The view outside his window hadn’t changed but the apprehension inside him continued to grow. It seemed to Joshua that all he’d done recently was wait. Wait for the right moment, the right vision, the right path. Now he was waiting again. This time for a meeting he wasn’t sure he wanted to have, a feeling that was becoming all too familiar.
The call from Slo so soon was unexpected, but what he said was even more so, “He wants to meet you.”
“But I thought Agony didn’t like authority,” he replied hopefully.
“He says he’ll make an exception this time. Seems like maybe he’s heard of you.”
So he waited. Waited to see what Agony had heard. Waited to see why he was so interested in meeting Joshua. He figured it couldn’t be good, but he was confident he’d read the patterns right. Agony was the right guy. He needed him. So he waited.
The report from Fane had done little to distract his thoughts, but the girl did interest him. Something about her seemed to fit into the pattern too, but how, he wasn’t sure yet. He supposed again he’d just have to wait for Fane to bring her. He let out a heavy sigh and returned to his desk. Perhaps work could keep his nerves at bay.
The buzz of the intercom nearly knocked him out of his chair. He realized he’d been straining, waiting to hear the indication that they were here, so when it finally struck, it hit him like electricity. Renee ushered the men in with a look of concern at the intimidating Agony. A nod from Joshua as he rose from his desk seemed to put her at ease as she retreated, closing the door behind her.
He approached Slo, shaking his hand, but Agony didn’t even acknowledge him, instead taking in the office décor. “Nice digs,” he said, more to the air then to Joshua.
“Thanks. Please, have a seat.” Joshua returned to his desk as Slo sat. Agony continued his casual investigation a few more moments before seeming to decide he was satisfied, taking the seat next to Slo.
“So you’re the famous Joshua Williams.” Not a question, but a statement, his attention and scrutiny finally falling on Joshua.
Joshua fought the urge to squirm under his gaze, “That’s interesting coming from you. I wasn’t aware I was famous.”
“In certain circles. You’d be amazed how far word can travel.”
“And what word is that?” Joshua leaned back; fingers arched together much like Slo had done upon their first meeting.
Agony shrugged, his demeanor beginning to shift into a friendlier persona, “Depends who you talk to.”
“Rumors and speculation travel far too I suppose.”
“Exactly. So I figured better to go to the source.” Agony’s eyes focused intently letting Joshua know that despite the bravado he was expecting answers and if he didn’t like the ones he got, there could be trouble.
“Fair enough. So why don’t you tell me what you’ve heard and we can set the record straight.”
“Well let’s see. The most common one is that you’re raising an army of some sort. To what end depends who’s saying it. Some say to battle the Vendot. Others say it’s to take over Sage or maybe start a competitor.” Agony leaned forward, forearms resting on his legs, hands grasped together.
Instinctively Joshua followed suit, using his desk instead for support. “Interesting. What do you think?”
“I think you certainly have the resources.” He shrugged again, “Of all, those are the least crazy.”
“It gets better?”
Agony chuckled, “A bit. Some say you’re some kind of messiah here to usher in a new age or possibly a demon bent on destroying it. Or that you’re thousands of years old and have some hidden knowledge or power beyond the rest of us. Other variations weave in and out, but that’s the gist.” With that he leaned back, crossed his arms and waited, watching Joshua.
Joshua sighed, stood and walked back to the window behind him, “The view hasn’t changed…” he mumbled, wondering to himself how much he could tell Agony. He turned his head and really looked at Agony for the first time. He was large, intimidating, not the kind of guy you’d want to meet in an alley. But under it was shrewdness rarely seen. Intelligence burned behind his eyes, melting away Joshua’s doubt. Everything, he had to tell him everything.
He turned and leaned against the glass, hands clasped behind him, “How much do you know about where we come from? Why we can do the things we do?”
“Just the pre-recorded Sage spiel; some mystical energy they call the Shine lets us see the Spirit Web which allows us to manifest reality, yada, yada, blah.”
