Barnascas couldn’t help smiling. He loved it here. If he could work out how to stay, he’d never leave. So much better to forget his lost, useless legs. The tracks ground out a rhythm beneath him that soothed a lifetime’s worth of frustration. He knew the tank was ridiculous, and on Athien he’d never be able to make it work; the dimensions were all wrong. Besides, it offered no real protection on a battlefield. It was enough for the smaller skirmishes in Between though! Here, he could stand…ahem…fight toe-to-…well…track with anyone he chose. Here, those who ridiculed him would burn. Though, generally, he’d found those he met here to be completely oblivious to how he looked. The odd questioning glance was about all he earned for riding on a gods-be-damned tank! Which, when he considered the many things he’d seen here, was probably not unreasonable really.
Some elf he’d run across (he had thought they’d all been killed off a hundred cycles ago) appeared for all the worlds to have a backpack that made her fly. Creatures of flame, beasts, mages, a little man that spawned something hideous that cackled and threw gods-knew-what at you when you looked away…it was a world of wonders. Forbidden wonders he’d always been taught about, but he suspected the teachers had never had any real idea of this place. If appearance was anything to judge by (which was certainly questionable here), then there were precious few visiting here from his world. Most seemed far more primitive, although that didn’t mean anything in terms of ability to kick his dwarf arse. He’d been a little taken aback the first time that bloody little elf had kicked the side of his tank and sent him flying, nearly kicking him clean back to Athien.
No, he hadn’t worked out exactly what dictated strength here, but it certainly wasn’t technology. Which should have been a bitter pill for him, having spent his whole life developing bigger and better weapons of war. Instead, he felt liberated. Here, he could fight how he wanted to, and be rewarded in ways he’d never imagined. He was sure now, after a dozen visits, that each time he went back to Athien he became a tiny bit stronger. More so if he’d had a successful visit, but even after a drubbing he still felt enervated on his return.
He’d felt the first twinges of feeling in his legs a handful of visits ago, and after the last one he could feel his thighs. He had pinched them and they had tingled; even hurt a little. He didn’t know how, or why, but he felt certain that if he kept visiting, he would eventually recover the use of his legs. What surprised him most was that he wasn’t sure it mattered. He wanted to be here. Athien, even with his legs returned, was a poor substitute for the freedom he sensed could be had in Between.
So far, he had no more idea of how to get here than he’d had the first time that the inexplicable summons had made itself known. He had got better at hanging on though, like now. The effigy had faded minutes ago and with it the other summoned, but not him.
Barnascus was holding on to the connection with every scrap of will he could muster. He wasn’t sure exactly how he was doing it, and it definitely would leave him more drained when he finally slipped free, but for a few precious moments he could stay here and observe a wholly different world. Without the effigies and the other summoned, the place seemed to revert to what he assumed was a more natural state, which was confusing and wonderful.
As he remained in the slowly shrinking bubble of his own influence, the world beyond it morphed and twisted. The scenery bent into amalgams of places he thought he recognised, and landscapes he would have sworn were impossible. The perspective sometimes shifted wildly, particularly when he caught glimpses of things moving. They often appeared to move in stop-motion, one moment being in multiple places at once and the next coalescing into a single figure in an entirely different place. He didn’t understand it, and wasn’t sure it was possible to understand it without being in it in some way.
So far though, when his bubble collapsed he found himself back on Athien. He never managed to stay past that moment.
One day, though. One day he’d manage it. He’d break free of the bonds that kept him close to the effigy, and somehow remain. He felt sure that the souls and the golden energy they fought over were the key. While the effigy held him, almost all of the energy was forfeit to whoever had bought him here; only a scrap remained for him. But if he could break free, he could use all of it, he was sure; use it to keep him here much much longer, perhaps forever. He had no idea how his body would fare on Athien. These trips typically left his body vulnerable for minutes or hours. Curiously, the duration on Athien and the time lapse he experienced on Between did not seem to correlate. Perhaps it would sit there for as long as it took to die of thirst, or maybe if he spent years here, he’d eventually return to his body to find it only heartbeats later. Perhaps he’d be able to live a hundred lifetimes here with brief spells back on Athien. He could dream, couldn’t he?
He could feel his grip slipping already. He had hoped to last longer, perhaps have time for some experiments. But once again, introspection had drifted over him and eaten his precious little time away. He was beginning to suspect it wasn’t so much his fault as the very nature of the Between that caused wistfulness and introspection to suddenly consume time. A little like meditation really, he thought, amused at that. He typically used meditation as an excuse for his disappearances. As he returned to his body again, he wondered not for the first time if this was, in fact, all in his head. Perhaps it really was a bizarre daydreaming of some sort. The tingling in his legs, now close to the knees, told him otherwise.