Despite the excuses he had given Ezra Teague, Lord Lewis was perfectly aware of the fierce windstorm assailing his manor. How could he not when it relentlessly battered the only two windows in the peel tower? As the gale howled and wailed, the baron even imagined the wind was hoarsely whispering, “Let me in, Charles! Let me in before it’s too late!” But Charles did not fear the storm. The wind was his friend.

One-quarter of Lord Lewis’s spacious workroom, or laboratory, was used as a sitting room where the baron could rest after a long experiment, or plot the next. The sitting room was decorated with a comfortable sofa, a wing chair, a large writing desk, and an even larger work table scarred with nicks, holes, scratches, and stains that alluded to the baron’s industriousness. An internal stairway lead to a loft balcony containing the baron’s library and small sleeping nook.

The only public door to the peel tower opened into the sitting room, and the only two, tall, narrow windows were in the adjacent east and west walls. The gale seemed to be trying to shake open the west window, which prompted Charles to wearily rise from his writing desk and check the window’s latch. But as the baron’s hand reached for the latch, a gust suddenly pounded on the casement and wailed almost as clearly as a town crier, “Let me in, Charles!”

The baron recoiled in surprise. He thought he heard the wind call his name. Distraught, he clasped his palms to his face, and wondered. Was he imagining things? How long had it been since he had had a good night’s sleep? Or even more than a few hours at a time?

But then a sage thought occurred to him. There are special places in the world where the Domains can sometimes commingle more easily. The baron’s laboratory was one of them. Instead of making fast the latch of the west window, Charles threw open the casement, and said into the storm, uncertainly, “Duke? Duke Northstorm? Is that you?”

Suddenly, a gale rushed through the window, whistled past the gentleman alchemist, and coalesced in the center of the sitting room like a tornado. Scrolls and books and tapestries rippled in the wind, and the flames of the candles and sconces that illuminated the workroom regardless of the day’s light or the hour, shimmied and shook. A cold fog precipitated across the floor, while it spun like a maelstrom, and grew too thick to see through to the floor.

It was no accident that Lord Lewis’s ancestors built the peel tower where they did. Legend had it the site was the location of an old wishing well that gave the Lewis family its first good fortune; which led to its current success. The legends were true. Rich veins of magick ore ran everywhere beneath the Lewis estate, and the peel tower’s machine room was purposefully built over a wellspring of raw magic. All that was needed for sorcery to manifest, was for a sufficiently knowledgable practitioner to refine the magick ore into magic, and then harness it with a spell.

There are special places where the Domains can more easily commingle. Lord Lewis softly uttered a simple spell, “Appareo,” that melded with the fog and raised the veil between Domains. Almost at once, a wispy figure emerged from the mist.

“Duke Northstorm, my friend!” said Charles with a smile as the celestial took form and solidified in Lord Lewis’s parlor. He was as tall and pale and gray as the Sky King and his retinue who had materialized on a mountain meadow, that dawn not too long ago, to parlay with the Land King. 

The Sky merchant with whom Lord Lewis traded his estate’s goods, was one of the few people who expressed genuine interest in Charles’s studies and experiments. He, unlike others, did not rebuke Charles when he spoke of mixing alchemy and magic. In fact, His Grace’s warm enthusiasm had been the most comforting and encouraging reaction of anyone to whom Charles told his dreams. Duke Northstorm had made himself a cherished friend. But why was he here now?

“Charles, free the star-maid now, or all is lost!” Northstorm cried, like rumbling thunder. “Lewis—!” Northstorm began to say commandingly, then stopped himself when he heard the desperation in his voice. Gracefully, the duke softened his demeanor and then continued in a more convivial, more friendly, tone.

“—Charles, my dear friend, how good to see you again. Please pardon my coarse manners. I’ve traveled long and hard over the most roundabout and inhospitable backroads of Sky to reach you, and I’m afraid my social graces have yet to catch up with my aching body. However, just seeing you again salves my pains. 

“You know, Charles, I often count the days until I can once more have the pleasure of your company. However, I come here now—out of a sincere concern for your wellbeing—on a matter of grave urgency. It has come to my attention by means of—yes, I admit it, avian spies—that your most recent experiment has inadvertently caused—because surely it was accidental—a crisis that is predicted—and trust that I do not exaggerate when I say it—destroy both your world and mine! 

“So, now that that’s understood, you could be of enormous help in resolving the matter if you would…” Northstorm’s voice trailed off as his eyes caught sight of a brilliant radiance emanating from the other side of Lord Lewis’s workroom. 

