09/19/17

On Gods and Men

I know that many of you in this dimension, at this time, believe in one God, or even several Gods. I have no problem with this. Gods exist. I have recounted Simon Redhead’s encounters with them. However, there are some important facts that you should know.

You believe that your God is omniscient and omnipotent. These are fallacies. To begin with, Gods are far too concerned with their own petty squabbles to worry about what an insignificant human is thinking or doing. And Simon proved that they are not omnipotent by destroying a God of Chaos, Lemal, and a God of Law, Yarwai. Agreed, he had some help in both cases, but the fact that they died proves something.

You believe that your God desires your total obedience and that you follow a very specific set of rules. In some cases this is true, but the reason for this is not what you think. It is not for your benefit but for theirs.

I studied for many years with Rheanna at the Great Library in Rhakotis. In your dimension, Rhakotis is called Alexandria. I spoke, in secret, with the Guardian of Tomorrow when the Lost Tower stood in Elannort. I interviewed Simon Redhead and Jhamed al Suraqi in depth about their adventures. I catalogued their stories in the Chronicle of the Hero, which formed the basis for CJA’s FirstWorld books. Above all, I stood with a few special beings at the End of Time and witnessed and understood many things that a regular human could never comprehend.

I was sent back in time, by the Guardian, to your dimension, as a reward for my labours. I was supposed to forget everything, but the manipulation of my mind by a certain evil wizard seems to have had the side-effect of allowing the memories to remain with me. I offer you the benefit of my studies, my experiences, and my unique insights into how the Cosmos functions.

There are ten Gods created at the formation of a new Cosmos. Five represent Law and five Chaos. They determine their forms, their names and specialities, and the rules of the Cosmos as they sail through Limbo on the Ship of Souls. This Cosmos will end and the cycle will begin again if either Law or Chaos becomes totally dominant. It is that dominance that the Gods strive for, little knowing that to win means their own destruction too. They are mostly far too consumed with this battle and their own petty enjoyment to bother themselves with the insignificant concerns of individual humans, unless those humans have special genes, like the Everlasting Hero.

There can be any number of minor Gods beneath the five major Gods. These Gods come into existence and die over time. They exist only because people believe in them. The greater the belief, the greater the power they have. So, they strive to grow that belief, enforcing strict rules on their followers, and demanding obedience, worship, and even sacrifice. Look back over your own history and you can reflect on the rise and fall of so many Gods, powerful in their time, but withered to dust today. Simon encountered a couple of them in his adventures and vanquished them both by either removing their believers or their believers’ belief in them.

So should you follow a God? What should you believe in? Where should you get your rules for living your life from? The choice is yours and I respect whatever choice you make, but I caution you that when your life ends, you end. Except for the few who sail on The Ship of Souls there is no future after death. My only suggestion is to live this life for it is the only one you have. You could do no better than look to The Balance. I may be biased, because I serve The Balance, and I declare that with pride.

The Balance is unique. It is both God and Icon, and is in reality the one true God because it controls Time and is the only entity, except for the three other Icons, to pass through a Conjunction and into the next Cosmos.

The Balance does not seek worship. It just wants to find balance in everything. If you want just one rule to live your life by, then finding balance in everything is a fine one.

However The Balance does have its own Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments of The Balance #fantasy #FirstWorldSaga
(1) Absolute Law is stagnation and must be avoided at all costs.
(2) Absolute Chaos is anarchy and must be avoided at all costs.
(3) Only followers of The Balance will find the appropriate middle way.
(4) Do not worship or follow the Gods of Law, they will lead you to slavery.
(5) Do not worship or follow the Gods of Chaos, they will lead you to destruction.
(6) Do not worship The Balance; we seek not the adoration of the races.
(7) Follow our guidance, without worship, and you will find your salvation.
(8) Do only unto others as you would like done to you.
(9) With the exception of the Gods, all intelligent beings are created equal and you must treat them as such.
(10) Do not fight your genes; you are born that way for a reason.

If you need some rules to live your life by, these seem to me to be the best ones, together with the guidance that The Balance provides, which I will write more about in the future.

