This EPISODE is PART SIX of SIX.
Vicar Venefica flew upon the winds of the exterminated power plant. Fumes of all chemical kinds rushed through her scales of mortal teeth ripped from her victim’s mouths. In her face—a helmet formed of those same teeth—scorched an ire manifested by the desolation below her.
“AND UNTO THEE COMITH THE MESSAGE OF THE LORD,” Venefica chanted. Her gargoyle wings of bones outstretched wide and hung supernaturally on the fumes. Beneath her the chemical magma of the demolished power plant devoured concrete and added new waves to its mass. Natives fell into the wreckage, bodies not burnt but disintegrated from the unfathomable heat.
“She dreams not,” Threshold said to me, “she does not dream as she did in our last meeting. Venefica’s wrath shall be whole.”
I set my jaw. Venefica, though a swift encounter, struck a deep chord in me. The last time I saw her, she’d been locked in combat with Polly. Threshold contained her for a time. We’d never get that chance again.
“Ahhh,” Venefica’s voice mellowed to a mortal tone, “my kin. What opportune timing. I sense righteous intent. Though your cause is right only to you. My prize awaits me,” she leant out a lengthy, tooth-made arm and claw. The knight’s helm of her head forged of teensy tiny baby teeth warped and churned to grimace. “Opaline of Dahn, the Discounted, thy name of Alfarin,” sang the name of Alfarin across our backs, as a great wind burdened with divine power. Venefica screeched in malice, “ALFARIN, YOU KNOW NOT YOUR OWN NAME. THE LORD SHALL SMITE THEE THROUGH ME. I AM A VICAR OF HIS BLOOD.”
What was that?
Why did my body come alight at its call? Why did my Syndel pulse with its tune? Why did I feel as though a thousand lights burst from me at once with that Draconic word—song? Stonefire bubbled in my gut from the word.
What was that feeling?
How could that word, song, name induce that kind of reaction? I hadn’t the time to dwell.
I inhaled. Stonefire burned in my gut. The hesitance towards unleashing on this strange planet was dissuaded. Vispar had disappeared and the threats of mystery were nothing against that which stood before us.
“She wants me,” I said to everyone else, starspear drawn and sorcery rushing through my body. “This isn’t your fight. Turn back.” I shook as I said it. I could not face Venefica alone. But I couldn’t bear the thought of this vampire—in all her full strength—lashing upon my companions. Especially those new to my name.
“Yoohoo!” Owyle sang, a shriek of her guitar radiating her song over the land. Dust blistered and the magma of the power plant bubbled and sputtered. The ghostly form that projected her girlish facade burned. The skeleton beneath her hoodie remained with blinking blue pupils. “Vicar of the Lord?”
Venefica howled. Two blade-length fangs slipped from her upper “lip.” She screamed, “TRAITOROUS WRETCH. Some halfblooded slug should be grateful for that within which is holy—that is beyond. Stand beside me or be taken to the Lord for your betrayal on your kind—on your superiors.”
“Couldn’t catch me before,” Owyle taunted.
“Owyle,” I said, grabbing her boney arm beneath the hoodie. “What are you doing—.”
When she turned, and I saw again the sharpened canines in her skull. Fangs more than teeth.
“Not your fight alone,” Owyle said.
Porbiyo leapt into a floating legs-crossed position. His sketchbook summoned upon his lap. The glow of ten thousand drawings and their copied souls brushed against the porcelain mask for a face.
He nodded to me.
Owyle threw her arms out. The strings on her guitar moved without her playing them. Her skeletal form burned away her clothes in blue flames as her song blared on. “BACK,” she growled, “BACK.”
Porb, Skedder and I moved out of her way. The songstress was pulled into the air by some force from beyond. Beneath her, a pentacle etched into the dust, screaming with blue flames.
Threshold’s golden chains swirled around her body. Her lips spoke the Ushamran as her fingers enacted the runes, summoning her army of chambers, halls, and prisons from the keys upon her body. Green light then gold. A wind blasted from the nun’s presence, as if the world could not contain what she’d soon unleash.
Skedder’s spoons churned in a cylindrical wave. Turning and cutting into one another. She formed a silver cyclone and darted into the fields faster than my eyes could see. The damned wasteland lifted with her speed. A tornado trailed behind her, some a quarter kilometer away, lifting ash and flame from the downed power plant into its rage.
Goyath’s eyes shook with fear. The power plant’s meltdown echoed in those crimson pupils. His bayonet feathers rippled back and those giant steel claws caught the ground for a charge. Rage. This was not his fight. But rage still.
“Owyle!” I called to the skeletal girl torn into the sky. She couldn’t hear me.
Owyle screamed as loud as Venefica or Goyath. A wail of anguish. Flesh poured over her bones. Muscle and tendon. Then rippling skin blue as the ocean. Her body turned from the size of a teenager to the frame of a demigod giant—four meters. A second set of arms burst from her abdomen. Her jaw hung low, two scowling tongues turning between those vampiric fangs—now elongated and dripping glowing liquid.
A third eye burst on her forehead between two elegant horns. Two more faces devoured her black hair and appeared on the back of her head. Her eyes and face were cut with hatred, carved with grimace and scowl and rage. The faces grown on the back of her head were children. Girls preserved in time.
“BRING IT ON, BITCH,” Owyle’s demonic voice overtook the girl’s ghostly one. The faces on the back of her head spoke like children echoing the demon’s guttural growl. The guitar around her back disappeared. In her arms came an enormous, blood red electric guitar. Over the skin of her demon form came sewn a brown tweed suit and pants. The stuffy sort from an old university. The elbow tore with her musculature writhing beneath.
Below in the pentacle, three ghostly girls, frozen in time as children, sat beside a microphone, guitar, and drum set. They wore suits similar to the demon Owyle. Each note played by the ghosts and the pentacle brightened. The demon above—Owyle fully transformed—called to Venefica in challenge, “YOU HEARD ME.”
