Basil looked warily at the goblet in front of him. It’s probably not a good idea to refuse his hospitality; if he wanted to hurt us, he wouldn’t need to play games like this, anyway, he thought to himself, and picked the goblet up with his right hand, keeping the left one free in case he needed to throw up a force-field quickly.
“Water,” he said to the goblet without hesitation, and it filled up instantly. A twitch of his eyes caused the lower half of his helmet to fold back onto his cheeks, freeing his mouth, and he took a sip.
That broke the spell for the others, and everyone else picked their goblets up as well, some ordering instantly – various kinds of sodas for most of them, grape juice for Osore; and Tyche…
“Triple chocolate milkshake with ground almonds and cream.”
When the cream-and-almonds topped shake appeared in her goblet, a real smile appeared on her face for the first time since she’d run into this Immanuel.
A sigh drew his attention away from her. Emyr was looking… chargrined.
“You just ruined my joke,” he said, his voice flat, but a slight smile on his face. When everyone looked at him in confusion, he explained, “Usually when I do this, everyone just gets something boring and then I’ll ask for something like…” He looked pensively at his goblet and said, “Strawberry and cream shake with chocolate and caramel syrup,” causing said drink to appear in it, “And everyone would just stare like they’d seen the Devil.” He drank from his goblet.
Tyche had already finished hers while he’d been talking. “I know, right? You give people a cup that can give’em any drink and they pick soda, or water,” she said, glaring at Basil. He gave her as deadpan a look as he could in return, with most of his face covered up.
“Banana and cherry smoothy mix.” Her goblet filled up again.
Meanwhile, the freaking Godking of Mars was laughing quietly, like this was all just a friendly gathering. “Ah well, no matter.” He drank from his goblet. “Let’s focus on more important things.” He looked at Basil. “First of all, we ought to introduce ourselves properly.”
He put his right hand over his heard, tilting his head forward. “Emyr Blackhill, God-King of Mars and Once and Future King of Earth,” he introduced himself smoothly, without a hint of irony or boast. Then he looked at Tartsche to his right.
“T-tartsche,” the armor-clad youth replied, his voice betraying a great deal of nervousness. “Leader – though likely not too much longer, after this stunt – of the New Lennston United Heroes Junior Division.”
“Spellgun, member of the same,” his boyfriend continued as Emyr’s gaze passed onto him.
“B-Bakeneko. The same,” came a squeak from the next one in line. She seemed to literally wilt under his gaze, her power reacting to her mood.
“Gloom Glimmer, also a member of the junior division,” Gloom Glimmer introduced herself, her voice clear as a bell and betraying no hint of being nervous or even slightly intimidated. Her eyes were nearly glowing underneath her hood, though blue rather than red now.
“Polymnia, also a junior hero,” the songstress continued, her electronic voice reflecting none of the nervousness that her face and body showed.
“Tyche! Hero and member of Team B- ouch” Tyche began, but was cut off when Hecate reached out to knock her over the back of the head with her staff, reaching behind Basil to do so.
“Brennus, of the same team,” he said curtly, seeing no point in trying to hold his name back.
“Hecate, also said team which most certainly does not use that atrocious acronym,” Hecate grumbled.
Emyr watched the whole exchange with open amusement. “A pleasure to meet you all, young heroes,” he said, raising his goblet in a casual gesture. “It’s always a joy to see young people willing to fight for a good cause.” He drank from his goblet, before he continued, “Now, on to the second point.” He looked straight at Basil. “You are wrong. I am Emyr Blackhill, not merely a fascimile.”
“You believe so? Even though you are incapable of leaving this… pocket reality?” He watched the long-haired man closely, feeling rather curious in spite of the seriousness of the situation, and the time pressure he himself was under. This was the man who’d once conquered the world, after all.
Instead of replying directly, Emyr turned to look at Legend, who was holding her head lowered in a demure posture that was very obviously not willingly chosen. “It’s pretty easy to determine with a single question. Sophia, can you summon anyone who’s not a metahuman?”