May The Balance go with you!
Kris the Bard

Read about the Gods of Law & Chaos in A Vision of the Future available here.

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09/4/17

Understanding The Balance – From the Archives of Kris the Bard – Part Three – The Answers

For all too brief a time, the White Tower, also known as The Lost Tower, twin to Melasurej, the Wizards’ Keep, stood in Elannort alongside its damaged twin. Unbeknownst to anyone, I secretly crept up the tower several times to converse with The Guardian of Tomorrow. After each encounter, I rushed back to my room to capture on paper, as accurately as I could remember, the words that had been spoken. Now, in another time and a different dimension, I have the opportunity to reflect on those hurriedly scrawled notes and share them with you.

The Important Conversations

Extract from A Vision of the Future
“The Ship of Souls has sailed the seas of Limbo from the first moments of the cosmos. It was the first thing created by the Balance, and it performs two functions. The first is to provide a safe home for the Tapestry. The second is to carry the souls of special people, who have served the Balance, to their eternal resting places. Under certain circumstances, some individuals are given a second chance at life; this is the Captain’s prerogative.”

“The ship exists outside of normal time and space. Finding an appropriate Captain is often difficult. The first Captain was created as an immortal being, to give him equal status to his first passengers.”

“Thus did Nostradamus find himself with the opportunity to study the Tapestry at length. His first passengers were the ten gods. By the time the gods had determined their roles and forms, and negotiated the rules for running the cosmos, physics, chemistry, and evolution had determined the first intelligent life forms in the various universes that bobbed like doughnuts in the sea of custard that is Limbo. In one universe of this cosmos, the dominant species was the Great Old Ones.”

Questions I posed to The Guardian

Why are there gods and should humans worship them?

Do not worship or follow the Gods of Law, they will lead you to slavery. Do not worship or follow the Gods of Chaos, they will lead you to destruction. The gods are necessary to establish the rules under which the Cosmos will operate. They determine the boundaries of existence and provide the two sides of the scales so that we can become the fulcrum. While the races evolve they will follow the gods blindly. When intelligence exceeds superstition the gods will begin to pale. At that point they have achieved their purpose. Unfortunately, they will continue to battle for supremacy as they believe that control of this Cosmos will give them control of the next. They are wrong. The gods are fallible. We may be fallible too.

Is there One True God? Is it The Balance?

Do not worship The Balance; we seek not the adoration of the races. Follow our guidance, without worship, and you will find your salvation. We are the only god that will pass through the Conjunction into the next Cosmos.

How should one live?

Simply in balance. In balance with nature; in balance with your fellow creatures; and neither following the paths of Law nor the paths of Chaos. Ensure that the scales are heavier on the side of good than on the side of evil. Do only unto others as you would like done to you. With the exception of the Gods, all intelligent beings are created equal and you must treat them as such. Do not fight your genes; you are born that way for a reason.

What happens when we die?

Only four things, the Icons, are eternal and can pass through a Conjunction into the next Cosmos. One is animal, one vegetable, and one mineral – in each Cosmos one will serve Law, one Chaos, and one The Balance. The fourth Icon is Time. Everything else, even the gods must die and simply cease to exist. There are a few exceptions, who do not pass to nothing until the Conjunction. You have witnessed them; souls may be captured in a wizard’s wand and the Undead then do his bidding; souls may be captured in the Blood Ruby in the Great Sword; Heroes and wizards find themselves on the Ship of Souls, where at the Captain’s discretion they may be returned to life or taken to a place of eternal rest from their labours. For ordinary humans, elves, and dwarves death is simply the end of existence – they return to the state they were before they were conceived.

If you haven’t worked out who the three Icons are you will find out at the End of Time at the end of A Vision of the Future.

If there are no gods to worship, no faiths to follow, and no heaven or hell how can we find spiritual fulfillment in life?

I remember asking this question. It was like asking for the answer to life. I think Simon had already worked most of it out.

Extract from A View of the Past – The Afterword.