The band, Avarice in Tweed, began their set.
Owyle’s demonic hands blazed the strings of her guitar. Such swiftness brought hellfire blue flames up and down the instrument. Deep, dark, echoing music played in the thunder of metal songs. She played many songs at once. The ghostly band heightened her tunes, and the resonant bass of her giant instrument parted the ruins of the power plant.
Venefica, still some distance in the air from us, did not flinch.
Magma flew in firework displays and the world cracked with her musical might. Clouds in the distance evaporated from Owyle’s magic. Concrete battered dozens of meters away towards where Skedder’s storm intensified.
Owyle’s jaw dropped, unhinged like a snake, and her forked tongues sang like violent whips. When the lyrics began, waves of pulsating ghostly blue energy beamed from Owyle. Porb and Threshold took cover behind the rays of blue flames—more like lasers now than fire.
Bigklau stumbled to Threshold. I heard the faintest, “A theater! A theater!” through the extraordinary songs.
Threshold shot into the air behind Owyle, directly above the pentacle, and her hands went wild in the language of Place Speech. A hundred signs in a quarter of those seconds. Green light followed by gold.
Bigklau leapt—the humungous crab leapt—and landed on a stage which rose from the pentacle. Walls erected in flank to the ghost girls and the crab. Lights twisted and turned onto the demon. Curtains drawn back, dusty and old, a floor of battered black hardwood stricken with tape and markers. Bigklau slid behind the ghost girls. He rose his claws and from his shell rose all his instruments.
Oboes, guitars, ocarinas, violins, flutes, drums of all shapes and sizes, bells that jingle and bells for the church tower, organs and all their building-wide complexity reformed within the structure Threshold built. Pianos spread in a half circle like the dashboard of a star cruiser. Instruments of fleshy bags attached to wind pipes, and metal plates which clang with pedals, or synthetic music boards filled Threshold’s space.
Bigklau stretched his claws, and began to play.
He matched Avarice in Tweed’s performance. The enhancement of melody and complexity between the cosmic musicians created a maelstrom upon our heads. The wind knocked me to my knees, and Goyath shielded himself with his wings from the noise.
Where had Hummarie gone? I couldn’t see her anywhere.
As Bigklau played one instrument and set the song, he shifted to another, and another, until all his collection played in tandem with such supernatural speed my eyes could barely understand it.
His music, off key and out of tune, somehow sounded more beautiful than Avarice’s music. My ears twitched as the crustacean’s symphony rose to its fullest might. The Syndel in my soul sang aloud.
A Dragon song.
Bigklau played another of the Dragons’ songs.
Threshold focused entirely on her creation. The orchestra burned in her greenish gold light. The venue itself became so brilliant that the only explanation would be her empowering of it. For she spoke to those walls, consumed those walls, and now imparted them a greater purpose heightened with some sort of Instilled cosmic energy, perhaps? Her language emboldened Bigklau, who guided Owyle’s music into the might of the Dragons.
Magma from the world beneath rose backwards, like fingers come to snatch Venefica. The clouds which evaporated swirled overhead, born anew, and sent hail shards through lightning black as night towards the Vicar.
Venefica hovered steady.
Her wings did not flinch though she flew. She made no movement or expression. Merely remained, unfazed and unburdened by the power of the other Agglomerates. She made not a single motion.
What was her game?
Porbiyo and I looked on in those moments, both computing how we could aid. Their storm of song could be a danger to me, possibly. Porbiyo could likely handle it, but still my youthful immortality only went so far. I could get gravely injured.
But I couldn’t stand there. Alone. While they fought the Vicar who appeared entirely untouched.
I sprinted forward beneath the shockwaves of Avarice’s songs. The top of my head and ears singed with the momentum of their melody. The power plant’s molten foundations—rising into the air in claws and hands—lie ahead.
The ground tore up like gravity had turned inverse.
I’d climb the raised land to reach Venefica.
Porbiyo teleported beside me. I skidded to stop myself from touching the magma. The fence around the power plant had been flattened beneath heaps of rubble. Beneath it, a thin moat of red hot foundations flowed deeper into some underground recess. I stepped onto the woven chainlink fence and the heat of the meltdown blazed up. My fur singed and feet scorched. I leapt onto the rubble pile and began my ascent.
“Opaline!” Porbiyo shouted through the musical maelstrom.
I turned. There behind me rose a four winged wyvern. The serpentine head crowned in smooth hair-like tendrils. The creature’s four eyes were set like a spider’s, and her limbs were not arms but wings entirely. Her tail—barbed and muscled—flicked behind her.
A flagsgad. A gremlin’s flagsgad from the Corner of the Sphere.
Porbiyo snapped. A saddle appeared on her back.
“Thought you could use a familiar ride,” he laughed, “no reason to go heroing all alone.”
I jumped from the rock, over her head, and used my tail to whip myself facing forwards into the saddle. I rubbed Beep from my pocket. She zipped in front of me. I whispered, “Find Yizzimis! He’ll want to know and help Bigklau if he hasn’t already felt this fight, or seen the explosion.” She flew through the haze.
In my Boundless Bag I grasped the Kaihan Helm, my crystalline shield, and discovered a curious patch of red fungus.
A shadow grew behind me. Porbiyo yipped with glee. Beneath him formed a massive behemoth, lips dripping with acid breath and eyes darting between the musical radiation and the unflinching Venefica. Spotted back mounted by Porbiyo himself, the monster’s thick skull opened to roar a malevolent addition to the music.
“The ragmot!” I yelled as my mount took flight. The reigns hooked into her mouth gave me a decent level of control. We swerved in a circle around Porb upon his titan. “A western spotted-back ragmot!”
