god hand

Only the Mage could tell you exactly what happened because she went into the void alone. Was she not ready either? We rush her to the Cleric’s house. Similar symptoms had befallen him, extreme aversion to heat and a need for cold, and his mother had gone through great length to save him. It is without doubt the Nightmare Hive. It waited ever so patiently for the right moment to strike. The instant it struck I sensed the portal open.

The Mage lies writhing in agony on their kitchen table. The Chief and Paladin both attempt to savagely beat me but are easily cast aside. They all want me and Augumon gone. I can’t blame but I insist on saving her. The darkness can’t have her!

I place my hand upon her forehead a dive deep into her psyche. At the first level I see the Mage in the void sobbing as screams “Popa” at a man leaving her with government scientists. At the second level is an endless loop of thoughts that her mother was trapped in. The third level is her little Paladin boyfriend yelling at her and leaving alone in the dark. I call out to her.

“Sensei!” she screams as she runs over and hugs me.

I hold her close wiping away her tears with my sleeve.

“Everything is going to be alright. This is your mind, your mind! You have dominion here” I tell her.

A sinister and booming laugh cackles all around us.

“She rejects your dominion! This is her cosmos!” I scream out at the void.

“While they are entwined by strings spun by fate a boy cries out and a girl feels. I want you for the one I care about.”

The voice of the void echoes through Eternity. I feel it ripple through every fiber of my being and hundreds of worlds shake. No! It is…There’s a sudden flash of lightning and for the briefest of moments the face of a black wolf with piercing yellow eyes flashes before me. When my senses return the void as changed; red lightning dances across the sky and many slender limbs and nondescript head of the Nightmare Hive stretch across the horizon.

“This is your cosmos” I tell her, “here only you have power. Only you can defeat it. But if you’re not quite ready you can give me the power to defeat it” “I can’t!” she cries, rightfully terrified. “Believe in the me that believes in you!” the entirety of this madness may have been orchestrated for the sole purpose of meaningfully say that phrase in proper context.

She gives me a willful smile and her eyes burn like fire. I’m transformed into a hybrid of myself and Gandalf the White as I pull my staff from the ether. I am now the Sorcerer and cast what I know as a ninth level banishment spell and the Nightmare Hive vanishes in a brilliant explosion of light that becomes a whirling portal in the sky that sucks in all of the void and her fears.

She jolts awake from the table and I fall back onto the floor, staff in hand. They all rush to her side, while the Cleric’s brother helps me to my feet. I give the Mage thumbs up and she returns it in kind. There is a moment of peace before a tear in reality opens and the hellish red light pours in as a demon claws its way through the portal.

Before anyone else can react the Mage has stepped forward. I’m one step behind her with my ignited saber in hand. The monster rips its way through, charging us and is cut in half in short order. She raises her right hand and with a single shout dissipates the portal and the demon’s body fades away into ashes.

She collapses to the ground and I notice that her veins have turned black and she is starting to shake. The ashes of the demon corpse gather along the wall in a very familiar shape, the Nightmare Hive. In the sultry voice of a woman that also echoes in the void it speaks.

“You struggle will just make your sacrifice that much more delectable.”

In my rage I cast dark lightning from fingertips and utterly decimate the wall. I can sense the portal and it knows it. This is an open challenge that I must meet. It doesn’t matter if it’s a trap, I have to go.

“Hold on to this for me” I say as I hand her my staff. “Do you have the thing I gave you before?” Augumon says to her.

She pulls the digital device out of her pocket.

“It will help” he tells her. “You ready bud?” I ask him “Yup” “Sensei!” she yells.

I turn to see her rising to her feet to bow and do so in kind. With a final nod I and Augumon walk out of the hole where the wall used to be. Once we’re outside I tell him something very important…

“Augumon, it is time.” “You mean?!” he exclaims with utter joy. “Yes. It is time for dino-crazy.” “Dino-crazy!” he roars as his voice deepens and he begins his metamorphoses into his ‘Champion’ form.

To the initiated: you know what song to play in your own head.

“Greymon” he shouts as he completes the change into a 30 ft. tall orange t-rex with three horns on a brown skull guard and blue stripes running down his back.

Channeling the weave I leap up to his back. The Party is awestruck and their family members are terrified. With a great roar Greymon charges forward. Screw subtlety! We’re making a beeline for that old government facility, we’re rampaging through that portal, and we’re slaughtering everything on the other side of it until the Nightmare Hive dies and stays dead.