She replied instantly, without hesitation, yet without looking up, either. “No, I can not, your majesty. Only metahumans have sufficient impact upon the Historia to be summoned by my rituals.”
He turned around, smiling as he spread his arms in a ‘there-you-go’ gesture. “Can you tell why I claim to be the real one?” He looked around at everyone at the table, aiming the question at each and every one.
What does he mean? Basil asked himself. Why is he even trying to make an argument based on a Contriver’s delusions… of course, he may simply be delusional himself, believing that he truly is the true Emyr even though he is not.
Still, real or not, he was far more powerful than all of them put together, yet willing to talk instead of outright killing them, even after their attempt to do just the same to him. So best to play along for now.
“You’re implying that there’s something about metahumans in particular that would make them viable targets for resurrection, when baselines are not,” Spellgun spoke up, suddenly, leaning onto his elbows, which rested on the table, while Tartsche looked at him in alarm… though, they’d already clasped hands, putting him within the aegis of Tartsche’s power…
Emyr circumvented Tartsche’s power, Basil realised all of a sudden, his eyes snapping from Emyr to the two young lovers. Both Spellgun and Tyche were still underneath its protection when he stopped time, yet they were moved. He focused on Tartsche – his face was hidden by his knightly helmet, after all – and found himself thoroughly unsurprised to see that he was clenching Spellgun’s hand tightly, like a lifeline; the only sign, but a telling one, of just how freaked out he had to be right now.
Another thing to worry about, Basil thought, clenching his hands into fists. So much to worry about, so many things to keep in mind…
“Suffice it to say that, based upon my understanding of the nature of metahumanity, it is strong evidence towards the fact that I am the true Emyr Blackhill,” came the reply after Emyr drank from his, milkshake. “Once I am truly and completely revived, I am confident I shall remember all that happened during this little sojourn. Of course, I may just be delu-“
“Enough,” Basil cut him off with a sharp voice, in spite of his earlier decision to play along.
Everyone turned their heads to stare at him like he was a man possessed, but he ignored them to focus on Emyr.
“I do not have time for this,” he said, leaning towards their ‘host’ as he just barely kept his voice calm. “There are people out there who are dying, people whose one and only chance to survive rely on completing this mission and I need to get going because the clock. Is. Ticking. So tell us what you want and then let us go, or just let us go, but do not dither; I do not have the time to waste having a tea party here with you.”
Hecate made a strangled sound when he started speaking and was trying to wave him off, but he ignored her.
Mate, you just lipped off to the Godking of Mars, the Man in the Moon whispered inside his head. I ain’t sure whether to congratulate you on the density of your balls or hand you the Darwin aw-
Emyr put his goblet down, touching his fingers together in front of his face, his expression pensive. “It has been some time since anyone has dared speak to me like that,” he said, finally, while Basil shook with barely restrained rage. “Not counting the little princess across the table from myself,” he nodded to Gloom Glimmer, who stiffened up. “Yes, child, I know who your parents are. No, I didn’t use my power to find out – but you do look entirely too much like your mother and your power feels entirely too much like your father’s for you to be anyone else; I’d recognise either any time, for they are both people who I have studied extensively.”
“Whom, Sir,” Hecate cut in, almost in a squeal. “The term is ‘whom’, not ‘who’.”
He looked at her, smiling as she clapped her hands over her mouth in shock at herself, but just nodded. “You are right – I apologise for the mistake, it shall not happen a-“
There was a sharp sound of metal crumpling, screaming, make everyone look at Basil again.
He’d just crushed his goblet in one gloved fist, without even noticing it. “This is enough,” he stood up, nearly throwing the chair he’d been sitting on over. “I, we, do not have time for this, so get to the point,” he told him, once more, his teeth grinding together at the end.
Emyr still looked pensive, not offended, which really only made Basil even angrier. He clearly didn’t care about any of this!
“I really do need to take over the world again,” he replied with a soft voice, finally, loosely clasping his hands together. “Seems like things are even worse than the last time.”