“Simon had been pondering the problem for days. He’d been reading a very old text from his own dimension; though it may well have been published across the multiverse, such had been its success. A group of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings wanted to learn the ‘Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything’ from the supercomputer, Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose. It took Deep Thought seven and a half million years to compute and check the answer, which turned out to be forty-two.

He had no idea why the Great Old Ones had decided to seed humankind before they departed this universe. He had even less understanding of why they had chosen his son as the source of that genetic material. He did understand, though, the reason for life. It was simple. This life is not a stepping-stone to a glorious after-life or even an inglorious damnation. It is not a single tread on the stairway of reincarnation. There is but one chance that any individual has at life, so they’d better make the most of it. The only reason any living thing exists is to pass on its genetic code to future generations. Successful organisms will survive; unsuccessful ones will die out. Deep Thought got it wrong. It was close, or it could have been working in base eleven. The answer to life is not forty-two. It is forty-six. Two pairs of twenty-three chromosomes, one pair from the egg, the other from the sperm, carry all of the genetic code that makes every individual unique.

Simon sighed. He had learned a valuable lesson. We are the sum of all the experiences of our past; not just our individual pasts but the history of all the generations of ancestors that have gone before. You cannot change any aspect of the past without destroying yourself.

He had lost Alexander. He had only been able to spend two years with his son. He had watched him learn to crawl, stand, walk, and speak. He had loved him with all of his heart. He ached that he would never see him grow up, marry, and give him grandchildren. He knew now how parents felt when their children were taken by illness or accident. Yet this was different. If the answer to life really was forty-six then Alexander had cracked it. His son’s genes were everywhere in humanity, even in him. In fact, he could not have existed without his son’s sacrifice. He was the multiverse’s last hope to stand against Gadiel. He finally accepted the destiny that his genes had prescribed for him. Simon wept gently; sometimes the father was more important than the son.”

And this extract from A View of the Past – The Foreword

What is the chance that you exist? What is the probability that everything happened so that you, everything that defines you – your looks; your personality; your ethics; your skills; your foibles; everything, could exist now and you could be reading this? You have a unique genetic code that defines who you are. No other person who has lived or ever will live has that same code, unless you have an identical twin. Yet if two identical male twins married two identical female twins, the children within and between the two families would be so very different.

First, your parents had to meet. If you come from a tiny isolated village, where the locals always intermarry, then that might not be too surprising. If you are a typical person, think about all the things that had to occur in the right sequence at the right time over so many generations for that to happen. A series of probabilities so huge that the odds on them ever meeting in the first place were minuscule.

Once your parents got together, a specific egg and a unique sperm had to meet. Any other combination from the one that happened and it would not be you. In round numbers, a woman may have a million eggs in her body at birth, only some of these will develop. There may be one hundred million sperm in a single male ejaculation. Therefore, the odds of just the right egg and sperm getting together from your parents to make you are tiny. Multiply that across every generation that your ancestors have been on this planet, each generation the tree branching out by a factor of two.

You are literally unique and the chance of you existing is so small that in any normal probability calculation it would be taken effectively as zero.

Sometimes, very rarely, the combination of genes come together to create beings so special that many suggest they could not exist. Is their existence any more remarkable than your own? Once in a very blue moon, the genes combine to create a Hero. Even rarer than that, at times when the universe most needs them, the genes combine to create the Everlasting Hero.”

And what the Guardian told me after what seemed like an age of silent thought.

If there are no gods to worship, no faiths to follow, and no heaven or hell how can we find spiritual fulfillment in life?

Humans are particularly difficult to convince about this. Perhaps it is their short life-spans. Elves understand it much better. We have never discussed it with dwarves. Humans are always seeking answers from outside themselves. They believe that power and wealth equate to happiness. They believe that their moral code is the only way to live correctly. They are arrogant and lack empathy. The answer to your question is inside each of you. You create your own versions of heaven and hell that remain real to you until the moment of death. Then like your souls, they vanish. The beginning is to destroy both heaven and hell. There are no rewards or punishments in an afterlife, only in this life. Live as we have described, with simplicity, empathy, and balance. Help others and you will find the joy and fulfillment that is missing from helping yourselves.

