All I Have to Do

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All I Have to Do

Postby LilJennie » Mon Jun 10, 2019 8:22 pm

All I Have to Do

by LilJennie & Miki Yamuri

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"But Master Greylir," said Jack, "I'm not tired. Why --"

"Apprentices need lots of sleep," said the wizard, taking off his pointed hat
to bare his bald head. "And I have some studying to do. Now be off with
you. I'll see you in the morning. Bright and early, now!" He sat down at his
writing desk and took up his quill pen, waving it at Jack dismissively as he
tugged on his long white beard with his other hand.

Jack sighed and left the tower, going next door to the hut, where his sleeping
chambers were. Master Greylir had been sending him to bed earlier and earlier
over the past few weeks, it seemed. Why, the sun had barely just set --
although, of course, it was getting on toward summer, so it could possibly just
be Jack's imagination.

As he removed his clothes and put on the simple tunic that he customarily slept
in, Jack muttered to himself. "At least the dreams are better when I get more
sleep. It's better than when he used to keep me up late at night and I barely
got any sleep at all."

He fluffed up his straw-filled mattress and lay down, covering himself with a
somewhat tattered blanket. "Maybe I'll dream about a pretty girl." It took him
quite some time to fall asleep, because he was truthfully not tired at all, but
with the room darkened and only the sound of crickets outside, it didn't take
him long to drift away.

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Morning eventually came, after a dream-filled night, but dawn was only just
breaking when Jack was awakened by a knock on the door. That was odd. Master
Greylir usually just walked right in; it was his home that Jack was living in,
after all. And besides, this was far too early. The old wizard usually stayed
up late and slept late. Robbers? No, of course not; why would they knock? And
most robbers knew better than to rob a wizard's house.

Jack got up and opened the door. There stood a very pretty girl indeed. She
looked about fourteen -- the same age as Jack, but she was taller, and she had
beautiful reddish-brown hair, set off well by the cream-colored plain dress she
wore. The crook she carried suggested that she was probably a shepherdess, not
an unusual sight out here in the middle of nowhere, but Jack had never seen her
before. Except ...

"D-didn't I dream about you last night?" Jack asked her. "I mean, good morning,
but I could have sworn that you were ..."

"Oh, so it's your dream girl I am, then?" the girl asked with a wry grin. "I'm
real enough, but I'm here wondering if you've seen a stray sheep. Old Cob is
half blind and loses track of the flock every other day."

"No, haven't seen a sheep, not since I was counting them to fall asleep last
night," said Jack. "Sorry, I should be polite. I'm Jack. It's good to meet
you. I hope you find your sheep. Wait -- maybe I can help." He reached for a
forked stick that Master Greylir had been having him practice with.

"Nice to meet you, Jack. I'm Mariena. Are you going to ... post a very small
sign?"

"No, it's for dowsing," Jack said. "Master Greylir has been trying to teach me
some things."

"Oh, so this is the old wizard's house," Mariena said. "I'd heard there was a
wizard living around here somewhere, but nobody told me this was the place. I
suppose you're his apprentice, then?"

"I try to be," said Jack. "Let's see if I can get it to work ..." After putting
on his sandals and stepping outside, he held the two forked ends of the stick
in his hands, very lightly, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath, inviting
the forces of the universe, or whatever, to talk to him through the stick. He
imagined a sheep.

"I thought this kind of thing was usually supposed to find water," Mariena
commented.

Jack felt something -- and started to slowly walk in the direction that the
stick seemed to be pulling, though it might have been his imagination. "It can
do that, or so Master Greylir says, but it can find anything. It feels like
it's pulling me ... this way." With his eyes closed, he was walking away from
the hut and tower, down a gentle slope into the grasslands that surrounded the
place for miles around. There were hardly even any trees. They'd had to walk
for miles to find the stick.

"Well, I'm impressed so far," said Mariena, following Jack.

"Why?"

"Open your eyes."

Jack opened his eyes. Not far ahead was an entire flock of sheep. A dog ran up
to Mariena, then ran around them both in a circle, stopping to sniff at Jack.

"Oh," Jack said. "I guess it kind of worked."

"You did find sheep," Mariena said. "But you found the sheep that I already
knew where they were."

"Um, what does your sheep look like? Specifically?" Jack asked. "I probably
should've asked before."

"He's got gnarled horns -- like that one, there, only even more twisted, and
the right one is broken at the end. And his left ear has a notch in it."

"OK, let me try this," Jack said. He held the stick out, closed his eyes,
concentrated, and started to move.

After a few minutes, Mariena, who was still following him, said, "Why would Old
Cob come this way? There's a ... oh, I should probably let you concentrate."

"Just please tell me if I'm going to fall into a hole, or the creek, or
something," said Jack.

"You're about to trip over a rock," said Mariena.

Jack stopped and opened his eyes. She hadn't been lying. He'd wandered into a
rocky area that lay some distance to the south of Master Greylir's
house. "Thanks. I don't know why a sheep would come this way either."

"Well, this has been fun, but I ... wait." Mariena climbed up to stand on a
nearby rock and shaded her eyes with one hand. "Oh -- that rascal! I think your
stick worked, Jack." She climbed back down and hurried off ahead. "Come on, Ol'
Cob. Back to the flock." There was a bleating sound.

"This is actually really strange," said Jack. "I was counting sheep to get to
sleep, then I dreamed about a girl who looked an awful lot like you. Am I
having dreams that predict the future?"

"Well, you tell me," said Mariena, guiding the old sheep with her crook, and
tapping him on the behind when he slowed down. "You're the apprentice
wizard. Do apprentice wizards tell the future with their dreams?"

"Master Greylir hasn't said anything about that at all," said Jack. "So far
it's all been about learning to read the ancient languages, and knowing the
names of the stars, and doing his housework."

"Can you teach me the names of the stars?" asked Mariena.

"Some of them," said Jack. "I mean, not now, obviously. When they're out." He
looked at the sky. "Uh, I'd probably better get back. Master Greylir might wake
up soon. I mean, it's not very likely, but when he does get up, he'll have a
fit if I'm not there to bring him his coffee."

"Well, don't get yourself in trouble on my account," said Mariena. "But you'll
be around tonight?"

"I guess you know where to find me," said Jack, "but he has me going to bed
very early lately, not that I know why. Probably some kind of training. Maybe
all apprentice wizards go through it. I don't know."

"Can you sneak out?" asked Mariena with a twinkle in her eye.

"It's ... not going to be easy," Jack said. "Master Greylir stays up late. But
... it might work. If I'm very quiet." He was thinking of ways to make this
happen. He wanted it to.

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That night, after he'd been sent to bed even earlier, or so it seemed at least,
Jack heard a tiny scratching at the door, like a rat chewing on the wood. He
just ignored it and fluffed up his mattress some more. But it happened
again. He went to the door and heard a soft "Psst!" on the other side.

Jack opened the door very quietly, just a bit, and there was Mariena, without
her crook this time. "Thought we could watch the stars a bit," she whispered.

"I was hoping you meant it," Jack whispered back, and opened the door wider,
again very quietly. He'd greased the hinges earlier so they wouldn't
creak. Master Greylir wasn't making a sound, so Jack assumed he was writing at
his desk or whatever he did after Jack went to bed.