Greymon barrels through the concrete walls and chain link fences as if they were paper. He claws his way through to the lowest level and there it is! The most ominous passage way made up of sinewy flesh bathed in hellfire that this world has ever seen. No slowing down now! Greymon charges through and we are greeted a hellscape of fleshy branches covering the ground, rainfall of ash, eternal dusk, and the distortion of all high pitched sounds.

In the distance towers the Nightmare Hive like some terrible dead oak standing over a barren field. All the while demons and demon dogs come at us by the hundreds. With saber in hand and fire in his breath, we give them hell. By the droves I slice them to pieces and fry them with lightning while Greymon stomps, thrashes, and incinerates them.

Now I know why it waited, it was bidding its time. Every last one of these monsters had to be grown. My suspicion is that they were waiting for us leave but the Mage discovered them in her fear trial. I’ll try to answer that question a little more thoroughly later because right now I’m kind of busy.

After several minutes the hoards stop and Nightmare Hive laughs.

“What’s so funny, Slan?” I say to her. “You are a clever boy, aren’t you?” she responds as she makes her true self manifest.

The many limbs form into the green strands of her hair and her black bat wings. The slender non-descript head forms into her sensuous succubus body.

“Look at your beautiful slaughter! Truly it moves me so. The joke is that you could consider yourself either hero or savior.”

Here it comes.

“For what sake do your worlds come into being? What do they live for? Why are they destined to meet that which important to them? Everything relies solely on conflict.”

“That’s enough!” I scream at her.

“Lambs to the slaughter, insects marching into a flame, suffering for your wil,l story-teller. A will that is not even your own.”

This will which moves me is mine own.

She howls with laughter in the face of my defiance.

“Is that so?” she says snaps her fingers and the hoard melts away into blood and bones, “Shall we count the bodies?”

With a clap of her hands the sky turns red as blood and bones assemble themselves into Skullgreymon, the skeletal reflection of Greymon’s darkness that is twice his size. The monstrous skeleton easily tosses him aside and attempts to crush him between its bony fingers.

All the while Slan has shrunk herself down to human size and glides down in front of me. I rush forward to slice her but she seemingly fades away only to materialize directly behind me. Before I can react she has bound my arms in an embrace and is wrapping her bat wings around me.

“Are you master of your desires” a voice that is not hers whispers in my ear.

I turn my head to see the Queen’s face! She’s taunting me, torturing me as rubs that face against mine and kissing my neck while extending her claws into my side.

This hurts! This hurts a lot!

But just as Greymon is about to be crushed a whistle breaks the distortion in the sound and he begins to glow. I find myself linked with the Mage. The device is active and the fire of courage is coursing through her veins burning out the Nightmare Hive.

“Metalgreymon” he roars as he achieves his ‘Ultimate’ state, growing to be a 70 ft. tall cyborg version of himself with a metal skull guard, left arm, and chest with tattered wings.

As he grows he shatters his skeletal counterpart’s arm. While the monster staggers back Metalgreymon opens up his chest and fires a pair of missiles at it. The resulting explosion utterly destroys his opponent and sends a massive shockwave sweeping over the hellscape. The only reason I’m able to withstand it is because Slan is inadvertently shielding me from it.

She goes to speak but then the pain steals her words. The fleshy tentacles are all on fire and so is the inside of her body. She releases me and staggers back as the fire consumes her from the inside out. Unable to retain her form she reverts back to the succubus.

“It is by my will that you die” I say to her as I jab the amethyst blade into her heart. “Exquisite!” Slan says breathily as she disintegrates into nothingness.

With her gone this place begins to fail too, collapsing in on itself like a dying star. Soon it will be no more.

What do we say to the God of Death? “Not today!” bellows Metalgreymon as flies by and I leap aboard him.

Pure oblivion pursues after us as we rush towards the portal. From it I hear a voice.

“Sensei!”

She’s holding the gate open. Holly hell that girl is scary powerful.

We fly through just as the tear blinks out of existence. Metalgreymon reverts to Augumon as we fall to ground. The building trembles slightly as the aftershocks reverberate through. Bruised, beaten, and bloody Augumon and I sit alone in the quiet for moment. He then starts pounding the ground in a particular rhythm. I start quietly sinking the accompanying words.