Could you sum up your philosophy for life in a couple of sentences?

You can lead a life that is driven by dogma; you can lead a life that is riven by hatred; or you can lead a life given to helping those less fortunate. Wealth is not inherently evil; it is what you do with it that counts.

KtB

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All volumes of the FirstWorld Saga are available here, including special offers. The first volume, Quest for Knowledge, may be downloaded for free.

08/25/17

Understanding The Balance – From the Archives of Kris the Bard – Part Two

For all too brief a time, the White Tower, also known as The Lost Tower, twin to Melasurej, the Wizards’ Keep, stood in Elannort alongside its damaged twin. Unbeknownst to anyone, I secretly crept up the tower several times to converse with The Guardian of Tomorrow. After each encounter, I rushed back to my room to capture on paper, as accurately as I could remember, the words that had been spoken. Now, in another time and a different dimension, I have the opportunity to reflect on those hurriedly scrawled notes and share them with you.

Our First Meeting

CJA wrote this in A Vision of the Future.

“The Guardian of Tomorrow had not spoken to anyone else since the White Tower’s appearance. The time portal remained transparent and the controls appeared to be locked to the here and now. It seemed as if everyone in Elannort wanted to visit the tower and eventually Manfred had decided to declare it off limits. He sealed the entrance with his magic. It would stop anyone getting in but he doubted if it would stop the White Tower becoming lost again should it decide to disappear.”

It is true, but for some reason Manfred’s magic did not stop me. I only visited when I had an overwhelming urge to do so. In hindsight, I understand that The Guardian was calling me and allowing me to get past the seal.

It was with trepidation that I approached the Guardian of Tomorrow, the first time we spoke. Inside the portal, the mists swirled and the Guardian spoke in a great booming voice, just as Simon had described. The voice seemed so loud that I feared all Elannort would hear us. But we were never disturbed.

“Kris of Karo, we are very pleased to meet you. You have led an interesting life and one that we did not predict. Even now, our vision is clouded. We have dared to take a peep into the future, but there are so many possibilities we cannot be certain of anything. Only one thing we know; you will play a key role in securing the future of the Cosmos. Nostradamus foretold this and we concur. We would have you swear allegiance to The Balance and promise to serve us faithfully until the Conjunction. It is very unusual for us to do this, but you are an unusual being. You now carry a Hero’s gene and that may be vital in the future as it has been in the past. Will you so swear?”

I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. How could I possibly live to see a Conjunction? What did the Balance stand for? Could I serve it and Simon and Manfred all at the same time? What did they want me to do? I stared into the portal. I don’t know how long I stood there. My mind seemed to fuse with the swirling clouds and I relived adventures from my past. I was at the Last Council of the Wise, my head controlled by Weylyn the Wolf as I spied for him. I curled up in fear, on the floor of a mountain hut, while two warriors fought the wargs; I had given up information to the sentient beasts and I didn’t know whether to fear them or the men the most. I stood before the locked door at First Delve that refused to open until I emptied the dwarven gold from my pockets. I stood before Manfred the Magician as he prepared to probe my mind and I both expected and wanted to die. That was my lowest point.

As Manfred cleared Weylyn’s hold on me and I glimpsed the possibility of a new life, as Bard of Elannort. I was still a craven coward but I had a new purpose to chronicle the life of the Hero and celebrate it in my writing.

Elannort was about to fall. Weylyn was outside the doors of the Wizard’s Keep. He had broken Manfred’s staff and was about to send him to stone. It was then that my life turned. A rat bit me and I jumped up, said something heroic, and distracted Weylyn just long enough for Simon to return and destroy him. I saved the day, just as much as the Hero did. The rat, of course, was Fate and his bite had given me just one of the Hero’s genes.

That should have been my finest hour, but there was even better to come. I actually held Kin Slayer and saved Simon from death in Dring’s dungeon. That was my finest hour. For just a brief moment, I understood the exhilaration and the awesome responsibility that goes with The Sword.