The creature from the menagerie, not so long after I’d come out of That Time. All this time suddenly became tangible. As if the dozens of worlds I’d blipped through since That Time were merely tangents on a greater quest—one which I knew nothing of the purpose yet marched into against my will.
Porb cackled, “You may have killed him, but today he’ll defend you nonetheless. Another way they’re better than us, Ratman!” His sketchbook flared open. Between the power plant and the amphitheater, beneath the mighty shockwaves of song slamming against the world, an army came to be. Flanked into sections of quick beasts and bipeds, to quadrupeds or sturdier animals, to behemoths and titans which surrounded Avarice in Tweed, Threshold, and Bigklau to protect them. The animals glowed with their own internal magic, venoms, weapons, curses, sorceries, alchemies, necromancies, and ten thousand varieties of power unknown to me.
What were Bigklau, Threshold, and Owyle doing? This song they sang did not damage the Vicar in any way. The spells and their castings seemed to have no bearing on the battle except to change the field.
My eyes caught the radials of music, and then the ground beneath us collapsing and cracking, and the way the sky tore from the above into swirls of color.
A massive, kilometer’s wide sphere of Creation. Magic of every variety and possibility unleashed by three master cosmic WorldWalkers. Storms of their might entirely unleashed to whatever possibility. Together, they created a sphere of song.
I reached out to touch the incorporeal sides of the energy sphere. All of the storms and destroyed lands, power plants ruins and elemental magic, everything slowly consolidated into that spherical form. Nothing left the edges.
I could pass through. Could Venefica?
Porbiyo clutched the back of the ragmot, nearly collapsing from the exhaustion of his power. I flew towards him. The flagsgad—pony-sized to humans but sized perfect for me—landed on the ragmot’s back with room to spare.
“You alright?” I yelled through the storms.
Black lightning screeched from the sky and landed near us, throwing magma into a firework. The magma was caught by the sphere and dripped down. Through the visor of my helm, Venefica’s wicked silhouette shifted to and fro through the elemental malevolence. She danced slow and meticulously towards the others.
Could she not teleport?
Was this all to intimidate or scare us? Did she charge some surge within herself? Was she distracting us from something else?
“I’m fine,” Porbiyo said, “go fight, Ratman! I’ll be fine.”
Red fungus of that Creature in the Cave in my hands, the idea struck me. I took a thread of the fungus and tossed it to Porb. Downwind, it slammed into his chest. He took the feather of fungi curiously. Then, realization as his expressionless mask gazed up.
“Can you do more than one?” I said.
“Yes. Yes I can.”
I tugged the flagsgad’s reigns. She lifted into the air and flew between the pillars of magma and concrete. The force of her flight pinned me to the saddle. Wind howled through the Kaihan Helm. I Channeled some of that force into sorcery Force and combatted the sensation, essentially creating a suspension between her movements and my body. No matter how she curved, swerved, or stopped flight, I would be upright and ready.
I shoved the crimson fungus into my mouth and swallowed hard. My eyes burned with crimson light as my Aura ingested the semi-familiar substance. That crimson Essence shifted through my gut and Aura until my body prepared it.
We flew higher into the storm, a hundred meters behind Venefica to keep our distance. Hundreds of meters away, the other Agglomerates blasted their song. Skedder’s tornado moved in the distance, accumulating greater and greater heights until it shifted on the horizon like a world ender.
Upon that flagsgad, the past came behind me, all those crusades against tyranny and malice. Wars against the krill and the freeing of peoples left discounted by their authorities. I rode in the sky so much in those early decades. I was a warrior like anyone else. A warrior who could never die by mortal means. A warrior who endured loss beyond the wildest imagination.
Black lightning shot beside us. Magma rose around this lightning. Chunks of the concrete power plant turned and pressed against the sides of the sphere, glued by molten material into a shell moving up the sides. I felt gravity changing.
I needed to weaken Venefica before she decided to move.
But was this her trap all along? To lie in wait for me?
She did not look my way. She knew I was here, above her, looming in the dark violet clouds.
Skedder’s tornado rampaged over the countryside. Could I call to her? We’d only just met. Would the heat of battle dissuade the call? Would our unfamiliarity lead to its impossibility?
I could use her winds. I had to try.
My crystal shield formed a cavalry shield. My starspear’s intense weight became mitigated by Channeling Force. Fungal sorceries readied and stonefire churning in my soul from the starsign of my birth—I’d never felt so ready.
Skedder’s storm barreled toward us. The tornado reached kilometers into the air, whisking the wasteland into a wicked skyscraper of wind, dust, rock, and momentum. Venefica stayed steady.
This was a trap.
I’d fall into it, and that was alright.
Venefica could not face us all. She was nothing compared to the combined power of us Agglomerates. What could she do against the Ratman, Master of Keys, Master of Beasts, Master of Instruments, Master of Songs, and Master of Spoons together?
Steady as she remained, that wouldn’t last.
We’d get her moving. Provoke her. Piss her off.
Skedder’s tornado collided with the spherical elemental prison. Far below, I could see Porbiyo’s army of animals protecting the Agglomerates’ stage. Skedder’s winds narrowly avoided them, and instead of bouncing off the prison’s symphonic walls flew right inside. The collision of elemental force against elemental force—both artificial in their respective manners—seized the gravity of the sphere. My mount jostled sideways but caught herself on a spinning boulder. She climbed across the boulder, setting us upside down to Venefica and the ground but right-side up as the boulder’s gravity adhered to the ceiling of the sphere.
I tossed my shield and starspear into my Boundless Bag. I wouldn’t need them as I thought I would.
Skedder’s tornado lifted magma, fire, and fury into a conical chaos. The spitting rapid spiral sent flares across the solidifying sphere of Creation. The spiral landed directly under Venefica, smashing into the vampire—who was thrown into the storm.
