I am scattered and suffering, lost in my own home.
I stumble across a grassy plain, where wind slowly soothes the pale grass as if nature itself knows the unnatural has happened. My world has turned on me and twisted the hope I meant to create into something monstrous.
I have poisoned the past from the future, and now I must own my mistakes.
I created this world to escape from my own, to give myself a power and a strength I do not have, and a faith I do not believe in. Now they have that faith, my people. But in the wrong goddess.
After I wrestled across the cosmos with my archnemesis Christoph, I lost my sense of time and reality. Mere moments had passed for me, but months for the Christopher Kingdom. Without a leader powerful enough to oppose her, Corporal Thea made her play for the throne. She–or some other unknown party, even I don’t know for sure–killed our best representatives in a bombing. It was easy to blame it on a nebulous character who has since disappeared. And easier still to use it as an excuse to begin the isolation and the reprogramming and the surveillance.
Thea was known for her aggressive stance on countering Christoph, but something happened to her after she was captured. Christoph counted on my civility. He knew I would come after her. Just as he knew it the first time we fought at the Master Code Input Center.
I’ve lost too much for the women I’ve loved. By now, I should know better. By now, I should understand the hard lesson Christoph has tried to teach me before.
Survival is done without a heart, with only yourself as the spoils of victory. An utterly self-centered philosophy, but was it not true? Would we not now be enslaved, choking under the weight of Shadows and the grinding labor for the Machine, watching helplessly as the Tribunal Authority indoctrinates our children, had we only made one selfish decision?
But then, that’s what people forget about salvation. They often only thank the saviors after they’re dead. And first they have to kill them.
Some part of me had every hope that Thea would kill me, if she could. I haven’t wanted to live anymore, not for a long time. Is that what this was all about? Did I come back here to die, and take the sacred history with me? I find myself wondering if, by the time it’s all said and done, if I’ll even remember what originally happened.
The dead don’t carry memories with them. They become memories. And what are we, if not the dead?
We? A whisper, almost unnoticed, passing along on the wind…
I could feel it, a prodding at the very edges of my consciousness, at the very edges of my sanity. More than a prodding–a stirring, an awakening of the long dead and buried. A vision of flickering lights, a kaleidoscope in bright orange and yellow, the colors of flame, eternal flame. And then…
Eyes opening, eyes that are without pity, moral black holes sewn onto a face like mine. No…
But it can’t be…a figure in the distance, standing as if he has awaited this moment for eons and could await it for eons more if he had to, infinite patience coiled tightly around infinite rage.
We we we we we we–the whisper echoes a million times in my mind, and I see, on the wind, a bit of black ash, carried along. Pieces of a soul charred and fragmented, now free to travel on their own.
In a different age, Christoph and I imprisoned this man, this abomination, in the Paradox. There, the being known as Scepter was supposed to abide for all eternity in a state of limbo, of ever-changing contradiction. It was the only place I could put him, because he is a part of me.
He is my rage, my despair, my loneliness, all tormented and tortured until finally a horrible seed was planted, that, if nurtured and cultivated, would yield the fruit of genocide. Maybe even extinction altogether for my people.
But I can’t turn away from him. I feel his eyes, drawing me in as if I have passed their event horizon. I have no will to resist. The unbridled power of his rage taunts me with all it could offer, all we could achieve together. It becomes a tangible lust in my soul.
Now he is there before me, there beside me, there, a slowly growing pressure inside my skull. Something passes through me, a shudder of relief…
“How long have I watched…how long have I waited…and how I have longed to see you again,” Scepter said. “I spent forever and yet only a moment contemplating how I would avenge myself upon you. And in that instantaneous eon, I watched you from afar. I watched your shame. I watched your adversaries mock you. I felt your terror, your disillusionment. I felt your pain, and I knew that no fate I could give you in retaliation would be worse than the one you chose for yourself. How low you have become. How mired you are now, you who once pretended to be pure.” His eyes watched me. I felt a little nauseated at the thought that he was right. I kept listening. “But the only thing pure about you…was me, wasn’t it? Pure hatred. The wall you put up out of fear–it wasn’t to keep them out. It was to keep the monster in. For if he were free…to do as he wished…to do…as you wished?
“You no longer need proof, Christopher, my brethren. You have seen it in action, in all its glory, all its shameless and repetitive ritual. Each day under the reign of Shadows you have chafed; your soul aches for release. I can give you what you most desire.“
I take a step back, though it feels like I’m pulling the weight of the planet. “And what do I most desire?”
“All the things you gave to me: unbridled power, outrage, and a desire to be free, by all means necessary.“
“You haven’t changed at all. The same insane lecture is to follow, no doubt–“
“Insane? No. No. What I seek is a return to sanity, for you abandoned it long ago in favor of a path to self-destruction! Senseless self-sacrifice!“
“I have a future. I’m trying to save that future.”
“No. Again, you deceive yourself.” Scepter seems almost sad. “What has been done to you?” he whispers. “What yoke rests upon your troubled soul?“
It frightens me all the more that Scepter, the one imprisoned for years in the Paradox, that he feels sorry for me.
He reaches a hand out, tenderly. I again move back in revulsion. “You know what must occur now, better than I do. You know the price to be paid for true freedom. It was in this age that the foretold Slaughter should have begun. Before the worst of them came. Before Shadows and her treasons. Had you cleansed the Realm of the plague of women, we could have been spared this pain. Instead, your cowardice and compassion kept the parasites alive until they brought the host into submission, into subservience. Now is our chance to correct your mistakes. Now is the time for our Ascension.“
I couldn’t move anymore. Somehow my body felt rooted to the spot as if I were a tree, as if decades had passed with my soul as a sentry here. “No,” I whisper. “This is insane. You’re ill, Scepter. You’re my illness, and I must overcome you before you hurt, before you kill the people I love.”
“And therein lies the lie. You don’t know love. You know only fear. For you, fear and love are the same. They taught it to you. Now, we must teach it to them. We must teach them fear. And as fear is the precursor of death, the first shall give birth to the second. And then the second shall consume the first.
“Every woman bound in linen, left to rot on our ground, the seeds spent to create new life. That is, of course, what they are so fond of boasting, is it not? That they can create new life? And so they shall.
“High above them, atop the zenith of our grand mountain, we will stand, attired in their blood, and at last, free. Free of their disdain and contempt, free of their false promises, free of the needless suffering their lying eyes inflict. Such is the price of freedom. Such is the price of salvation. Only when we are one can we truly be saved.
“Witness the beginning of our salvation.“
“That’s not salvation,” I reply. “That’s sickening. Perverse. We fought to stop you before, and will do so again. We sent you to the Paradox to preserve any chance at freedom. You were meant to stay there, you, and your demonic ideas.”
“Oh, come now. We have all had a devil’s thought before. And you are possessed of many. I merely offer you a chance to act upon them. A choice. But as you know from your servitude to them, choice is but an illusion.” My dread spikes as his body begins turning to ash. “And the illusion of choice…CAN BE TAKEN AWAY!“
Again the pressure comes, and I feel submerged in mud, pulled under. I look at my hand and it burns. I drown as I am changed, reshaped, reborn…I fall to my knees–I–his voice becomes mine…
“I am your power. I am your law.
“Together, a righteous judgment will be passed.
“Ours will be the hand that strikes fear.
“Ours will be the rulership.“
We stand as one. The light now in service to the dark.
“And even those who bow will be emptied of their blood and cast aside as waste. Freedom is not meant to be shared. Power is reserved only for one. Thus begins my reign. The Realm shall be cleansed. And when it is pure…
“…the Golden Age of Scepter will be mine to behold.“