In the Land Domain, Galwynn quickly stood and faced Lord Lewis through the magical wall. The unnatural glint in his eye had disappeared. The baron shivered from the aftermath of his outburst like a mongrel that had crept indoors out of a cold, rainy night. Kevin asked, “Charles, are you… all right?” 

As Kevin spoke, his hand pressed against the weirding wall. Softly, a dusting of chevron-shaped, red-yellow-and-blue banded sparks cascaded down from his palm print. The sparks tingled. It struck Kevin odd that until this inopportune moment, he had not noticed that the color and shape of the sparks resembled the Lewis family coat of arms. A bit of braggadocio on Charles’s part, Kevin surmised, amusedly.

“Am I all right? I am as all right as I can be,” said Charles in answer to Kevin’s question. “My mind is clear enough to know that Sky and Land are still on the brink of disaster. And to know that the cause of that looming disaster is the prisoner I hold in a glass prison.” Charles hung his head in shame and gave it a shake. But try as he might, he was unable to shake off his sense of guilt. “Oh, Master Galwynn, what have I done?”

“In the course of pursuing true love, an admirable objective in itself, you made terrible mistakes,” said Kevin. “But while we still have time, your lordship, you can begin to make amends for your mistakes. Don’t you think it’s time, Charles, for the star-maid to return home?”

“Of course, of course it is,” Charles conceded. The reason was obvious. “I never meant to harm the star, Alta Vystra, or cause her distress in any way. I only meant to bring her close to me so that I could demonstrate my devotion to her, and thus win her love. And yet, all I have done is steal her freedom and cause her distress. 

“I still love her, Master Galwynn, and crave for her to be by my side. And yet, I will do what needs to be done to free her, though it means my heart will surely break. But I am afraid of what will happen, Master Galwynn. I don’t mean that I fear the inevitability of heartbreak, or retribution for my many misdeeds. I fear that the star-maid will condemn me for my actions, and hate me for doing them to my dying day, and beyond. I don’t know if I can bear that, Master Galwynn.”

“You have created a heavy burden for yourself to bear,” Kevin replied, “but you do not have to bear it alone. If you would do me the honor of accepting my friendship, I will accompany you as you do what must be done.”

In gratitude, Charles reached out his palm to match Kevin’s, but momentarily forgot an impenetrable wall separated them. A cascade of chevron-shaped sparks drifted down from his touch. Kevin scanned the wall as if to say, What will you about this? Charles sighed, then said, “Oh, that. Please pardon my discourteousness,” and then he made a magical gesture across the plane of the magical barrier. Upon doing so, the weirding wall melted into pools of pale scarlet ectoplasm that quickly evaporated into nothingness. 

The mixture of alchemy and magic that protected the peel tower in general, and formed the impregnable weirding wall in particular, was gone. Gingerly, Kevin stepped over the border that had been, and joined Charles Lewis in his journey to redemption.

Charles led the way across the landscape of his laboratory to the glass prison. They passed tables and racks and suspensions of magical, alchemical, and astrological wonder. All the while, Kevin glanced in Charles’s eyes to check if an unnatural glint reappeared. 

Finally, Lewis stood trepidatiously in front of a cluster of levers, knobs, and magical controls that would free the star-child. Charles stood in front of a long brass lever, but stopped and did not move. Filtered, coruscating, silver light from inside the prison played on one side of Charles’s face; while sudden blue-white flashes of lightning from the ongoing battle in the sky illuminated the other side. Charles was caught betwixt and between.

Touching Charles on the shoulder, Kevin reassuringly advised, “Be brave.” 

Charles looked at his companion in acknowledgment, and at last pulled down the long brass lever. Over the glass prison, the spinning whirligig of intertwining brass arcs slowed to a halt, and their magic came to an end. Also, Alta Vystra was no longer concealed behind a glamour.

All Charles had to do next to free the star-maid, was unlock the reflective half-silvered cell door. But before he did that, Charles felt he had to do one last thing first.

Charles raised his left hand to block the blinding starlight. Looking from within the dark shadow cast by his hand, Charles could see the maiden’s piercing eyes and scowling mouth that had previously been lost in her fierce glare. 

Charles said, penitently, “Alta Vystra, I am sorry for the hurt that I have caused you. It is not right to ascribe my indiscretions solely to the unseen knave, Obsession. I was wrong as well. When I fell in love with you—for I am still truly in love with you—I refused to consider the consequences of my love. My friend here tells me that because I wanted you so much, and feared losing you so much, Obsession was able to hold sway.”

Charles cleared his throat. “Another person I know, a merchant from Sky, told me that a scoundrel can most easily sway a man, if the scoundrel merely holds out the promise that he can procure the man’s truest, deepest, desire. The man’s own unrequited desire will do all the persuading necessary.

“I swear upon my love for you, my true love, that I shall never commit such a heinous act again. Through guilt and remorse, I have learned a fundamental truth I should have known all along. And no vow is more sacred, more inviolable, to a scholar such as I,” said Charles contritely, “than one that is based on a single, fundamental truth.”

Because the alchemical and magical forces constraining the star-maiden were quickly fading, the glass prison began to quake as cosmic forces sought to restore order to the universe. “Return to your rightful place in Heaven, my true love,” Charles said, as his voice and his heart broke at the same time. Charles threw another control that unlocked the glass prison cell door, and then hurriedly backed away, pushing Kevin ahead of him.

Astral forces that had been constrained by Charles’s machine were suddenly loosed. In that moment, a column of light as bright as the noonday sun on the summer solstice shot up from the glass prison; blasted an opening through the laboratory roof, scorching rafters and shingles; and then seared a path through the clouds between Land and the Upper Reaches of Sky. 

Within that column of light could be seen the star-maid. She was an incandescent figure, bathed in an incandescent glow, floating on incandescent air.

The star-maid, Alta Vystra, ascended slowly at first. As she rose, Charles and Kevin heard her say by means other than natural, “I understand.” The star-maid bid them both farewell, and then ascended faster and faster until she was gone.

In the Lower Reaches of Sky, Empress Moon had backtracked her missing daughter’s star-signs; that is, the trail of causality left by merely existing, to where the trail mysteriously turned cold. Empress Moon weaved her night-mare back and forth across the trail, ignoring the irrelevant skirmish of knights and vandals happening at the lower altitudes, as the empress tried to pick up her daughter’s trail again. 

Suddenly, Empress Moon reined in her satin-black night-mare when she saw a shaft of light arcing toward Heaven nearly from where the trail had turned cold. The shaft of light looked like the track of a wrongheaded star that had fallen up instead of down. Empress Moon was looking for any clue, any anomaly, that might assist her search, and this oddity certainly qualified. Spurring her night-mare, Empress Moon galloped toward the light.

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