Jack softly made his way outside, then closed the door quietly so field mice
wouldn't get in. "Let's go to the place with the rocks," he whispered. "That's
far enough away that there's no way he could hear --"

"JACK!" shouted Master Greylir from the tower window above. "Get to bed this
instant! And tell your girlfriend that you can't go out at night!"

Jack, who had jumped about three feet into the air, replied, "Yes, Master,
sorry Master!"

"Girlfriend?" asked Mariena, looking down at Jack with a grin.

"I haven't said a word to him about you, I swear!" said Jack quietly. "He's
making that up."

"NOW, JACK!" Master Greylir shouted down.

"This might be more difficult than I thought," said Mariena. "Good night,
Jack. I'll see you soon."

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Over the next few weeks, Mariena visited Jack in the early mornings, and he did
teach her the names of some of the stars -- the ones that were visible in the
predawn hour. "Jack," asked Mariena one morning, "this may seem like a strange
question, but are you getting ... shorter?"

"I ... now that you mention it, it has been seeming like my clothes are looser
on me lately," said Jack, "and you do seem taller to me, but I thought you'd
just been growing a little."

"Any peculiar dreams?" Mariena asked.

"Lots," said Jack, "but when the pirates sail up to the tower and make Master
Greylir walk the plank, only he turns out to be the cat, and the plank turns
out to be a table, and the sea turns into an inkwell, and now the cat's a quill
pen, it's hard to tell how much of it is about the future. I did have dreams
about back when I was a small child last night."

"Do you miss your parents?" Mariena asked him.

"Not a lot," Jack said. "My father had to work so much that I barely ever saw
him. I miss my mother, but I haven't seen her for years. I'm the oldest of my
brothers and sisters."

"That's kind of sad," said Mariena. "Is there a way for you to write a letter
to your mother?"

"I don't know how she'd read it," said Jack. "Maybe she could find someone to
read it to her, but nobody in my family ever learned how to read. I'm the first
one, and mostly I'm learning to write in languages that no one speaks anymore."

"Maybe that's what your dream was about, I mean," said Mariena. "You miss your
parents, so you dreamed about when you were a child."

"Maybe," said Jack. "It was better than the dream I had just before waking up
-- or maybe I was already awake? It was ... strange. The world was
different. There were roads everywhere, made of something hard and smooth, and
there were strange metal wagons that people drove on them without any
horses. There were hundreds and hundreds all hustling and bustling in the many
highways and byways as if they were at war. They were swift as the wind and ran
like lightning. And there were boxes that you could look at, like windows, only
they showed you things happening far away, or sometimes things that never
happened at all. But there was a sickness in the land, and everyone who fell
ill -- they got smaller and younger and turned into tiny babies before they
died. And in the dream it happened to me too, except ... then the dream ended,
and I woke up here. And the strangest part is ... I think I've had that dream
before."

"That one's really strange," said Mariena. "I haven't the first idea what that
one might mean."

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Master Greylir sat at his study table in the massive library. The huge tome he
had opened told of a world other than this one, but it wasn't the one he was
interested in, he suspected. He had to find it. This world had arisen from the
ashes of a cataclysm long ago, but something terrible had survived from the
dusty halls of long forgotten times, and he was not strong enough to face it
alone. He needed more power, and soon, before the horror of ages past recovered
its full strength.

He turned the page to read of another world. Meticulously drawn there was a
fabulous city, although, on closer scrutiny of the smaller aspects of the
picture, he saw what appeared to be ... infants ... many infants, all piled in
huge mounds around what appeared to be an apothecary of one sort or another,
from the best he could tell. The picture had been well drawn, probably with
magical assistance, but those details were very small.

He ran his fingers through his long white beard as he thought of Jack. From the
testing Master Greylir had given him thus far, Jack's Meta-μαγεία had the
highest potential he had seen in his many years of wizardry. He also understood
the implications of what he had to do to unlock the massive powers Jack
possessed.

In the morning Master Greylir would again question Jack about his dreams. It
was the only way to know whether his power was awakening as the process went
on. At the same time, he also had to know whether Jack's memories of where he
really came from were reawakening. Master Greylir hoped to learn something
before things went too far.

He closed the book. The page with the infants was suggesting something to
him. There were no adults shown, and the infants were helpless, possibly dying
or dead. Clearly some great tragedy had befallen that world. He wondered about
what it could mean. He stood up and started getting ready for bed, muttering
the protective spells that would guard his home while he slept.

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"And then I dreamed that she would come again, and that she would know what my
dreams meant," Jack said, "and she did. This morning she suggested that maybe
the strange city with the metal wagons and the illness was a memory, not a
dream at all. So perhaps I only have two kinds of dreams, the kind that
foretell the future and the kind that are just ordinary dreams. What do you
think of this, Master?"

Master Greylir scratched his bearded chin. "There are those who merely foretell
the future, and those who shape it," he said. "Which would you wish to be?"

"Well, I suppose we all shape the future, in a way," said Jack. "If a mason
builds a wall, that wall is there, on into the future. And if a barbarian comes
and breaks down that wall, he has also shaped the future. A king could give a
command causing thousands of walls to be built, so he would shape the future
even more. But then, even if I built a pile of stones, wouldn't that be the
same thing, just smaller?"

"You speak of degrees," said Master Greylir, "but you do not answer my
question. Would you rather know the future or make it?"

"What I mean, Master, is that no one can help shaping the future," said
Jack. "Doesn't anything anyone does do that? But not many can know the
future. Some can guess well, I suppose. So I would rather know the
future. That's what I say."

"Hmm," Master Greylir replied, "I'm not sure you fully understand my
question. But more of this another time. Have you ever heard of the Falak,
which is imprisoned beneath the Realm of Fire?"

"No, Master, but this sounds like another ancient legend," Jack said.

"Perhaps, but perhaps not," said Master Greylir. "The Falak is a creature of
ash, said to have burned all the world to ash, until the greatest heroes and
kings, the sons and daughters of the gods, fought it and chained it beneath the
fire that lies below the world. But the legend says that one day it will escape
and once again burn the world to ash."

"Are you ... worried that this might be true, Master?" asked Jack.

"I have been seeing troubling omens and portents," said Master Greylir. "But
have you been having any dreams of such a thing?"

"No, I haven't," said Jack. "But ... I remember reading books about legends
... except they weren't legends of this world ... I don't understand it,
Master."

"I wish to understand it," said the old wizard. "But I don't know if there is
enough time. Here, read this book. You should know enough of the language it's
in by now. It tells of the legend. Maybe it'll jog your memory. At the very
least, you'll know what I'm talking about." He had taken a heavy tome from the
shelf and set it down on a table before Jack.

"Uh, very well, Master, I will see if I can read it." Jack opened the book
carefully and started trying to make out the ancient handwriting.

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Jack dreamed. The creature was hundreds of miles away, and yet he could already
feel its searing heat. He climbed a hill to see it, and even though it was
distant, it burned so hot that to look at it threatened to set his eyes ablaze,
so he had to climb back down after one glimpse. But everything he had seen was
either in flames or already ashes. He didn't know where Mariela or Master
Greylir were. He felt helpless. He looked down at himself, and he was a small
child, little older than a toddler.

No! His fears had followed him into his dreams. There was no monster, no Falak,
just a calm clear day with perhaps a little mist that the ordinary warm sun
would burn away by noon. Maybe Mariela would come to see him before his master
woke up.

