The only blessing, Jamie decided, was that most of the intelligent life in the multiverse was humanoid in form. He would never have been able to handle talking rocks, insectoids the size of men, or slimy, green slugs that debated advanced philosophy. The downside was that every species had its own special body odour and all were rank, particularly after days or weeks without bathing and crammed together in a small, hot space. He knew that he smelled just as bad to the green-skinned biped with three arms who was crushed next to him at the bar as the putrid Pandalorian smelled to him. It was small comfort. But there was little comfort to be found at the Bar at the End of the Multiverse.
The Green Man eyed Jamie’s empty glass. “What are you drinking, my human friend?”
The words didn’t match the alien’s lip movements, but somewhere in the bar a multiversal translator was doing its work effectively.
“Thank you, I’ll have a spirit.”
“That’s the spirit,” Green Man rearranged his facial features into what probably passed for a smile on Pandaloria, but looked like a bad case of wind on old Earth. “Humans usually drink sproqk.”
The translator failed to identify the Green Man’s noun, which usually meant it was a derogative colloquialism. Jamie guessed he meant beer, or the nearest thing to such a drink you could get this far out. Spirit, rough as it usually was, was generally a safer bet, since it had been distilled, but many a good man had gone blind as a result of a poorly operated still. The risk was worth taking, he decided. There was little else to do.
The barkeep was short, pallid, and had huge ears. He poured them two shots of viscous, pink fluid. Jamie downed it in one gulp. It burned the back of his throat and right down into his stomach. He struggled not to, but he had to cough. The aftertaste was bitter and tasted vaguely of almonds. He wondered whether he had just taken cyanide.
Jamie appreciated the Green Man’s generosity. He held out his right hand in the usual Earth greeting. “I’m Jamie Surak, pleased to meet you.”
The Green Man took his extended hand in his three hands and enveloped it, with the hand that seemed to be attached to his stomach on the top. He held the gesture and looked deep into Jamie’s eyes. The alien’s eyes were oval shaped and red. “Do not speak your name again. Here, no-one can know your name. I have forgotten mine. Only two people here have names. The barkeep is called Rakqu and the Rigellian sitting at the bar opposite is called Romn.” The Rigellian was a fat, blue humanoid with greasy, black hair, bulbous nose, and fat lips. He was nursing a beer and staring into the depths of his glass. “It is said that Romn has been here forever.”
The words sparked something in Jamie’s brain. Where is here? How did I get here?
The crowd behind him seemed to surge again as more people entered the bar. The crush would have been unbearable were it not for his barstool and bar in front of him.
“Where are we?” he asked.
The Green Man grimaced, or perhaps he laughed. “Have a couple more spirits and you will soon forget everything and your worries will be gone.” He signalled the barkeep who brought the bottle over.
“Where are we?” he asked again.
Rakqu spoke as he refilled their glasses. “This will be your last, Pandalorian, savour it. You need to drink more, Human, and then you will stop asking such questions. Look!” The barkeep pointed to the ceiling above the bar. Jamie hadn’t noticed it before; there was a huge window.
The lights dimmed in the bar and the hullaballoo receded. It seemed to Jamie that he was alone, looking out of the skylight into the abyss. There was total blackness. Far in the distance a single star twinkled white and captured his attention. His mind cleared and he realised that for a long time he had been living in a fog. And he almost remembered.
The barkeep broke his reverie. “This is the Bar at the End of the Multiverse. There is a strange conjunction here. This bar exists in many dimensions simultaneously. Other than Romn, we never see the same customers twice. We never close, and we are always full. This is the final destination for the lost souls of the multiverse. You must have done something very terrible to end up here. Have another drink, and you will soon forget.”
Jamie looked down. His glass was still full, but an empty glass was beside it. He looked around to check his companion. The Green Man was gone. The crush was still impenetrable. A red-haired Angoran was now pressed next to him and Rakqu was pouring him a drink.
“Where did the Pandalorian go?” Jamie shouted at the barkeep to be heard above the pandemonium.
