Johannes sighed, sinking into a chair in the sitting room. “I am not sure I can even trust my own mind any more. I don't know what is happening to me…. When I spoke to the Coordinator, I was seeing… other things, and I am not even certain I heard his own words correctly. Am I going mad?”
“No, Hannes, no! You're just sick. You'll get better…. What kinds of things did you see?”
Johannes leaned back, a faraway look coming into his eyes. “It was as if I was in an Orithoran temple… and the Coordinator and Wilhelm spoke as if it was guilt that caused my illness; not something in character for either of them at all, but a very Orithoran sentiment. It is strange.”
Rebekah got a familiar look in her eyes, which merged with her concern. It was the look she used to get when Johannes used to play intellectual games with her. She pulled up a chair, so that their knees were almost touching. “The Coordinator and Wilhelm weren't acting right? But… then did you go to the Coordinator at all? I saw Wilhelm leave here with you.”
Johannes leaned forward, half-nodding. “I did. Or, at least, I think I did. When I left the Coordinator's office, things appeared to clear in my mind, and it seems clear that they heard me when I said I could not trust myself to accurately answer questions when they seemed to not behave correctly. Another thing - there was a pickpocket who tried to rob me on the way back, and I was pushed over. But, for a moment, instead of snow, the snow felt like sand…”
“Maybe it was sand from the North Sea, or maybe it was some mud that hardened in the snow, or some mulch… But why would the Coordinator's office be special?”
Johannes shook his head. “I… if I had to venture any sort of guess, whatever is affecting me is somehow triggered by the importance of the meeting, by the religious obligation involved… after all, the only association I can think of between what I saw and what I should have seen is that the Orithorans were certainly sticklers for religious obligation. And, if I can trust my memory at all, all the strange events that have been haunting my mind started with that visit to that ruined Orithoran temple, but I'm not certain I can even trust those memories to be accurate. Still, from the perspective of my own mind, that temple is somehow tied with my illness. If only as a symbol my mind has latched onto.” He chuckled bitterly, shaking his head. “So difficult to draw accurate conclusions when there is so little of a way to determine what information I work from is accurate…”
“_Something_ has to be real. We can assume Duerstadt is real. It has to be, since you were born here, and you spent almost your whole life here. So then what's false? You know the Orithoran temple isn't real… When you were studying natural philosophy, you used to say that you can find truth by looking for patterns. Maybe you should try that now. Maybe if you can draw a sharp line between reality and fiction… I know! You said the religious obligation is what made you see things. Maybe we should take a walk, and go to all the old, familiar places, and see if there's anything special about religious places.”
Johannes nodded. “That seems to be enough of a start, with as little certain information as I have. I am quite certain my life before I reached Huerten is real, of course!” He reached out to take Rebekah's hand, and held it gently. “Thank you, Bekah. It is difficult to remain calm under these circumstances…”
“You'll get better soon. I just know it.” Rebekah put on a warm coat - the one Karl had given her a year ago. It was still in excellent shape. They walked out the door together and headed towards the university. “You haven't really talked much about your visions. Have you seen anything besides an Orithoran temple?”
Johannes shook his head slowly. “Several things. I thought I saw the truth of the story of one of the people I met. She was a thief, if the vision was to be believed, but that hardly constitutes proof. I took the place of a mage, in an unknown time, escaping with my companions from mysterious enemies… that vision took me out of consciousness. I thought I saw miracles of healing, for people who were brutally attacked while I was investigating murders in Dunweig, and I saw injuries that should have been impossible….” He drifted off into silence.
Rebekah respected her brother's silence for a time. At some point, Johannes thought he smelled fresh herbs, mingled with sod and animal sweat. He looked around and saw none of those things. Then Rebekah spoke again. “There – see? The University. I bet you missed this place.” The front gate, besides the tiny piles of snow on each horizontal bar, was just as Johannes remembered it. There was even a bit of familiar graffiti in black ink on the stone pillar to the left of the gate, which had appeared there the morning before Johannes left. They had gotten lax about keeping it clean. Usually, such vandalism didn't last a day.
The gate was wedged open by mounds of snow, and the path inside was clear. “Where should we go first?” Rebekah asked.