“Buddy you’re a boy make a big noise Playin’ in the street gonna be a big man some day You got mud on yo’ face You big disgrace Kickin’ your can all over the place Singin’”

He joins me in the chorus,

“We will we will rock you We will we will rock you”

We sing the rest with our full hearts like a couple of idiots. Then it’s quiet again.

“Augumon” I ask, “should we get out of here?” “And not say goodbye!” he exclaims. “Well I’m just going to be direct. Are we telling them goodbye or are we saying goodbye?” “You’re crazy man. My adventure is far from over” “Thanks man.” “Yup, no problem.” “So should we wait for rescue or should climb out of here?” “I don’t know about you but I’m tired. So I vote that we pass out and wait.” “I second that motion.”

And just like that we both fell into unconsciousness. An unknown amount of time later we awoke in at the Chief’s cabin. Fortunately our little endeavor was widely understood to be an earthquake and damages will be paid accordingly. I still feel kind of bad about the house.

Me and the Mage have a conversation about what she should do.

“Believe in the me that believes in you” she says. I shake my head no, “Now you need to believe in the you that believes in you.” “You go?” “Yes” “Don’t. You stay.” “Sorry kid, I got worlds to save.” “I go?” “No. You stay here and keep these idiots safe.”

Just as I say that the Party busts through the door. They may be happy I’m alive but it ain’t me they’re here to see. My boy Augumon eats that attention up. The Bard hands the bag back to me, god only knows what these pre-teen boys used that power for. So while the Party is busy explain how they made Augumon an NPC for their next campaign I reach into the bag and pull out a star saber.

The Mage’s eyes go wide and I hand it to her with a nod.

“Thank you” she says. “You’ve earned it” I tell her.

So it’s time to go. I may not care too much for this place but I will miss its people. I could stay here but I can’t. It would be a nice place to tie everything off for now, but that’s not how this journey goes. Onward we go to new and dangerous place in pursuit of victory against Fate itself. We say our goodbyes and we’ll leave them to chart their own courses.

Now she’s free to be a real kid.

“We can always comeback” my orange companion says. “Oh I know you are” “You’re not?” “Probably best if I don’t.”

We’re back at the motel and a certain Camaro is in the parking lot. I’m sure that relationship will end well. Augumon tosses me the keys and we climb. There’s one song we got to play on our way out of town. I plug in the cassette and electronic piano leads us in.

“You can’t can’t stand the way that I walked out from the wreckage Can’t understand the way the way I turned myself around I tried to terminate this With you But you won’t let it go You keep on coming back for more”

This time we pull out at a little more leisurely pace.

“Freedom!” “We’re takin’ it back” “We’re out of here, no turnin’ back” “We’re in a baby blue Cadillac” “Just when we were stallin” “We heard an angel callin”

As we’re rolling down the street some bicycles pull up next us and the Party joins in the singing.

“This is your life” “You can go anywhere” “You gotta grab the wheel and own it” “And drive it like you stole it” “Roll it” “This is your life” “You can be anything” “You gotta learn to rock and roll it” “You gotta put the pedal down” “And drive it like you stole it” “And drive it like you stole it”

With that we wave our last goodbyes and  I accelerate and don’t stop until the Camaro vanishes into a flash of electricity and burning tire marks upon the ground.

Several weeks have passed. The Mage is getting better attuned to the weave but her growth comes in fits and starts. She’ll handle a task well until her patience ebbs and she decides to blow through it using raw force. The problem this poses is that her power shall be the sword she’ll die by. She’ll blow through all opposition like a hurricane wind until she hits a mountain. If she won’t refine her gifts then a superior power will crush her utterly.

And there are superior powers to hers. I’ve already encountered several.

Augumon and the Party have become fast friends. Them passing him off as some sort of oversized stuffed animal has proven to be a surprisingly reliable cover him. During their game nights he regales them with tales of his many adventures and his many companions. Do not let his small stature and pleasant nature allow you to presume to underestimate him. Truly he is a seasoned and accomplished hero of multiple worlds.

The most succinct and seemingly bizarre manner in which I can explain this is that if Superman was a t-rex it would be him. Together they took him on many little adventures over the course of our time here. Those tales are his to tell, not mine. It does suffice to say that he loved every minute of it.

My extended stay in town has forced me to expand my cover. While confident that I could fend any of any government action taken against me does not mean that I am eager to indulge that headache. According to that need I started renting a space for a dojo. Several months in and I’m a regular in the community under a totally false identity…I am a pretender and fraud.

