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From the Journal of Nigel Drusq

We arrived at the manor house of Frederick Carvalle this afternoon. It’s in poor shape, worse than we expected. Vines have obscured much of the east wing. The expansive veranda surrounding the third floor of the west wing has fallen into the floor below it. The gardens outside are nothing but an encroaching forest filled with tall pines that are only now giving way to far stronger oaks and hickories.

Despite all that, I can see what the Carvalle Manor had once been beneath the overgrowth and rot. A sturdy home, a powerful center for astral learning. The signs still persist despite the manor’s dilapidated state. The now obsolete astral marks are still preserved in the sides of the doorways and an ancient marble-based conductor stands, though crookedly, within the courtyard, just barely visible through the partially collapsed colonnade that runs from the west wing to the north crux.

Our boss, Elric Thomston, is less enthused than I. He cursed when he saw that the west wing’s veranda had collapsed, for the library had been beneath. All those records… The records from some of the most famous astral mages to have ever lived. All their knowledge, their creations, their successes and failures. Gone.

He’s drinking in his tent now. Says we’ll start early tomorrow—see what we can salvage.

* * *

Beautiful day. Making this trek during spring was worth all the rain and misery on the way, for now the skies have opened up. Like Frederick Carvalle is welcoming us to his legacy.

I have a picture of him—a sketch really—from the days of his prime. He’d been a handsome man with intelligent eyes that somehow manage to reflect empathy and warmness and not the condescension I would have expected from a man of his caliber. Perhaps it was the artist’s interpretation that makes him look so in this singular sketch, but somehow I doubt it. Or, at least, I hope he hadn’t been worse than the dreams my mind had come up with in all the lonely hours of our long journey.

We spent most of the day clearing debris and forming a safe path to the manor. Thomston’s been sour. The others think he might ease up once we’ve gotten inside. A lot to do before then, for we have to buttress the ceilings and reconstruct the floors as we go, at least in part. And that’s after we finish clearing the overgrowth in the way.

Most of this evening was spent planning out a path to the ruined library. Maybe we’ll be able to salvage enough to appease Thomston’s obsession. I know a few people are holding out hope of a bonus if things go well.

* * *

The work is going slowly. We’re all eager to go inside, but Thomston has threatened dismemberment if we cause any more collapse within the manor.

So we work. And wait.

I’ve taken to eating my evening meal down in the clearing we’ve made along the eastern side of the manor. The light of the moon reflects off the marks around the doorways, making them sparkle and shimmer in mimicry of the portals they represent.

The conductor isn’t visible from that angle, but I can just see the rusted metal bands extending above the walls. They don’t shine as the astral marks do. But sometimes, when I stare long enough, I think I can see the slight murmur between the bands, as if an echo of a lost astral passage lingers.

And even rarer, I can faintly hear a rush of energy, as if someone is crossing a plane of existence nearby.

* * *

Today we entered Carvalle Manor! Thomston actually smiled for the first time since we’ve made camp. Bodes well for us, according to some of the others who have worked for him before.

We couldn’t get far, too busy setting supports, but just stepping foot in that entryway was enough to bolster all of us. That ancient stone, the beautiful marble floors and intricate carvings within the pillars…

I can only imagine what wonders were discovered here, what conversations these walls were privy to, what secrets might remain.

* * *

Third day working within the manor. A section of the floor collapsed into the wine cellar yesterday. No one was hurt, thankfully, but it cut us off from the easier path toward the library. We spent today reevaluating. While we can no longer go through the parlor, we have been able to get into the oblong sitting room and the kitchen beyond. Much of what we’ve managed to excavate has been only of interest to our two archaeologists. They have become ecstatic over the bent metal and pottery we’ve found. It’s supposedly in very good shape.

Most of the paper has long since degraded, though we’ve found evidence of glue and leather from bindings on the floor. However, we did find one book in partial order. It had been inside an upper cabinet and though it had been gnawed on by a mouse or two, there are still a few readable sections. It’s nothing but a recipe book, but it heartened us because it meant that there might be something of value still waiting to be discovered.

