This cover was drawn by the author.
This episode is PART THREE of THREE.
PART TWO: TRUCE AT THE TRENCHES
Our conversation, though short in comparison to its impact, ended without a farewell. If honest, I’m not entirely sure where we ended our talk. But it ended. Goyath, warlord of the emu hordes, denied my request for a duel which would decide the fates of the battle.
His words of purposelessness and misguided, invader mentalities sunk in deep. The venom of ire curled in my blood. The warlord touched a sensitive scoot in the armor of my self-control.
I take my reason quite personally. Every action I take must be accompanied by logical pathways. Perhaps it’s a result of my childhood as a mouse bred to serve sorcerers as spies. Perhaps it’s a result of over a century of adventuring through the chaos of walking worlds.
But my pride for reason could be conquered.
My entire being was subjected to being an invader. Everything I did was, as Goyath so brilliantly deduced, in service of my own sanity. No matter how selfless I pretended to be, ultimately every course of action was merely to remain purposeful, sane, and feel something, anything.
No matter how righteous I convinced myself I was being, I was nothing but a mortal trapped in the facade of divinity. Any idea of godhood—true individuality, self control, free will—was destroyed by a single mention of the truth.
The most mortal desire is lust. Lust for sex, for protection, for family, for power, for justice—for vengeance.
Goyath slew the god in me.
And so the mortal vowed his vengeance.
I didn’t care to think. I didn’t care for justification. Goyath was a destroyer—a ruthless, merciless, malevolent monster. No matter his justifications, his native right to the land, his passion for his people, he was, in the end, a monster. And he’d pointed out something in me I wasn’t quite ready to accept yet.
So, I gave in to the lust.
Goyath did not accept my duel? So be it.
In the dark of the night I made way through No Fran’s Land, where the singers remained out there alone. I passed them and marched to the opposite trenches where the emu army stationed their troops.
“Are you really going to do this?” Peridot said as I leapt a barbed wire fence and stomped along the final snow pile to the trench edge. When I didn’t answer, and instead jumped into the currently-vacant trench, Peridot said, “You don’t do this for the right reasons.”
“GOYATH,” I called into the night.
In the distance, two great crimson eyes blazed through the dark. I heard the shuffling of steel as he rose. The four-meter tall titan towered above me as he strode over the trenches.
“So it begins, WorldWalker,” he said.
“So it does.”
Together we marched into the snowy desert night, tainting the Eve of Eremas with a duel no soldier need know of. We found a rock bluff nearly two kilometers away, high where no spyglass could see, behind the emu lines, and prepared.
“These stars have seen more death than eyes ever could,” Goyath sat in his nesting position, preening his bayonet feathers. “Written in the stars lie legends of my people—stories that will never die. Shall you destroy me, know that my name will only be immortalized beyond my body. I will endure long after I am gone.”
“That is all you want, then?” I tightened my scarf and drew my starspear with my tail. “Legacy?”
“My people will fall without me. They are strong, but I am no fool—they lack conviction without a voice to guide them. I am the hand by which the blade cuts—even with it’s purpose built in, a sword is nothing without a master. The masses require voice. So yes, legacy matters. You’ll make me a martyr. You may just win us this war.” Goyath rose. His enormity shrouded the plateau in shadow. I was merely the size of his beak. The emu warlord shook his feathers, which chimed in bloodlust. “Are you still finding purpose, little Opaline? Do you lack the answers I abide by? Your condition gives you great wisdom, and yet without grounding you are nothing.”
“Yet you accept my duel?”
“I pity you. I fight for my land, for my people, for my kin. You fight to feel. You fight to banish the numbness. Let me give you what you have always needed,” Goyath growled and the bayonets across his body slicked back in alignment, “a swift and meaningful death.”
I leapt into the air and parried Goyath’s beak nearly three meters off the ground. With my tail, I stabbed into his side between the bayonet plates and drove deep into the flesh behind his neck.
He screeched and shook his body.
My spear wouldn’t come loose. I took my saber in my paw and dug into the same cut, dislodging the spear. In the air, I used Force to find the ground and landed firm on my feet a few meters from Goyath’s beak.
Goyath splayed his wings and whipped his body in a wicked cyclone. Bayonets whizzed past me. The thick, muscled wings of the warlord barely missed my head as I vaulted backwards from the strike.
I slid back in the snow and stopped at the edge of the plateau. Goyath—with terrifying speed for his size—pounced into the air and rained upon me with steel blade.
I conjured the Essence of the snow. Chilled, cold sorcery flowed in my Aura. With Goyath in the air, I swirled my spear in tail and forged a sheet of thick ice above me. I slid underneath the sheet—which was suspended in the air—and Goyath slammed into the sheet, and then, caught off guard by the ice appearing a meter and half in the air, thundered into the ground.
The double hit clapped into the night sky with a satisfying CRACK, THUMP. Snow flew like a great wave at his impact.
From the white cloud in his wake blazed brilliant red eyes.
I sheathed my saber and cracked my paw knuckles. Goyath stood in the cloud, crimson eyes blaring down at me. I conjured more Force, and calculated the power he’d enacted on my ice sheet.