The combined might of Owyle, Bigklau, Threshold, and Skedder caused her to falter.
I watched the white bone Vicar dance around in Skedder’s musically enhanced tornado. As if the spherical prison gained a secondary prison within itself. As the magma and stone began to cool, I had no time left before the tornado became a monolith.
I yipped the flagsgad. She dove straight for the “brim” of the tornado. We circled the wicked cyclone.
Aura filled with the Essence of that incredible red fungi, I grabbed the flagsgad’s reigns and sent her spiralling along the sides of the tornado. As the wind raged upwards, we spiraled down in opposition to the current.
Magma swarming past me, I unleashed a breath of the red fungus from my maw. Through the helm I saw nothing but red. Red hot concrete, stone, and the sorcery I let loose upon the storm. With the rising current of wind and wreckage the fungi looped into a vast network of red curtains. The poisonous air and attracted tendrils grappled everything in sight, attaching stone to stone and rubble to rubble.
Below me in what was left of the power plant’s foundations, Porbiyo’s summoned creatures—the same as that mother Creature in the Cave I had killed worlds ago—added their power to the play, weaving their natural fungus into the base of the cyclone Skedder held still.
Our tapestry woven, my flagsgad skidded along the ground. Finding her footing, I ripped the reigns in the opposite direction and she took off again, this time spiraling in the same direction as the wind current. The tornado became red with the thick, aggressive, poisonous fungi. My nose became clogged from smoke and spores.
Blue and orange streams of molten magical stone blasted from my lips. Stonefire slammed against the tornado’s current and became whipped into the midst of the storm, sending solidified streams in all directions. Molten material crystalized, fungus turned to frozen fingers, concrete and rebar and steel framing became a web of construction ruins.
I breathed stonefire all the way up the side of the storm. The flagsgad flew back towards the other Agglomerates beneath where Owyle sang. We escaped swift as could be. I saw Owyle, Threshold, Bigklau, and Goyath. Skedder must have remained inside the sphere for now.
Porb? His army of animals?
The army was gone.
I turned back as my mount soared forth. Porb stayed at the edge of the circle in the ruins of the power plant. He and his ragmot engaged against his serpent foe. Where’d she come from? Who knew. Perhaps lurking in the shadow of Venefica’s destructive tirade.
Porbiyo wouldn’t keep his animals out to face her. She could steal their souls and devour them. He’d never let an animal get harmed before himself. Anytime one of his paintings died, he simply revived it. They weren’t quite “alive,” but he had this instilled fear of Vispar devouring his herd.
Perhaps she actually could? Who was I to know?
Yet he kept his ragmot out for this duel. He felt weak from summoning. The only explanation. He needed help.
In the corner of my eye, looming above Porbiyo, I saw the magnificent display of the sphere. A perfectly sound sphere formed of magian musical might. Rippled of Owyle’s song enhanced by her companions’ and Bigklau’s Draconic melody still pulsated into the sphere by way of lasers of physical magic.
Behind the sphere of blue energy, whose edge seemed to spurt in lapis flames, an enormous stone flower-like structure attached to the floor and ceiling of the cosmic prison. The pillar formed of the tornado held fringes of magma and ruin sculpted by the fungi’s floral edges, turned to stone by my sorcery. A structure so enormous could only be held by magic, and by magic it was held.
Venefica lie imprisoned in there, somewhere.
Likely only for a moment before she teleported or broke free.
I soared down and skidded beside Goyath, who remained stunned by the display before him. “Porbiyo needs help. I’m not sure I can get to him without drawing the Vicar too near. I don’t know what she’s planned and if we’ve stopped her, but he needs help and you held her off.”
Goyath nodded, “You both saved me. To fight beside him will be an honor beneath these ceaseless skies.” The warlord within him returned. He charged fast as an automobile towards Porbiyo and leapt into the battle against Vispar.
Owyle shrieked the last lyric, and the silence in wake held heavy. Bigklau and Threshold toned down their displays. The stage slowly dissipated into the ground again. Owyle’s ghost sisters stayed in their pentacle through its transportation from the elevated stage to the dirt. Bigklau’s instruments returned to his shell as if magnetic.
Owyle’s demon form hovered, guitar slung over her shoulder. The two girlish faces on the back of her blue skull lie expressionless. She turned, grimaced face parting at the lips with two dancing tongues, “SHALL WE INVESTIGATE?” The demon’s voice echoed in the whisper of the two girl’s voices.
She made way to the enormous sphere and my pillar of sorcery. Skedder came wheeling towards us in a sloppy zig-zag pattern. She collapsed in the dirt into a pile of spoons. I checked on her. A “thumbs-up” made of spoons indicated she was quite alright, if not utterly exhausted.
Owyle soared towards the sphere. Threshold floated me up alongside them both. Bigklau lumbered behind, and chose to stay by Skedd’s side. The Master of Spoons deserved her rest.
Below, as we phased into the sphere some two hundred meters in the air, I watched Porb and Goyath duel with the shifting snake. She changed form thrice in those seconds.
She’d either be exhausted and run, or get overpowered and run.
Porbiyo’s assessment of her abilities I considered to be based on his own solo combats with her. Against so many Agglomerates in a short span of time? She was merely a pest.
I hoped Venefica was taken care of.
Then I could go help my friends.
We passed from the void wasteland of that dying world into the musical barrier containing Venefica. Owyle’s song—diluted and echoed in chimes—danced in my ears as Threshold phased me into the hardened barrier. Inside, the sphere did not finish the material needed to cloak the inside. The power plant was enormous, but not large enough to turn this sphere into a hardened ball of stone. Patches were missing around where the musical barrier touched the ground and across the middle. From the outside, that is how I saw the pillar.
Up close, the frozen fungus tornado of magma and steel glowed. Beneath the stonefire, my fungal sorcery let this crimson light through the thick stonefire casing. The entire sphere battled itself. Barrier flaming in blue wisps and pillar bright in blood red light.