Rakqu sighed and put down the bottle. “Human, you ask too many questions. He is just gone. This is the last bar in the multiverse. There is nowhere else to go to from here. He has been terminated.”
“I can’t remember my name,” the Angoran muttered to himself.
But Jamie still remembered his but not how he had come to be here.
Across the bar, Romn looked up and met Jamie’s gaze. A small smile played on his podgy blue face and he hoisted himself on to his feet. The crowd parted like he had the plague as he made his way to the far wall.
The bar fell silent and Jamie was distracted by a loud noise as Rakqu dropped a glass. “Aiee,” Rakqu screamed, “Romn is going to the jukebox!”
“This place could do with some music,” Jamie said. The Angoran nodded his agreement.
“It’s not that sort of jukebox, Human. It contains all of the holidays, festivals, and religious celebrations in the multiverse. We are going to have a celebration. It is very bad for business.”
“I would have thought a celebration would be good for a bar business,” Jamie said.
“You think too much, Human. I do not get paid by drinks, I get paid by souls and while the celebration is on there will be no terminations.” He wrung his hands, like a character Jamie remembered from a story somewhere. He stretched his mind to find the name. Scrooge; that was it; Scrooge.
A huge virtual video screen opened up where the skylight had been. It looked like an old-fashioned fruit machine. Romn pulled the handle and three boxes rotated, slowly coming to rest in turn. Three cherries will win the jackpot.
There was absolute silence in the bar, apart from Rakqu’s groans, as the rotating boxes settled.
Box 1 was headed ‘Planet’: it slowed and almost stopped on Valcuria before flipping one last time to ‘Earth’.
Box 2 was labelled ‘Era’: it whirred to a stop at ‘1843 Christian Epoch’.
The last box was marked ‘Festival’: it came to rest on ‘Christmas’.
The bar’s temperature dropped instantly. Jamie’s bar stool disappeared and he crashed to the floor. His fall was broken by a bank of soft, white powdered snow. He dragged himself to his feet, shivering in his single-layered tunic. He was on a cobbled street between rows of tiny cottages. It was dark but the street was illuminated by gas lights and the light was reflected off the pristine white snow. As if on cue, more flakes began to fall from the sky.
The curtains of some of the cottage windows were open, in a deliberate display of wealth. Gas lights and roaring fires flickered, projecting a picture of heavily decorated Christmas trees onto the street. People sat, dressed in their fines, in plush armchairs sipping port.
Other cottages had closed curtains and Jamie recognised the dim flicker of candlelight escaping around the edges. Whether they had Christmas decorations, he couldn’t say.
The most dilapidated cottages either had no curtains at all, or the threadbare curtains were open. They had no lighting and depended on the streetlights. Their residents sat huddled in ragged clothing around small fires.
A young boy, no more than six or seven, was the only person on the street. He was dressed in rags and looked dreadfully malnourished. He approached Jamie dragging a damaged leg, hope written across his face. “Spare a halfpenny for a poor family on Christmas, Sir? We ain’t eaten in days. If not a halfpenny then a farthing please, Sir.”
Jamie was touched by his plight but he carried no money, and even if he did it would be worthless in this place and time. He had nothing to give the boy. He felt helpless and couldn’t find any words to say.
“Don’t worry, Sir, I see you are as wretched as me. Good luck, Sir; and a Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” Jamie managed to mutter as the boy shuffled off.
Jamie was shivering uncontrollably now. The ends of his fingers had turned purple. He couldn’t feel his feet. If he didn’t find shelter soon, his termination would be expedited. He needed help. The roaring fire of a gas-lit house beckoned him. He knocked on the door.
After a long delay the door opened a crack and Jamie felt a rush of warm air and smelled a cornucopia of pleasant odours dominated by the smell of pine. A small, rotund man wearing plus-fours and sporting fluffy, white whiskers peered through the gap in the doorway. “What do you want?” His voice was harsh.
“I’m a visitor to your town. It’s very cold out here. Could I trouble you to sit by your fire for a few minutes?”
There was no reply; just a slam of the door.
