"Wait, what?" Dave blinked a dozen times in rapid succession. "They were ... do we even mean the same thing?" He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms, then dragged his fingers through his already tangled hair.
"This is my own damn fault, trying to be all cagey. I think I'd better explain myself.
"I'm from here. I think. This world, I mean. But about fifteen years ago, my friend and I ended up someplace else. An alternate timeline, a parallel universe, we're still not sure which. Somewhere the rules are a lot different, anyway. Syll ... well, that's his name now. Here it was Eddie...
"Anyway, Syll was a physicist here. Over there he's literally a wizard, magic spells and all. And I'm a Keeper. See, in our part of the world, there are eight nations that share a common religion and set of civil and criminal laws. The people who hear cases, render judgments, make the laws, they're called the Judges. Then there are the Keepers. We collect evidence for hearings, bring back fugitives, help the local authorities investigate crime." He chuckled at his own words. "We sound like freakin' Mounties when I put it like that."
Dave picked up his seal. "Each Keeper has certain skills. In my case, things like psychometry, node tapping, small unit tactics." He pointed to each sign in turn. "That's how I drew this case. There were rumors a fiend summoner was operating in Syll's city. He and a mutual friend of ours, Félice Sevensisters, helped me look into it. The information was right on the money. He was trying to bring over something ... bad." At that Dave's face darkened and he shut his eyes for a moment, clamping his lips as if fighting back a wave of nausea. Then he continued.
"Anyway. We made sure he couldn't deliver the sacrifice his patrons wanted. It turned out badly for him. But even after he was gone, we needed to make sure his house was safe. Couldn't take the chance that there was some little imp hiding in a dark corner waiting for a chance to run amok as soon as our backs were turned. We were searching the cellars when I went to open a door. Just a door, like two dozen others we had already tested and opened. We had cleared a few rot runes. This one didn't show any signs at all. But as soon as I put my hand on the handle ... here I was."
Dave took another long swig of coffee.
"I think it was a half gate. An opening that didn't lead anywhere. Like I say, it should have dropped me into the space between universes. I would have floated aimlessly until my soul fell apart." And here he pointed to Aoi's seal again. "Would have, if not for that. There's some connection between these, and I think it saved my life. Hell, all my lives."