Owyle soared ahead of us. Her ghost sisters floated beside her, including the incorporeal form of her younger self. The three phantoms constantly moved and reflected off the demon form’s skin.
“I SEE NOTHING.”
I eyed far below us in search of. Movement.
“Threshold,” I said, pointing below.
Shadows. Dozens of shadows. Huge, hulking forms and humanoid ones alike. An enormous fox head draped in plumage, the rippling jellyfish body of a titanic tent, a two headed ogre big as a house, tiny folk so small they blended in with the rubble, a creature with a dozen legs, and countless others in so many shapes and sizes they overwhelmed my understanding.
I spotted Saxa Orias and Cadava amongst them.
“They sensed us,” Threshold said, “our kin have come to watch.”
A buzz behind me. Beep flew in front.
“Good. Skedd needs the help.”
A flash in the dark. Impact.
I flew ten meters back and broke from Threshold’s holding. I plummeted through the dark. Force. I enacted the same gravity which threw me down against my fall, and stopped myself midair.
My lungs nearly burst. I felt ribs crack. I choked and a splash of vomit flew from my mouth. I hovered a hundred meters from the darkness below.
I stared upright. Threshold’s golden light amplified. Owyle’s guitar flamed in blue.
The toothed hide of Vicar Venefica sailed between them. Shards of the frozen tornado fell in her wake.
How could I get up there? Threshold was occupied. Could Force get me to fly? Possibly. I’d never tried it. I’d have to constantly be exerting myself in every direction. Constantly focusing on gravity in this strange gravity-warped sphere. Gravity seemed to have calmed, though. All was normal again as my fall to the ground demonstrated.
I could climb the pillar.
I could send vines to pull me up.
I’d be easy prey.
I could. . .
I grabbed my board from the Boundless Bag. The green light of the hand carved runes vibrated with my touch. It had been awhile. My being at the mercy of the sea was no show of skill. But here I’d be at no one’s mercy but my own.
I rarely used Tear Essence, that which gifted water into the Aura. The last time I did, I fought another vampire—Shirina Starbleeder and her master, Rahnashath.
Deep within, I found a spurt of water I drank some days ago. Fresh and smooth and at the mercy of the world around it. Bending to the wind and the current and whatever touched its surface. A servant to forces greater than itself.
I let go of the Force holding me.
I jumped onto the board.
A wave appeared beneath me. A few meters, merely large enough to cycle beneath itself and propel me upwards. After a few choppy motions, I rocketed towards Threshold and Owyle.
Venefica danced between the Master of Keys and the Songstress, elegantly evading any physical attacks, Threshold’s attempts at trapping her within a room—constantly sending walls and cells her way only to find them destroyed by the Vicar, and Owyle’s demonic grapples. The guitar had been put away. Venefica lie too close, now.
I drew my starspear. Fatigue writhed in my bones but adrenaline rushed my Aura back to life. Water drops splashed across my face. The sensation only bettered my wave and its true liquid form. I surfed between Venefica and Threshold.
Heat. Unimaginable heat.
My legs couldn’t move. My arms couldn’t move. I could barely breath. The board beneath my feet fell with the wave beneath me.
I eyed my arms—as my neck could not move to see them.
I’d been encased in stonefire.
My own sorcery.
Venefica’s telekineses turned me to face her. Threshold and Owyle were victims to the same fate. I felt a song enter my ears. A solid beat of despair and nothing else. Walls formed of a golden light blazing from Venefica created a prison to hold us. Owyle and Threshold were sent—frozen and vulnerable—beside me. Like three prisoners ready to be beaten.
“YOU FORGET YOURSELVES. YOU FORGET ME.” Venefica howled. Her wicked claws carved a room to hold us forged of stonefire and fungus and an intangible melody. The vampiric angel growled, “DO YOU NOT KNOW WHAT YOU FACE, FOOLS? WHAT YOU WIELD AGAINST ME SHALL BE MINE AGAINST YOU.”
I was forced to my knees despite the stonefire freezing me. I screamed in pain as bones broke and my already-smashed ribs ached. My neck was turned down to stare at the floor of Venefica’s stonefire prison. There, lying at my knees, lie a pulp of purple red flesh and golden-black hairs. Two destroyed insectoid wings stuck up like a headstone.
Venefica came to my face. She licked her fangs which dripped in ooze. Tufts of the yellow wool stuck between her toothed face.
“A worthy soul,” said the Vicar, “the companion of yours. For she tasted like a hundred worlds. She tasted like home.”
A tear seared down my cheek, smoking in the Kaihan Helm. Stonefire rage burned in my gut and transformed the tear to stonefire. The tear scorched away my fur and solidified against my cheek like an inked tattoo.
“MONSTER,” I growled, stonefire blaring across the Vicar’s face until she shut my jaw telekinetically.
She wiped herself of my sorcery. “We shall come back to you,” she said, cheery like a holiday in waiting.
As I wept, I fought her sorcery with everything I had. Nothing inside me could fight it. Her influence too great, her might too magnificent. I had nothing. The Kaihan Helm was attached to the stonefire. Only Venefica forced me to move. Inside, I could move my head just enough to see Threshold and Owyle.
“You, such a minuscule wretch,” Venefica said to Owyle in her demonic form. “Always running. Believe your friends may save you? No. Not today. Today I take both Opaline of Dahn and a half-blood low-born traitor to the Lord. First,” Venefica knelt beside the humungous demon. She lifted a claw to Owyle’s grimaced head and touched her between the eyes.
The Vicar whispered, “I see a girl weeping in a pool of blood, mother and sisters heads cracked like eggs. Brains melting into the carpet after hours dead and cold. I see her hiding while they screamed. I see her shaking with the realization that she could have stopped him.
