice was strong and vibrant, and Bastion was certain that he saw the banners hanging from the vaulted ceiling of the council chambers shake in response.
They stood around a large table that held a sculpted map of the world. It was often used for planning military campaigns and such, especially since the artists and mapmakers who had crafted it had done so with absolute precision. King Ainmire and Lord Prince Kian sighed in response to Riva’s outburst while Lady Princess Keara covered her mouth to hide her smile. The delegation from Reis-Bohnen looked at the girl, who had been officially knighted into the Order, in disbelief.
The ranking member of the delegation, a nobleman who was a close friend of the King of Reis-Bohnen, looked at the King in curiosity. “Majesty? And this young lady would be…?”
The King looked at Riva for a moment and then nodded to her. “If you please, Dame Riva, the honored delegates deserve the truth.”
Riva nodded and walked closer to the noblemen, shaking the bracelet loose from its hiding place on her arm and sliding the sleeve up so that they could all see it shining silver on her wrist. “The Emperor Marus is full of horse manure because I am the Imperial Princess Tresoria Dauris. I was not attacked in my bower in the Imperial Palace. I was never placed into seclusion. I ran from Pallantia of my own free will because…” she paused, her face flushing slightly, “because I discovered that the man who had been haunting my dreams since before I was taken into the Imperial Family was, in fact, real, and that he was in Castellan. I ran from my brother because I have Castellan dreams and I had to find them.”
The delegates paled and whispered to each other. It was one thing to believe such in the quiet of a private discussion between like-minded men; it was something else entirely to have such a matter confirmed by no one less than the Princess in question. The nobleman who led them, though, looked carefully at the bracelet and then at Riva, and then nodded. “Your brother has taken a stand against your dreams?” Riva nodded. “And the man you sought? The object of your dreams?”
Bastion stepped forward. “That would be me, Lord Neil.”
Lord Neil looked at Bastion a moment and then nodded. He turned back to King Ainmire. “Why was this not announced at the time that she ran?”
“My niece came to Castellan seeking anonymity. She sought to protect Castellan from her brother’s fury by not provoking his anger, by not giving him proof of her whereabouts. I was willing to grant her that anonymity, as long as it was simply Castellan which stood to lose by this. Since the Emperor has widened the field, perhaps we must reconsider. The choice to keep her Highness’ secret must be knowingly made.”
Riva broke in. “I can shout my identity from the highest towers if I need to. If Reis-Bohnen decides that the risk is too great. It is my first instinct, to combat his lies with the truth, but his anger in response would be great. My brother is powerful and he is possessive. Failing all else, if I must, I can call upon a Pirate I know and I can run again, so that my brother’s gaze moves from your land and this one.” She paused. “I would rather not have to do that. I am fond of this city and her people, most especially the children of the streets. I would run only if there were no other way to save Castellan, and only if I were certain that running would, in fact, save Castellan.”
Lord Neil looked at her curiously. “You doubt that it would?”
She sighed. “During my escape from Pallantia, and the subsequent imprisonment of a Pirate known to Castellan, we came into certain information that leads me to believe that my brother isn’t the only one seeking this war. And that concern has been… confirmed since then.” She paused. “Does Reis-Bohnen have any artifacts dating from the time of Lady Zaira and Lord Gryphon? Specifically artifacts relating to a wanderer who traveled with them and aided in Lord Gryphon’s restoration?”
There were gasps of surprise around the room, and King Ainmire stiffened. “You do not know, Niece?”
She shook her head. “I heard the story, but I’m not familiar with any relics, though I presume that some exist. There was a reference made to them in one of the memoranda that I found. We know about the sword Kian was given, but the sword was a gift made to him, and not something he crafted himself, from the essence of his soul. It’s not as if we have taken the opportunity to go through the memoranda line by line and pool information.”
Lord Neil bowed to the King, yielding to him the right to explain, which King Ainmire chose to do. He was amazed that she had never been told about the relics, and what they meant. “They are the royal treasures, created by Lord Riordan. One of Reis-Bohnen, one of Castellan, and one of the Northern Empire. They were to remain the property of the bloodlines to whom they were entrusted.”
Riva paled and nodded her understanding. “I feared so. This is going to be complicated, so I will need you to try to understand. Lord Riordan…made the objects out of his own soul. They contain a key that can trace back to him. If they were ever to fall into the wrong hands… and I promise, Marus and his pet scientist are the wrong hands, then he could be corrupted through them.”
Lord Neil frowned. “You speak of Lord Riordan as if he still lives, yet he walked our world four hundred years ago.”
Riva gave him a lopsided grin. “He didn’t introduce himself to me as Riordan. He’s calling himself Dramsol and he has been very helpful more than once. He’s… he’s a kinsman of mine, after a fashion. I suppose you could say that I’m a wanderer too.”
Lord Neil thought a moment and then nodded in decision. “I will return to Reis-Bohnen and advise my King about these developments. Such a matter is for him to judge, whether he is willing to place his land at risk for Castellan dreams.” He paused and then looked at Riva. “Did your dreams tell you anything else?”
She sighed. “I have feared this war because I have seen it, over and over again, in as many different ways and variances. I want to believe that it can be avoided, but I do not know that for certain. I fear… I fear that Marus wishes this war, and he will find a way to wage it provoked or not.”
Lord Neil bowed to her, his eyes sad.