I could feel the raw energies of the Mirror Realm flowing through me, enhancing my senses as I sent the tendrils of my thoughts spiraling outward. I knew the rod had to be here. Not only had the Puppetmaster told me this exact location, but I could feel the Realm convulsing around this area, seeping into the mortal plane. I stared into the mirror I’d used to come here, staring beyond the reflection into the perfect world. Perhaps somewhere within the Realm would be the answer I sought. I only needed to look hard enough. I just needed…
“I don’t want to interrupt, but is this yours?” a woman’s voice called out behind me. I spun around quickly, silently cursing myself as I saw the group of would-be-heroes standing at the foot of the staircase leading up to the mineshaft. More important, however, was the object the girl up front was holding; a rod shaped object wrapped in cloth.
“That? That is an object of pure magic!” I growled back. The girl had no idea what she was holding, and if I didn’t get ahold of it quickly, I’d be fighting a war I was sorely unprepared for. “You will give it to me now, and I’ll spare your insignificant lives.” I ordered as I placed my hand upon the mirror, sending out a silent call to one of the girl’s companions from the Mirror Realm. Like an obedient hound a double of the barbarian of their group stepped out of the mirror.
“Yes, yes of course,” the girl replied slowly, assumedly to hide the quiver in her voice. “But slow down. Are you aware you’re being investigated?”
I lifted my gaze to stare into the girl’s eyes, trying to tell if she was deceiving me. She held no falsehoods in them, and so I returned my gaze to the rod, assured she’d continue prattling on.
“We’ve been sent to gather information on you on behalf of a secret organization,” she said. I felt my blood go cold in my veins. Certainly they couldn’t have survived. I had been thorough. I’d made sure to deal with every loose end. No one with the strength of will to lead had been left alive. Yet somehow…
“The Brotherhood…” was all I said out loud. Somehow my old organization still lived, despite having its heart ripped out.
“Yes, that one,” the girl answered with a smile. I was beginning to realize that this girl had quite the tongue on her. She wielded it as well as a master swordsman, or at least she thought she did. I watched as she slapped the immensely powerful artifact into the palm of her other hand like a riding crop. Certainly she’d intended it as a means of reminding me she was in charge of the conversation. I merely saw it as a child trying to make sure she kept her parent’s attention. “Perhaps if we could negotiate somewhere more neutral, we could be of use to one another.”
I smiled as I brought my gaze back up to the girl’s eyes. Perhaps she had more potential than I’d initially thought. Given the right prodding, she could turn out to be incredibly useful.
“Certainly,” I said, moving to the side to indicate the mirror. “Come with me into the Mirror Realm. I assure you there is nowhere more neutral.” An obvious falsehood, but would she still accompany me?
“Very well,” she said, a quick glint of fear passing through her eyes as she made her decision. “But to ensure my safe return, this will be staying here,” she continued, handing the rod to one of her companions. A simple enough matter to deal with once I got the girl out of harm’s way. I gave her a quick nod and offered the mirror again, invoking the power of the Realm to turn it into a doorway.
“Ladies first,” I said with a smile.
“We’ll go together,” she countered. She was good. Truly it would’ve been a waste to destroy someone with this much potential.
“As you wish,” I replied, waiting for her walk over before stepping through myself.
As soon as we reached the other side, I cast the protection spell on the girl’s mind, ensuring that the Puppetmaster didn't steal my latest project. I watched as she turned to look back at the mirror, and I commanded the mirror barbarian to deal with her companions. Probably futile, but a show of power was always a good idea when dealing with an adversary of unknown skill. I waited until she caught her breath and turned back to me before explaining.
“They can’t hear or see us,” I assured.
“Good,” she said. “So, the Brotherhood, they pose a threat to you?” She was fishing for information. They obviously hadn't old her anything.
“The Brotherhood is an ancient organization with many agents and deep coffers,” I explained. “If they were to interfere, it could undo everything I’ve worked toward.
“Everything you've worked for…?” she echoed. If she wanted information, I’d give it to her. Perhaps she would see the truth like so few others had.
“The realm we are standing in now is one of completely perfection,” I replied. “A world free of suffering and weakness. I seek to bring perfection to the cesspit you come from. To purify it by joining it with the Mirror Realm.” Let her guess at the meaning, and wonder at the power I must possess to accomplish such a goal.
“You say where I come from,” she began. “Does that mean you’re not from my world?”