With this denial, his dream changed, and it was so. He dreamed of a pleasant
day, and of Mariela coming to see him, but when she arrived he was still a
small child, and she played with him as any girl would play with any little
child, picking him up and swinging him around and singing to him. She changed
his diaper and fed him porridge and wiped his face clean. He wanted to be her
friend, not her baby! He woke up.

And in the state between sleeping and waking, he had another vision, where the
sickness was turning everyone to babies around him, including himself, and he
was so hungry and small and helpless, and once again he refused to let it be,
and the dream changed around him. A scratching at the door woke him up fully.

"Just a moment," he whispered loudly, putting on his leggings and shirt. He
quietly opened the door to find Mariela. He looked up at her face, then looked
down at himself -- with relief he saw that he wasn't a baby, but he was rather
short. He looked like he was eight years old, in his own opinion. Somehow he
didn't remember what he had looked like at eight years of age.

"You are definitely getting smaller," said Mariela. "Are you sure your master
the wizard isn't casting spells on you? Or that your dream of the illness that
makes people turn back into babies isn't really a memory?"

"The illness was contagious," Jack said. "You'd be getting younger too. Hey,
did you ever hear a story about a monster called the Falak?"

"Burned the world up, long ago?" she asked. "My grandfather used to tell me
that one. Along with the big fish that the world rides on. Except it's actually
on the back of a cow that's standing on the fish."

"That's the one," said Jack. "Master said he was seeing omens that it might
come back. He made me read a book about the legend -- it had the fish and the
cow in it too. And I had a dream about the monster. Probably because of reading
that book."

"Well, let's hope your dream isn't one of those ones that foretells the
future," said Mariela. "But yes, it's probably because of that book. Want to go
down by the creek?"

"Sure!" said Jack, putting his sandals on. His feet were definitely smaller in
them now.

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Mariela shook her head as she looked at the overly large clothes Jack now had
on. He definitely looked like a 7 or 8 year old child playing dress-up. Mariela
held out a small bundle and said softly, "I don't have any clothes for boys,
but I do have these and they will fit you ... at least for today. Besides, no
one will know you're not a little girl, since you've shrunk so much."

Jack opened the bundle; it was a little girl's woodland outfit with a pair of
moccasins. Jack blushed several shades of red before he said, "I ... I'm not so
sure ..."

Mariela hurried Jack back towards his cottage as she admonished, "It's either
that, or you will be nude. What you have on is way too big for you, and those
will fit properly ... at least for a little while."

Even with Jack's protests, Mariela helped the now small boy take off the overly
large clothes, then she dressed him as a proper little girl. By the time
Mariela had finished, Jack was dressed almost exactly the same way she was, but
in a smaller size. Jack was incredulous as he looked at himself in the divining
mirror. What he saw looking back didn't look like the Jack he'd seen this
morning, but a very pretty little girl staring back, her eyes wide in wonder.

"Most people don't think about it, but boys and girls really don't look all
that different before they hit puberty," Mariela said. "Why would they? I guess
Master Greylir doesn't have your hair cut very often. With the right clothes,
that makes you look like a girl to people around here, but they say that in
some countries both boys and girls have long hair by custom."

"And Master Greylir doesn't get his own hair cut very often -- but then he's
got a long beard too, and he's bald on top," said Jack, still staring at his
image in the mirror. "I think he just doesn't think hair matters."

"Well, he's a wizard," said Mariela, as the two walked down toward the creek
through the dew-covered grass. "He's probably got very important wizardy
matters to think about."

"He wanted me to read that one book about the monster, the Falak, and he thinks
it's going to wake up again, but he didn't say why. Is it just ... in the stars
or something?" wondered Jack. "Or is somebody waking it up -- somebody evil?
And what's that got to do with me? I kind of think he's making me younger
somehow, and he wants me to do something about it."

"He can do that?" asked Mariela. "Why doesn't he make himself young, then, if
he can do that kind of magic? Wouldn't being a young man be better than being
an old man?"

"I wish I knew," said Jack. "He says spells have consequences, and that's why
he doesn't use magic for cleaning the house or washing the dishes. But if he is
casting spells to make me younger, wouldn't there be consequences to that?"

The two of them sat on a small bridge over the creek, their legs dangling above
the water. "I had some kind of dream last night too," said Mariela. "It was
about that world you told me about -- where there are metal wagons, and metal
birds that fly in the sky, and cities of metal and glass and stone. And they go
into shops and pay for things not with gold and silver, but with pieces of
paper. Or sometimes odd little cards made of ... I don't know what it is. It's
softer than metal but harder than paper."

"There are things I never told you about that world, but you know them anyway,"
said Jack. "Why is that? Did you dream about the plague?"

"The illness that made people seem to get younger," said Mariela, nodding. "I
was an adult, and I got sick, and I was sneezing and being sick and had a
fever, and all the while I was getting smaller. And then ... I woke up."

"I kind of remember I was a baby," said Jack. "And I was so helpless, and
people were all babies around me. There was nobody to feed us or take care of
us. Some of us were dying, including me. And then ... I don't remember anything
else. Except wishing things were different."

"Did it work?" asked Mariela. "Wishing, I mean."

"I ... don't know?" answered Jack. "I don't know what happens after that."

"What if ... what if you changed the world?" asked Mariela. "What if you're
magical, and you made a wish, and the world changed to be like this instead?"
She gestured around them with an arm.

"I guess I'd have wanted it to be better," said Jack. "But if I had that kind
of power, why would I have made it a world with a terrible Falak monster
getting ready to wake up and burn it all up?"

"I don't know," said Mariela. "Maybe ... no world can be perfect. But I have a
question."

"What's that?"

"Did you dream about me?" she asked. "I mean, was I in your dream? Or, if you
changed everything, did you make me exist? Out of nowhere?"

"I ... don't know," said Jack. "You are ... kind of vaguely familiar, but
everything about my memories are vague. And what about my mother and father and
brothers and sisters?"

"Do you know all their names?" asked Mariela. "I mean, tell me about them."

"My mother's name is ... uh ..." Jack paused, then looked almost as if he were
going to cry. "Mariela! I can't remember my mother's name!"

"Oh, don't worry, Jack!" she said, hugging him. "It's probably all just my
imagination. You probably didn't remake the world with super powerful magic. I
probably just had the dream because of what you've told me."

"What if all those people aren't alive, and it's my fault?" Jack asked. "I
... guess I didn't kill them; the plague did that. But I didn't bring them
back, either, and what if I could have?"

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Master Greylir tossed in his sleep, dreaming. "Julius Greylir, M.D.," said the
sign on his door. He was already feeling the effects of the virus that had been
quickly spreading throughout the population. According to the Internet, it was
worldwide now. He himself looked like a teenager instead of being over 60. He
felt terrible, with a fever, night sweats, sneezing, and bouts of nausea. But
he had to keep working, hoping to find a cure for the disease that he was
worried he might have released into the general public.

Master Greylir sat up in bed with a start. He was soaked through with a cold
sweat and felt a chill as the familiar room came into focus. He threw back the
covers and hurried through the halls to the study. The coolness of the chair
through the thin nightshirt he had on didn't faze him as he opened a very old
and solidly bound tome he had sitting on the table.

He opened to the almost center of the book and studied one of the full page
drawings he had looked over before. He snatched up the magnifying glass and
stand, then placed it over the picture and played with the focal length. Master
Greylir mouth fell open as his eyes grew large in total surprise. A chill of
fear ran up and down his spine.