Jamie tried a cottage with closed curtains. The flickering candle light indicated people were at home. He banged on the door until his frozen knuckles were raw, but no one answered.
The responses were similar at several other houses. Eventually, he decided to try a dark house with open curtains. His knock was quickly answered. A young woman, with aged eyes and darned clothing took one look at him. “Oh you poor thing, come inside and get warm.”
Jamie stumbled inside and was greeted by a brood of young children huddled around a tiny fire in the black fireplace.
“Vicky, makes room for the gentleman! Bertie go and get two more lumps of coal! Alice, put the kettle on, he needs a warming drink.
As his circulation returned and the fussing receded to manageable levels, Jamie took stock of his surroundings. The house was basic and plain. The children were small and malnourished. The woman was not as young as he had first imagined; her face was lined and weary. They had so very little, but what they had they shared with him despite knowing that they would go hungry tomorrow as a consequence.
As his eyes became more and more accustomed to the dim light in the room, he noticed a wicker chair in the corner of the room. Someone was sitting in it; someone whose body shape was totally out of place in such an abode.
“What are you doing here?” Jamie spluttered.
“Waiting for you, of course. You took your time,” Romn said.
“What’s going on? Why …?” The last question tailed off. There was so much Jamie didn’t understand, so much he needed to find out, but he didn’t know what questions to ask.
Rohm laughed, and it was a deep, melodious laugh that triggered some long lost memory of Jamie as a small boy. It was a fleeting memory but it left a vague, uneasy shadow of its passing.
“I thought that a Dickensian myth might be appropriate for your situation. But you never read the classics, did you? The subtlety and irony are lost on you, no doubt, but it amuses me. The hours in the Bar at the End of the Multiverse are long and you need to find such amusement as you can to pass the time. It is such a depressing place, but that’s not surprising considering it’s the place that evil-doers with a conscience come to die.”
“You make no sense,” Jamie said. “Am I evil? How did I get there?”
“Let me explain my metaphor,” Romn said as the others faded from view. “There was much inequality in Victorian England. The rich could feast on the finest of foods, while the poor slaved for them and barely managed to survive. Dickens captured it in A Christmas Carol. A miserable miser was visited by three ghosts, representing past, present, and future so that he could see how his life and death would turn out if he remained on his current path. Of course, he repented and became a reformed, generous character. It is something of a fairy tale, I fear. In my experience, the rich and greedy are ill-equipped to change.”
“What does all of this have to do with me?” Jamie was getting frustrated with Romn’s games and annoyed with the assertion that he had never read the classics, and he snapped the question.
“Nothing, and everything,” Romn said. “You don’t remember your past and don’t know why you are here. Your future is a miserable death, unnoticed by anyone except Rakqu, who will profit from your passing. Perhaps you can find redemption like Ebenezer Scrooge did.”
“Bah humbug,” Jamie said.
“That’s the spirit,” Romn said with a laugh.
“Why should you care?” Jamie asked, his curiosity rising.
“I have little compassion for most of the scum who pass through the bar, believe me. The Pandalorian you struck up a conversation with was an abuser of children and a mass murderer. The Angoran who followed him poisoned an entire planet and committed genocide.” He paused for a moment, fixing Jamie in his gaze.
What have I done?
“Why are you here?” Jamie postponed the inevitable revelation.
“It’s a job. And someone has to do it. There’s no judge and jury that sends you to the Bar at the End of the Multiverse. It’s the destination for those who have a tiny chink of regret over their actions. Sometimes they can be saved and pressed into service for the better. Sometimes they shouldn’t be in the bar at all. Sometimes their termination would cause consternation in the multiverse. Mostly, their deaths will improve the multiverse. It’s my job to sift out the wheat from the chaff.”
Jamie felt his blood pressure rising. His head was throbbing. He face was probably bright red. “Which category do I fall into?”
“That’s for you to decide,” Romn said.
“I can’t remember,” Jamie said.
“Then let the Ghost of Christmas Past help you,” Romn said.