Johannes looked thoughtful. “I believe, all things considered, that the first places we should attempt are the chapels to Andritha and Jarram. After that, we can investigate other options further, but we should see if there is that connection to religion you mentioned…”
They spent some time in the low-ceilinged Jarramite chapel, but, besides being assaulted by that same mysterious scent of fresh herbs, Johannes saw nothing special. There were a few people there, all of whom he recognized and who greeted him and welcomed him back. To be sure, Johannes and Rebekah checked every corner – the storage closets used for food and ritual wine, the second room, hardly larger than a closet itself, used as an office by the young priest who presided here, even the locked cabinet which held pamphlets, letters and two copies of the Book of Jarram. All were exactly as Johannes remembered them.
It was evening by the time they made their way to the other temple. While Johannes, like every student in the University, had spent some time in the Temple of the Healer, he did not know it as well as he did the Jarramite basement. As far as he could remember, he'd only ever been to the main chapel. That, at least, was just as he'd remembered it. The priest and several acolytes (all at least second-year students, if Johannes remembered them correctly) were preparing the chapel for the evening service. None of them showed signs of recognition when he entered, though he thought he'd seen every one of them before. Not surprising – he'd naturally remember the priest, and he'd recognize practically any student at least in his second year.
“Do you see anything here?” Rebekah asked.
“Other than detecting a smell of herbs in the Jarramite temple, as well as on the way here, there has been nothing so far. I am uncertain this smell is based in outside physical reality…”
“Then where should we go next?”
Johannes nodded. “Let us attempt to see if the College of Moral Philosophy shows any evidence to us….”
The main building of the College was open and well-lit, and would be until late in the night. The smell of fresh herbs washed over him occasionally, like a scent that was always there but was forgotten most of the time. When it came, Johannes looked around and tried to find the source, but it always went away before he could. He and Rebekah hurried through the College of Moral Philosophy, glancing into meeting halls and offices that they'd both seen many times, and, finding nothing unusual, continued on to the Colleges of Letters, Natural Philosophy and Medicine. When they came to the College of Music, Rebekah passed it by. “I spend too much time there already,” she said. “Besides, it would hardly be any use. You couldn't have been inside more than once or twice in your entire academic career.”
“You're right. It wouldn't be any use.” The two walked away, Johannes deep in thought.
“There has to be a pattern. Except for a couple strange smells, nothing unusual has happened in two days. And nothing happened before the Coordinator either. What was I doing differently then? I'd visit the Coordinator again if I could. I wonder if I can make another appointment on short notice. It would be hard –”
“We've done enough today, Hannes. We'll visit more of the old places tomorrow.”
Johannes stopped walking and squinted at Rebekah, concentrating intensely.
“I'd like to see the practice rooms in the School of Music.”
“But why? I don't think you've ever stepped foot in a practice room.”
“I want to see where you practice, Rebekah.”
“I spend almost all my time there. Do you have to make me go now?”
“I've never seen them before. Come on, Bekah. It won't take long.”
“All right. If you think it's important.”
The two of them turned around. As they approached the School of Music, Johannes began to feel funny, but he couldn't figure out what was wrong. Everything was where he expected it to be. Each building he'd seen before was exactly as he remembered it, and the buildings he hadn't seen before –
“In here, Hannes,” Rebekah said, interrupting his thoughts. Johannes remembered a time he'd walked Rebekah to the University. It was her first day, right after she'd received the unusual honor of admittance, something not ordinarily granted to women. He'd brought her to this very place.
Rebekah unlocked the door, and they entered, their footsteps echoing throughout the nearly empty building. A familiar tune was being played, poorly, in the distance. They turned into a hallway and followed its length. Half way down, Rebekah reached towards the handle of the door to an administrative office – the very office where Johannes had left her that first day. “Where are the practice rooms?” Johannes asked, and Rebekah withdrew her hand and led on.
The hallway was poorly lit, but somehow, it seemed to become brighter as they progressed. At the end of the hall, Johannes saw a flickering firelight coming out of a door. They approached the door and stepped in.
“This is it, Hannes. It's not very impressive. I keep the instruments I'm not using here, and I usually stand over here when I play. I write music in another room, but they don't give me a key to it since the materials are so expensive.” Johannes heard her, but didn't see her. Instead, he saw the long-haired woman, tending the fire while speaking in Rebekah's voice. Viillio and the others were already asleep, Viillio wearing a talon of one of the giant flying creatures around his neck. “Here's one of the pieces I've been learning. Sometimes there's more than one in the cabinet, but I was told to focus one this one.”
“It isn't real,” Johannes said.