Master Greylir waved his hand over his divining sphere. Within the clear
crystal a fog began to swirl and mix many colors until a picture resolved of an
older girl and what appeared to be her younger sister came into sharp
focus. Master Greylir said a small curse as he banged his fists on the table.

"I demand to see a picture of Jack ... not of 2 young girls."

The sphere flared brightly as the picture of the smaller of the 2 girls came
into sharp focus. Master Greylir mouth fell open as he began to worry that he
had caused an even greater plague to being on this world ... as the one he was
almost positive he had destroyed.

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"It's true, I'm the youngest of my siblings," said Mariela, "so none of my
brothers' clothes are left. All I've got are my old clothes."

"I just wish I didn't look so much like a girl," Jack said. "Oh well. Nobody
ever comes this way, and if anybody ever does, they'll just think I'm a girl."

"Jack! Where are you?" came Master Greylir's voice from some distance away. "I
know you're somewhere in this vicinity. I don't care what you're wearing. We
must talk! It's important!"

Jack froze. "What do I do?" he asked Mariela.

"I'll go find him," she said, getting up. "But he did say he doesn't care what
you're wearing ... which means he knows. Does he have some kind of crystal ball
or something wizardy like that?"

"Yeah, he's got one of those," said Jack. "I can't move. I'm literally
petrified with embarrassment."

"Well, all you have to do is wait here. I'll be right back." Mariela went
looking for the old wizard.

A few minutes later she was back. Jack hadn't even stood up. "Jack," she said,
"he says that clothing and such fripperies are immaterial."

"That does sound like him," said Jack. "I ... OK. Let me get up ... oh." He was
midway through standing up when he saw Master Greylir standing next to Mariela
at the end of the foot bridge.

"Look, my boy, we've got much bigger things to worry about than some
clothing. Thank you, young lady, for lending my apprentice some clothes that
fit. I've got some matters to address here -- I mean, some very important
things to talk about. I should show you. So let's go home."

"Can I come too?" asked Mariela.

"Can she?" asked Jack, looking up at Master Greylir, who looked absolutely
towering to him now.

"I suppose she lives here too," said the wizard. "And when I find you some
clothes that fit, you can give her back the ones you borrowed. But let's be
off. I'm not as quick as I used to be, so the sooner we get started, the sooner
we'll get home." He turned and started walking slowly back toward the tower,
leaning on his walking stick.

Some time later, after they had all been spelled past the protective wards on
the tower, Master Greylir showed them the book, which was still lying open on
the table. "This is a work by Granthalus Lancaster, the great court mage of the
Eastern Kingdom, around eight hundred years ago or so. He is said to have made
a study of other worlds, places that only magic can take you to. Here, take the
glass and see if you find this picture familiar at all."

Jack picked up the magnifying glass and looked closely. The image was far more
detailed than any drawing by any artist, so it must have been created with
magic. But it stunned Jack with its familiarity. "Master ... this is the world
I remember. They're not dreams. They're memories. They don't come when I'm
asleep."

"I ... think I dream of this world as well," said Mariela. "Or ... instead."

"You as well?" asked Master Greylir, arching an eyebrow. "How unusual. I doubt
it's a coincidence. You're not lying, are you?"

"What?" asked Mariela, a bit indignantly. "No! Why would I do that?"

"I apologize, young lady; I've only just met you, so I have no idea who you
are. Now then, there's the matter of the creature known as the Falak."

"Oh, right, lives at the very bottom of the world, below the fire that's below
the water that the giant fish swims in," said Mariela.

"The legend is rather well-known," said the wizard. "What is less well-known is
that it is said that it will come again to destroy the world in fire, this time
for the last time. It was imprisoned by the great heroes of the land, but they
are all gone now. And, more disturbingly, the lock on its prison is said to be
easily opened by anyone who looks upon it. I have been seeing omens that are
most dire -- a comet in the heavens, great flights of vultures, inauspicious
conjunctions of the planets. It could already have been released."

"What can we do?" asked Jack, his voice sounding tinier than ever.

"You have certainly noticed that you are getting smaller," said Master
Greylir. "This is not by accident. You have some sort of power locked within
you, and it grows only weaker as you grow older. I have been ... reversing
that. The younger you become, the more powerful you are, until you will finally
be able to reshape the world with but a thought -- but this comes at a
price. Every year I take from you is added to my age. It's just that the
difference between, say, four and five years of age is much more noticeable
than the difference between 62 and 63."

"I'm four years old?" asked Jack, panicking.

"Not yet, but you will be, and younger still. There is no other way. This world
and everyone in it will die unless you do. You might be the only force in the
world strong enough to defeat the Falak."

"Wait, you said I'm powerful now," said Jack. "Maybe I could do it now, before
I get younger. I don't want to be a baby!"

"I don't want to risk it," said the wizard. "There is too much at stake."

"What's this sign say?" asked Mariela, examining the picture in the book with
the magnifying glass. "I think this is a window. It looks like some sort of
... apothecary shop."

Jack was still sitting on the edge of the table, so he turned to look. "It says
... Dr. Greylir, M.D." Turning toward his master, he asked, "You ... were in
that world too?"

"I have also been having nightmares," the wizard said. "Terrible ones. In them,
I am a doctor. Trying to heal the sick, I inadvertently unleash a plague the
likes of which the world has never seen. And ... I fear that these nightmares
may be true. I do not wish for the fate of another world to rest on my
shoulders, yet I fear it may again be the case. If this is so, I will not allow
more deaths on my conscience."

"I'm ... I'm going to be a baby," said Jack, looking at Mariela. "I don't want
to be a baby again. Last time I was a baby ... I died. Almost."

"But there was a time before that when you were a baby, and you didn't," said
Mariela. "Poor Jack. But I'll take care of you. You're my friend. And when this
is over, you can grow up again. Maybe even the magic way."

"This dress is already big on me," Jack said. "It's still happening?"

"I'm afraid so," said Master Greylir. "It's an ongoing process. But let me see
about conjuring you something more comfortable." He took out his wand and
uttered an incantation in an ancient tongue. Suddenly Mariela's old outfit that
Jack had been wearing was in a neatly folded stack next to him, while Jack was
wearing a short white shirt and a thick breechcloth pinned around his waist and
between his legs.

"A diaper? But Master ..." Jack was again embarrassed beyond belief.

"Your body will only grow younger and more helpless, I'm afraid," said Master
Greylir. "But there is no other way that I know of."

"Can we ... look and make sure the Falak is still locked away?" asked
Mariela. "You've got a crystal ball and everything. What if there's no hurry?"

"I can do so," said Master Greylir, uncovering his divination sphere. "It is
far, far below -- much more difficult than finding Jack at the creek. But the
Falak is unique in all the world, and I have read every book about it. I see
... I see the water. I see the caverns beneath. I see the molten rock of the
Realm of Fire. And beneath that realm ... I see a great door, bound with
ensorcelled alchemical alloys, its lock the work of the craftmasters of
old. The lock cannot be opened from within, at the price of being easily opened
from without ... oh dear."

"What? What's that mean? Oh dear?" asked Jack. "Master?"

"Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no," said Master Greylir.

"What is it?" asked Mariela. "Out with it, wizard. Are we all going to die?"

"But every translation said that the lock was easily opened by any who look
upon it," Master Greylir muttered, his face pale with shock. "Never did I
imagine that it was a mistranslation ... it must mean that the lock is easily
opened by the mere act of anyone looking upon it ... it is in total darkness
... but the crystal can see in darkness ..."