The remaining three-quarters of Charles’s laboratory was where he built and tested his most forward-looking ideas. Shelves lining the walls contained every crafting, stargazing, or bewitching tool a young scholar, mage, or alchemist could need. And neatly arranged pallet racks, scaffolds, and work tables in the middle of the floor contained Charles’s latest projects, which were many. His private, internal stairway to the machine room was tucked in the corner. 

However, a goodly portion of the work area was cleared out to make room for a large, glass box that contained a radiance so bright it dazzled the eye and bewitched the soul. It was the star-child, Alta Vystra, and she was trapped in a prison of smoky gray glass. 

The duke was surprised that when he entered the peel tower he had noticed a brilliance illuminating the walls, but he had not noticed the glass prison until he was near and looking straight at it. Even a knave like Duke Northstorm could appreciate both the wonder and horror of Lord Lewis’s achievement. “Charles, oh Charles,” he murmured, “what have you done?”

Misunderstanding the meaning of others, as he was especially wont to do of late, Charles answered the question he thought the duke was asking. “My earlier experiments on Mt. Majestic made me realize that once I finally succeeded in my quest to woo the star-maid,” Charles said, as his tone began to waver maniacally, “I would need a way to shield her presence from intrusive gods and jealous men who would seek to separate us! So I researched how to cast an enchantment around her, a glamour, that would hide her from their prying eyes. Others can only notice her when they’re looking directly at her, and are close enough to bask in her infinite beauty; her infinite…perfection.”

Duke Northstorm took a step toward the glass prison, but Charles raised his hand and bade him halt, saying, “Don’t get too close. I’m afraid she’s a bit upset with me right now, so I don’t want to cause her anymore distress. But I know she’ll calm down once she gets acclimated to this new dwelling I’ve built for her.”

The glass prison was much bigger than the original lantern box—it was at least a man’s height in all dimensions—but now the prisoner fit the bigger space snugly. Accordingly, it would be well to recall that proportion and length are deceptive when denizens of Sky pass into Land. 

An enchanted whirligig imitating the gyrations of a wizard’s hands was suspended above the prison by a truss crane, and made to spin by a complicated series of belt drives running up through the floor from the machine room. 

Finally, floating in the smoky glass box in defiance of gravity the way a human might float weightlessly underwater, was the incandescent figure of a slender, young maiden attired only in radiant light, indescribable beauty, and a corona of hair of that cascaded behind and around her like the fiery tail of a comet. Only the sadness of her expression marred the perfection of her beauty.

“My device bewitched her from Heaven and brought her down to Land to be with me; to be with me always.” Charles tried to keep his words measured and rational, but he found it impossible to prevent the rapture he felt in his heart from infusing his voice. “You were right, Clarence, when you encouraged me to ignore any naysayers and pursue my dreams. I have never known such happiness. I will never be alone again.”

While Charles stared unblinkingly at the starlight emanating from the center of the laboratory, Northstorm had the impression Charles had completely forgotten he existed. The duke looked sidelong at Charles’s enraptured face, and tried with uncommon difficulty to read signs that Lord Lewis was still sane, or was slowly going mad. Inspecting carefully, the duke noticed the reflected glint of light in Charles’s eye seemed to…well, move by itself…even though Charles’s gaze had not shifted. Northstorm shivered involuntarily. Then he noticed Charles’s body suddenly stiffen a little, and his eyes widen a little, and his voice sneer a little, as he mused to only himself, “We will never be alone again.”

It was almost reflexive for Duke Northstorm to disguise his true thoughts and feelings behind flattering words. But there was genuine admiration in his voice when he told Lord Lewis, “What you have done is truly astounding, Charles.” The duke said further, in an uncharacteristically straightforward and measured fashion, “You have successfully melded sorcery and alchemy to achieve a goal, that I daresay, exceeds the wildest dreams of any of your fellow scholars, alchemists, or magicians. You have wrest a star herself from the heights of the firmament and brought her down to Land. ’Tis amazing.” 

A dark storm front slid across the duke’s pale visage, and his head bowed under the burden of a thought that unavoidably came back to mind: the reason he had come to Lord Lewis’s manor. “You have achieved so much, Charles, and for that you should be rightly proud.” Then the duke raised his head and said as solemnly as a priest casting dirt into the grave, “Now, my friend…set her free. Let the star-child go!”

A glint of light flickered across Charles’s eye so quickly, Duke Northstorm almost missed it.

“What do you mean? You can’t take her away from me. She’s mine!” Charles exclaimed, angrily. Behind his haggard eyes, the merest suggestion of separating him from the object of his adoration was a threat; a threat great enough to tumble his mind out of equilibrium. “We belong together—forever!” Charles screamed. “You’re jealous of me, aren’t you? You’re jealous of my happiness,” he speculated nonsensically. “Well, if you want a celestial so badly, Duke, then woo one yourself!

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