We also found empty sockets within what we believe was the pantry. Thomston has hypothesized that the sockets had once housed astral planes, small ones, the creationary type that could be used to develop land in perfect farming climates or great trapping conditions. He says it was typical to have them to ease the burden of food trade and mitigate the expense of carting costs. Given the difficulty of the trek to get here, I believe it.

It’s early still, though the moon is already up. A bright spot in the middle of the sky, only its edge faded into the blackness beyond. The metal bands of the conductor call to me in the darkness. Places on them that aren’t completely rusted over reflect the smallest amount of moonlight. We’re not on a path to the courtyard, but I hope we’ll be able to at least see it once before we wrap up.

* * *

Something odd happened today.

After the others broke for lunch, leaving only Thomston and I clearing out the hallway, the wind picked up outside and made the whole manor shiver and creak. I could hear something tingling near the closer end of the corridor, but the doorway to the room off the hall from where the sound was coming had been blocked by what seemed to be a tipped hutch. Even at its age, the hutch was far too heavy to move on our own; it was made with heavy beams of treated wood and looked as if it had steel footplates.

Thomston ended up shrugging, saying we might be able to get into the room at a later date. Then he went back down toward the far end of the hall and began to pick through all the debris at the edge of a different room—the one we dubbed the music room since there’d been braces on the wall that had once held stringed instruments.

I had just turned away from the tinkling sound when I heard what I swear was a crashing of a plate, like someone had thrown it to the floor and it had cracked into three or four pieces. I figured the room might have been a dining room, so I hadn’t been too disturbed by the fact the wind might have tipped a piece of pottery. Yet, when I said something about the noise, Thomston looked at me as if I were crazy. Told me he’d heard nothing but the wind shaking the manor house.

When Thomston wasn’t looking, I lifted myself against the hutch and peeked through the crack at the top of the doorway. I couldn’t see the floor, but I did see the chandelier swinging in the wind. It had been made of silver and gold, though the curves of the filigrees were now filled with dirt. Short chains had been wrapped and draped around different curves of the chandelier, many of which had been caught by the sharp edges of the once-pretty fleurs de lis so that now they looked messy instead of elegant.

And hanging off the chains at somewhat even intervals, though I suspect at least a few had fallen, were stones of different shapes and sizes. None of them were precious in any manner. They were gray and black and white and whitish. Yet, each one had that faint sign of an astral creation within them, that gently pulsing, life-beating heart that represented they were more than the plain rocks they seemed.

It was they that were tinkling every time the wind blew through the broken windows. They clattered against the chandelier and occasionally each other. As I stared, one of the stones—a gray and black-spotted one more long than fat—turned and projected for just a second. I swear I saw the briefest glimpse of a gigantic crashing waterfall, like one from the far north where the world is white with snow and the rocks along the edge of the basin in which the water fell was filled with ice crystals. In that moment, I thought I heard someone sigh and whisper. A whisper about the lost worlds.

That was when Thomston yelled at me to get down so I didn’t see anything more. He believed me when I told him about the chandelier and that astral planes existed in the stones within that room, but he didn’t care. Claimed that they were likely nothing more than failures reused as decor and of no interest, not compared to the knowledge of how to create intricate planes that likely existed in the library.

I didn’t tell him about what I’d heard. That whisper, that even now I feel as if I can hear, telling me that he’d lost the worlds. Then again, it could have been the wind. Sailing through the manor and making it feel alive.

* * *

Today I was standing just within the music room, on the thin wooden sheets we’d put down, imagining what it must have looked like. A piano in the corner where the boards have rotted through. A set of woodwinds hanging on the side wall. The window wide open, its scarlet valence shuddering, hummingbirds flitting around the milkweed and salvia just outside.