"What?" repeated Jack. "Master! Did the door open? Master?"

"I'm ... afraid so," said Master Greylir. "It will be only a matter of time
before the creature discovers it is free. And then ... it will emerge."

"And all the people in all the cities and nations of this world ..." said
Mariela.

"Master! What do I do?" asked Jack, his voice tiny. "I'm powerful, right? I'll
be able to change the world with a thought. Start thinking, Jack ... think of a
super strong door, think of the Falak being the size of a kitten, think of the
Falak not being real ..."

The earth beneath them began to shake. They all looked at each other with wide
eyes. Then it stopped.

"The first of the tremors," said Master Greylir. "It will not be the last."

----------------------------------------------------------------

In a place filled with fire, ash, and the horrid smells of hydrogen sulfide,
sulfur, and other noxious smelling gasses, huge bleary eyes slowly opened after
uncounted eons of slumber.

The great serpent wiggled and stretched, causing a massive earth tremor felt
across every one of the world's realms. It inhaled, creating a huge tornado of
fire, then exhaled, producing a gout of flame that would put a supernova to
shame.

It could feel it: the seal had been broken after long last. As always there was
only one thought on its microscopic mind: burn the world. It had only a vague
notion of how long it had been imprisoned or by whom. It only knew that its
purpose was to destroy, and it had been prevented from doing this, frustrating
it for an eon.

At this thought, an anger rose from the stygian dark of this creature's
soul. It would burn any and all things in its path. Nothing but ash would
remain. The huge creature flexed its mighty wings, creating yet another massive
quake. Fire swirled and roared hotter in the gale it created around itself.

----------------------------------------------------------------

The earth had shaken multiple times since the first time. Jack was now the size
of a toddler, and he and Mariela had retreated within Master Greylir's
tower. From atop its heights the old wizard and Mariela took turns constantly
searching the horizon for any sign of the Falak's emergence. No one knew where
it would break through to the surface.

The tower shook again. "I-is that the creature digging through the ground?"
Jack asked in his now tiny voice.

"No, Jack, I'm afraid that is the effect of the Falak swimming upward through
the Realm of Fire and emerging into the great ocean beneath the world," said
Master Greylir. "Its intense heat is boiling the water. The giant fish the
world rides on is probably writhing in agony, and the steam pressure is
building. Cracks are developing in the world's bedrock. Eventually one of them
will reach the surface and release all that steam in a tremendous explosion. I
hope it isn't under us. The Falak will probably come up through that crack
after that happens."

"I'm trying to make it stop, I'm trying," said Jack. "I'm just ... so tired
..."

"You will be young enough soon, my boy," the wizard said. "Then ... I don't
know what will happen, but all I can do is hope that it'll be better than the
alternative."

There was no answer. Jack had fallen asleep.

Instead of an earth tremor, Jack dreamed of a distant thunderstorm, in
long-past times in another world. The rain here was falling gently, softly, and
the flashes of lightning were so far away that the thunder, when it eventually
came, could barely be heard. Days like this were Jack's favorite -- the gentle
patter of rain on the roof, the knowledge that the thunder and lightning were
far away, the coziness of home.

Mariela came down from the top of the tower. "It's raining all of a sudden,"
she said. "I've never seen a storm roll in so fast. But at least the worst of
it is far away. No lightning near here."

"I wonder," said Master Greylir. "Is it the monster ... or is it Jack?"

"I was thinking," said Mariela. "You're saying that Jack created this world?
Why would he create it with a terrible monster under it that was going to
destroy everything?"

"A very good question," said the wizard quietly. "He came from a world under
threat. Possibly there is no way to entirely eliminate that threat, only change
it into another form. Or possibly the Falak represents his anger or frustration
at what happened. Or ... and this possibility I have been considering carefully
... it is possible that Jack's alteration of the world can only occur in
dreams."

"Then this sudden storm is ...?"

"The very least he is capable of. It appeared only when he fell asleep. And in
dreams, one is not really in control of what transpires ..."

"Wow ..." said Mariela, thinking about what could happen. "But ... I have
another question. We were in his last world. I'm pretty sure of that. You and
me. Why are we here too? Are there others? Why did he make sure we were close
to him?"

"We aren't the only ones," said the wizard. "In my travels to the cities of the
world I have met many who seem to remember another life in a world like the one
Jack remembers. As for why he chose us ... he may have learned that the plague
began with me. The way this is playing out, with me releasing the Falak, may be
his symbolism for that. As for you ... is it possible that you were someone he
knew?"

"How old was he?" asked Mariela. "I didn't know anyone named Jack ..."

"When he first came to my tower, he was 16 years old," said Master
Greylir. "And he was afraid, as if someone were chasing him or looking for
him. I suggested he go by another name. In time we both just got used to
calling him Jack. I believe his old name was ... Peter? But I wouldn't use that
name around him. It may bring up bad memories."

"Peter?" Mariela was surprised. "I've had dreams that I had a boyfriend named
Peter, in that other place. But ... Jack has always looked so much younger ..."

"Is it possible that he and your boyfriend are one and the same?" asked the
wizard. "If so, it would explain why you are here, and so nearby. He
unconsciously rescued you, and kept you near him."

"Peter ..." said Mariela. "I don't remember that much, but he was kind, and
generous, and very clever ..."

----------------------------------------------------------------

The creature was known as the Falak, but it did not know this. It clawed and
bit at the stone at the bottom of the world as the maelstrom of flame and steam
around it churned up the water and tore at the foundations. It was unharmed by
heat, of course, but the pressure was painful, and both heat and pressure
harmed the enormous fish and the equally enormous bull that stood on the fish's
back, holding up the world. They struggled against the heat and pressure, and
sometimes against the Falak itself when it decided to lash out at them, but
they were as indestructible as it was. The only thing it could destroy was the
world above, so that was what it struck against, again and again.

Suddenly the Falak felt the rock above it heal, the cracks closing, keeping the
pressure at bay for now. Infuriated, the creature struck harder and harder, but
it was as if some great force were keeping it at arm's length. But, tireless,
the creature kept trying.

----------------------------------------------------------------

"Jack?" asked Mariela's voice, as he woke up again. "Jack, were you dreaming
about rain?"

"Rain," said Jack. "Yeah ... it was home, and the rain was cool and soft, and
the danger was far away."

"Master Greylir thinks you made it rain with your dream," she told him, and he
looked out a window to see the gray sky and the gentle rain falling
outside. "He thinks your power to change the world comes from your dreams. He
thinks you were born with it, but it didn't manifest until you almost died from
the plague."

"I'm -- not sure how I can save the world with dreams," Jack said. "How do you
control what you dream about?"

"Master Greylir might be able to do it, with magic," Mariela said. "But
... remember, he's got a lot of intense guilt. I don't know if letting him
control your dreams is a good idea."

"I don't know either," said Jack. "If I'm really as powerful as all that, it
would mean he could make the world into anything he wants ... isn't there
another way? A way I can learn to control my own dreams?"

"I don't know, especially in the time we have left," Mariela said. "But ... if
your dreams can do anything, couldn't they give you the power to control them?"

----------------------------------------------------------------

Jack was dreaming again, but he didn't know it. All he knew was that there was
danger all around, near and far. And it took form.