“How would you know, Sir?” Polymnia said, sounding perfectly calm and composed; “Your power ends at the door, doesn’t it?“
Emyr shrugged. “This one,” he spoke calmly, gesturing towards the fuming Basil, “is quite sincere in what he says. Which means that there are people out there dying and the only chance they have to survive is… a group of children? Fighting people like Sophia, here, who’d not hesitate to slay you?” He made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Any world in which children must go to war is a horrible one indeed.”
He looked around at each of them in turn, and they all looked away, unable to meet his gaze, save for Basil, who simply glared at him and Gloom Glimmer, who showed no reaction at all.
“I see none of you can dispute the state of the world,” he followed softly.
“Is that really the reason why you want to take over the world?” Gloom Glimmer spoke up, suddenly, her eyes barely visibly underneath her hood.
“Is it not enough?” he answered with a question.
“Not for you,” she shot back. “Not according to my power. Is it because it’d make for a great story? Is that it, does the author want to impose an epic tale on the real world?” she pressed the point, while also throwing a look at Basil.
Please, calm down – we’re not going to get away from him if we piss him off, she spoke into his mind, without missing a beat physically.
Basil clenched his fists so hard his gauntlets creaked and strained, but he sat down again. Not that he was going to just go along with this farce, but she was right, just complaining at Emyr was not going to achieve anything of use.
“That would be interesting, wouldn’t it?” Emyr asked right back again, looking as amused as before. “However, while I won’t deny the fact that I enjoy turning my quest into a story for the ages, even at the cost of efficiency in some aspects, it’s merely a… bonus. As for taking over the world, that is merely a means to an end; and I am not so delusional as to believe I could cure all the world’s ills and bring eternal peace and prosperity to humanity – if nothing else, humans will always find another reason to fight amongst themselves, no matter the circumstances.” He shrugged. “Though I do believe I could reduce the number of casualties on the way to my goal.”
“What is that goal?” Hecate threw in, the words bursting forth as if she couldn’t stand the tension anymore.
Even Tyche, currently drinking her sixth drink, seemed to be on the edge of her seat. The only one who seemed to be entirely unaffected by it all was, as usual, Osore.
“My true goal is…,” was all Emyr began to say, leaning slightly forward, his face grave and shadowed by his wild mass of hair. “Secret.”
“Oh come on!” Tyche complained loudly, nearly spilling her eighth drink.
“Hey, I kept it a secret for so long, why should I tell now?” He laughed, clearly amused by the annoyed expressions he could see, at least from those whose faces weren’t hidden by masks or cowls – though their body language certainly helped express their own opinion towards his attitude. “Really now, children, I may enjoy crossing off the classic tropes, but I’m not going to reveal my great master plan in a big villaneous monologue. I’m laidback, not stupid.” He picked up his goblet and drank again. “Now, as to what I want with you lot, specifically… to be honest, I simply want to amuse myself.” He looked straight at Basil again. “I know that may seem callous to you, especially now that you’ve told me something of what’s at stake – and you’re right. Which is why I’ll instead ask you what exactly you’re after, young Brennus. What is your quest?”
Basil frowned at the question. Much as he really didn’t want to antagonise him – he wasn’t an idiot, previous behaviour be damned – he also didn’t exactly cherish the idea of telling this story just to amuse a capricious wannabe-deity.
Still, it seemed like the fastest way to get out of this would be to play along… to a point.
“If I tell you, will you let us go?” he decided to ask.
“That very much depends on the story you tell me,” Emyr replied smoothly, as if he’d expected the question. “Tell your tale, and tell it true, and I shall choose the next scene to come.”
Basil’s hands clenched into fists again, at the arrogance, the-
His right hand clenched around something hard.
He looked down and saw his goblet, whole, in his hand. He looked up at Emyr again, who just smiled.
Neither word nor gesture, he thought. Is there no limit at all to his power? Can he bend reality by will alone? Did he create the goblet so it’d repair itself? Did he give himself an ability that allows him to fix it at will? Did he… He cut that train of thought off right there – there were too many possibilities, and he had no means by which to determine which one was the most likely. No, there is. There are. He’s said so himself, and it shows. He was killed, as well – that wouldn’t have worked out if he didn’t have limits that could be exploited.