The laughter of my comrades morphed into an unfamiliar voice, words indiscernible. The creaking of the manor turned fresher, a vibrant sound rather than the ominous one as footsteps crossed in an overhead hall.

For a moment, I could even smell burning copper as if someone, somewhere, worked bonding together a new astral containment sphere. That scent was so powerful it stung my nose—even now I feel a slight tingling in my nostrils.

* * *

We’ve spent the last few days rebuilding the stairs. We’d used a ladder and then a cross beam to reach the second floor first. Thomston did at least, risking his own life rather than ours to be sure access to the library was even possible.

It’ll take work—the huge double doors into the library are wedged shut from the wreckage of the veranda collapsing, but Thomston is optimistic. First time we’ve seen true optimism from him since we arrived.

I’ve had a few more strange moments. I’ve been hesitant to write about them for I didn’t wish to make them see more real. And then, every time I thought about explaining them, I realized how ridiculous they sound.

Voices speaking to me. Or at least one voice. Masculine. I would describe it as suave, seductive. Makes me nervous and intrigued at once.

And that’s how I know it’s all in my mind. Wishful wants from a lonely, frustrated man in desire of a companion.

* * *

I’m tempted to report myself to our medic.

And say what?

That I’m hearing voices? That I think someone is walking all over the second and third floors where none of us have stepped foot? That I know what every room once looked like before weather and time tortured the manor?

No, I can’t see that going over well. I’d be branded insane. Disallowed access to the manor at all. And I just…

* * *

I saw him a few days ago. The man himself. Frederick Carvalle.

We had wedged the door to the library open, hoping we’d be able to keep the doors intact, but there was just no way we were unbracing the wreckage from the outside. Instead, we were forced to break the hinges and carry the doors away. They were quite heavy and unwieldy so getting them to a safe place took most of the day.

When I went back upstairs, a few of the others were hovering near a space left visible through the fallen stones from the veranda. Thomston waved me over to look. For just a moment I thought I wasn’t crazy, that they could all see him. Frederick Carvalle leaning over an ornate table, stacks of ledgers and scrolls piled on the far end and multiple maps—agricultural, geographical, meteorological—spread out or rolled up all around him.

He looked up at my curse and met my gaze, holding me in a thrall so absolute I could not breathe.

He made me want so badly, in a way I hadn’t for so long. And his slight smile, wry and knowing, as he straightened made me think he felt it too. A pull between us, gravity twisting sideways and blurring past and present together.

And then Thomston gripped my shoulder, startling me from the vision that was Frederick Carvalle. When I looked again, Frederick was gone, leaving nothing but a buried desk and a ruined library behind.

I staggered away as the others chatted amicably about what might have been protected in the locked pockets of the library. Thomston sent me to see the medic where I claimed my faintness had been from a meager lunch and a huge workout moving those slabs for doors.

It’s been days. I’ve argued with myself, lied to myself. But now, with the wreckage in front of the library entrance gone and too many instances when I’ve looked up to see Frederick watching me, I can admit I might be falling for this illusion of a man I’ve been conjuring. I hear his voice in my dreams. I wake hard and longing for a man long dead. I work, not for Thomston or the thought of what treasured information or worlds we might uncover, but for the chance to see him again. To see Frederick.

* * *

His voice is no longer a murmur. I can hear him explicitly—words as clear as my own. How no one else can hear him is a mystery.

He’s been lonely, all these years, his emotion reflecting my own. His friends and colleagues have long ago abandoned the Carvalle Manor, leaving it to fall apart over the centuries. I asked him why. Frederick says because he disappeared on them. When I asked what he meant, he appeared where the veranda once stood. Yet, I could somehow see it as if it were as whole and perfect as the day it’d been built, Frederick leaning with his elbows propped on the stone railing, his head thrown back, the wind lightly ruffling his long hair and the collar of his shirt.

His mouth didn’t move when he responded and he seemed to scarcely pay me any heed, though I knew it was his voice I heard. The plane, he said, the plane had been an experiment. An attempt to create his home in a safe place, far from the wars that were coming to his country. He’d succeeded. And yet failed.