He was riding in an airplane -- he knew what that was, in his dream. It was one
of the metal birds that flew in the sky, carrying people inside, like a flying
wagon. But there was a dangerous man inside the airplane too. He had a weapon
and was threatening people with it. It was some kind of blade. And outside, the
airplane was flying toward a storm.

As the madman made demands, Jack thought there was something familiar about all
of this. But then the airplane flew closer to the storm, and the whole thing
began to shake.

----------------------------------------------------------------

"I ... can't make contact," said the wizard, his hands on either side of the
sleeping Jack's head. The toddler Jack tossed and turned in his sleep, clearly
having a nightmare.

The wizard struggled hard as his concentration deepened. He could feel a pain
begin in the back of his head and spread through to the third eye location in
the center of his forehead, where it then began to get hot. Mariela's eyes grew
large with surprise, as she could have sworn she could see some kind of smoke
or vapor begin to rise from the center of the Wizard's forehead.

Finally, just before the pain became too great for him to stand, he began to
see a hazy image of some sort of lighted round coach containing 2 aisles of
seated individuals, all screaming. The image was hazy, but the wizard could
tell the coach was being tossed around, while several large men held another
smaller man to the ground. Just before the wizard's connection broke, he saw
one of the large men hit the restrained one very hard in the face, knocking him
unconscious, and breaking his nose.

The wizard let go and fell back several steps as he gasped for breath. Between
his eyes he now had a rather large blister that actually looked as if something
had burned him there. The wizard said with a tired voice, "I saw something of
what he was dreaming. I'm not certain exactly what it was I was looking
at. Jack is powerful, and it's become very hard to break through his magical
defenses when he's having bad dreams."

"What do we do?" asked Mariela.

"It's a dream, so normally I'd say we should let it run its course, because it
will end soon enough," said the wizard. "But in Jack's case, his dreams can
shake the foundations of reality. I ... don't know what to do."

----------------------------------------------------------------

In his dream, Jack saw the situation on board the airplane deteriorating. The
plane shook and lurched as some of the stronger passengers tried to subdue the
man with the knife, but some of them were wounded and bloody. But then ... Jack
had a strange feeling, as if he weren't the only one in his head. With a start,
Jack woke up. He was unable to sit up due to his infantile state, but he could
still do something else ... he started to cry.

Mariela felt a stab in her heart as she went to the infant Jack and picked him
to her breast. She patted his bottom softly as she cooed, "There, there. It was
only a dream. Everything is all right, Sweetie."

Jack managed to stop crying because of the wonderful feelings of safety and
contentedness from being in Mariela's arms. He finally said, in his cute, tiny
voice, "Was so scawy ... was a bad man an' evewyfing was shakin'. Could sorta
feels .. someone watchin' me too." With this, Jack started to suck his thumb
energetically.

Master Greylir raised his eyebrow and tugged on his beard thoughtfully for a
bit, then said, "I was the one watching. At least, I tried to. I wanted to tell
you that you had the power to change what was happening. It may have been
... symbolic of the predicament we are in." The earth shook again, by now a
commonplace occurrence.

Jack sniffled a bit, then replied, "It was a plane. It flyded through tha
air. Made big grumbly growly roar when it goeded. There wasa mans ... he
... umm ... wanteda stealsa pwane I thunks. Made everyone scareded ... cept tha
sky outside was angry and starteda makesa pwane shakes."

"A distant threat, and a nearby threat, eh?" asked Master Greylir. "Perhaps the
shaking of the vehicle was a dream representation of the earthquakes and the
threat of the Falak, but then there was this man, this criminal, being subdued
by the other passengers. What danger does he represent?"

"Dunno," said Jack, but both he and Mariela looked at Master Greylir with
concern.

"At any rate, you must sleep and dream again if you are to bring your power to
bear against this predicament," the wizard said. "However, it is past time that
I renew the binding spell that prevents the tower from collapsing due to all
these tremors. It has taken a great deal of damage and is becoming frayed. We
would be in great physical peril if the spell were to expire. Meanwhile, I will
think about this." He left via the staircase to a lower level of the tower.

"He's gone," said Mariela. "Sleep now. It's safe. I'll sing to you." She rocked
him in her arms and sang him an old song from the lowlands ... which Jack
realized he had somehow brought into existence, the lowlands, its people, and
even their songs. He drifted off ...

The people were running all around him, screaming in terror. Where was he? The
volcano near the city was spewing great clouds of fire and ash into the
air. "He's locked the gates!" someone shouted.

It looked like something from the ancient world. Stone buildings with columns
trembled as the earth shook. He knew where the city gates were and ran toward
them, the crowd around him growing denser as he went. Finally the gates were in
sight, but they were closed. Some sort of ruler was on a platform near them, in
his white and purple toga and his green laurel wreath upon his head. The crowd
advanced on his platform angrily, but he was shouting at them, trying to
explain. Something about the air was making it hard to breathe; perhaps there
were poisonous gases pouring from the volcano, miles away, but they were only
now reaching this city. Jack knew this story. Everyone was going to die,
including him.

But somewhere he could hear a voice. "Shh, it's all right, you're safe, you can
fix things," she said. "You can fix everything. I believe in you."

Jack realized that it was a dream. His dream. He wasn't going to die. And
neither was anyone else. His first thought was that the city gates weren't
strong enough to keep all these people in. In fact, they were probably pretty
old and worn, and hadn't been very strong even when they were new. And surely
enough, the iron gates' hinges pulled free of their moorings under the pressure
of the crowd, and the gates fell, people stepping on them as they poured out
through the archway into the lands beyond. The people were hemmed in on one
side by the sea, but they could move down the coast away from the volcano, so
they might survive.

His second thought was that perhaps he could do something about the
volcano. Perhaps its eruption was over, he thought. Perhaps its power was
spent, and it would go back to slumber in dormancy. The wind could blow the
gases and falling ash away toward the sea. And then a wind did arise, blowing
strongly from the west and pushing the ashfall eastward. The volcano stood, but
the earth no longer shook. The eruption was over.

As for the crazed leader on his platform, the people had given up trying to
climb up to him when the gates had fallen. He brushed himself off and climbed
down, then escaped out the archway as everyone else had.

Jack opened his eyes.

"That was amazing," said Mariela. "I just whispered encouraging things to you,
and look, the earth's stopped shaking. What did you dream about?" Jack
haltingly explained his dream, and Mariela replied, "That's ... actually very
amazing, Jack. I think the volcano was probably the big monster thing, while
the guy in the toga was probably supposed to be Master Greylir, but ... in the
end he decided the people were right. I wonder what that means."

Coming back up the stairs, Master Greylir asked, "Hm? Was there another dream?
Things seem calmer for now."

"Jack stopped an erupting volcano," said Mariela. "And there was a corrupt
leader of some kind keeping everyone from escaping."

"I ... must see the crystal," the wizard said, looking into his divination
stone. "The ... the Falak ... it's gone to sleep ... for now, at least. It
still burns, but it no longer thrashes against the foundations of the world. We
may have a little time yet."

"How hard is it to put a legendary super-monster to sleep?" asked Mariela.

"There has never been a wizard or witch with the power to do such a thing,"
said Master Greylir. "It is said that the great trickster Kristiga was talented
enough to sing the Mother of Dragons into slumber for long enough to steal the
Ring of Torogar, but even Tiamat, Mother of Dragons, was tiny compared to the
Falak."