You’re in no position to exploit anything, mate, the Man in the Moon whispered.
But I can gather information for when I – or another – will be.
Taking a deep breath, he said, “First, I have a question to ask, about our fight earlier.” He looked him straight in the eyes again, even though his mask prevented direct eye contact. It was still strange, looking into those pools of black. A sense of vertigo he’d never felt before. Like looking through two windows into the Abyss.
“More of a little spat, really,” Emyr qualified. “Ask, and ye shall be answered.” He made a permissive hand gesture to accompany the statement, without a hint of humor in any of it.
“You threw me off of you like I weighed nothing, and you were able to tear Gloom Glimmer’s gag off just as easily. Yet no command – or dictate, I suppose – could have allowed you to do that, so how did you do it?”
Emyr’s smile broadened. “Body language.” He winked at him, then broke out into laughter when he saw the shocked expressions on the exposed faces. “Ah, yes, people tend to react like that to finding out about that little aspect of my power. Anyway, I believe that answers your question – your turn, now.”
Basil took a deep breath. “It is a long story.”
“I love long stories.”
He rolled his eyes. “Alright. A member of the organisation she belongs to,” he gestured towards Legend, “unleashed a bio-weapon on Hawaii, years ago. It killed most of the victims and left the others crippled, dying slowly. Their time is running out, I discovered the location of this base but the authorities are still deliberating how to proceed – and whether to trust my information, so I decided to come after the woman responsible – Dusu – myself, because I need her to give me the cure for her poison. Legend here intercepted us as we were taking the train towards their base’s section in which we believe Dusu to be.”
“A lengthy tale indeed,” Emyr mused. “So every one of you came here to find this cure?” He turned his vertigo-inducing gaze at the others, up and down the table. They all nodded, some more self-assured than the others.
Seemingly pleased, he turned his eye upon Brennus again, stroking his chin with one of his spidery hands, contemplating… something. “Why do you need this cure, young Brennus?” he asked, finally.
Basil tilted his head, confused. “Why… I need it in order to cure her victims.”
“That is what you need it for, but why do you, Brennus, want it?” the Godking asked with a curious smile, resting his cheek on his left hand. “What drives you to attack the base of such a dangerous organisation, taking these brave friends of yours into such danger – and don’t deny that you did, I recognise a leader when I see one – and challenge even me?”
“I need to cure those who have been harmed by Dusu,” he replied simply, trying to find the sense in this line of questioning. “If you must know, one of them…” He looked at the junior heroes, briefly, then decided he’d trusted them this far anyway. “One of them’s my girlfriend. This is the only way I have left to save her, short of carrying her into the Protectorate – and even if I could, she’d never survive such a trip.”
He could feel the eyes of Tartsche, Spellgun and Polymnia on him, but ignored them as he focused on Emyr. “Is this enough already? Every second counts.”
Emyr tapped his chin with one of his long, thin fingers. “I suppose it is, and thank you for satisfying my curiosity.” He sat up straight. “I think I understand you a little better now. I am curious though, what would you do if I were to say I intend to keep you here for a longer time?”
Basil shrugged. “I would kill you or, failing that, disable you in some way and break out of this place,” he replied flatly. I don’t know how, yet, but I will figure it out.
Everyone at the table, as well as Legend, just stared at him. Then they looked at Emyr, who’d gone still, looking at him in surprise.
“That’s hardly very heroic of you,” he said.
“I am not much of a hero,” Basil spat him, annoyed. “Or that good a person. But I am enough of both that I am going to do the right thing to save these people, and if that means going through you, then so be it.”
“I’m giving you points for gumption, at least,” Emyr replied flatly, untouched by the venom in the boy’s voice. “Not for brains, though. You’re talking about killing a-“
“A god, I know,” he snarled. “Or at least, that is what you claim – but you, you are no god.”