I questioned him on how he could do both at once, but then Thomston asked me to whom I was speaking. When I looked down, the veranda sank away…Frederick with it. Thomston stayed with me after that. An obnoxious presence at my side. He’d give me slanted looks out of the corner of his eye whenever he thought I wasn’t looking.

I’ll have to be more careful.

* * *

I met Frederick at the entrance to the manor early this morning. The real Frederick and not some projection of himself. He wore an older-styled suit jacket, the sleeves rolled up, and his shirt was wrinkled. Despite his obvious weariness, he had a smile and a welcoming hug for me. He smelled of burnt metal and ink and his clothes had a softness to them of the kind I’d never been able to afford. His hands were firm, not ephemeral.

Real. He was real. All of him.

Frederick walked with me through the manor, asking me what we were looking for, what we thought we might find, which I took to mean he couldn’t hear us as we worked, my own voice a murmur to him until recently, same as his was to me. So I told him. Told him of Thomston, of our expedition, of the knowledge lost during the wars and of the new astral towers that only now are starting to gain fame throughout the country.

He listened to me raptly, his eyes wide and his questions innocent, more focused on new technological advances that had little or nothing to do with his own studies. And all the while, his fingers grazed mine, his body leaned towards me, his gaze dropping to my lips at even intervals. I could barely concentrate on my words, his attention an aphrodisiac to my long parched thirst.

When we reached the landing below the library, Frederick kept walking. Past the double doors and the room beyond, all the way through the archways with their pure white pillars, unmarred by moss or age. The morning mist blew against my face as I followed him outside and into the colonnade. And when he paused by the third pillar, he gestured, the motion tight and close to his body, as he spoke animatedly about his first creations, small planes of existence that were made to help his family when they’d been starving on the streets of his birth city.

Behind him came a rush of birds. They flew too fast for me to see what they were, just blurs of color sweeping upward through the courtyard. And there, in the center, was the conductor, its base thick, clean marble and the opening in its center created from perfectly-shaped curved metal branches. Inside the space churned a passage. Some passage to one of Frederick’s discoveries.

He’d fallen silent as I stared. But his next words I can’t forget. That’s where you’ll find me. That’s where I’ll find him. I took a step forward.

And then someone screamed my name.

I stood upon firm soil, yet many of the further pillars had broken. The colonnade no longer gleamed. It held the dankness of time and moss with little pools of algae-colored water lingering within the cracked and scattered stone. Outside, the conductor was in disuse, the metal as rusted as it’d been since we’d arrived. The base still stood strong though. And I could swear I saw an inkling of a passage, just a quiet rush of power flickering around the edges of the bars as Frederick disappeared.

Getting back proved tricky. Thomston yelled at me again, from across the room, and then cursed my stupidity for walking across an unchecked area. But he put the day’s work on hold to help set down boards to get me back to safety. Told me I should be grateful, then escorted me off the manor grounds himself.

Supposedly I’m too dangerous to have around the excavation. I should be more upset. Yet, all I can think about is the way Frederick had smelled when he’d hugged me to his chest. The way his fingers grazed the back of my hand. The way he smiled when I’d stepped toward the passage held above the conductor.

* * *

Books upon books have been salvaged from the library. Some will likely provide little use, but many others seem promising. I’ve been relegated to transcribing detail. Thomston claims that he knows I have a neat hand, but we all know he didn’t like my strange behavior on site.

If he won’t let me work there, then I’ll have to find another way to see Frederick.

* * *

I snuck down to the manor after everyone fell asleep last night. I admit, at first I was nervous. The darkness has become quite absolute now that the moon has been loathe to rise until almost morning. Yet, I found that the closer I came to the manor, the easier it was to see. Moss no longer clogged the edges of the stones in the path. The trees seemed further away, less constricting yet well-tended. The windows of the manor held unbroken glass panes. Even the sconces outside the manor’s main door were lit, brightly burning, marking my way.