Nothing that I would do, could top that, could it? The mists swirled and I got glimpses of future events. I will be there when Elannort falls to Gadiel and there will be something important I still have to do. I tried to grab hold of the vision, but it evaporated into swirls of mist. I saw something else; a young girl, no more than a teenager with long red hair. She needs my help. I offer it willingly but feel terrible guilt at the same time. I tried to understand the feelings, but they were gone like autumn mist in the rising sun.

And suddenly I understood. My miserable life actually meant something. I had been manipulated by gods and wizards but I had come through to find my true purpose. I had no inkling that I might be being manipulated again. I simply knew that I had found my vocation.

“I so swear,” I said. “What must I do?”

“We do not know. Study us. Try to understand us. When the time is right we will all know.”

And so I began that day studying The Balance. It has been my life’s work and I could not have done it without the help of Rheanna, Custodian of the Great Library at Rhakotis.

But before I left for Rhakotis, I had the opportunity to speak with The Guardian several more times and ask them some questions. I will tell you about that next time.

KtB

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All volumes of the FirstWorld Saga are available here, including special offers. Volume 1, Quest for Knowledge, can be downloaded for free.

08/19/17

Understanding The Balance – From the Archives of Kris the Bard – The Ten Commandments

It seems that gods like having ten commandments.

From the ancient texts and from my conversations with The Guardian of Tomorrow, I assembled these.

(1) Absolute Law is stagnation and must be avoided at all costs.
(2) Absolute Chaos is anarchy and must be avoided at all costs.
(3) Only followers of The Balance will find the appropriate middle way.
(4) Do not worship or follow the Gods of Law, they will lead you to slavery.
(5) Do not worship or follow the Gods of Chaos, they will lead you to destruction.
(6) Do not worship The Balance; we seek not the adoration of the races.
(7) Follow our guidance, without worship, and you will find your salvation.
(8) Do only unto others as you would like done to you.
(9) With the exception of the Gods, all intelligent beings are created equal and you must treat them as such.
(10) Do not fight your genes; you are born that way for a reason.

KtB

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All volumes of the FirstWorld Saga are available here, including special offers. Volume 1, Quest for Knowledge, can be downloaded for free.

07/31/17

Understanding The Balance – From the Archives of Kris the Bard – Part One

For all too brief a time, the White Tower, also known as The Lost Tower, twin to Melasurej, the Wizards’ Keep, stood in Elannort alongside its damaged twin. Unbeknownst to anyone, I secretly crept up the tower several times to converse with The Guardian of Tomorrow. After each encounter, I rushed back to my room to capture on paper, as accurately as I could remember, the words that had been spoken. Now, in another time and a different dimension, I have the opportunity to reflect on those hurriedly scrawled notes and share them with you.

Before Our First Meeting

It was the Lost Tower that brought Simon home at the end of the Time Loop. Simon spoke for a long time with The Guardian. This is an extract from A View of the Past and sums up everything that we then knew about The Balance.

“We are the Guardian of Tomorrow.”

Simon searched the top of the tower for a person or a being. There was no one there. The voice had seemed to come from within the time portal itself. “What are you?” he asked in a voice much calmer than he felt.

“We simply are. We were here before the last Conjunction. We are here now. We will be here after the next Conjunction. When all else passes and withers, still will we be. We are Time.”

Simon struggled to his feet. The swirling mass of everything continued in the portal. He tried to avoid looking at it.“Whom do you serve?”

“Time serves no one, though Fate would have you believe otherwise.”

“But you fly the flag of the Balance?”

“The White Tower does, aye. Many call it the Lost Tower for we have spent many ages lost in Limbo, only occasionally materialising in one universe or another, seeking our permanent home.”

“Where is that?”