Emyr tilted his head the other way, looking dumbfounded. “Have you seen Mars lately? I assure you, I am very much a god-“
“You really aren’t, Sir,” Hecate spoke up, her voice low, but firm, looking straight at Emyr’s eyes when he turned his gaze to her, shivering when she felt their effect upon herself. “You were killed. Everyone knows the story. The Seven Regicides took you down, and they were certainly no gods themselves.”
“Seven Regicides, huh?” Emyr smiled in amusement. “So that’s how the world remembers them, is that it? Do they tell their tale still?”
“They do,” Hecate answered him, clearly straining to keep up the eye contact. “Everyone knows their names. Jack Flag. Gungnir. The Prospector. Jekyll and Hyde. The Unseen. Chatterbox. The Illionaut.There’s books, movies, comics… we don’t know how they did it, but we know they did.”
“There were eight, actually,” he remarked. “The count starts at Zero, not one. But that’s beside the point,” he continued, as if that was nothing, ignoring the gasps of everyone around the table.
Everyone save three. Gloom Glimmer remained still, and both Polymnia and Basil watched her, having noticed her flinch earlier.
What was that about?
On the other side of the table, Emyr continued to speak.
“I’ve got to say, though, it’s rather annoying how people keep misunderstanding my title,” he said, actually showing some annoyance for once. “I never claimed to be a god of humans. I created my children, the Martians – I reforged the world they live on. To them, I am, undoubtedly, and by any definition, God. I am also their absolute, unchallenged monarch – thus, King. Thereby, I am the God-King of Mars.” He huffed, brushing a few strands of hair out of his face. “It’s not a boast, it’s a simple fact.”
Basil sighed. “Are you deliberately wasting my time now?” he asked, growing weary even as his voice rose to near-screaming. “None of this, none of this, is necessary. I need to get going, I need to find Dusu, so get to the fucking point!“
“Alright, alright,” Emyr made a calming gesture with both arms. “Calm yourself, young one. I do sympathise with your plight – if anything, I applaud it. A knight in shining,” he looked at Basil’s jet-black armour, “well, not-so-shining armour, out to cure countless innocents including his lady; I love that kind of story!” he finished with an excited smile.
Basil leaned forward in his chair, “This isn’t for your amusement!”
“It may not be meant to, but it amuses me anyway,” the Godking said softly. “And I say that without any derision. I am not making light of your quest, Brennus, I am merely trying to point out that, perhaps, you should sit down, relax, recover some of your strength and realise that I am your ally, here.”
That made Basil sit back and stare. “What?”, he said, only to realise that about half the other teens at the table had said the same, at the same time.
Emyr chuckled. “Please, children. I may have tried – and succeeded, let’s not forget that – to take over the world, but I’m no monster, and I’ve always considered myself to have certain standards. Even if this Dusu hadn’t apparently used a bio-weapon on civilians, I would still support you, if only because the idea of a tale like this appeals to me too much not to,” he explained, before drinking from his ice-cream-filled goblet. “Are you going to accept my help?” he asked, finally, looking straight at Basil once more.
“I… of course. If you want to help, I… could not say no; we need any help we can get,” he replied, feeling thoroughly unbalanced.
Then, a new hope bloomed inside of him. It was far-fetched, a mere chance, but… “Could you, just, wish them whole?” he asked, leaning forward, unable to keep his voice calm. “Can you do, something with your power, that’d just fix them?”
Emyr smiled sadly at him. “Ah, how I wish I could,” he said, crushing that particular hope. “Once upon a time, it would’ve been less than child’s play to me – but now, with my power limited to this little pocket? I’m afraid not – I could not even create a Panacea and let you take it along to use on them yourself.” He sighed. “I’m sorry, I truly am, but in this, I am less able than you are to make a difference.”
Then he smiled. “However, I can offer two other things. One, I can rejuvenate the lot of you – which, as you may have noticed, I already did before time continued,” he gestured at them, and Basil took a second look – he was right, all the damage to his armor and costume, as well as those the others had accumulated, was gone; and he felt as fresh as he would after a good, long night’s full of sleep (something which he’d missed these last few days). “And second, we can extract some information from Legend here – that alone should be worth the delay, right?” He gestured at the enslaved contriver. “Ask her whatever you wish to know and she will answer to the best of her knowledge, in all honesty and with no attempts at deception or manipulation.”
Legend shuddered under the weight of the dictate – and it was one, even though there was no real indicator as to which parts of his speech were backed by his power and which weren’t – but nodded obediently, without a moment’s hesitation.
Basil looked around the table at the others – everyone looked to be shocked, scared or hopeful, to varying degrees, sometimes all three at once.
This is too weird for words, the Man in the Moon spoke up. Then again, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, mate.
For once, I agree with you. He turned towards Emyr, again, to ask the first question that came to mind, but he was pre-empted by Polymnia using her vocoder.
“What kind of resistance are we likely to run into, from now on until finding Dusu?” she asked the woman in the maid outfit.
She flinched. “The team you’ve fought before is likely to have recovered by now and be setting up an ambush outside the portal to this realm. There’s also two more combat-able teams on the Installation. Furthermore, Dusu has her own security, and her lab is in the same complex as that of the new Ascendant – I have no idea whether the latter could have some nasty surprises in store for you, if you show at her doorstep.”
Gloom Glimmer leaned in, putting both arms onto the table. “Wait, the Ascendant? So they did name a new one – what’s this one’s deal?” she asked, her voice hard. “Is he going after children again!?”
Legend shook her head. “No. I’m not aware of their exact project – while she only slightly outranks me, I have little to do with the Gadgeteering complex – but I know that it’s seriously impressed the top executives and that they declared it Top Secret even for the division heads like myself. I am, however, aware that it does not, apparently, require the purchase of test subjects, as the previous Ascendant’s work did.”
Several of the heroes around the table, particularly the girls, looked rather green at the callous admission of slave-trading being done here, but Basil decided not to press that particular point here.
“So we can not know what to expect once we get past the team we already defeated before,” Basil concluded. “What can you tell us about Dusu’s own security?”
“Her laboratory is heavily fortified and hermetically sealed, due to containing so many bio-threats. Attacking her carelessly would be supremely dangerous. I am not aware of any specific security other than the guards who protect her complex as a whole.”
“Is there some shortcut that can take us straight to Dusu?” Tyche asked inbetween emptying her thirteenth goblet and refilling it. “Would be nice to skip straight past all the fightin’,” she concluded rather uncharacteristically.
“None that I’m aware of.”
Tyche sighed in disappointment.
“Where do these monsters come from that attacked Esperanza City, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Australia?” Tartsche asked, suddenly, his voice still trembling a little, though noticably more controlled than earlier – he’d even relaxed his grip on Spellgun’s hand a bit. “And why did you have them attack in the first place?”
Legend looked away, seemingly ashamed – but Basil couldn’t tell whether she was honestly ashamed for what had been done, was ashamed of something else related to it or was simply being forced to be so due to Emyr’s unkown edicts – and replied, “They attacked because we couldn’t control them after their creation, so the top executives decided to cut them lose and see whether they couldn’t cause some more origins,” she explained as if talking about the weather. “As for their nature, I am not entirely sure but I know they are connected to the Sleeper.”
“What is the Sleeper?” Tartsche immediately pressed on.
The sorcerous woman looked up at him, a strange, off-putting light in her eyes. “The Sleeper is the future, our key to expanding our power and bringing as many into the light as we can – a colossal being sleeping in the depths of the Mariana Trench which we believe to be connected directly to the source of metahuman powers, currently in some form of hibernation,” she explained with almost religious fervour. “The beasts that attacked those places were somehow induced to spawn from it, but I don’t exactly know how – I do know that Dusu was and is the head of that particular program, so you should ask her for anything more regarding the subject matter.”
Emyr watched the exchange, tapping his fingers together, his face gone completely serious. “What a disgusting collection of wretches,” he spoke softly, his voice shimmering with an anger that made everyone else within the pocket reality shudder and lean away from him. “What is this group called?” he asked his slave.
“We are sometimes called the Companions of the Future, but our original and preferred name is ‘die Gefährten’, which means…”
Emyr cut her off with a wave of his hand. “I am well aware of what it means. Well, now I know whom to purge once I take over again. Continue.”