Frederick wasn’t there when I arrived. Nor did I hear his voice as I normally did. I crept through the darkened halls, at first drawn toward the library where I’d seen him originally, but at the base of the staircase, I paused, struggling with indecision.

The world around me held the memory of the manor, as if time had never touched it. All the wet scents of rotting wood mixed with the fresh pine we’d cut and brought in…all of it gone. I could smell sachets of wildflowers and the lingering stew from the kitchen wafting through the first floor. And that ever-present scent of copper or brass as someone put together a permanent passage.

I looked up the staircase, bereft of the studs and boards we’d put in to bolster it. I think that was the first time, the true first time, that I’ve wondered what was happening around me. I imagine it was the lack of Frederick’s voice, his presence an empty space at my side, allowing me to think a little more clearly.

It is possible I am hallucinating. Sick with a mind illness that created a world around me that wasn’t real, spawned from my desire to find companionship in a long-dead man.

But it felt so real. From the freshly cleaned curtains wafting in the breeze to the oil burning gently in the lamps to the heaviness of Frederick’s hand when he’d pressed it against my back. I don’t think I’m sick. But maybe…

My other option is that I’m seeing a projection of an astral plane. Like the waterfall and its deep icy basin. That had been merely a glimpse from a flawed astral sphere, but this…this was something intricate and well-developed. A creation so vast, so detailed that whoever had designed it must have held both skill and an intense love for his project.

In the darkness, leaving the oil lamps behind me, I strayed into the courtyard again. Frederick was there, standing in front of his giant conductor, the churning of the passage held within making my stomach twist with a sudden fear. I’d never been through an astral passage before, certainly not one made hundreds of years in the past. Untested. Undocumented.

I called Frederick’s name softly. But he didn’t hear me. Or he heard me and didn’t respond.

So I watched, frozen, as he stepped up that marble base and disappeared through that passage. I don’t know how long I stood there, long enough for the fires in the sconces to wither and die. Long enough for the moss to grow on the marble and rust to gather on the metal. Long enough that the manor became reality once more. Either my hallucination or Frederick’s astral projection gone.

I’m in bed now. Can’t sleep.

I can’t help but wonder…was the passage ever really there? What would happen if I had followed Frederick? Could I follow him? Or would I simply have found myself standing on a marble slab, rusted metal criss-crossing over and over above my head?

I think…but I’m not sure…that I was scared because I knew the passage truly led somewhere. Then again… If it were to lead nowhere, to be nonexistent, then I would prove myself sick in the mind. I don’t know. I don’t know what to think.

* * *

I’ve been avoiding the manor. Frederick calls to me when I go to help carry crates back to camp. I can hear him begging me to come to him, that he will explain everything. But I don’t know whether I can trust his voice.

I used to think I was the adventurous type. Wanted to explore the world, the past. This was why I’d joined Thomston’s expedition after all. Yet, wouldn’t an adventurous nature have stepped up to that passage? Been eager to see the truth?

It’s a conundrum. My conundrum.

* * *

Thomston hit a payload today. A whole locked bin full of beautiful astral spheres, some with their own planes already created inside of them, some empty. With it was a ton of books—ledgers of sales, detailed documents and rolls of layered maps of each world created, plus notes and letters between high-level astral mages who had once walked through Carvalle Manor. Even I’m excited again. At the very least, this will take my mind off Frederick and the passage in his courtyard.

* * *

I was attempting to transcribe one of the maps today…

They were organized so meticulously. Each set of maps rolled together and labeled with whatever astral plane to which they referred. We still had to match them to the corresponding astral sphere, but that hasn’t been quite as difficult since Thomston and another of our expedition have the skill to transport someone within the planes themselves.

