In Sky, in the lowest altitudes of the Lower Reaches, the Ethereal Legion rested after a great battle. The exhausted captain of the guard reported to the Sky King, “We were victorious, my liege. Though outnumbered, we gave better than we received. We have wounded, some severe, but no casualties. We are guarding the prisoners until reinforcements arrive, but frankly, they don’t have any fight left in them.” 

“Better safe than sorry,” said the Doubting Wizard, as he unsheathed his gnarled magic wand. “By your leave, Your Majesty, I think I’ll just weave an additional guarding spell or two around the prisoners.”

“What hear you of Lt. Nimbus?” said the Sky King. “I saw him across the battlefield, but have not seen him since he went stalking Duke Northstorm on his own.” 

“Your Majesty?” cried someone from behind King Cirrus. The Sky King turned half around in his saddle to see a wounded Lt. Nimbus approaching on a horse led by Master Kevin Galwynn. Galwynn had put on his talisman again, became part of the Sky Domain once more, and rode Zephyr up to the field of battle. 

“I found Lt. Nimbus wounded with two slain bodies laying across his own,” said Galwynn. “I put Nimbus onto a stray courser and led him here.”

“Healer!” shouted the captain of the guard to a nearby surgeon. “Attend to the lieutenant’s wounds!” 

After working on his patient for a while, the healer said to the small crowd gathered around, “The lieutenant’s injuries are deep, but he is young and strong and will survive with many tales of valor to his credit.” Aaron in his modesty was surprised that so many in the crowd breathed a sigh of relief when they heard the healer’s diagnosis.

While the healer worked, the Sky King was disposed to ask the patient, “Lieutenant, I saw you in the distance stalking Duke Northstorm. And yet, we cannot find him or his body on the field. Do you know his fate?”

“I found the Duke and his two henchmen,” said Nimbus, wincing as the healer cleaned his wounds. “I suppose I was foolish to take them on by myself, but battle-lust, righteous anger, and good fortune were on my side. I had fought the Illwind brothers before, and I knew their battle style. I was prepared to fight them again, once and for all.” 

The healer tending to the frostbite wound on Aaron’s shoulder recoiled and said, “You meant to fight someone with an injury like this?” The veteran soldier and surgeon looked up at the Sky King with an exasperated expression on his face that indicated how foolhardy he thought the young lieutenant’s actions were.

“When the battle was done, I was blessed by the Cosmos to be the victor,” said Aaron. “Then I turned to engage the Duke himself.”

Kevin smiled to himself. Aaron’s tale was already promising to become a marvelously exaggerated war story.

“His Grace was fresher than me, but wary after seeing the bloodlust in my eyes and the fury of my attack on the Illwind brothers. But when he saw how exhausted I was after my fight with his henchmen, His Grace managed to screw his courage to the sticking place. He boasted to me, ‘Now, peasant, you shall meet your betters!’, and then we began our duel.

“Our eyes were locked together as we circled each other, looking for an opportunity to attack, when the battlefield took on a strange and baleful aspect. We could only risk taking our eyes off each other long enough to glimpse the mountainous cloud banks around us begin to churn and roil from powerful, arcane forces.

“Suddenly, a blinding shaft of light burst up through the clouds and shot towards Heaven. That is when the duke and I broke off our duel to see Empress Moon; silver bright in her countenance, terrible in her majesty, and spanning the sky; staring down at us and the shaft of light from over the tallest thunderheads.

“It was at that moment Duke Northstorm shrieked, fell to his knees, and began babbling some nonsense about, ‘Please forgive me!’ I don’t know what His Grace feared would happen next, but frankly, I think the strain of being such an insufferable scoundrel day in and day out finally drove him mad. He certainly looked a little mad to me.

“We’ll never know what would have happened then, because suddenly the whole battlefield tilted and quaked as a brilliant white fireball streaked up the shaft of light. I swear as the Cosmos is my witness, the fireball looked like a star falling upwards.”

Alas, the wonder in Aaron’s voice was not long-lived. It soon faded to be replaced by self-reproach. Words came to Aaron slowly now, and with difficulty he said, “When my eyes cleared and the ground settled, Duke Northstorm was nowhere to be found. He had escaped. I have failed you, my liege…” Then Nimbus bowed his head towards his king in shame.

The Sky King smiled amusedly at Lt. Nimbus’s contriteness. King Cirrus recognized bravery and loyalty in service to the Crown, and he knew that the most worthy of men often do not recognize their own worth. “Hold your head high, Lt. Nimbus,” said the Sky King. “You have done all you could, and you have done that well. I am most pleased.”

Turning to the captain of the guard, the Sky King said, “Send scouts to search for Duke Northstorm. He is an outcast. He cannot return to his dukedom. He has nowhere to run. He will be found eventually.”

The Sky King hiked his broad shoulders, sniffed a deep breath, then turned slightly and said, “Now for you, Master Galwynn. Tell me, what do you suggest I do with Charles Lewis and his infernal machine?”

“If it pleases you, Your Majesty, Charles Lewis is a denizen of Land. His fate rests with the Land King. The machine I reconstituted no longer functions and can do no harm. As for Lord Lewis’s wrongdoings, I would be remiss if I did not advise my king that, in part, Lord Lewis was unduly influenced by Obsession, a knave from the Unseen. Now that Lord Lewis is in control of his own mind, he is contrite and remorseful. Furthermore, he has made a pledge to a star-child, a deity in her own right, that he will do no harm, evermore.”

“For evermore?” asked the Doubting Wizard, skeptically.

“Not as long as vows made in the name of true love prevail,” replied Galwynn, with certainty. Then he added with a mischievous smile, “Trust me. I know these things.

“And what of this Obsession?” said the Sky King. “Has that creature made any such pledges?”

“No, Your Majesty, but Obsession’s fate is not for any of us to decide,” said Galwynn. “That is a decision to be made by the gods and goddesses of the Seen and Unseen domains. I’ve already sent you and the Land King a missive describing your parts in Obsession’s punishment. Check your inner pocket, Your Majesty.”

The Sky King looked as skeptical as the Doubting Wizard, but he loosened his hauberk nonetheless, reached under his armor, and found a neatly written message in his inside pocket. How it had gotten there was a mystery to him. In any case, the missive was addressed, “To: the Gods of Land, Sky, and the Unseen; care of: Cardinal Cyclone of Sky; care of: King Cirrus of Sky; Regarding: Obsession of the Unseen, a Criminal; From: Kevin Galwynn of Land, Master of Enlightenment.”

Putting the missive safely back in his pocket, the Sky King said to Kevin, “Only one matter vexes me still. Why did Duke Northstorm act in a manner so vile and treasonous? I’ve known Clarence all my life. He wasn’t always so reprehensible.”

“That is a good question, Your Majesty,” Kevin said. “At first I thought he acted solely out of ego and revenge. But now that I think on how the Unseen has unduly influenced one man, I wonder if others haven’t been unduly influenced as well… ”

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