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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 88: Hastings 122
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Previous chapter: Chapter 87: Brown 81
"So," Bethany said, "that's how you knew about Philadelphia, back in Wandborough."
It took Lauren a moment to realize what her former student was saying. They were now sitting over a breakfast Bethany had conjured in the illusion of a nineteenth century baronial dining room with phantasmal string players producing Brandenburg Concertos which did not echo off the unseen cave walls.
"Oh, right," she said, as she connected this to yesterday's discussion. "Yes, I was in Philadelphia the first time I'd met you; but since I was still going to meet you in Wandborough, and for you that had already happened, you had already met me back then. Eventually when I got to you, I knew all about the things we were going to do in Philadelphia because I'd done them--just as in Philly you already knew about the things I was yet to do in Wandborough, because you'd done them. In a sense, we both knew the other's future. You didn't realize it because what you knew was, in the most ordinary sense, the past."
"But, wouldn't that create some kind of paradox or something? I mean, what if Jackson had killed me instead of you when we got to Camelot? Or do you think that maybe once you'd met me in the future, I couldn't be killed in the past?"
Lauren reflected on this. "I've never really thought about that. I do see what you mean. I suppose, though, that there are several possibilities. For one thing, do you remember when we met Lauren Meyers? She was me, only in this world. There are probably other worlds just like this one, or at least as like as you or I could tell, in which the same people are living very similar lives. If I'd found you and taught you and then Jackson killed you, probably what would have happened was that I would eventually have discovered that it was a different you, not the one I met in Philadelphia, and then later I'd have met you again, another you in a different universe, and tried it again."
Bethany seemed puzzled by it. "Has this sort of thing happened to you before, that you had to go to another world that was just like one you'd left to try to get something right that you got wrong the first time?"
"No," Lauren said; "at least, not that I know. Actually, this world is the only one I've been to more than once, at least that I recognized, and I've been here four times now, I think. Most places, I usually did what I thought I had to do. Sometimes I died finishing it, sometimes I hung around for a while and looked for something else, sometimes I thought maybe there was more I could have done--but mostly I felt pretty good about what I'd accomplished while there. This world? Well, it seems there's a much bigger job to do in this world. I keep doing pieces of it, bits that have to be done here and there. In Philadelphia, I got rid of Horta and Jackson, and stalled Gavin's plan to steal all faith from mankind. That probably kept faith alive a few years, at least. Then in Camelot I learned what I needed to know from Merlin, and also found out about Tubrok. When I was in Wandborough, I taught you. All of this has been coming together, so that now I hope I'm ready, with your help, to destroy the Vampire world and finish Tubrok. In a sense, it's all been one job, and I've been doing it a little at a time. If I finish it this time, I probably won't be back again."
There was a moment of melancholy in Lauren's heart as she realized what she'd just said; yet it was true. This was not really home, not a place to which she returned from time to time to relax. It was more like the office, the place she went when there was work to do, and eventually she would finish that work and retire. If she succeeded, she would probably not see Bethany again. She needed to change the subject.
"I love what you've done with the place," she said.
Bethany must also have felt the melancholy; she seemed to startle back to reality. "Oh? Oh, yes, I'm glad you like it. It's silly, really. There's only one room, and it's a small room at that. But I've collected images of a lot of wonderful places, and stored them in the rocks, so that I can have whichever room I like at the moment. I've even managed to make the illusion move as I walk, that is, right now the other side of the room is sort of holographic--there's a wall ten feet from us, even though the musicians are probably thirty feet away and a good twelve feet above the ceiling. But if I decide to fly over to speak with them, the room moves with me, so that the breakfast table shifts into the other wall and I can stand next to the musicians. I have to remember the little things, like, I can't leave my plate on the table, because it will get dropped on the floor when the table passes into the wall. Also, I have no idea what happens with both of us in here. I think that if you tried to walk over there you'd bump into the wall, but if I did it the other wall would bump into you."
"I do love it. It's so--" Lauren paused, not because she was looking for a word, but because she hesitated to use the word she wanted. In the end, she decided it was the best choice. "It's so magical."
"I'm glad you like it."
"It's also so like you," Lauren said. "Not in the sense that you always lived in rich places, but that you've always had the imagination to do very creative things with what you knew. I would never have thought to do this. It's so artistic, so avant guarde. Everything I do is always practical, designed to do what it's supposed to do as efficiently as possible. You have such a flair in your work. It's always so colorful, as if you were saying that if we have to do this, we might as well make it pretty in the process."