The upside is that as the Mage begins her martial training we have the luxury of doing it indoors. Having the physical outlet greatly tempers her reliance on her rage. The more she channels her power into her physical prowess the more centered her connection to the weave becomes. By the time three months have passed she can use her power without her nose bleeding. Good, that means she’s not going hemorrhage as we dive deeper.

The girl is a natural telepath and a blooming master of telekinesis. With the growing need to challenge her power we are forced back our little arena in the bog. Now with her enhanced speed and strength she can start running laps with Augumon on her back. If you are envisioning a particular training sequence from a particular film series you would be correct…I am a thief….The difference is that this is the 80’s so we have much better training music. You know the routine…and a hack. THE music plays…

Rising up, back on the street Did my time, took my chances Went the distance, now I’m back on my feet Just a man and his will to survive

The Mage and I are taking turns doing hand stands with Augumon on our feet.

So many times it happens too fast You trade your passion for glory Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past You must fight just to keep them alive

We practice energy flow techniques as we pose against the backdrop of a setting sun.

It’s the eye of the tiger It’s the thrill of the fight Rising up to the challenge of our rival And the last known survivor Stalks his prey in the night And he’s watching us all with the eye of the tiger

In a black void I see a man dressed in black monk’s attire, a grey tunic, with a red sash wrapped around his waist, and white boots. His back is turned to me but I recognize the clothing and his black curly hair but they belong to two very different beings. I awake in a cold sweat in the dead of night.

Face to face, out in the heat Hanging tough, staying hungry They stack the odds still we take to the street For the kill with the skill to survive

Sparing between me and her with our bare hands, she’s getting faster and stronger as the months pass. Almost five months in and she’s really getting the hang of using telekinesis in combat; throwing rocks, logs, anything she get a good grasp on and telekinetic defenses are better than mine.

It’s the eye of the tiger It’s the thrill of the fight Rising up to the challenge of our rival And the last known survivor Stalks his prey in the night And he’s watching us all with the eye of the tiger

I’m in the void and the see the familiar figure again but this his time he’s facing. It’s the Bastard but not like I’ve ever seen him before. His features have become…wolf like, teeth like fangs and piercing yellow eyes. I snap out of the telepathic meditation and walk away from the Mage.

“Who’s that?” she asks me. “That answer is complicated” I tell her. “Friends don’t lie” “I’m not lying but it’s hard to explain” “Try” “Alright. It’s what you’re, what we all must face before our training is done” “What?” “Our darkness but mine is a little different since I last saw him.” “And mine?” “Only you can face it. Only you can beat it.” “I’m scared.” “You should be. You should be. Let’s get to back to it.”

Rising up, straight to the top Had the guts, got the glory Went the distance, now I’m not gonna stop Just a man and his will to survive

Augumon and the Party join us, namely to throw anything and everything at me and her. The objective is simple, don’t get hit. The lesson, be cool under pressure. I’m trying to catch each individual thrown item in the weave while she is simply projecting a wall in it that the stuff bounces off of. Our dino friend ups the ante by firing a fireball at her. It impacts against her against her barrier shattering it as it explodes. None of the fire gets to her but the force of the explosion does send her tumbling head over ass backwards more than a couple meters.

She’s none too pleased and scrapped up pretty good but she’s alright.

It’s the eye of the tiger It’s the thrill of the fight Rising up to the challenge of our rival And the last known survivor Stalks his prey in the night And he’s watching us all with the eye of the tiger

In my nightmares I remember a battle long past. It’s a starless night and all that can be seen are the silhouettes of two pairs of combatants squaring off against one another. Two men equal in height and two wolfmen, one very tall and the other very short. One of the men ignites a purple blade and the other starts glowing like golden fire, while the large wolf emanates a black flame as the small one taps his claws together and they become drenched in blood. The fires fly at one another while their respective partners charge each other. As they are about to clash lightning strikes and I’m jolted awake.

The eye of the tiger The eye of the tiger

Augumon is firing fireballs at me rapid fire and I’m deflecting them using the saber. After he’s out of energy I turn towards the mage who’s flinging debris at me. I cut through the projectiles and rush towards her as I do she outstretches her hand and closes her eyes. I’m in the black void and I stop dead in my tracks. It takes me moment but I realize where I am and what is going on. Through my mind I banish the void away and the world erupts back into existence around me. As it does a rock hits me squarely in the face and I’m down.