Basil leaned forward, putting his goblet aside to clasp his hands in front of his face, his mask snapping shut once more.
They continued to extract as much information as they could from Legend. The woman was completely cooperative, though clearly not willingly so, repeatedly making faces and shuddering, yet unable to truly strain against the commands imposed upon her by Emyr.
Finally, after nearly ten minutes, Basil decided to end it. “I think that is enough,” he announced loudly, leaning back. “We should get going now.” He looked at Emyr, silently asking for permission – though it galled him a great deal having to defer to him so.
To his (mild by now) surprise and gratitude, Emyr nodded, making a sweeping gesture. “It is time, yes. Go, find the cure.” He smiled softly, a little sadly. “I do wish I could offer greater support, but I’m afraid all I have left is to give you all my blessing.”
The others looked at each other, then at him, but no one knew what to say to that, really.
“Thank you,” was all Tartsche could bring himself to say – he still appeared to be rather put off by having his power circumvented somehow, and he’d very tellingly not asked how Emyr had achieved said feat.
“You’re welcome. Now off, off with you all!” Emyr raised a hand and snapped his fingers, and the door behind him opened smoothly, without a sound, revealing the shimmering portal they’d seen earlier behind Legend’s force-field.
They all got up, rather quickly, and moved towards the door, but Tyche stopped briefly next to Emyr’s chair.
“Y’know, for a crazy evil overlord, you’re really ok,” she said, offering him her hand. “And thanks for the drinks. Wish I could keep the magic cup, really,” she continued with a grin.
Emyr smiled at her, only having to bend his neck slightly to look up at her face, even while sitting. “It was my pleasure, Tyche. My pleasure, and my horror – I’ve never seen a normal-sized girl drink twenty-two drinks in such a short time. And each one an original, at that.” He took her hand, shaking it. “I do hope we can meet again under more pleasant circumstances, young hero.”
She blushed a little at his smile, and nodded. “Sure. See ya, your royal godliness.”
They all passed by Legend, who remained quiet, her head lowered and her hands clasped together, but Hecate and Polymnia both stopped next to her.
They exchanged a look, the two of them, then turned around, with Hecate speaking up.
“What’s going to happen to Legend?” she asked worriedly.
Emyr leaned around on his throne-like chair, looking at her with an inscrutable, but gentle expression. “Worried for your enemy, are you? Well, you needn’t be – I don’t intend to kill her, merely teach her a lesson before I eject her unto the real world once more.”
They looked at each other, again, as the others pooled around the gate, waiting for the two girls to join them and exit this reality. While neither seemed to be too happy with his reply, they clearly decided – sensibly, in Basil’s opinion – that it was likely to be the best they’d get.
“Alright. One more thing, Sir,” Hecate pressed on. “May we, um, take those?” She gestured at the items on the table, the ones Legend had used to summon her shades. “They should be returned to their proper places.”
Emyr nodded and gestured at the items, then at Hecate. They all rose up and flew over to her, making her briefly squeal in surprise before she caught them all and, with a respectful bow to him, stuffed them carefully into her bag of holding.
“Is there anything else?” he asked kindly.
She shook her head. “No, that will be all. Thank you, Sir,” she bowed again, then turned to leave.
Basil watched all that, feeling oddly disconnected from it all, but didn’t comment.
It didn’t help that he still didn’t trust Emyr, and so he let the others exit this reality first, just in case.
He was just about to step out of it himself when Emyr spoke up again.
“Brennus,” he said and when Basil turned to look at him, he’d rotated his throne around to face him and the door. “One last thing before you leave.”
“What is it now?” Basil asked wearily.
“Remember these words,” Emyr said, before he cleared his throat and sat up more straight, then spoke in a much firmer, deeper voice than before: “To pursue what is necessary is the province of beasts – a true man must pursue naught but what he desires.'”
Basil tilted his head to the side. “I… do not understand.”
Emyr smiled at him like a kindly old grandfather might. “I know you don’t, just as I know that you will, some day. Be well, Sir Knight, and may you save those you wish to save.”