"So Jack could still defeat it," Mariela said, looking down at Jack, who was
sleeping peacefully now.

"His power continues to grow," said the wizard. "But I fear that the Falak will
be absolutely furious when it awakens."

----------------------------------------------------------------

In a place filled with fire and obnoxious smelling fumes, a large bleary eye
opened slowly. It knew something was terribly wrong as it remembered being
suddenly asleep in the midst of its most devastating attempt so far to free
itself and go on its prophesied fiery rampage.

The huge serpent slowly looked around its huge cavern and realized the flames
had actually died down and were much cooler than they were supposed to have
been. So much so, in fact, that the creature felt slightly chilly, although we
would not have thought such a thing, as hot as this realm was.

It leaned its head back and let out a gout of flame that would have made any
supernova proud and rekindled the dying embers of its home once again. The
Falak was absolutely furious over whatever had caused this to happen. Not only
that, but whatever it was had actually put a stop to its escape attempt -- for
now.

The Falak roared an angry roar as it flapped his wings and began pounding on
the rock above it once again. In another place far removed from here, a place
more recognizable to all of us, a volcano that had been dormant for a few days
-- and for centuries before that -- suddenly erupted once again with even more
fury. Massive amounts of lava spewed from the mountain, and a huge dark cloud
of gases and debris was cast high into the atmosphere. Massive pyroclasts
rained down for many miles around and exploded like bombs as raging fires began
to spread. The earth began to tremble once again as the Falak did its very best
to leave its realm and go on a rampage to set all the world ablaze once again.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Mariela had just fed Jack an afternoon bottle and laid him in his crib for a
nap. She sat and patted his poofy bottom softly as she hummed a sweet lullaby.

Master Greylir came down the stairs. "I think our time of respite is over," he
said. "There was a great explosion in the forest to the west -- a few days'
journey from here, and separated from us by several rivers and lakes, but that
forest is now on fire. I suspect that an old dormant volcano in that area is no
longer dormant, and I further suspect that it is the doing of the Falak." They
both felt the ground begin to tremble as the skies darkened with the ebony
black soot from the eruption.

The wizard approached the crib where Jack slept. "He is ... asleep again?" he
asked.

"Yes, for now. I don't think he's dreaming yet," Mariela replied.

"I must do something," said the wizard. "My crystal shows me that a fissure has
appeared off the Halioran coast, and the sea is pouring into it. It is
widening, and at this rate it could swallow the city of Halius within a matter
of days. The next fissure could open right beneath us."

"But what can you do?" Mariela asked.

"I ... don't know," said Greylir. "But I woke the beast. I unwittingly
fulfilled the prophecy. It is weighing heavily upon me that I must make
amends."

"Just don't hurt Jack," said Mariela.

"I ... well, if I did, what would it benefit anyone? He is our last hope. But
... he must learn to use his power before it is too late." The wizard
paused. "Perhaps ..." He went to his bookshelf and took down an ancient
scroll. "This is written in a language so ancient that the translation is mere
conjecture -- there are only a handful of other texts written in it. But over
the years I have been trying, though using magic to translate magic is fraught
with error." He paused.

"What's wrong?" asked Mariela.

"We have only been here for a few months, in reality," said Greylir. "My spells
say so. But they also say that this world is tens of thousands of years old, at
least. Yet somehow I have been working on translating this scroll for years. It
is ... confusing. At any rate ... one spell listed here makes a connection
between minds -- or so I believe." He took the scroll to his workbench and
began mixing ingredients and chanting unintelligible words.

"Well, I just hope he doesn't hurt you, Jack," said Mariela. "It's going to be
OK," she said, moving closer to the crib and its sleeping occupant.

----------------------------------------------------------------

"Don't you see?" the scientist asked, pointing his laser pointer at the
chart. "The evidence is clear. Human industry has released too much carbon into
the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. The world's climate is changing,
destabilizing, and on the average, warming. If we don't want to see more
massive hurricanes and floods, we have to invest in better ways to meet our
energy needs."

The bald man sitting next to Jack stood and shouted, "But I've heard dozens of
your colleagues disagree! They said there wasn't enough evidence to come to any
such conclusion! And furthermore, they mentioned you by name, saying that you
were a hysterical crackpot!" Jack somehow knew that this man had grown rich
extracting and selling fossil fuels to energy-hungry developing economies
around the world, and that he had paid these so-called colleagues to say these
things.

The lights in the huge auditorium flickered, and the sound of rain on the roof
grew louder. Thunder boomed and shook the building. But Jack somehow heard a
voice from somewhere whisper, "It's going to be OK."

----------------------------------------------------------------

Master Greylir dipped a finger into the mixture he had made and reached into
the crib, drawing a crude symbol on Jack's forehead with the thick reddish oil
and softly chanting words that Mariela couldn't understand. He sat down nearby,
leaned back, and did not stop chanting as he drew the same symbol on his own
forehead. Suddenly his eyes rolled back into his head and his body stiffened as
if he were having a seizure.

"Master Greylir? Are you all right?" Mariela asked, but the wizard did not
respond, sitting rigidly in his large chair. She got a cleaning rag ready. "I'm
wiping that thing off if it looks like it's hurting you, Jack." The earth shook
again.

----------------------------------------------------------------

"You're not serious!" shouted someone else in the audience at the bald
man. "Everyone knows who you are! You have a vested interest in ignoring the
truth! But what good will all your money do you when everything comes crashing
down?" The lights flickered again, and there was another great thunderclap,
while the wind outside howled like a huge beast.

Jack wasn't sure what to do, but suddenly he felt as if he weren't alone again,
as he'd felt on the airplane. "It's me, Jack," said Master Greylir's
voice. "You have the power, but you must learn to use it. Use it to teach
yourself how to use it. Dream about learning how to change the world with your
dreams. Dream about already knowing how."

And Jack realized that he somehow did already know how. He was somehow outside
the large building, in the rain, watching the lightning and the tornadoes in
the distance, coming this way. The wind whipped around him, the rain slashing
down. But he knew this was a dream. He could change it. With a thought the sky
grew clear, and the setting sun shone upon them. Everyone who had been inside
the building was now out here with him. The scientist said to Jack, "That
... isn't supposed to be possible. But I just saw it happen."

"Here, see now?" said the bald man to Jack. "Just make things the way you want,
and nobody has to worry about anything. I can go on making money, and the world
can go on the way it always has. Maybe you can dream some more oil into the
ground, too."

"The Falak, Jack," said Master Greylir's voice. "These people are all dreams,
but the Falak will burn the world to ash unless you stop it. Unless you change
everything. Make it a world without a Falak. You dreamed it into existence. You
can dream it away. You can dream back everyone who died. The plague, too. You
can reverse it, Jack!"

But Jack was in a dream, not a world with a Falak. He was confused. He began to
wake up.

"No, Jack, stay in the dream!" came the wizard's voice. Jack hesitated.

"What's wrong, Jack?" came the voice of Mariela. "Don't worry, Master Greylir
just wants to save everyone -- but he wants to fix his mistakes too. It's OK if
you can't do everything, Jack!"

Jack dreamed again. He knew how now. He could dream about whatever he wanted.

Including ... reality.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Mariela felt the tremors build and build until they produced an earthquake
larger than any she'd yet felt. Luckily, there were spells on the tower that
held it together, but she could see it out the window. A huge crack had
appeared in the plains to the south, and it was splitting and forking. Clouds
seemed to be coming out of it. And then there was an enormous upward explosion
of rocks and steam, which she felt seconds later as the ground beneath the
tower buckled and undulated like waves in the ocean. Books and crockery slid
off tables, but the tower held together.