Bruised and slightly miffed, I curse underneath my breath as I get up. Augumon chides me for my foul language. The Mage looks anxiously towards me. I walk over to her and congratulate on how far she has come in these 7 months.

The eye of the tiger The eye of the tiger

We are at the end of eight months and the Chief has made it clear that he doesn’t want her training to interrupt her schooling. This’ll be the first year she’ll be enrolled in public schools and that’s enough for her worry about. He’s content at how far she has come and is confident that she has the tools she needs to live a normal life. That and he’s worried that I’m going to drag my apprentice off on some dangerous journey beyond this world.

I couldn’t be honest and say that I hadn’t considered it at many points but ultimately I choose not to. Sure she would be tremendous asset to my endeavors but she’s also a little girl who’s been denied a normal life her entire life. Let her live life a little and then she can decide that for herself. That decision is hers and I’ll let it be hers.

So was all of this a waste of my time? I’m no closer to my goal and what occurred here should have no bearing on the rest of my quest. No, no it wasn’t. I helped her achieve some balance, I’m leaving a highly capable defender against the Nightmare Hive should that threat arise, and I started a minor boom in the appreciation of the martial arts in the American Midwest. All good things, though the second point warrants some further consideration.

There is no way the presence of myself and my traveling companion failed to impact the world’s balance. I was certain that the Nightmare Hive would respond, I mean I know for a fact that its attention is firmly on this town and the Party. Maybe it’s waiting for us to leave? But what action is warranted from me?

Shall we stay, as I don’t want to leave this world to be trampled underfoot the instant we leave, and then how long are we obligated to stay? Then again this is their world and their battle. Do I not have an obligation to others, to her that I must uphold? Why don’t we just initiate the fight and win it outright? Then again it is their fight and wouldn’t I be stealing their conflict, denying them their growth?

That bridge will be crossed tomorrow. Today is the last and critical test for the Mage, the trial of fear. She must go to a dark and cold place so that she may face her darkness. How she fares in the face of it shall determine the path she shall take. It will be a difficult test but there should be no peril for her.

“At least it is true that man has no control”

I was so very very wrong!

We return to the castle. The suspicion and fear that they had of me has become wonder and joy. The fragile alliance of the living revels in their victory, yet my soul is sorrowful and sick. I have not the heart to tell them it may be for naught, which is also the wise counsel the Imp gave me when I apprised him of my suspicions that were overheard by the Young Assassin.

“What do we say to the God of Death?” she asks. “Not today” I reply.

She reminds me of her desire to possess a saber. I tell her that I should have taken her on instead of her brother. The conversation turns towards what became of him, and I haven’t the faintest notion of how to answer that query. Even if I wanted to speak the truth how could I communicate it in a manner they would comprehend?

I can scarcely explain it to myself let alone to people who are near a millennia behind me in technology and culture. To them I’m a sorcerer from a faraway land they’ve never heard of. The Imp appears to understand that as a place beyond the stars but even that understanding falls short. Only the Queen has a proper understanding and that only serves to heighten my fear that I am bending this world to a will that I do not command.

Am I slave or am I tyrant? By either count I am no liberator.

I tell them that a curse of darkness has befallen him, making him a servant to a power other than himself. Dear Lady, please return him from the hell in which I entrapped him.

The fruits of my theft are as sweet as they are noxious. The Queen holds the same affection of me in her eye as I do in mine. Please be enthralled by my dreams and ideals and not by me. I have already failed her by that count and I’m quite certain that my petty desire will fail her again.

The counsel is called. Among them is the Seer whose face is cut on the left side. Among those who are absent include the Bastard still won’t wake and his sister, the Lady hasn’t left his bedside. I make the case that all the labors up till this point had been part of his grand scheme. While speaking of the scope and scale of his foresight the Seer interrupts,

“Like the hand of God”

No! Oh no…

The Queen senses my cold terror and immediately calls for an adjournment. They leave the room to us, the Seer never taking his eyes off her as he’s wheeled out.

While we’re alone she conducts the entire conversation through telepathy. Truly the scope of her power and the rate of her growth are astonishing. Less a series of well formulated thoughts and more a trade of feelings, through it an understanding is reached. The King Other can’t see me because I’m not of this world and is growing increasingly blind to her because she can now block him. What we need is more like me.