“I see her run to the phone and dial the number. I see the lights flash through the window, baking the bloody sofa in purple lights. I see the men in their red uniforms burst through with flashlights, striking the corpses in light the girl wished never to see them in.
“I see the man in the basement, foaming at the mouth, firearm in hand. He chose the slower way. The way that didn’t work. And when the flashlights hit him he squirmed. The girl was there and the men in red tore her away from them.
“She ran upstairs into the closet. Bloody feet tramping footprints for anyone to find her. There was nowhere to hide. Nowhere for help. She was stained—scarred—everywhere she went she’d leave those stains and everyone she ever loved would always see her as nothing but the last, the final, the survivor, and she knew the truth. They died because of her.”
Owyle’s demon form disappeared. The flesh and muscle and skin fell from her bones. Second arms gone. Faces on the back of her head gone. She reverted to a skeleton dressed in her blackened clothes. She shook with fear. Venefica released her bonds. She stood over the tiny Owyle with talons pinning her down.
What sort of memories could Venefica see?
Did she force Owyle to relive them?
“Oh dear. But things didn’t get so far.” Venefica turned towards me. Past me. To Threshold. “The men in red never took the man who bashed his wife and children’s skulls. The men in red never found the little girl alone in the closet. They were frozen in time, wiped of their memory, just as the memory of the walls whispered the truth. . .
“I see a face of white tattooed in keyholes. Red eyes and lips dark as blood but kind as cotton. She lifts the girl from her convulsions. She sets her upright. When she sees what’s happened, she calls the Dragon. This girl will not make it. She’ll face the same choice as her father, someday. The quick or slow path. The explosion in the head or the pills down the throat. She doesn’t just see memories, does she?” Venefica grinned, “The Master of Keys can see corridors in the mind just as she can in the physical world. She can see paths playing out—memories not quite memory yet.
“And you?” Venefica licked Owyle’s jaw, “You accepted their gift. You became one of us that day and spent the next eight years waiting for a blip. Made deals with devils. Made choices not even the Keymaster could predict. Still you walked the darkened path. To save them. To save your sisters.”
Venefica closed a fist in the air. Threshold’s prison flew towards her. The nun, encased in stonefire, fought everything as I did. She couldn’t move.
The Vicar’s vampirism must have slowed us. Perhaps our spells and magic backfired, and she’d absorbed our Creation enough to paralyze us?
“Owyle!” Roared a voice from below. Then BOOM! a huge greenish-grey hulk grasped onto the chambers Venefica formed floating beside the pillar. A being easily eight meters tall. Two heads. A flap of material for pants. No shirt but cloaked in tattoos. The body muscular beyond reality, split down the center in green to the left side and grey to the right.
So many tattoos. Of swords, and shields, helms, and halberds, axes, pistols, and pauldrons. Weapons and armor.
Two heads. Two tusked heads.
“Get away from our sista!” growled both heads in unison, braided red hair and mohawk flashing as their tattoos glowed. A tattoo of a glaive burned, and a glaive six meters tall formed in their bestial arms. A tattoo of a suit of armor burned. The two headed ettin became fully armored in a blink. The unknown Agglomerate leapt towards Venefica, who swatted them off the building and far into the darkness. By the way she held her hand she seemed to hold them telekinetically.
I couldn’t see where they’d gone.
Damnit. Why weren’t any of the others helping?
“The brothers Gogun came to your aid, girl. A worthy effect. Let us return, shall we? The most vile portion of all I see?” Venefica said, talon reaching for Threshold’s head, “She made deals and schemes and wrote songs, but not only missed her sisters and mother. She missed him most of all. . . his smile. . . the breakfasts he made. . . the stories before bedtime. . .” Venefica grinned. Her voice morphed into Owyle’s voice. Chills cloaked my body as the Vicar whispered in Owyle’s voice, “Oh dad, I miss you. I miss you dad.”
Venefica grinned, “Daddy’s home.”
She pressed Threshold’s forehead. The golden light of the Master of Key’s magic pulsated.
“NO,” Threshold wailed, “NO.” Her golden chains burned bright and seared into the stonefire. A chain spun like a razor and sliced into Venefica’s hand.
Venefica grabbed Threshold by the throat. Her vampiric voice returned like a choir of evil, “RELEASE HER FATHER. IT IS TIME FOR DADDY TO FINISH HIS MISSION. HE MISSED HIS FAVORITE GIRL. . . HE WANTED HER DEAD MOST OF ALL. SHE WOULD HAVE THE MOST PEACE IN DEATH. YET HE MISSED HER.”
“Never,” Threshold growled.
Owyle remained frozen in the prison Venefica built with her leeched Threshold-like powers. The skeletal songstress remained entirely still, blue-flame pupils flickering in fright.
I took a deep breath.
Where was she? Would she stop this? She had to stop this. The others always teased me as her favorite. “Please,” I whispered through lips nearly glued shut. “Ehlonniabatur, please.”
Venefica retracted her wings. She grasped Threshold and spoke an unheard prayer. Threshold went silent, then limp.
Venefica eyed me, “She shall bend. In time. You, Opaline of Dahn, let us see. . .” She floated towards me, toothy maw churning like feathers in the wind. Death and rotting wafted off her. I again fought my fate. Threshold resisted. So could I.
“Finally,” Venefica uncoiled her finger. “I can feel you. . . I can touch you. . . I will know you.” She touched the Kaihan Helm. She growled.
“Not. This. Helm,” I managed through the lips she squeezed shut.
She’d tried to phase through the Kaihan Helm. That piece of armor had been through wars countless in Kaihanas. Her magic could not defeat the Instillment of my helmet. Some gods did not possess such power.
“Not. Today,” I spat.
Venefica sliced the stonefire around my neck with her talons. Fingers slowly grasped the horns of my helm. Her breath smelled of corpses sparkling with cosmic necromancy. My heart thundered in my chest.