It seemed to Jamie that he and Romn travelled the multiverse. They moved, hand in hand, smoothly through the dimensions looking down on the action without ever participating. He felt no embarrassment holding the blue man’s hand, rather an unfamiliar comfort. He watched events unfold and found his memory returning.
“I remember this battle,” Jamie said. “The army of Kharmeth should never be defeated. He is a Primary God of Chaos. And yet we are cutting them down to the last Chaos beast. The field is turned red by their blood.”
“Where are you?” Romn asked.
“Far from the battle, on top of yonder hill, with the standard. Like any coward would be.”
The flag had a black background and displayed a set of scales, weighing up the everlasting battle between Law and Chaos.
“You fight for The Balance then?” It was a rhetorical question.
They watched in silence as a single, red-haired man, mounted on a red horse, swinging a huge black broadsword with a blood-red ruby embedded in its hilt dispatched all and sundry, foes and friends alike.
“My work will start after the battle. I will need to assuage the Hero’s conscience, for he will not want to live after his actions.”
“But live he must to continue the fight. Tell me, why was The Balance fighting on behalf of Law?” Romn asked.
“Sometimes we fight for Law, other times for Chaos, mainly though under the flag of The Balance. It is the Hero’s role. He must do as his genes dictate.”
“And what is your role?”
“I am the Hero’s Companion.”
“And where is your Hero now?”
“I am tired of the battles. I am sick of the killing. I understand how the Hero feels. We should just end it all.”
It was a different Hero, dark-skinned and black-haired this time, wiry almost puny yet he swung the great sword with the same authority, killing all before him.
“After this battle he will return home and in a fit of guilt will draw the sword to end his life, but he will kill his entire family instead. I will have to pick up the pieces again.”
“And if you don’t?”
“Then the Hero will fail. Either Chaos or Law will triumph. There will be a Conjunction and Time will end. The multiverse and every being in it will die.”
“It sounds like you have an important job.”
“The Hero is always changing,” Romn noted.
They watched a leather-clad, tall, red-haired, young woman creating mayhem with a black sword. A ruby flashed in its hilt and the sword screeched as it consumed souls, so that it almost seemed to be alive.
“The sword is the constant,” Jamie said. “Only those who carry Hero genes can wield it.”
“This one seems particularly brutal.”
“She has a well-spring of anger that will take a long time and many deaths to empty. She will need my help when her thirst for revenge has been sated. Until then, many innocent lives will be lost.”
“You carry a lot of guilt,” Romn said.
“How do you know?” Romn asked.
The Hero was no great warrior. He looked more like a nerd, who followed the adage that the pen is mightier than the sword. Yet, when he unsheathed his weapon he seemed to grow and command respect. The slavering three-headed dogs of Chaos, dripping their venom were quickly dispatched – thrice decapitated. Their lumbering masters, giants with great clubs that could kill a man with a gentle tap, swiftly followed. He sheathed his sword, and once again looked like a student on his way to the library.
“Usually, I just know. I am genetically programed too. I love them, you see. But if there is a doubt, they all carry a special mark.”
“I see,” Romn said.
“There are always trade-offs,” Romn said. “In order to maintain Balance, it is inevitable that there will be collateral damage. It is unfortunate, but innocent lives will always be lost.”
This Hero was a blond Adonis. His eyes though were black and full of hatred. The sword sang its joyous song as the children of the orphanage died.
“That was the last straw,” Jamie said. “I cannot do it anymore. Let me be terminated.”
“None of the deaths are your fault,” Romn said. “In fact, your actions over the millennia have saved many that would otherwise now reside in the Blood Ruby.”
The cold returned and Jamie found himself back in the Christmas Carol cottage. The fire in the grate was out. Weak daylight was streaming in and the family were gathered round one of the children, on a rough blanket on the floor. Romn was sitting in the wicker chair. Jamie looked at him quizzically.
“It is now Christmas Day,” Romn said. “The family have nothing to eat or drink, because they fed you last night. They have no coal to burn, because they warmed you last night. One of the boys is very sick. It’s likely that he will die.”
More guilt, that’s all I need. Jamie jumped up. “Let me have a look at him. I might be able to help.”