“Right, but what you don’t know is where the Shine comes from. Our world, our reality, is actually part of a binary dimension; two worlds intertwined, destinies interlocked. In our sister reality the Shine is as abundant as oxygen, and like oxygen in our world, just as necessary. Through a gateway between the worlds, the Shine once flowed freely into ours.”
“Another world, huh? I’ve been to just about every corner of this planet and I’ve never seen any other world.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to have, but we’re getting to that.” Joshua pushed away from the glass, returning to his chair, “Legend has it that when both worlds were created, the other dimension, called Jar-Din, was a land of chaos. Unlike our world, Jar-Din wasn’t supported by a Spirit Web. The Shine was all, and the only stabilizing factor was the whim of those who inhabited it, but as most primitive creatures do, they fought and battled, all trying to be the dominant force. Things continued this way for countless eons, until the rise of man.
“When the first cavemen peaked out of their caves to marvel at the sun, so did our ancestors rise out of the Shine. Man, as well as these early Adepts, evolved in thought and socialization, but continued to war and vie for power. Then around 12 or 15 thousand years ago, around the dawn of human civilization, one Adept was born unlike the rest. His power was greater than any before him. Not so much that he could dominate all, but enough that the others heeded his words. He saw that the chaos in their world was tearing it apart, and while he watched it sink into the abyss, this world was thriving.”
Agony rolled his eyes, boredom playing plainly on his face, “This is all fascinating, but could we get to the point?”
Joshua straightened, demeanor turning stern as his presence filled the room. Slo, who to this point had been almost invisible, stirred slightly, unable to fully resist. “You came here for answers, and I’m giving them to you. If I’m boring you, perhaps we should call it a night.”
Agony raised his hands in front of him as if to show he was unarmed and harmless, “Sorry, sorry. Please, continue.”
Joshua settled back, lowering the tension in the room but still dominating its environment, “As I was saying, this Adept saw our world thrive and also saw why; the Spirit Web. It bound our reality together, gave us purpose and direction; a framework to build upon. Jar-Din was not so lucky. Its structure and environment was constantly changing; shifting sometimes moment by moment. Drawing together his closest allies, he devised a way to give his people a stable foundation. Together they created a kind of government called the Garden of the Rose, with him as the sovereign Rose and his allies the Body of Thorns. For two thousand years they successfully maintained a base reality, and peace and prosperity flourished.
“But all things have their opposite, the Shine being no different. Hidden away in the dark was the Shade; a force of destruction and evil. A young Adept named Vorlok became obsessed with the Shade. Its power and influence corrupted him and led him into a campaign against the Rose and his Thorns. He named himself the Black Winged Rose, and gathered his own followers, calling them the Vendot.”
Agony straightened, interest now taking over, “The Vendot? As in the Vendot?”
“Not exactly, but yes.” Joshua continued, “Chaos engulfed Jar-Din once again. War spanning thousands of years broke out. In the end, the Rose knew he would lose. Vorlok was too powerful. So he and his Thorns devised the only plan they had left; they’d run. Flee to our realm and slam the gateway closed behind them.”
“Turn tail and run. Always a good plan,” Agony’s sarcasm was not lost on anyone.
“You might not think that way if you ever came face to face with the full power of the Shade. It’s not that it’s more powerful than the Shine, per say, but its power is rooted in destruction and death. The Shine, as a rule, is not. They were simply unprepared for what was unleashed.”
“Right, whatever you say. So they ran and I’m guessing joined their inept cousins here?”
“Yes. Or as many as survived. Unfortunately, the Rose and many of the Thorns didn’t make it, dying defending their people as they fled. Leadership fell to a Thorn named Saige.”
“Saige? Like ‘Sage’ Saige?”
“He was the inspiration for our friendly neighborhood Adept Police, but no. The Sage of today has little in common with Saige the man, but then again, they have different challenges. Saige’s priority was to integrate his people into our world. With the gateway between the worlds closed, he knew eventually the Shine in our world would dissipate, leaving them nearly as inept, as you put it, as the rest of mankind.”