I’ve walked within a world created by Frederick Carvalle himself. The notes seemed to make it out to be a general mimicry of territory belonging to what is now the Empire. A few of the weather patterns are different, according to someone who’s actually been to the area, yet the resemblance is so close…

It pains me to admit it, but it seems as if Frederick and his colleagues may have been part of the original war effort before the War of Many Worlds. These spheres do not prove anything, but Thomston’s postulation that they could be used to familiarize soldiers to enemy territory, taking away the enemy’s advantage of home turf, is all too likely. We did not win that war. But we certainly didn’t lose. Our borders remain our borders even while other countries fell, either by force or design, into our Imperial neighbor.

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t any of those spheres that I wanted to write about today. No, the map I began to transcribe this morning was of something quite different, yet very familiar. A manor house, set within a temperate, hilly and forested landscape. I didn’t notice the resemblance at first. But when I found the architectural designs, the first floor an exact replica of the halls and rooms I’ve walked within Carvalle Manor, it came together in my mind.

I’ve searched all afternoon for the sphere that would correspond to these maps, this other world Frederick created, yet have come up empty. When I showed Thomston this evening, he claimed that it was likely the Carvalle maps themselves, documenting Frederick’s home and the surrounding space.

I’m not so convinced.

* * *

If the maps of this manor replica were of a different astral plane, one created by Frederick, then where is the sphere? Where did he put it?

And if they aren’t. If Thomston is correct and the maps are simply of the manor we’ve been seeing since we’ve arrived, then why so many creationary notes? Why have I found entire ledgers full of unnecessary details and sketches of the mundane? Why would it matter that the last cupboard in the kitchen had scratches in the wood grain? Or that there was a trio of shallow holes just inside the tree line? Or that someone named Derick broke the birdbath in the courtyard and had rudimentarily attempted to piece it back together?

Why is there a specific sketch of the cracks in that birdbath?

Why are there pressed remains of the salvia from the garden and notes to reference its specific color and height and width and soil composition?

Why is there a detailed chart of the weather over the manor that extends back over three years?

Why is there a page documenting every single measurement and color and branch of every tree in the surrounding forest?

None of these things make sense to document…not unless Frederick intended on replicating them exactly.

* * *

He told me he’d succeeded and failed at making a home within a safe place. That’s why I don’t believe Thomston. Because my hallucinations of Frederick, that voice I hear, told me different. If he succeeded, then a second manor must exist.

But if he failed… There are many ways he could have failed. This second manor might not be as safe as he’d hoped. Or maybe it’s not accessible. Or maybe he made the manor but failed on some important geological or meteorological feature that ruined it. I have visions of a volcano erupting nearby, but I doubt Frederick Carvalle would have been so careless with the plate tectonics of his creation.

I feel as if the answer is right there, in front of me.

* * *

I went to see Frederick again tonight. My intention was to ask him about the second manor, but when I arrived in that courtyard, saw that birdbath with its cracks and the marble of the conductor smooth and the metal bands unrusted… When I saw Frederick himself sitting on that marble base, his shirt gone, his expression dejected…

He kisses like a man, not a ghost. All firm and hard and yet soft everywhere he needed to be. I felt as if I could hear him talking to me even as he kissed me, his voice that murmur in my mind. I didn’t need to ask questions because even as he laid me down in the softness of the grass, the stone path to our side, he was answering.

My trousers confused him, the buttons not where he expected. Yet the moment he wrapped his fist around my shaft, all that confusion fled. He was experienced here, with skin against skin, just human lust revolving around us and nothing to signify past or present.

We ground together with the stars overhead and the purring of an astral passage surrounding us. Surrounding me. He was more than I anticipated. More than I had imagined in all my dreams. His body held a welcoming warmth that enveloped me, his arms keeping me safe from the worlds around us.

Worlds. That was what he said to me. That he’d lost his way back, that his passage through was limited. Time keeping him separate and distinct.

I didn’t understand, even when he tried to explain.