The boy was as white as alabaster, almost albino, except that he had the most beautiful green eyes and flame-red hair. He looked about four years old, though he could have been older given the family’s malnourishment. He thrashed around, as if having a seizure. When Jamie felt his forehead, the boy was burning up. Despite the cold, the boy was on fire. His tiny body was naked. And Jamie saw it and knew.
They were travelling again in space and time.
“Perhaps you need the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come,” Romn said.
“Who is the young boy?” Jamie asked.
“He is an ancestor of Simon Redhead. You will remember Simon? Perhaps you haven’t met him yet. He is the greatest incarnation of the Hero. He is the Everlasting Hero. Let’s take a look at the future.”
They looked down on the Battle of Elannort. Dammar rode out to challenge Weylyn the Wolf.
‘The green lash flashed and wrapped itself around Dammar’s neck. The screams of agony went on for a good twenty minutes before Weylyn grew bored. They were heard across the camp and in the city of Elannort. Grown men cried as they heard them. Wargs cowered in fear at the sound. The undead shrugged; they had heard and felt it all before, he’d get used to it after a hundred years or so. On the outskirts of Elannort, Manfred shivered and his flesh turned to goose bumps. He knew what the sound meant, and he figured that his turn was not far away. High above the encampment, a solitary eagle observed the scene and gave a mournful call before flying to Elannort and landing on the top of the High Tower.
When Weylyn had tired of torturing Dammar, he turned his attention towards Elannort. He ordered the attack. They came at the city from all sides. The unrelenting march of the undead formed the cannon fodder. Packs of wargs roamed at will, inflicting damage by guerrilla raids, quickly in and out again. The human troops followed up, more circumspect in their actions, since they had lives to protect and didn’t wish to join the undead corps. Behind them, the elite cavalry waited to attack those who fled from their positions. Amongst them roamed a range of fell chaos creatures. These were visions from children’s nightmares: three-headed dogs with slavering maws, cockroaches the size of sheep, huge scorpions with pincers that would snap a man’s neck, six feet diameter spiders with fangs that would suck the brains from living skulls, giant cats that would torture and play with their human prey before they finally killed it. Everywhere they went, the chaos creatures generated fear and panic in the defenders.
Manfred, mounted on a white stallion, seemed to be everywhere. He shone in the sunlight, his white cloak, hair and beard glowing. His staff breathed blue fire and smote the enemy, living, dead, or chaos creature alike. Wherever he was, morale was raised and fear was quelled. However, when he moved on, terror and panic soon returned. Aglaral, Dawit, and Taran fought side by side where the fighting was at its most fierce. Dawit’s axe cleaved many skulls, both living and dead. Taran’s arrows found their marks. He concentrated on downing chaos creatures and cavalry officers. Aglaral lead his troops with valour. His swordsmanship proved too good for any of the enemy.
Wave after wave, the enemy pressed forward. The defenders fell back to their prepared positions. With each retreat, the number of defenders was decimated. As his minions advanced, Weylyn entered the city astride his horse. He followed the spiral streets that he knew so well, until he entered the Avenue of Heroes that lead to Melasurej, the Wizards’ Keep. He rode in triumph, the frozen statues of the sages staring down on him, perhaps in awe, perhaps in disbelief. There were few empty pedestals now. One for him, one for Manfred the Magician, a few others for non-wizards – he didn’t pay much attention to them. By this day’s end, there would be but one wizard left alive. He would enjoy Manfred’s slow death. He would play with him, like one of his chaos pets.’
“The day could yet be saved,” Romn said.
“I have not lived this,” Jamie said.
“Not yet,” Romn said.
‘The few defenders who remained alive fell back to the gates of Melasurej. Manfred turned to his companions. Aglaral, Dawit, and Taran all still survived, but each of them had taken many wounds. Taran had run out of arrows and was now relying on his sword while Dawit’s axe had been shattered.
“Fall back into the Keep. I will make a last stand here. We need Simon now. Bring him out immediately, if he returns. If he doesn’t, you will have your chance to make a last stand too.”