This is the cosmos of my conception and that leaves a host of worlds with fighters worthy of the task. So it is that I am commanded to recruit and return with the necessary forces for me to defeat the King Other and his army. With a roaring torrent of rainbow light I vanish into the cosmos.

Indeed he is a natural talent but unlike her, his affinity is for the blade. Years of training have honed his aptitude and grueling experience has tested his steel. As his understanding of and connection to the Weave grows his swordsmanship exponentially accelerates. Within two months he’s as fast as I am and almost as strong. Within four he has surpassed my martial ability in every capacity. By the end of our time in here I suspect that he should be a worthy challenger to any of the great sword masters of the order.

Of course I had him construct his own star saber. He chose the blue blade of the guardian. It suits him perfectly.

While our training and her connection to the Weave has allowed her to supersede the prowess of the great knights of her time, the Queen has no love for the blade. Her growth comes in glorious magnitudes and breadth of skill in which she can manipulate the Weave. Powerful telekinetic waves and grips, advanced precognition, and masterful manipulation of fire. She even has a burgeoning talent for telepathy.

Their training goes magnificently well. Everything else does not. One year is a very long time to be spent in isolation with only two other people. When there is tension there is no escaping from it. When there is a misunderstanding there is no distance to put between you and them. When emotions arise there is no distraction from them.

I am a grey and as such I take from both the Light and the Dark. I do not discourage attachment or emotional experience. Only by exploring one’s emotions may you know them, may you command them. Willful ignorance cannot achieve balance. However, this experience has developed an understanding on the Order’s prohibition on romantic attachment.

Though their affection for one another is powerful and primal, the isolation draws their differences into sharp contrast. Truly they are ice and fire. Over the course of months their passions for one another drift apart. This breeds resentment and begets anger. It serves her well but him ill. The Queen’s affinity for the Dark allows her to focus her hurt into power while the Bastard’s affinity for the Light saps his strength.

Unable to reconcile his pain or turn his attention toward a larger threat, he turns his rage towards me. Though it does empower him, I fear it comes at great peril; for he is naturally averse to the Dark. Should he come to use it it shall be because he is beholden to it and not it answering to his command. If he loses the light then he shall be lost.

More than the Weave is discussed. The Queen and mine’s discussions over the “modern world”, reality, and modern ideals enthrall her. I would be a liar if I said I did not delight in her enthusiasm. She is increasingly resolved to break the wheel as she is emboldened by the possibilities of what could replace it. Brave and bold departures from the sanctity of tradition take root in her thought. Truly, she can free this world and I shall see to it that she does.

The bolder the departure the more displeased the Bastard is with the notion. Some of it he is genuinely averse to, most of it is the poison of jealousy and distrust in his veins. The rift between them widens and when our one year in the chamber concludes, it takes my best to prevent me and him from coming to lethal blows.

When the chamber door opens and we exit one full day later, the two of them are exponentially better prepared to face the looming doom but it has come at a much higher cost than I anticipated. If this world’s Messiah is ‘them’, I may have been an unwitting Judas. The Imp approaches us with wry wit queries as the correlation between the changes in our appearances to our personalities. The Bastard storms off in a fit of anger.

The Imp is rightfully concerned. The Queen assures him that she’ll sort it out. As he’s informing her of any events she may have missed she walks down the hall with my bo staff in her hand. Using it helped her channel her power and she took quite a liking to it.

I feel the faintest prick of a dagger in my back. I don’t how she’s been practicing but the Young Assassin clearly has been.

She informs me that she won. I inform her that is not quite true, as my unignited saber is pointed directly at her chest. She says she wants one. I say that she has to complete her training first.

She asks, “When do we begin?”

I chuckle. I knew I liked her for a reason, “After I have a chat with your sister.”

“Follow me”

She leads me on circuitous path in and out of dark corners. Either she is testing me or arranging my execution. So long as the Bastard isn’t waiting to challenge me to a duel in the catacombs I am exceedingly confident in my ability to survive. Fortunately the latter does not appear to be the case. We appear to simply be avoiding contact as much as possible as we sneak to the Lady’s chamber door.

I sense three people in the room and I can identify all three: the Lady, the Dog, and the Maid Knight. The Young Assassin beckons me to enter before her. There is a strong probability that this may be a trap. No matter, they’re setting a bear trap for a dragon.