Johannes stepped back, and stumbled out of the room. Behind him, the hallway continued as he expected it to. In front of him was an entire world, just a few miles from Brundash, a place of magic and impossible creatures. He covered his eyes and turned away. “Let's go.”
Rebekah was quiet until they were outside the School of Music, respecting her brother's silence. “Another hallucination?”
“Yes, one I've had before…. Music and religion…. It doesn't make sense. How are they connected? The Morenthians are well known for the integration of singing into their rituals, but I only met one Morenthian in Huerten, and she said she was tone-deaf. Maybe the Orithorans also used music. I can't remember anything about that from my studies…”
Johannes became silent again, and they walked for a few minutes without speaking. “Hannes? What are you thinking?”
“I'd like to go back to the Temple of Andritha.”
The temple hadn't changed in the hours since they'd seen it last, though a religious service was in progress. “Where are all the first- year students?” Johannes whispered, standing in the back of the room.
“They're away. They were all taken to see some artifact that was found on an island in the Icesea. It's supposed to be very old.”
“Let's go to one of the side rooms.”
“But they're in the middle of a service.”
“I want to find something out. I have an idea.”
“Johannes, you're acting very strange.”
Johannes's suspicions were confirmed. As soon as he stepped into the side-room, he found himself in Osander River Village. He turned around to say so to Rebekah, but his sister was gone. All he saw was the village.
“Out of bed, are you?” Lutont asked.
“How did I get here?”
“Memory's still acting up? When Mindolpha brought you back, you couldn't even get out of bed. Kept mumbling about all the places you'd been to. You said some strange things – Tonnel Flemminton was confused as all hell. He kept trying to talk to you.”
“So none of that really happened? It was all in my head? What is the date?”
“Twenty eighth of Farinon. Six days after you got here. You know, you ask me that every time you see me.”
“I have to go. As soon as this passes, I'll want to return to Duerstadt. I guess it's unlikely Mindolpha will talk to me again.”
“She's been avoiding you like the plague. Given who she is, that's pretty bad.”
“I'm sorry. I'm sorry about everything.”
Johannes had no trouble with his memory over the next few days, and in fact, he felt quite a bit better. No more headaches, no more hallucinations. He began to feel that his illness was finally at an end. On the last day of the week, he felt he was ready to go. He tried to stop by Mindolpha's hovel before he left, but she wouldn't answer the door. With no one else to say goodbye to, he mounted Mist and led the horse east. He'd pass through Huerten on the way north, and see how his recent companions had made out.
No sooner had he left the village than his headache struck anew. He was back in an early hallucination, one he'd had no control over. This time he was part of the mob, charging towards the three powerful magic- wielders. He knew that at best, he would be compelled to flee for his life. At worst, he would be torn to pieces by the strange creatures that would well up from a crack in the earth.
This time, though, he knew what was happening, and had control. “This isn't real,” Johannes said. The mob became insubstantial, and when Johannes looked back, he was outside of Osander, facing the village. Behind him was the hallucination and an imagined death, so he returned to the village.
“Am I trapped here, then?” he asked himself. “No. That is absurd. I only think I've been here for days. I'm really in Duerstadt. This isn't real.”
“What isn't real?” Rebekah asked. Osander was still there, but Rebekah and the door to the side-room in the temple had reappeared.
“I'm sorry, Rebekah. I have to go. I wish I could stay here with you. Duerstadt is better than Huerten, and it has been wonderful living in the same house with my family again, but I am afraid I have to go. I have been trying to work it out for days, and none of it made sense, but now I think I'm starting to understand. My mind couldn't take the insanity that assaulted it, so it brought me to a safe place – to Duerstadt, but I can't stay. You see, none of this is real. The temple, the University, our house… You aren't real either, Bekah.”
“But Hannes –”
“I'm sorry, Bekah. I'll miss you, but we will see each other again.”
Johannes closed his eyes, and blocked everything out. He kept his eyes closed for a long time, and eventually fell asleep. The smells of pine and fresh herbs filled his insubstantial dreams, but this time, they weren't strange. They made sense. When he woke, he was lying on a straw bed. He opened his eyes slowly, and saw a well-constructed sloped roof above him, the long planks connected by wooden bolts.
“His eyes are open.” It was Mineasia's voice.
“About time.” This voice was unfamiliar.
“Will he be all right now, Uyithlyaw?”
Nathan controlled Johannes up to the College of Moral Philosophy. After that, Johannes was an NPC. Welcome back, Nathan. At this point, it shouldn't be hard to catch up to the other players.