Aglaral started to argue, “I would stay with you, master, and share your fate.” However, Manfred would broach no arguments, and the gates soon closed behind them, leaving Manfred alone facing the approaching mob. He leant on his staff for support and muttered a brief prayer to the Balance. May I be strong in my final test? Behind a pile of rubble, next to the gates, Kris cowered. He had been observing the battle, for his story, but had missed the opportunity to get back into the Keep. Now he was rooted to the spot in fear. Manfred stared ahead. He had not noticed Kris. A mass of perverted humanity was approaching. A solid wall of the undead surged forward, seeming unstoppable, like a tsunami poised for destruction. They halted about five yards from Manfred. They were wary of the power of his staff.
Manfred challenged them. “Which of you will step forward and feel the wrath of Manfred the Magician? Come on, I will put an end to your misery.” They stared at him, their eyes vacant and without hope. They said nothing. No one moved. Unobserved, for the moment, Kris fouled himself.
Manfred practised slow, deep, regular breathing. He knew he could handle any number of the undead. Their master, however, would be a bigger challenge. If Weylyn had defeated Dammar, what hope was there for him? Careful, I must not lose my self-confidence. He took a firm grip on his staff and stood upright. Directly before him, the masses of undead moved aside, like Moses parting the Red Sea. A rider on a horse approached. The undead cowered, abasing themselves before him. Weylyn wasn’t that different to Manfred. His physical appearance was much the same. He too appeared old and frail with long white hair and a flowing white beard. The eyes were different, though. Weylyn’s eyes were green and cold. When they saw Manfred, they burned red with hatred. He didn’t carry a staff. Instead, his right hand held a whip. The handle was laden with jewels and intricately carved with ancient runes. The lash appeared to be a band of light that glowed fluorescent green. Weylyn looked down at Manfred. “So we meet at last old friend.” The hate in his eyes belied his words.
“You shall not pass!” Manfred’s voice was powerful and confident.
Weylyn threw back his head and laughed. “You old fool. Do you really think that you can stop me? I, who defeated Dammar as easily as if he were a puppy dog? Let me pass and I shall give you a merciful end. I shall soon be the last remaining wizard on FirstWorld. I shall then claim my right to be leader of the Council of the Wise. I shall take my place in Melasurej as absolute ruler of FirstWorld and my army of undead shall ensure that all do my bidding.” He laughed again and drew back his right arm, causing the green whip to ripple in the air menacingly.
“You are a fool Weylyn. You are but the pawn of Gadiel. Do you think he will let you do as you wish? He will return to claim everything and you will be destroyed.”
Weylyn’s eyes blazed crimson in fury. He lashed out with his whip, aiming for Manfred’s neck. Manfred countered with his staff and the green lash wrapped around that instead. It seemed then that time stood still. The two wizards pitted all of their strength and powers against each other. The staff fought the whip. The two talismans buzzed with energy. Manfred’s staff blazed with blue electricity. The colour of the whip changed from green, to yellow, to purple, and finally to the crimson red of Weylyn’s eyes. Then it was over. Manfred’s staff broke into a thousand fragments and the old man was cast to the ground. It is over. I have failed. I wish it could have been otherwise but I have done my best and I am ready to die.
“Prepare to depart for the Avenue of Heroes, old fool.” Weylyn gloated and drew back his arm to coil the whip again. “You have lost. The Balance has finally tipped. Go to stone, old fool, and spend eternity in regret.” It would seem that I have bad luck with whips.
In the shadows behind the rubble, Kris closed his eyes, not wanting to watch Manfred die. Therefore, he didn’t notice the rat that was sharing his cover, which proceeded to sink its teeth into his leg.
“No!” A strange new voice rang out as Kris jumped up in pain.
Weylyn, surprised by this interruption, paused in his execution. “Who are you? Do I know you? Speak or die!”