I walk through the door to see The Dog and the Maid Knight standing on either side of the Lady. Well it is my fortune that they would appear to be here as guards and not murderers. Good, I delight in knowing that I don’t have to hurt them. They’re good people who are wise enough of the world to be suspicious and discerning. Exactly the kind of people that can help actualize a better world.

I attempt to be witty and gracious in my overture but the Lady is not having it. She demands a full explanation of what I am. To accommodate her I attempt to translate what parts of my experience I can into something familiar for their time and place. What I manage to say is taken with considerable suspicion. Much like my prior confrontation with the Imp, I find myself proud of her opposition to me. It means that she is in fact, learning and improving.

Our conversation is at an impasse. To break the tension in the room I ask her if she would like to learn to dance. She assures me that she has been educated on how to dance. I assure her that no high born has the faintest notion of what dancing is. With a heavy sigh she dismisses me, yet I do not leave.

Her business with me is done but my business with her is not. The guards step forward to escort me out but before either can lay a hand on me, I voice my concerns for her brother, the Bastard.

“What did you do to him?” she asks as she bares her fangs at me.

“Nothing he had not done himself. Before this over he shall need you, both of you”, I say as look back at the Young Assassin.

Though you may not accept it, I am rooting for you, Bastard. My presence may have set you astray but not beyond the reach of your sisters. Emphatically I believe in them as I wish you did. If only you had been witness to their triumphs and torments, as I have, you would.

Before I can leave a messenger rushes into the room. Apparently the Bastard has mounted one of the dragons and is flying north to do something stupidly heroic…alone.

We rush to the courtyard were we are met by the Queen and the Imp. Both her and I can sense the confusion and frustration that clouds his mind. He fears that he has lost her and this is a misguided attempt to win her back from me when I never stole her…

The Queen and I lock eyes…I never meant to…consciously.

This creation is the cosmos of my mind.

I cannot let this happen.

She’s preparing to mount her own dragon and chase off after him. Both I and the Imp implore her not to. He speaks of how she is too important to just fly off on her own into doom itself, and I completely agree but if we’re going to get her to listen I have to come at this from another angle. I ask her to trust in me to get the task done as I telekinetically pull my staff from her hands and call it back to me.

I want her to issue me a stern command to return “him to her”.

Instead she whispers gently into my ear, “Come back to me”.

My emotions have betrayed me.

I can’t help myself. With a cocksure smile and wink I blast off into the winter sky and speed north in pursuit of the Bastard. As I soar high above the ground I ponder whether I am truly doing so because there is no time to waste to save him or if my actions are compelled by my subconscious desire. How fortuitous it is that these unfortunate circumstances serve to best endear me to the woman I adore.

Is it so that my grand purpose is but hollow pretense for my petty desire? Doth I protest my wish to be liberator too much? Am I the tyrant? Or yet am I the slave to my own wishes?

I must know that I am free. I must believe that I am liberator and enlightener. I must save the Bastard from the fate my own subconscious has crafted for him. I must.

After a measure of time I know not, he is found. He is found in the heart of a blizzard immediately next to the presence of the King Other. I soar in next to the dragon. As I do so, I notice the large shadow that is circling us in the storm. Once I’m close enough I glide myself down through the unrelenting snow and wind onto the dragon’s back.

The Bastard is none too pleased to see me. Though he is screaming at me with his full force I cannot hear clearly a single word in the maelstrom.  What I can hear is the flapping of a second set of wings. All the rest of the world goes quiet…

Long seconds pass between the “whoosh” of each wing flap, then perfect silence… From the fringes of our line of sight erupts the horrible visage of the undead, frozen dragon as it bears down on us breathing its foul blue flame. Our dragon quite impressively rolls to meet its flame with his. I and the Bastard desperately clasp on to one of his back spikes before he can reorient himself. The King Other rides his glorious undead mount. As he passes by preparing a second attack, the Bastard leaps off the back of his dragon toward his enemy. Because of his training he can make that leap he has no right making, with a dragon steel blade in hand no less. It sets him up for a fight that he cannot win.

This is a battle brought on by the poison I injected the Bastard’s veins. I watch him lose and as I do it all becomes clear to me. For one I dishonored this world. Its creator would have nothing but disdain for my interference in the affairs he so carefully, brilliantly, painstakingly crafted. My being has no place or purpose here outside of my ego and as such has distorted the world in subtler fashion, infinitely more grave than I ever anticipated.