Bethany blushed a bit. "Well, I guess I figure what's the use of being a sorceress if you can't enjoy the little things. Some wizards would make a deal with the devil to live in a baronial mansion. I've got my own baronial mansion, and it's got a chapel in it where I can pray and read my Bible in peace, knowing that I don't owe the devil anything. Besides, if tomorrow I decide I don't like the place, I can replace it all with an American farmhouse, a French villa, a Japanese pagoda, or whatever I like, and never have to move."
"It's really wonderful." Lauren looked around. "Where do you keep your things?"
"Well, I've never had much in the way of real things. I've got a few changes of clothes, some staves I've used, a couple of things I've magicked over the years. There's a sort of closet over in that corner--" she indicated a spot occupied by the illusion of a china cabinet-- "and I keep everything in there."
"Oh, magic objects. That reminds me. Saint Peter gave me--"
"Saint Peter?" The student was again impressed with something which the teacher counted as nothing. "How did you meet Saint Peter?"
"Didn't I tell you? It's silly, really. I was living alone on this wonderful tropical island, practicing and working on things, and I had this crazy idea to fire magically created arrows at psionically marked targets--well, the details aren't so important, really. What matters is that it kind of blew up in my face, and I found myself falling into the mountain, and landed somewhere on the outskirts of heaven. In a moment, Saint Peter was there to talk to me. He gave me these three things, and then sent me here."
"You have such an interesting life," Bethany said.
"I have a dangerous life, and have been killed several times," Lauren answered. "Believe me, I am no one to be envied. Pray that you are not called to pick up my mantle, because for all the truly wonderful things that happen, there are three bad things. I've lost my family, more than once lost friends, suffered tremendous pain, fought powerful enemies, sometimes lost. I know that eventually it will be over, and Peter will tell me I can go beyond the outskirts into heaven. But being there, being so close--well, when I asked him if I was dead, he said it wasn't so wonderful as that. I've had heaven snatched from within my grasp, Bethany, so that I could come back here and fight against hell. I'm glad you've lived so long; I hope you will live many more years, and enjoy them. I also hope that whenever death comes to you, Saint Peter will greet you at the gate and invite you inside, where you will hear God say, 'Well done, good and faithful servant', and that you will not have to die more than once."
The message may have come out a bit more harshly than Lauren had intended. Both sat in silence for a moment.
"Anyway," Lauren continued, "he gave me three things. One of them, I think, keeps Tubrok and his friends from finding me by magic. One seems to be a divine credit card, that lets me pay for the things I need."
"That's how you were able to ride the bus," Bethany interrupted. "You had magic money. That's clever; I'll have to figure out a way to do that."
"Yes, well, I'd teach you, but I've no idea how it works. But it's the third thing that has me stymied. It's got something written on it, in Greek, about truth, but I don't know what it says, what it is, or what it does."
"Well, I guess I could take a look at it. You never know."
Lauren drew the strange object out of her cart, and Bethany examined it.
"I feel like I saw something like this once," she said, "but I don't remember when or where."
"I feel like that, too, sometimes," Lauren said. "It's as if I know what it's for, and if I saw it in the right context, it would come to me. But just seeing it as it is--it's like seeing a piece of something and trying to guess what it's from by remembering everything that fit around it. I can't remember what goes with it."
Bethany stared at it, turning it over to look at the words etched on the back. Lauren wondered whether her pupil had learned to recognize different kinds of magic; but if she had, it didn't help her this time.
"No," she said, "I can't figure it out. Must be important, though. After all, Saint Peter gave it to you."
It struck Lauren that by this reasoning, everything good was also important, as it all came from God. Yet there was a sense in which the fact that Peter thought she needed this meant it mattered. She found a pocket in her robe, and put it there, so that she would have it when she knew what it was.
"Well," she said, "enough for that for now. Tell me everything you know about Tubrok, the Superiority Party, the design of the cities, what faith remains in the world--anything that's going to help us bring down these demonic dominions."
Then, beginning with the collapse of Gavin's church several hundred years before, Bethany began to tell Lauren how the world had gotten to its current state.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #191: Versers Travel. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: