Harlequin sat alone in a quiet room lit only by the sinking flames of a dying fire.
His face was unpainted, and he wore a plain long robe woven with golden and burgundy threads. The firelight caught the metallic threads of his roe and the intricate metal filigree on the walls behind him and made them sparkle. Harlequin didn’t even notice. He was drunk and his drink was his only concern.
The liquid swirled in the glass, impelled by the gentle motion of his wrist. He watched the magical blending and bleeding of colors as the liquid hovered on the edge of solidifying, maintaining its liquid state only by the energy from his moving hand. The colors changed dramatically as he changed the direction of its motion. Firelight danced along the edges of the fine crystal goblet that held the drink.
Harlequin drank form the goblet, barely sipping, and let the drink’s deep fire run through him. He nearly laughed with pleasure, but, as always, the cold aftertaste caught him by surprise.
“You have fallen far,” spoke a long-dead voice.
Harlequin turned slowly from the fire and looked across the long expands of the room. In the center of the room, caught in the flickering of the firelight, stood a figure. Its robes were black, torn, covered in the dirt of a thousand roads. Dark gnarled hands hung limply from the sleeves of the robe, but no face appeared within the raised hood. In its place, he could see only spoke churning slightly.
Harlequin raised and eyebrow, snorted once, and turned back to his drink, raising it to his lips. “Oh, please,” he muttered.
“You cannot ignore me,” said the robed figure.
Harlequin snorted again, spraying a few drops of liquid from his mouth. ”I can do as I please,” he said.
“You are drunk.”
Harlequin laughed. “And you, sir, are a feeble attempt to frighten me with an image so common that it would not frighten a child.” He looked into the fire. “Lewis Carroll must be spinning in his grave.”
“Indeed he must,” agreed the figure. “You are drunk and confused. ‘A Christmas Carol’ was written by Charles Dickens.
“You fog your mind so that you cannot see the truth.”
Harlequin stood abruptly and hurled the glass toward the robed figure. The missile fell just short, exploding into fragments of brilliant, flashing crystal and a spray of liquid color. The figure did not move.
“Begone, foul spirit,” Harlequin cried. “I summoned you not into my home and I banish you hence.” He flung his hand out toward the robed figure, spreading his fingers as if throwing dust. A hint of power danced there.
The figure did not move. “You cannot,” it said.
Harlequin’s face grew wild. “I can and I do!” he cried again, and thrust his arms out to his sides. “M’aela jtaarm querm talar!”
The room darkened suddenly, and pockets of moisture sealed in the firewood burning at Harlequin’s back burst, throwing showers of sparks into the air. They rained down upon him, ignored, until a cool wind rushed back at him and dampened them into cold embers. He brushed the char from his shoulders.
The figure did not move. “It has been a long time since those words were last spoken, Har’lea’quinn. It is not the first time you have used them against me.” The figure’s robes rustled slightly. “And they did not aid you then.”
Harlequin paled. “No...” he breathed, and stumbled back into his chair. “You are gone.. forgotten...”
“Forgotten, perhaps, but never gone. How could we ever be truly gone?”
Harlequin turned away, covering his eyes with his forearm. “You are the past. Your place is there only.” he moaned. “That world is gone.”
“Perhaps,” replied the figure, “but as long as you remember...”
“Yes. That is the key, isn’t it?” Harlequin said, standing and dropping his arms to his side. He faced the robed figure again. “My mind. You are right, whatever you are. I am drunk, and that is a bad state for one such as me.”
“Then I am a figment of your imagination?”
Harlequin shrugged. “Were you ever anything more?”
The robes moved as if the figure laughed, but Harlequin heard no sound. “That borders on blasphemy. You once were more devout.”
“Never for you.”
“I understand you too well.”
Harlequin thrust his hands into the pockets of his robe. “Or vice versa.”
The figure bowed slightly. “Perhaps. Madness can bring wisdom.”
Harlequin sneered. “You are the Master of the Twisted Path. The only wisdom you teach is avoidance.”
“And yet I am here.”
“Alamestra,” said Harlequin, pointing to the now-motionless, solid globs of color around the figure’s feet, “is not an indulgence known for gifting wisdom.”
“Then what of me?”
“What of you?” replied Harlequin.
“If I exist only as a creature of your mind, why am I here?”
Harlequin shrugged again. “It matters not. Your words are lies and your deeds treachery. Your inspiration is betrayal. I care not why you are here and will not listen to you.”
“And yet you say you summoned me.”
“I am, was, drunk.”
“If I am of no consequence or concern, then why did your dispelling not work?”
Harlequin stared at him.
“You have cleared your mind. The fog is lifted, yet I remain.”
“You are hangover incarnate, nothing more.”
The figure’s robes shifted again. “You lie to yourself.”
“No,” said Harlequin, “you lie to me.”
“As I said.”
Harlequin tensed. “This is foolishness. You are a shadow of the dead past conjured by my drunken mind to vex me.”
“I do not care.” Harlequin told the figure, turning back to the near-dead fire.
“You lie to yourself.”
“You repeat yourself, bland spirit.”
The figured slowly raised one arm and pointed at Harlequin. “I am Deceit. I am Deception. I am Treachery. I am Betrayal. I am the passions that bring men to lie to others, and themselves.”
Harlequin turned and stared, his eyes growing slightly wider. “As you say,” he said.
“As you do, now.”
“Your words can never be believed,” said Harlequin.
“I am not words, Har’lea’quinn. I am emotion, I am passion, I am what you feel.”
Harlequin was silent.
“And you feel them, do you not?”
“I feel nothing.”
“You can taste them in the air.”
“I taste nothing.”
“Smell them on the wind.”
“The air is still.”
“Hear them laughing in the silence, calling for their due.”
“I hear only your maddening voice.”
The figure lowered its arm. “You lie to yourself.”
Harlequin rushed toward the figure. “I do not!” he howled, his hands clenched into sweaty fists. He shook them at the robed figure. “It is too soon!”
“They are coming.”
Harlequin spun away, then rounded back on his antagonist. “It is too soon! They cannot be coming!”
“You lie to yourself.”
“It is you who lies to me!”
“As I have said.”
Harlequin turned again and stumbled back toward the fire. “It is too soon...” he mumbled. “Nothing is right...I cannot understand...”
“You do not wish to understand. The humans play with things they do not comprehend because no one teaches them.”
Harlequin whirled back to face the figure. “And telling them would stop them? I think not.”
The figure shifted. “The humans have danced their little dance, Har’lea’quinn. They shook this world, and the others. Now they pay the price.”
Harlequin grasped his head and shook it. “No...It is too soon...”
“You will still be saying that when they tear the fingers from your hands and blind you with them. Have you fallen so far, Har’lea’quinn? Have you forgotten the horror?”
“Nor can I.” The figure stared at Harlequin. “I expected more from the last Knight of the Crying Spire.”
Harlequin stared back at the figure. “The Northern Islands are gone. Forgotten dust of a forgotten world.”
“As all shall be, Har’lea’quinn, as all shall be.”
“What would you have me do?” Harlequin cried.
“Destroy the bridge.”
Harlequin blanched. “That cannot be done...How...”
Harlequin sat abruptly. “No...”
“You know where she roams. Her song will shatter the bridge and cast them back from the chasm. It will take them time to find it again.”
Harlequin stared off into the darkness and nodded. “Yes...”
“Travel lightly. Some already wander the netherworlds. It will not be safe. They will smell you coming.”
Harlequin continued to nod. “I understand...”
The figure moved forward, walking past Harlequin toward the dying embers of the fire. “Move quickly, Laughing One; they have experience in building their bridge.”
Harlequin did not answer but stared off into the darkness of the room, still nodding.
The figure shook his head and stepped into the fire. The embers flared and kindled, but no heat warmed Harlequin. At last he looked up and saw his growing shadow on the wall, and turned. He saw only the last swirls of burning cloth as the heat from the now-raging fire danced them higher and higher.
He stared at the fire. The large, ornate doors at the far end of the room swung open and Harlequin stood quickly. A young woman entered, her long, white hair falling in waves over the black satin dressing gown she clutched to her body with one hand. The other hand held a heavy-barreled chrome pistol. ”Did you...” she stammered. “I felt...”
Harlequin nodded and walked toward her. “Indeed you did. Prepare yourself; it is time to see how much you have learned.”
She stared at him. As he moved past her he turned and continued walking, backward.
“The netherworlds...” he paused, and smiled. “Pardon my anachronism. The metaplanes will ring with the sounds of battle and songs long unsung.” He walked backward out of the room and down the hall.
She followed quickly. “I don’t...What happened?”
“Call up your files, dear Jane, and find us some heroes.”
She snorted. “Yeah, right.”
Harlequin grinned broadly. “Yes, times have changed.” His path arced across the large hall they’d entered and he began ascending the staircase.
She stopped at its foot and yelled up after him. “Will you tell me what the frag is going on?”
“Why, my dear,” he said, turning away from her, “Harlequin’s back. Can’t you tell?”