The Vicar tore my helm from my head.
“NOT TODAY,” she howled. In her hands summoned a wicked violet blade translucent like a phantom. “FOR THE POWER OF THE LORD FLOWS THROUGH ME.” Venefica held my helm in her claw and raised her blade. “WHAT IS THIS BLADE A HELM FORGED BY MORTALS, GIVEN STRENGTH BY THEIR BELIEF. WHAT IS THEIR BELIEF COMPARED TO TRUTH.”
The blade seared down.
The helm cracked in two.
“I AM A VESSEL TO THE LORD.”
She took my helm and placed the right side upon her toothed face. She grasped the left and placed it upon the opposite side. A violet sear blazed down the center, welding the helm to her head. She snapped the horns off and her fanged horns slid through.
“Now. . .” her mortal tone returned, “I shall touch you. . . Alfarin.”
The Draconic name Alfarin danced through my body. Stonefire lit in my gut once again—against all exhaustion or Venefica’s vampirism—and my soul itself felt as if lifted from my body.
Venefica’s eyes burned through the shattered Kaihan Helm. Inside the light rippled off her baby tooth face, churning like violet waves. She dismissed her blade and reached for me.
“A tear scorched into your face,” she said, claw tracing the tear of stonefire burned after Beep’s death, “shed for your companion. She rests well in my gut. Sorrowed is the mouse this day. Let us see your sorrow in full.”
I blacked out.
When my eyes opened, I felt as if three days had passed. Dreaming and groggy, the fog of unkempt sleep stretched into every fiber of my being, I shook in terror and breathed like I’d run across a continent.
Venefica hovered ten meters behind me. By her wings and the expression of her stance, fear struck her just as it struck me.
“Already. . .?” she whispered yet it crawled into my ears. “So early. . .? Millenia beyond count I have hunted you. I’ve known you longer than you have. Strange, isn’t it? How after the fall of your world your name grows mighty. And the fleet of the Discounted moves upon the Dracular—the Lord—and his great palace between realms.
“You don’t even know of what you’ll do. What you’ll cause. Alfarin,” the name chimed in my body again. Stonefire burned once more. The tear tattooed across my cheek glowed bright as my eyes or mouth. “But so early to wield of the Divine Spires? They are finite in this Garden. One of the few things that are. Yet so young you wield one.
“Alfarin,” the name burst in song again. The stonefire that Venefica froze me within cracked and flaked away. I stretched my arms and broke free of her telekinetic reigns. Her soliloquy clouded her perception. She did not notice. Venefica continued, “A legion you lead upon the Garden. Behind that Doe of Lavender Light. The war. . . I left in its inception. I succeeded in finding you. Something so few have. Yet in touching Ehlonniabatur I became trapped in this eternity, only to realize you hadn’t been Cursed yet. So I waited. And waited. And waited.
“I know not how the war ends. I only know its beginnings. I only know that the name of Alfarin played out between the Spheres and all the Dragons and Dracular. I know you were mine to siege. I know I am to kill you. I know you are the greatest threat to All Eternity that ever was or will be.”
I fought the urge to speak. I could not reveal I’d broken free.
I needed to hear this.
I needed to know.
“I thieved the Master of Doll’s soul. Slaughtered him in that field. Killed. But he survived in my stomach. Endured. And I vomited his phantom like a drunkard behind the pub. I will do the same to you. Though this time I will keep you deep inside, and throw you down upon the throne of the Lord. I cannot kill you. . . but I can destroy you.
“Though I must understand. So young and already you possess the first of your eleven. That first Divine Spire. I feel its song within you. Taste its melody. Bound to your soul and your being. Eleven, the Alfarin wield. An Ascended truly. But now you could turn back the clock.
“I see in your mind those times before the pain. The life you had and wish to return to. Do you not comprehend the power at your disposal? Do you not fathom the scope of your blessings?” Venefica came near, and whispered, “By moments turned memory you may sculpt all again. Use the Syndel—sing the song—and build a world for yourself away from all this future. Your wife, your children, your friends and family. . . you will never see them again. In your hands lie the power to bring them to you. To create a world alone and afar from all the rest. Break your Curse. Set yourself free. Live quiet in the love you wish you had.”
The Syndel pulsated through my being.
“Alfarin,” I whispered in song.
The fur across my body rose along my skin, as if electrified. My whiskers burned away and eyes blazed with smoke. I burst from Venefica’s vampiric hold as unimaginable strength poured into my physical self.
What was this?
How did that name empower me so?
Venefica slashed but her claws collided with my skin like toothpicks to steel. She cried and unleashed a stonefire breath from her vampiric reserves. The sorcery did nothing against me. I walked through her attempts.
Venefica summoned her violet blade. She teleported around me in circles, striking every which direction, screaming and blasting her leeched magics.
I remained still. My mind fell into a meditation. Like the battle weren’t even happening. All became a pane into a different mind. I simply watched as she failed to harm me.
Venefica let go of her Threshold-magic facade, dropping the chambers suspended in the air. Owyle and Threshold plummeted below.
I reached for them out of instinct with Force—which I’d already attuned from my own fall—and stopped them. My exhaustion faded, I felt renewed.
A river flowed through me.
No. . . an ocean.
Not a current in any one direction, but a sea of winds, and currents, and life. A vastness reaching into and out of my soul from all levels. The Syndel rotated inside me. I felt the top itself moving in some metaphysical sense.
Vicar Venefica hissed in her unholy voice, “EVEN IN YOUTH HE TOUCHES THE SEA, STEPS UPON THE SHORES OF YOUR EVENTUAL.”
“My eventual?” As I spoke a thousand voices spoke from my lips. My fur began to blaze in blue and orange. At first I thought my body to be alight in stonefire. But no, it wasn’t. I merely glowed.