The Queen and he as the Messiah are the one grand exception that this world will allow for. That power in which I reserved for myself made me the second, and when I passed that power to them created a third and fourth. Of all the worlds in my conception few are less forgiving than this one and failures shall suffer consequence, here. The world itself is bringing itself back into balance by writing out the excess, and as a foreign entity it has no sovereignty over me.

For two, I cannot in good conscience tell you that this is out of line with my will. My self-deception has betrayed me through corrupting him. I told myself that I wanted to liberate and enlighten this world and I would need her to do it. Alas, my desire was all together more acutely juvenile and petty: I wanted her and the rest was my excuse. For me and her to rule as god and goddess I needed him gone.

With a flash of blue light the Bastard is sent tumbling off of the King Other’s monstrous steed, hurtling towards the ground several hundred feet below us.

What shall I do?

The King Other locks eyes with me as we stride the massive mythical monsters. He points at me with his icy spear and his undead mount comes at us. I raise my hands to my face, palms out, fingers pointed inward and spread wide and call for the sun. Luminously blinding sunlight engulfs us and breaks the storm.

I’m speeding downwards as fast as I can. The Queen’s dragon is flying back the Bastard’s castle. The King Other and his undead beast have been knocked out of the sky and are falling. Now’s my chance; I could ignite my saber and drive it through his heart ending all of this!

Too bad I’m a good two-hundred feet below him catching up to the falling Bastard. I catch him just before he hits the tundra but I can’t quite break my momentum enough for a comfortable landing. Hard impact hurts, a lot. Good thing I gave myself the strength of an ascended dragon warrior, otherwise I’d be paste. He’s out cold but the Bastard is unscathed.

Several seconds later the King Other and his dragon crash with a thunderous boom. Its body lies broken in several pieces only held together by the skin but he stands unfazed, completely unharmed. I ignite my amethyst blade and run towards him. As I do he raises his right hand and then slashes it down into a point at my saber. A wind so cold that it feels like a hundred burning blades slashes past me, stopping me in my tracks and short circuiting my blade.

Through the weave I call for my staff and it comes hurtling towards my open hand. As I do so, he manifests another icy spear from his beast’s broken spikes. We face one another; I channel the weave through the staff preparing for combat.

After a moment I spring forward at him with speed far beyond a human’s limit. He strikes his guard and I rotate to my right to wrap around, sliding both my hands down the shaft to strike his head as if I were wielding a great sword…and WHACK!

I hit him with every ounce of enhanced strength that I possess, and it does little more than chip the side of his face.

The King Other turns his head and lips unmoving, speaks in a voice that is not his alone, that echoes like the void, “Dreams”, I am struck by horror and awe, “Each man longs to pursue his dreams. Each man is tortured by this dream but the dream gives meaning to his life. Even if the dream ruins his life he cannot allow himself to leave it behind. In this world is a man ever able to possess anything more solid than a dream?”

It can’t be.

“In this world is the destiny of mankind controlled by some kind of transcendental entity or law? At least it is true that man has no control, even over his own will.”

This foe is far beyond any dark emperor. Now I see; see that I am but a child playing at being divine, that he is not bound by my will, rather I am to his, my foe is Fate, and all in this world is in accordance with his will. Orchestrated by whispers in flames, the Messiah is but a lamb to lead the flock to slaughter.

No. No. No! NO!

“I reject your dominion!”

He may hold power over this entire world, but I am not of this world. I am master of my own will and I am no slave to his whim! This may be his world but this is my cosmos.

Where I chipped his face begins to glow…it explodes, taking his left jaw and cheek.

He wails in pain with a guttural hiss.

From above I hear another hiss, but this one is roaring and is accompanied by the sound of large wings. The Queen has come. As she descends on the back of her largest dragon the King Other animates the broken corpse of his. Before I can strike a second blow he has thrown his spear at the Queen.

Through the weave I’m able to grab it out of the air but she also averts her course to dodge it. Breaking off from her approach give him time to climb on the dragon corpse rapidly reassembling itself and fly away under the cover of snowy mist. The King Other has escaped from what appears to be his first genuine defeat, but as he leaves he speaks,

“Now the story begins”,

And I am left uncertain of my victory.

The Queen lands and her loyal knight dismounts to retrieve the Bastard. As I approach she extends a hand to help me up but I notice that she is giving me the same look she gave him in the same circumstance.

Do I have any control over my own will?