Slo broke his silence, “But the Shine’s all over, right? So that means the gateway’s open?” Joshua and Agony both looked at Slo as if he'd sprouted a second head. “What? I’m sorry, didn’t realize this was a private conversation.”
Joshua recovered, nodding, “Yes, or more likely the doorway is cracked. If it was all the way open Vorlok would make his presence known.
Agony turned back to Joshua, “You mean he’s still alive? Even after all this time?”
“Sure, why not? You should know from experience actually killing an Adept is a difficult task. How do you kill something that can be anything? Someone who can bend and change their reality? The only real way to end an Adept is to remove him from reality. Or deprive him of the Shine. No, it’s more likely Vorlok is alive and well, and more powerful than ever before.”
“Enter the Vendot,” Slo said in a half snicker.
Joshua nodded, “That’s what I think. I’m not sure how exactly, but I think Vorlok has found a way to spread his influence into our world. In theory he can’t escape until the gateway’s fully opened, but a crack…maybe he found a way to get something through. Honestly I don’t know, but the Vendot are out in force and the gateway is opening, proof by the presence of the Shine.”
Agony considered the information, “Okay, so that brings us up to date, but you still didn’t answer any of my questions.”
Joshua smiled, “True I haven’t. But we’re not quite up to date yet. Before they started their mass migration, the Rose and his Thorns knew there was a chance some of them wouldn’t make it, so they devised a way to pass the power of the Rose down through the generations. One Thorn was charged with protecting the line, keeping its existence secret from all others, watching and waiting for the Shine to return and the Rose to be reborn.” Joshua could see the thought form on Agony’s face, “No, I’m not the Thorn, and I’m not the Rose either. So that answers two of your questions.”
“That it does. But then who? Or better yet, how do you know all this if it was supposed to be a secret?”
“The answer to both of those questions is the same: my father. He was the one sent to watch over the line of the Rose and he’s the one who told me what I’ve told you.”
“But if he was here how did he survive without the Shine?”
“It’s not unheard of, though rare. The Shine never fully disappeared. There were places where the last remnants pooled. We would recognize them today as places of spiritual significance or mysterious origin. Stonehenge, the Pyramids, and others; some well known, others not.”
“Okay, say I buy it, if your pops knows where the Rose is, what’s the problem?”
“That is the problem,” Joshua leaned back, eyes going out of focus as he accessed painful memories long buried, “He died. A long time ago.” A shiver went through him as he pushed the pain back into the abyss of the past. “He taught me what he could, but never revealed the location of the Rose. So to answer another of your questions, I am raising an army. Kind of anyway. We search for the Rose and any evidence of our forgotten past. We try to uphold the ways of the Rose and his Thorns, striving towards cooperation and prosperity to all. I admit I’m a poor substitute, my knowledge being limited, but we have to start somewhere. In the end I believe the Rose is our only chance in stopping Vorlok and restoring us to our true birthright.”
“Fair enough. But now the million dollar question: why do you need me?”
This was the real question. The one Joshua dreaded answering the most. It was something he’d never told anyone, because if the wrong people found out, everything could be lost. He hesitated involuntarily, willing himself to pull the words out. He thought for a moment perhaps this too was part of his father’s design; preventing him from giving away too much.
“My father left a kind of coded message behind. A puzzle that once solved will reveal the location of the Rose. The next clue is the Vendot; or rather something they’re up to. I need you because no one on my team could even get close to them. I need someone who can, someone like you.”
Agony thought for a moment then abruptly slapped his hands down on the arms of his chair, stood and said, “Well alright.” With that he turned and headed for the door.
Joshua called after him, “You’ll help us then?”
Agony stopped just before the exit and said, again more to the air then to Joshua, in a tone filled with its own pain, “I don’t know that I believe in any great and powerful Rose who can save us. But I believe in the evil of Vendot. And you’re wrong; I have seen the power of the Shade face to face.” With that he was gone, leaving Joshua with a mixed feeling of getting what he wanted but not sure the price of pain in Agony’s voice was really worth it.