I shadow-boxed the air. From over ten meters away, my strikes impacted Goyath with the very force he’d tried to smash me with. Jab, right hook, uppercut, left hook, jab, jab, jab.
The snow cloud was banished by the warlord’s head whipping to and fro with my sorcery-strikes. When he seemed to have had enough, I let go my hold on the sorcery and lowered my arms.
I wasn’t even out of breath.
I still sensed great power in him—that hint of divinity I’d smelled before. His soul practically writhed with malice and might. Only that grand power lie defeated in the snow, bayonet crown dented and bent from my attacks.
“Submit,” I said.
Goyath screeched and stumbled to his feet. He opened his beak and unleashed a horrifying sonic magic not unlike Polly’s laughter. I dug my spear into the dirt and held on.
The emu leapt forward. I parried his strikes, which felt like a steam train ramming into my arm, and flipped out of the way.
“Enough of this play!” He screeched. “You use tricks and magic to face an opponent? Foul fool, this is not a duel.”
“I do not fight in parameters unless decided on prior. You wished for a fight to the death? Then I will give you my best fight. To your emu and fran perhaps your power is overwhelming, but to me your size and bayonet hide are more of a good story than an intimidating display. I have killed far worse than an oversized flightless bird covered in steel feathers.”
“Opaline,” Peridot said, only to me, “leave this. You’re angry and want to show off. This is not like you.”
Goyath grinned, “I am not a bird, no more than you are a rat.”
“You are powerful, I will say it,” I said, “but you must understand that you, Goyath, are one of many. You are a single grain of sand in the ocean depths. You are a smothered star out there in the vastness. You are a drop of dew at dawn in the mightiest forest. Goyath, you are mighty upon this world and these lands, but across the stars?” I pointed above us, “You are yet another victim of genocide who has risen to destroy their oppressors. A noble cause indeed. But do not forget your place. Across Loche’s Garden—the multiverse in which you exist, emu—there are WorldWalkers galore. Millions of them. There are billions of warlords fighting with their people. Billions of you. But I? An Agglomerate of the Genesar Peridot?” The name Genesar sung to its melody. Peridot shined purple at the word’s song. “I am one of thirty-six beings in the entire time of Existence called an Agglomerate. You wish to call me a tragedy? The tragedy is not in my uniqueness, it is in your mediocrity.”
“And so passion for one’s life is mediocre?” Goyath growled, “Desire to live in one’s world is mediocre? Please. You want this more than anything. You want to fight for something small. I see it in your eyes. I heard it in your voice. You once fought against genocide, same as I do now—you battled for the oppressed. The ‘discounted,’ you called them?” Goyath stepped forward, shaking the plateau beneath his talons. “You envy me. That is why you fight this day. You wanted not to show me that you are better. . . but to show yourself your own power.” He grinned, “You fear yourself. . . you fear that all of this isn’t worth it. . . that you aren’t worth it.”
“Opaline,” Peridot said, still shining from my using the word Genesar.
“Do it,” Goyath hissed, “kill me. Tell me how powerful you are. Show me how mighty you feel. Bathe in my blood, Agglomerate! Murder my mediocrity in your greatness.” He laughed, “Show this billionth warlord just how worthy you are.”
I clenched my fists so tight my claws dug into my fur. My ears twitched down. My scarf, now undone from the movement of the fight, swept past my eyes in the frozen breeze.
I didn’t want to fight anymore. I only wanted to blip away.
“What I would do with your power, and you waste it fighting me?” Goyath hissed. “I could save every last slave on this world, and rise against the empires of stronger folk only to bury them in the corpses of their own systematic hate. I would show the weak how to be strong. Is this what you do from world to world? You meddle again and again? I would teach, not act. I wouldn’t play the part like some hero in an epic. Your ‘Genesar’ gave you immense privilege and you throw it away on games.”
When Genesar left Goyath’s beak, his eyes bounced in bewilderment on the term’s song-like delivery. Peridot, once again, shined brightly from the word.
My paws shook from his words, my body couldn’t move. Peridot whispered to me. She tried to help. But he touched my ego. He prodded my fears and insecurities greater than anyone before him.
I underestimated him.
Goyath’s power lie not in his wings and his bayonet feathers and his blood stained eyes. His power lie in his mind, in his instinct, in his voice.
“I have slain one god before,” Goyath whispered to the universe, “and I shall slay one again. And with the corpse of your power I will save my people, and all those who need saved.”
I could barely move. Peridot was distracted, trying to awaken me. And in the next few seconds the great hole in our armor was torn open. For I should have been strong enough to set mortal emotion behind, and realize what was being done. And Peridot should have paid less attention to me, and more to the situation at hand.
Goyath did not reach to kill me.
His claws extended towards the burning source of purple light on my shoulder—a power he so deeply, and naively, believed could free his people. Except he would never free his people. He’d curse himself to an existence without ever seeing his lands, his people, or his war again.
A steel talon sung out into the night, and grazed a violet scale.
The thirty seventh Agglomerate was born.