As we lay panting in the grass, his weight a comfort that proved he existed and our sticky spend leaking across the sides of my stomach, I swore I saw the edges of the courtyard meld. Vines crept up across the second and third stories. The tree’s branches thickened and grew outward to scratch at the stone and partially block the twinkling view of the stars.

I remember I squeezed Frederick in fear he would fade as well, but he remained as firm and hard as he’d been the moment he’d pressed on top of me.

I didn’t think it was possible, he’d said. It’s two separate things, to create a plane or to discover an already existing one. I never reach for existing planes. I leave that boringness to the government employees or the mercenaries who need the money.

I listened as I stroked his back. His grip tightened around both my shoulders and he kissed my neck, his mouth open and his breath hot.

What wasn’t possible? I’d asked.

Frederick lifted off of me, just far enough that his nose grazed mine and his eyes reflected the distant fires of the sconces at the entrance to the courtyard. His hair drifted to either side of our faces, strands of it tickling my cheeks.

To create a passage through time.

* * *

Through time.

Frederick claimed before he left, that his intent had been to recreate his manor in a place that would remain untouched by the upcoming war. He thought he’d been making a small astral creation, something located in a sphere he could wear on his person, to keep his home alive…just in case.

Instead, what he thought had been simply a new creation broke the sphere, the astral link beyond the stone’s ability to contain. So he’d tried again within the confines of the conductor, as if he were making a passage to a pre-existing plane. And…it’d worked.

But he certainly couldn’t bring it with him.

* * *

I did it. I brought my thoughts, and the maps, to Thomston.

I explained everything him, everything except sleeping with Frederick. I explained to Thomston that he’d hired me because of my sensitivity to the planes and that I’d thought I’d been seeing the manor how it had been. But I showed him Frederick’s notes and told him I believed I wasn’t witnessing the past reflecting over the present at all. That there was a separate plane of existence washing over this one from the old damaged passage in the courtyard. That I’d been in actuality seeing a projection of it flashing over the manor.

I didn’t mention the time issue. That I believed Frederick had stumbled onto some way of linking a passage from this plane to a specific point in time in the past.

Didn’t matter after all though because Thomston thought I was crazy. Dragged me to the medic and when we started arguing, told me he was docking my pay. I was furious enough I didn’t even care. I said some things I shouldn’t have to my employer and most of the others overheard the entire exchange. Now they’re making jokes about it all. Acting as if I’m as insane as I thought I’d been.

But I’m not. I know I’m not. I just need to prove it to them.

Maybe if I can get Frederick—the real Frederick and not just the glimpses of his projection—to come through and stay through…

* * *

Three times I’ve slipped away, my good behavior since my argument with Thomston making everyone lax. Every time I’ve gone to see Frederick, hoping I could convince him to show himself to the rest, but every time, he’s been nowhere to been seen. Sometimes I see the projection lingering over the manor, sometimes I see it in its dilapidated state. But Frederick isn’t there.

Sometimes I hear the murmur of his voice, speaking about his lost worlds and loneliness, but I think I’m merely hearing an age’s worth of echoes, none of it truly him as he’d be now. Or then.

I think… I think my only option is to attempt the passage. To step upon that conductor, to see if I can travel through to that world Frederick made to safely keep his home in a time before war broke out and the astral mages were called to it.

It’s a terrifying prospect, one that becomes more and more terrifying the longer I dwell.

* * *

I had a dream about Frederick, in which he lay beside me through the night, his fingers playing over my skin, his lips gentle against mine. I ache for him. One night in his arms in that courtyard is not enough. Could never be enough.

I’m going. Tonight.

Not to prove anything to Thomston or the others. Let them remain blind and deaf to the revelation of Frederick’s success. But I wish to experience it in its entirety. I wish to alleviate Frederick’s loneliness. My own loneliness.

And if I don’t return… How long will the side of the passage remain? How long before it disappears altogether, leaving no way through? Frederick’s been choosing a time when he’d been happy. Perhaps… Perhaps I shall too.