“At the centre of things. This universe is a poor one. There is little sentient life. Only sentient life understands the concept of time. Unless you are able to plan for tomorrow, time has no meaning. After the last Conjunction, we sat at the centre of the Cosmos and looked out and were disappointed. We see what was, what is, and what will be. We have seen many cycles. Almost all sentient life ultimately destroys itself. In the end, all gods die but we prevail. For a long time we sat on a planet in a galaxy far away in your universe. The sentient species that evolved there was magnificent. In their language, they called themselves Manken, but you know them as Great Old Ones. They didn’t destroy themselves but made the ultimate evolutionary step. They have gone from this universe and we miss them. They understood time and they knew not to try to meddle with it. Yet even they made a mistake. They became arrogant and thought they knew it all. They built Melasurej on your world to be the new centre of things. Their solar system died, as is inevitable, but they survived. They knew that they were going to leave this universe and they wanted to provide new sentient life. They built Melasurej for the White Tower but they also built the Black Tower. They tried to replicate us. We could not stand in Melasurej while the Black Tower’s abomination repelled us. They misunderstood us. They thought to have a tower to represent Law and another to represent Chaos. They did not understand that we are neither and both. We are the pivot upon which the Balance swings. They also had another motive, which they hid from us.”

Simon was enchanted by the story but felt that he had to butt in. “But you see everything, how can that be?” He had already become used to talking to an inanimate object.

“In all existence there has only ever been a single dimension to any universe. There are other universes but they are all undivided. Only your universe, since the Sundering, has multiple dimensions. Sentient species have tried to meddle with time but none has succeeded except in fiction. It is our own fault. We misread the Manken. We allowed ourselves to get too close to them. They abused our trust. We provided the blueprint for successful travel through time.”

Simon was starting to get an uneasy feeling. He wasn’t sure he liked where this conversation was going.

“They did understand that time travel is extremely dangerous and they built the time portal for a single use. Unfortunately, that action itself created a terrible paradox. They used genes from the future to seed the past generations.”

Simon didn’t know what they were talking about. He was already thinking about the Guardian in the plural. However, he thought that he understood the concept. It was the ontological paradox. A man wishes to build a time machine but cannot work out how to do it. He is visited by his future self who brings him the plans. He builds the time machine and then goes back in time to give himself the plans. A neat solution but where did the plans come from? If humankind was seeded with genes from the future and then evolved to produce those genes, where did they come from?

“Worse than that, Simon Redhead. Yes, we know you. Worse than that, you tried to meddle with time too. You and your many incarnations. The Manken gave you the gene. They looked into our eyes and saw the future. They wove it into the Tapestry and set the paradox in motion. They did not understand the consequences; we did not understand the consequences. Your actions created the multiverse. Now all things are possible. We can no longer see the future, only an infinite number of possible futures. Only when we observe the future does it become real. Only when observed do the probabilities collapse into a definite future. We now choose not to observe. The portal shows only the present in different dimensions of the universe we stand in. We cannot understand how it happened. We should have seen it coming but we only saw the Tapestry. How did they deceive us?”

Simon assumed the question was rhetorical. Nevertheless, he felt compelled to apologise for his part in it. “I am sorry. I thought that I was doing what Fate required of me. I only wanted what was best.”

“Indeed. However, you are not really at fault. You were not responsible for the grandfather paradox that caused the Sundering. In fact, your slaying of the perpetrator may even have ameliorated the effects. Your return to the past in order to save your father was misguided but understandable. The time loop was caused by the Manken, who destroyed the Melasurej time portal after they had used it for their purpose. Because your return pathway was blocked, you were forced to endure an endless time loop until you did something to cause Time to intervene. We brought you back here.”

Simon felt somewhat relieved, although the memory of killing child Simon would continue to haunt him and his cracked heart ached. “Where is here?”

“This is Limbo. It exists between universes. Imagine millions of ping-pong balls floating in a pool. Limbo is like the water that keeps them apart, though sometimes they float too close together and touch. Your ball is more like an onion. It has many layers, many dimensions. The Manken learned how to traverse Limbo. It is not all barren land like this. There are seas here too. We believe you have sailed them before.”

