Sorry, Vince. I barely even started this entry before 1 AM.
The easiest way to catch up on past installments of this serial is here on Messages from Mâvarin. Synopses to Parts One through Six can be found at the top of Part Seven. Synopses to Parts Eight through Thirteen can be found at the top of Part Fourteen. Synopses to Parts Fourteen through Eighteen are at the top of Part Nineteen. Synopses to Parts Nineteen through Twenty-Five can be found at the top of Part Twenty-Six. The installments themselves can be read in order on Blogspot using the sidebar.
Part Twenty-Six: Cathma and Cathy wonder why they haven't lost consciousness with everyone else.
Part Twenty-Seven: Cathy and Cathma belatedly collapse and faint, much as the others did. They find themselves in a place without physical bodies, surrounded by a thousand versions of themselves. The only person present who doesn't have their face is Joshua Wander.
Part Twenty-Eight: Cathma is pretty sure they're in something called the subjective plane. Joshua Wander is pretty sure he's meant to be their guide. The other versions of Cathy and Cathma disappear, leaving just the two of them to work out the answer to Josh's question: which one of them will be the one to return home?
Part Twenty-Nine: Joshua Wander explains that there is an imbalance in magic between the worlds, which can only be solved by someone relocating to the other person's world - permanently. However, the explanation makes no sense, and Cathy doesn't believe it.
Part Thirty: Cathy refuses to sacrifice her normal life on the basis of what she's hearing. Angered by the lack of cooperation, "Joshua Wander" disappears, replaced by Cathma's self-proclaimed "oldest enemy" - Imuselti, former royal mage to a family of usurpers.
Part Thirty-One: Based on her secondhand memories of who Imuselti is, Cathy realizes that the man in this no-place knows things that the real Imuselti would not know, such as who the Beatles were. She begins to suspect that of all she sees and hears around her, "nothing is real," and nothing to get hung about.
Part Thirty-Two: Escape from Nowhere
“I don't want to get esoteric, but what do you mean by real?” Cathma asked. “Do you mean he’s not Imuselti, or that he’s not a person, or that he’s not physically present, wherever this is?”
“I’m not sure,” Cathy admitted. “But I don’t think this is your subjective plane. That’s supposed to be about truth. This place seems to be about lies.”
“Well, I haven’t lied to you,” Cathma pouted.
“No. And I’m real, whatever you may think.”
“Maybe you are, and maybe you aren’t,” Cathy said. “I’m not sure I really care at this point. I just want out.”
“Fine. So do I. How?”
Cathy turned to the male figure, who still looked like a smirking Imuselti.” “Right. How do we get out of here?”
“Oh, no,” said the man. “I’m not real, remember? So how can I be expected to tell you anything useful?”
“You were full of advice, until I questioned what you said. Whoever or whatever you are, I think you must have the information I need. Now tell me!”
“Or what? Is this where you shout that we’re nothing but a pack of cards? What do you want from me, ruby slippers?”
“What is he talking about?” Cathma asked.
“He’s talking about the worst possible ending to any story,” Cathy said bitterly. “And then she woke up, and it was all a dream.”
“Maybe it is a dream,” Cathma said. “We did see the others go unconscious.”
“Maybe. I just want back into the world.”
“Which world? Yours or mine?”
“I’ll settle for either one to start with,” Cathy said.
“Okay. Now we’re back to the question of how to do it.”
“If you give up, I’ll let you go,” the man said. “Not home, but I will get you out of this place of nothing.”
“Give up what?” Cathy asked suspiciously.
“Your life in what you thought was the real world,” the man said. “Agree to that in a blood oath, and you’ll be back in Mâvarin.”
“How do I know I can’t get out on my own?”
“Well, you’re certainly doing a good job of it so far,” the man said.
“And how can I trust you to do this?”
“If we sign a blood oath, we are bound by its terms,” the man said. “That’s how it works. And that’s true whether I’m real, as you put it, or not.”
Cathy turned to Cathma. “What do you think?”
“I think a blood oath is a tricky thing, but effective,” Cathma said. “The one Rani did probably saved my life. Just read it over very carefully, if you do it at all.”
Cathy thought about this. Ever since arriving in this non-place, she’d been trying to think of a way out. But pinching, shouting, opening her eyes, a good scare, even waiting things out, as she’d threatened to do – none of these things were likely to get her anywhere. And would it really be so bad, living in another world? Cathma seemed to like the place. It was more interesting than DeWitt, anyway. But still….
“I’m sorry, but that’s not a good enough inducement for signing my life away,” Cathy said. “I may yet wake up from this. Or something. And I want the others to be able to get home, even if I can’t. Can you promise that?”
“Everyone who wants to go home, will go home, except you,” the man said. Sometime in the last minute or two, he had reverted to looking like Joshua Wander. “And that’s a blood oath promise,” he added.
“Show me what I have to sign,” Cathy said.
Ten minutes later, according to the watch on her recently-insubstantial wrist, Cathy opened her eyes again, this time for real. She was at the table in the Mall in Mâvarin. The cold-congealed remnant of a slice of pizza lay on a paper plate in front of her. Around her, Carl and Carli, Uncle Jamie and the rest were just waking up.
“Thank you for doing this,” Cathma said.
Messages from Mâvarin (use sidebar to get to the individual installments).