“Alas, I too am tainted by our world,” I admitted. “but I have been enlightened. Only the worthy can control this realm, and only the worthy shall share in my new world when I bring purity to it.” I fought to hide a smile, wishing I could read her thoughts after such a speech. Surely she must have thought me mad. It was always fun to play the madman when dealing with spies.
“And how are you going to do that?” she asked. I decided the game was done. I didn't need her running back to the Brotherhood with too much if I was mistaken.
“I’ve answered your questions,” I stated, reveling in the surprise in her eyes. “Now tell me what you know about the Brotherhood.”
“I have been recruited by the Brotherhood,” she said. “They offered me quite a hefty sum of gold…” I couldn’t help but laugh at that. The fools tried to bribe heroes instead of giving them what they truly wanted. I never made such a mistake.
“They offer you gold,” I said around chuckles.
“…and initiation into their ranks,” she finished. I stared at her for a few seconds, deciding that she would best serve me on the other side of the lines. A silver tongued devil with the face of an angel could go far. Any information she could bring me would certainly be useful.
“If I had an agent within the Brotherhood, then perhaps when the time came…” I paused, pretending to think, making sure to wait until she began to look impatient. “Yes. Join me and I promise you more than gold. You will have ultimate power and a place in my new world.” Surely she couldn’t resist such a lucrative offer.
“Very good,” she replied smiling. “I will deliver the rod to them as proof of my loyalty and await your orders.”
I fought the urge to strike the fool. Obviously I’d played my part too well. She believed me to be a trusting fool, completely willing to let her travel or betray me as she saw fit. I paid a price for hunting for the talent I needed, but I had to make sure the girl remembered her place.
“No. That you will not do. You must give the rod to me.” It showed a weakness of mine, but I could not allow her to leave with the rod. If my deal with the Puppetmaster wasn’t completed within the week, I’d be in dire straits.
“My companions won’t like that…” she said, obviously stalling. I didn’t have time for it.
“Then I will destroy them,” I answered flatly. Surely a barbarian and a holy man couldn’t be worth more than one fireball.
“No!” she cried out quickly, and I fought to hide another smile. The girl cared for her companions more than she let on it seemed. “The Brotherhood expects them along with me. It would raise suspicion for me to arrive without them.” A convincing lie and I decided to reward her for it. A show of trust helped me in the past. Perhaps all this girl needed was some acknowledgement of her desires.
“Then what do you suggest?” I asked, deciding to let her choose her own fate. Knowing there would only be one outcome.
“When, at the latest, do you need the rod?” she asked.
“Within the week,” I replied firmly.
“Mmm…knock me unconscious,” she eventually said. “Make it convincing. Attack my companions but let them escape with the rod. I will find a way to return it to you on our way to the next city after they’ve lost interest.” I gazed off behind her, thinking about every way she could betray me before nodding, deciding that even if she did, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Perhaps it would even make things interesting. My war would be starting early it seemed, but now I’d have an ace in the hole.
“That will do,” I said at length. “But to ensure your loyalty, you swear to do this by blood.” I reached into my robes and brought out an elegant knife. A wise investment, for it added to the mysticism that disguised a powerful spell of my own creation. I brought the knife across my palm, barely flinching as the sharpened blade sliced open my flesh, blood flowing down the sides of my hand as I passed the blade to her.
She cut her hand quickly, and surprised me by doing so without flinching. I brought up my hand and she clasped it, our blood mingling and the spell beginning to cast. It had to be now.
“Now swear,” I ordered.
“I swear to do everything in my power to return the rod to you within the week,” she said. I smiled as the spell cast, ripping the life force from the thrall I held within my mind and transferring a portion of my will through her very blood to her heart and mind. I could feel her trembling as her blood boiled, but ignored it as I began to search through her mind, now open to me like a book. I quickly discovered her scheme to use her own loophole to keep me away. A clever trick. I also found out that she believed the blood bond to be a compulsion. Perhaps I’d have a little fun with her whenever she started trying to slip the bonds I’d placed upon her.
She quickly reached up to pull her shirt to the side, revealing the Mobius strip on her collarbone. A small bit of vanity that marked her as one of mine.
“That is my mark,” I explained quickly. “It will allow me to keep track of you while you’re in my service.” Her body trembled and her eyelids fluttered as the pain began to push away her consciousness.
“I will be watching,” I warned before kicking her through the mirror, stepping through myself a moment later. I exchanged words with her companions, who were understandably upset, before launching a fireball towards them, making sure it didn’t detonate until they were clear.
As the fools fled with their unconscious little spy in tow, I leaned against the wall, pulling the mask off my face with a chuckle.
“Please my dearest Kepesk…give me a good show.”