“You should know me. I slaved in your kitchens and carried out your traitorous work, spying on my comrades for you. I am Kris, Bard of Karo. I am writing the true story of this war. Your evil and duplicity will be recorded for all to know. You will be reviled for what you are, arse-licker of the evil one. You will not harm Manfred. If you try to, you will be destroyed.” The crowd gasped in amazement, and it took something very extraordinary to stir the undead. Manfred rolled over and sat up. Kris? The coward, Kris? How could he be such a brave fool?
Weylyn was enraged by the outburst. His eyes and the whip blazed bright crimson. He whirled his whip to strike down the small pale man who had dared speak to him in such a vile way. For the second time, his execution plans were upset. The gates of Melasurej sprang open and he was confronted by a strange group of beings. Kris took advantage of the moment to jump back behind his rock. The rat, checking that he was not being observed, transformed himself into a small cat and jumped onto the top of the wall, where he could get a better view of the proceedings.
“We represent the four peoples of FirstWorld. I am Taran, Prince of Elfdom; I represent the First Born.” Taran held his drawn sword, vertically in front of him so that he appeared to peer at Weylyn through the sword.
“I am Dawit son of Dia son of Din, Prince of Dwarfdom; I represent the Second Born.” Dawit carried the remnants of his axe in both hands.
“I am Aglaral, Captain of the Guard of the City of Elannort, citizen of the City States; I represent humankind.” Aglaral carried his sword like Taran.
“I am Jhamed al Suraqi, companion of Heroes and servant of wizards; I represent the Balance.” Jhamed carried no visible weapons.
“And I am Simon Rufus, Everlasting Hero. I carry the sword Kin Slayer, which shall be your bane unless you and your army surrender immediately.” Simon was dressed only in a simple white loincloth, hastily donned. Kin Slayer remained sheathed at his side. The five companions stepped forward, so that they were between Manfred and Weylyn.’
“You are there, Jamie Surak, or should I say Jhamed al Suraqi? I will not show you more, lest it cause the Tapestry to unravel. Suffice it to say there are two possible outcomes. With Simon Redhead there you will carry the day. Without him, you will all die, Elannort will fall, and the end of the multiverse will be expedited. Everything Manfred has worked for will be lost. The boy must not die.”
Jamie was sceptical. “How do I know this is for real? You could be manipulating me with lies.”
“I could, but the past that I showed you was accurate, wasn’t it?”
Jamie had to agree with that, although his memory had been wiped or lost. “Who’s to say you haven’t just given me new memories. Perhaps none of this is true.”
Romn sighed. “You always were obstinate.”
“None of it matters, anyway,” Jamie said. “The boy must be saved; not for me, not for some future that may or may not exist, but because he deserves to live and his family deserve to be happy.”
Romn smiled. “Let me show you another future.”
The cottage had a roaring fire. There was a new table and chairs. The table was piled high with food, including a huge roast goose. The children had new, warm clothes, and chattered excitedly as their mother prepared to carve the bird. On a bed, at one side of the room, the young boy was sitting up and looking better.
“It looks like Ebenezer came good. I never knew the boy’s name,” Jamie said.
“Simon, like his descendant will be. The name, like his genes, will run in the family.”
“Is his future assured?”
“Not yet,” Romn said.
“What must I do?” Jamie asked.
“For the future to be assured, you both must live.”
The buzz of the Bar at the End of the Multiverse returned.
“OK, the show’s over. Are you ready for another drink, Human?” Rakqu shouted.
Across the bar, a fat blue man was staring at him.
“My name is Jamie Surak, I mean Jhamed al Suraqi, and I haven’t got time to be drinking in here.”
Rakqu wrung his hands. “Who’s going to be paying for your drinks? No soul, no profit you know.”
Romn’s voice rang out, “Put them on my tab, Rakqu.” Romn winked at him.
Jhamed collected his battered hat from the floor by his feet. He straightened the feather and then stuffed his cascading curls into the hat as best he could. He headed for the door, turning before he left to give a bow to the fat, blue man who had just ordered another beer.
Unlock the secrets of FirstWorld by downloading Quest for Knowledge for free here and then read Aftermath of Armageddon, A View of the Past, and A Vision of the Future.