Alfarin—that name of what I was to become—moved through the Liminality itself. Transcended both Existence and Nonexistence. The name of my future empowered me now, in the past of that same self.
What magnificence that was.
Why the voices? Where did they come from?
“I dare not fade into my mind to wallow in remembrance.” My choir of a voice spoke. I rose into the air, hovering above Venefica in the darkness of the sphere and glimmering crimson tornado. “You have, like so many others come to tempt me with false joys, arrived too late to that battle. I am young compared to that elder who began your wars, but I am no child. I am Opaline of Dahn, Mouse of Laska, Agglomerate of Peridot, friend to all I wish to be. I am a WorldWalker, Vicar, and in my late travels it seems I grow a name grander than name alone.” I whispered, “Alfarin, yes. By moment turned memory my eventual imparted his grandiosity to me. He did not hide behind his past.” The Syndel swirled in my palm, glistening into a spine with runes and crystalline forms so complex that they spoke a cosmic divinity, “You tempt me with building worlds? If a universe is possible then how small you are before me. A pile of fiendish desire heaped in the teeth of your mortal victims.” The Syndel vibrated like a knife in my hand, “Do not dare strike me or mine again, or I will turn your very being to fodder for the future.”
The Vicar trembled.
“Mercy, yes,” I said, “mercy. Retreat into your defeat as you wished me to retreat into mine. Remember this as the moment you realized why none of your Dracular have ever succeeded, nor ever will, in hunting me.” The tear upon my cheek brightened as I thought of the first time I held my Beep upon the meadow flowers back home. She followed me back to my burrow chasing after my honey smelling paws. When I transformed, she grew with me. We spent months playing in the fields before turning into WorldWalkers together. I growled, “I will never forget it. Not ten thousand years from now. Not a hundred thousand. Not when this eternal life comes to that inevitable end we all so naively pretend we shall not face. I will never forget. You killed my friend. You killed my friend.”
The Vicar remained frozen.
“Mercy,” I closed my eyes.
I felt Owyle’s song, enhanced by Threshold’s purpose and given divinity in Bigklau’s melodies, and hummed that tune I’d fought in. The rhythm of the tornado and the sphere and the broken power plant rising into the air. I felt the purpose of that magic run through me.
A prison for a vampire.
A cell for Venefica.
When my eyes opened, the sphere was gone. Venefica was gone. The Syndel glowed brightly. Peridot had warned me of using its power too greatly. But this? This was simply locking the door to a chamber already built. The Syndel sunk back into my being. The orange and blue glow of the Alfarin faded. I felt the sea drain from within me.
I stayed floating. Force kept me there.
I looked down. Most of the other Agglomerate silhouettes dispersed. Many disappeared. Threshold and Owyle began to wake. Porbiyo and Goyath trudged through the wreckage. They’d fought Vispar off, I’d suppose.
A single pearl danced in the air before my eyes. A bulky gemstone two centimeters wide. When I laid it in my palm, a chain of interlocking lace sparkled into existence. An amulet.
If one were to look particularly close, they’d see that the sphere’s middle was a window into the center, where a floral stone tornado glistened red. Threshold came to me, and I placed the amulet around her neck. She took the Prison Pearl off and placed it around my neck, beneath my scarf.
“I hold enough monsters on my shoulders,” she said. “She is yours.”
Peridot appeared before me, worry in her eyes.
Above, the churning skies lit up as a fleet of silver saucers parted the Annihilation eyes. From the mouths poured squadrons of the vehicles.
Trees a hundred meters tall.
Sunrays peered between the canopies, blanketing the forest in green golden light. Wind danced in the leaves and all the small life that rumbled in the forest.
A bonfire stood in the center of a lonely glade. Around it sang a giant crab, a ghostly skeleton, a masked man, a tattooed nun, a chef minotaur, a burping egg, a steel emu, a two headed ogre, an enormous circus tent, a pile of spoons, and a mouse.
WorldWalkers in peace.
We went in a circle, and sang songs from our homes, in our original languages. The forest—a humble place of quiet creatures native to this particular place—rang out with tales stretching the stars that night.
When I asked Peridot what had happened, she refused to answer me. When I asked her why we’d blipped though the top suggested more time, she refused to answer me. When I asked her why the sky opened at the saucers’ arrival, she refused to answer me.
Those answers would all come, in time.
Though not by her lips.
Far, far in the future, we’d learn the truth of that world and its oddities. I’d come to see the significance of our duel with the Vicar. I sat there burning in frustration. Peridot did not hint at the truth. For the first time in our friendship she actively held information from me. Not the first time, I’d come to learn.
No answers. Not a single answer.
So, I kept something to myself in return.
The Alfarin. That name, I did not tell her. The sensation, I did not share.
We sang songs, and told tales, and ate heaps of Yizzimis’s stew he slaved over at the flame. Bigklau played his instruments. Owyle did not sing that night. She stayed quiet, cradled in Threshold’s arms. Her ghostly face did lie over the skull. Owyle lie there as a skeleton in clothes, eyes dead as a true cadaver. Skedder leant silverware for Yizz’s meal while Goyath and the others enjoyed the moment.
My fingers grazed the pearl around my neck.
She’d murdered my Beep. I’d believed she’d been dead once, but to watch a vampire devour her soul? My heart broke. She was my last piece of a life I once had. The friend who’d seen home and danced through the meadows with me. A part of myself died that day with her destruction as another part was reborn.
I sat there, eyes upon the flames, pondering the nature of that sea within my soul. How does one even study something like that? How could I understand something so immense and vast? I’d play, for certain. I’d play in time. For now, I would enjoy Yizzimis’s stew with the others, and feel the power of my homeworld dance in my Aura.
Beep had died, but another part of home nestled in my fingers.
I sipped stew off a silk-glass spoon.