Clearly dismissed, Basil nodded at the strange man and turned around, leaving.
Legend watched quietly as Emyr leaned back in his seat while it rotated – with no visible or audible cause – back to face the table, the door closing behind him. She couldn’t do anything but be quiet and await new orders… and dread whatever ‘lesson’ he had planned for her.
“How likely do you think they are to succeed, Sophia?” he asked pensively.
She didn’t have to think about it to know the answer. “There’s no way this story is going to have a happy end,” she replied sadly – and she did feel sad. She wasn’t heartless, and she did feel sympathy for Dusu’s victims and those trying to save them; nevermind that she honestly wished that monstrous woman would get what she deserved (Sophia was a villain, and she was even willing to kill teenaged combatants, but… Dusu was just evil). “Whether or not they reach Dusu, she-“
She was interrupted, suddenly, when someone walked past her from behind, making her jump and squeal in surprise as she saw someone wearing a dark blue, hooded robe move down the table.
Where, where did he… no one but him and me should be here! she thought, staring in shock.
Emyr remained quiet, looking almost as surprised as she felt as he watched the stranger sit down at the opposite end of the table, where the unnerving girl with the changing power had been sitting just a minute earlier.
Sophia was immediately assaulted by an unnerving sense of vertigo as she looked at the stranger’s face underneath his hood – or rather, the lack of a face, as he was wearing a mostly flat, featureless mirror-helmet within which she could see the distorted reflections of both herself, Emyr and the table. Yet, even though she could not see the figure’s eyes, she still felt like she was seeing into Emyr’s own black orbs, seeing into the abyss beyond them.
The stranger sat down without a care in the world, putting his elbows on the table and clasping his hands underneath his chin, resting it atop his interlaced fingers.
“Well well,” Emyr said, tapping the armrest of his chair. “Who do we have here? I don’t believe we’ve met before. What is your name, stranger?”
“Some call me Journeyman,” the man spoke, making Sophia shudder at the sound of countless voices – most but not all male – speaking in unison. In spite of that, though, the man did not project any kind of hostility or threat. “Some have called me Aion.”
“Mm, interesting choice of names,” the Godking of Mars replied. “I assume you know who I am, Aion?”
“Emyr Blackhill, the Godking of Mars,” Journeyman said. “I came here to kill this incarnation of yours.” Sophia choked on her own spit.
“Well, that is rather refreshingly forward,” Emyr chuckled with clear amusement in his voice. “While I’d be really curious to see how you’d achieve that, I’m afraid it’s quite superfluous – I am going to terminate myself soon, since I can’t break out of here in any case. You’re wasting your time and strength, if you can even do it against my will.”
“Not so,” Journeyman countered. “I know you too well – you’d find a way to break out of here, and I can’t have that.” He leaned a little more forward, as his mask stopped reflecting the scene in front of him and showed nothing but Emyr’s own face, reflecting back at him.
The Godking frowned at him, his mouth twisting. “You seem quite certain… precognition?”
“Of a sort,” Journeyman replied.
“It is not impossible that I could device a means by which to escape this confinement, that is true, though I haven’t as of now,” Emyr said pensively. “Yet that would be truly a major feat, even for one such as I. You still believe you could slay me, now?”
Please, oh please, say yes!, Sophia silently begged the stranger.
To her dismay, he shook his head, only for his words to then make her hopes flare again. “I don’t think. I know.” He lowered his hands onto the table, leaning onto his elbows. “In this place, at this time, I am more than you are.”
Emyr chuckled. “I’d like to put that to the test, if you don’t mind.”
Journeyman grabbed the table by the edge and threw it aside like it weighed nothing, causing it – and the bowl atop it, and the goblets – to shatter against the walls, as he strode forward towards the Godking on his throne, his long, powerful strides moving him faster than Sophia could run.
Emyr stood up, ponderously, and pulled back an arm, forming a fist.
Journeyman wound up for his own strike.
Sophia stared in horrified fascination, unable to do anything but observe.
Their fists met.
Their world broke.