"Don't worry, Mariela," said Jack's voice, and she turned. He was floating in
the air above the crib, his eyes open and emitting a white brilliance. His
voice was still high-pitched and tiny, but it echoed beyond the room
somehow. "I know how to do it now." Mariela saw out the window that the ground
was now far beneath them.

"Jack, save them, please, undo my folly," the voice of Master Greylir came from
out of thin air. "I repent. I admit my mistakes. I don't care what happens to
me. Just save those I thoughtlessly endangered."

"I can't bring back the dead," Jack said. "There's just ... nothing to hold
onto. But I can keep more people from dying." And suddenly they weren't in a
tower anymore. They were standing on a huge platform, high in the air, and more
and more people started to appear around them -- all the people of the world,
it seemed. They looked around in wonder at the clouds around them and the
smooth, glasslike surface they stood on, looking down upon the world. The
platform grew larger and larger as more and more people appeared on it.

Beneath them, they could see the earth cracking and exploding as the Falak's
heat boiled the deep sea beneath. And finally they saw the creature's head
breaking through the surface, its intense heat melting the rock and burning all
living things to ash, just as the prophecy had said would happen. The Falak
furiously laid waste to the world's surface. But it was far below now. Jack
said, "That world doesn't need to exist anymore. Let's try again. Maybe it'll
be better. But at least it won't be doomed."

Then ... Mariela awoke. She was in her own bed, in her own ... apartment? That
was strange. Only ... it wasn't. She'd lived here for a couple of years, going
to work, sometimes going out with her friends to have fun. But ... she also
remembered living in a doomed world that was being destroyed by a monster of
fire from below. And ... she remembered a world before that where she'd nearly
died from a plague that had ... reverted everyone to infancy? That seemed
impossible, but she remembered it clearly now. She also remembered that nobody
else remembered it, nobody but Jack.

It was a weekend, so she didn't have to go anywhere, but she got up and took a
shower anyway, setting the temperature to her favorite preset. She generated a
cute outfit, a lavender romper with white and pink embroidery and white shoes,
which materialized on her in a fraction of a second. She decided to go for a
walk, so the teleporter put her at ground level as soon as she'd grabbed her
backpack and stepped onto the disc in the alcove.

All around her were the sounds of the city -- the birds singing in the trees
that lined the walkways, the children playing in the playgrounds, the
occasional hum of someone on a recreational scooter. Her bracelet played a soft
tune.

"Jack?" she answered, lifting up her hand to her ear.

"Mariela, hi," came Jack's voice, "want to get together today? We could go to
that new show. I'm buying."

"Sounds great -- I hadn't made any plans yet," Mariela said. "It's just so nice
out, so I was going for a walk."

"Can I join you?"

"Sure! Here's my location." She touched her bracelet in a few places, then
placed her thumb in another spot.

"It's good to see you!" Jack said, looking like a brown-haired young man in his
early 20s, stepping off a nearby disc. "You're right, it's a beautiful day."

"How's Grey?" she asked, somehow knowing to ask about him.

"He's growing," Jack said, "and I'm sure he's going to be getting into trouble
soon, but right now he's just adorable. He's sleeping, but the androids will
let me know as soon as he wakes up."

"You ... remember, don't you?" asked Mariela.

"Yeah," Jack replied. "I guess I sort of made things the way they are. But I
can't do that anymore. Only when I was ... you know, really little. Now we'll
just have to see how things work out. But I tried to make things better. Nobody
needs cars or trucks. Energy's super easy now. So's learning."

"It was ... only a few minutes ago, wasn't it?" she asked him. "It feels like
it's been like this for years, but it hasn't, has it?"

"You and I are the only ones who know that," Jack said. "I made sure. Not even
Grey will remember. The worlds before this one are ... gone. The last one was
my mistake. The one before was his, or the thing that ended it was. I acted out
of terror and desperation last time -- and I guess some mythology I'd been
reading. This time ... I knew everything. I saw everything. I was careful."

"I ... don't know what to think about that," said Mariela. "You were a god for
a moment."

"I wouldn't say that," said Jack. "But don't go starting any religions. There
are enough of those already."

"You didn't ... change those, did you?"

"No, I pretty much put them back the way they were," Jack explained. "There are
still conflicts going on. They're just ... minor. The Dome of the Rock and the
Temple are two different places in Jerusalem, and they always have been, as far
as anyone knows. And the world's a planet in space again, not a mythological
construct."

"And ... wait. I remember from before. We were ... not exactly dating, were
we?" Mariela asked.

"Oh, yeah ... before," said Jack. "Yeah, I was trying to get up the nerve to
ask you out ... and then the plague happened. I didn't know what had happened
to you. Then ... it was a different world, and in a dream I wished I could see
you again, and the next morning, there you were, knocking on the door. I guess
it was the first change I made since, well, Grey started to make me get
younger."

"I was ... living in a city along with a bunch of other people," Mariela
mused. "Then, suddenly, my parents and I were all living out in the country,
and we had sheep. And none of us thought anything was strange about that, not
even me, at the time. But now I remember everything."

"Are your parents OK?" asked Jack.

"I ... wow, I seem to remember that they are, but it just occurred to me that I
haven't talked to them for a while. I mean, I remember that I talked to them on
the phone yesterday, but yesterday didn't really happen, did it? I mean,
yesterday in this world."

"OK, yeah, you should probably call them," said Jack. "They should be OK, but I
can't tell anymore. I'm too old -- well, not a baby, anyway. Those strange
... powers ... only seem to happen when I'm turned into a baby, and there's
nothing in this world that can do that. I made extra sure of that. There's no
such thing as a virus that can age-regress people."

"Wait, but ... what about other worlds? Like ... if there are aliens out in
space somewhere?" asked Mariela.

"Well, I tried to put everything back the way it was," Jack said hesitantly,
"but I can't be sure. I don't know what it was like out in space before. And
I'm not sure what happened to outer space when the world was a weird flat-earth
mythological universe on the back of a giant bull riding on a giant fish. I'm
kind of guessing here, but I don't think I affected the universe outside of the
solar system?"

"OK, I guess?" said Mariela. "Things look OK for now, anyway, and I notice you
made some improvements. These teleporter things."

"Yeah, and according to the law I invented teleporters, so I have patents and
get royalties and such," Jack said. "I read a story like that. But I really
kind of did invent them. The point is, I don't have to worry about money, and I
do have a responsibility to take care of Grey, now that I took my age back from
him. And ... somehow more."

"He's a baby, and I somehow know that," said Mariela. "Where did the rest of
his age go? I guess ... he didn't want it?"

"Maybe it was because he felt so guilty about causing the plague," Jack
suggested, shrugging. "I'm not sure. Anyway ... do you want to go to that show?
Maybe after work? Do you work today?"

"Not today -- it's Saturday," she replied. "Yeah. I'm gonna call my folks, then
let's go. It'll feel good to do something that isn't, well, earth-shattering."

"OK, I'll meet you at the Plaza Theater in ... half an hour?" Jack stopped and
turned toward her.

Mariela smiled. "It's a date," she said.



>>>>> The End <<<<<
Sunshine & rainbows,
LilJennie
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