Simon remembered. “Tell me about Time. Why can I not change the past?” he asked, changing the subject.
“Oh, how we remember the days we spent talking to the Manken about such things. We are the Chronology Protection Agency. Imagine the bedlam if people could change the past willy-nilly. The Balance would tip entirely to Chaos in an instant. Only we have the power to change the past and only as a last resort. Unfortunately, the Manken stole our technology. Every individual’s time line is fixed. Your past is a memory. Everything that ever occurred in the past contributed to where you are today. You cannot unpick a single event without unravelling the entire Tapestry. Your future is imagination. Now it is an unknown probability. The only certainty is the present, which is as elusive as a shadow on a cloudy day. You will always have your past time line, as will everyone else. You cannot change it. Your experiences have demonstrated that it is possible to change time lines, but the consequences are the formation of multiple new time lines. Somewhere the original time line must be maintained. You cannot change the past. You can learn from the past and change the future by your actions in the present.”
Simon remembered Mandred discussing whether the multiverse was infinite or not and it seemed to have a great significance for their struggle. “After the Sundering, I saw the White Tower. Did the Sundering make the multiverse infinite?”

“Yes, we were there. Such a paradox required our urgent attention. We wanted to speak to you then, but the Black Tower took you. The multiverse created by the Sundering was very large, but not infinite. It was a very large grandfather paradox. There were so many generations between the cause and the effect. Imagine how the impact was multiplied as it passed down the generations. Each subsequent generation ceased to exist. All of the interactions that those missing people would have had never happened. Each impact, no matter how small, generated another dimension slightly different from the rest. The multiverse is very large; there are trillions of dimensions, but it is not infinite.”

“That is good for the Balance?”

“A single universe would be much better.”

Simon felt guilty again. “Can you tell me about Law and Chaos?”

“Chaos is the black void from which everything was formed and to which everything must eventually return. It is a sense of complete disorder. In Chaos, everything is random and anything is possible. All probabilities exist.”
It was as if he’d found a wise old philosopher who would answer all of his questions. Perhaps he would find the solution to his dilemma here.

“Law is the antithesis of Chaos. It is perfect order where nothing is left to chance. There is only certainty in absolute Law.”

“How should we live?”

“Every civilisation creates its own gods. The gods of Chaos urge their followers along the pathway of rapidly increasing entropy. The gods of Law seek to maintain a rigid order. Throughout eternity, the gods battle each other for supremacy. The gods believe that whichever side is victorious at the next Conjunction will rule the next universe. They are mistaken. For those enlightened ones, there is a middle way; a pathway that seeks equilibrium; the way of the Balance. That is the way to live.”

Simon was still confused about good and evil. He had debated with himself and others many times without resolution. “Is Chaos evil and Law good?”

“That is a fallacy that is widely held. What is good and what is evil very much depends on your point of view. There is good and evil in everyone, including the gods. As much evil has been done in the name of Law as has been done by Chaos. Pure evil is very rare, but so is absolute goodness. The Balance seeks to understand and control our evil urges and promote our good ones. It recognises that no individual is perfect. It understands that there are at least two sides to every conflict situation.”

Simon thought he understood, but his years of education, that had framed all conflicts into a battle between good and evil, remained hard to shake. He needed time to contemplate history from the point of view of Law versus Chaos with good and evil on both sides. And where did that leave Gadiel? “What about Gadiel? Is he evil? Does he represent Chaos?”

“The Manken understood the conflict between Law and Chaos. They had eliminated the gods from their world. They followed the Balance. They knew though that the primitive species on your planet would need gods in order to survive. When the Children arrived after so long without offspring, they had forgotten how to teach. They devised this great experiment on your world in order to demonstrate to Jeohab and Satania what had taken them millions of years to understand. Unfortunately, the experiment had to be curtailed long before the Children could learn their lessons. The Manken created the wizards to try to keep the experiment on track. They never communicated to us about Gadiel. He is a mystery to us and he makes us fearful. We have never known fear before. He seeks to control us. We assume he is Manken, but we are not sure. We think he is evil, but we do not know. We suspect he uses Chaos to further his own ends, but we cannot be certain.”

The words did not comfort Simon or tell him anything he didn’t already know, except that the Guardian feared Gadiel too, which was not good news. “Must I fight him?”

“It is the fate of the Hero to fight evil in whatever form it takes. Sometimes you are allied to Law, sometimes to Chaos and sometimes, like now, you serve the Balance. Once we could have answered your question because we could see the future as clearly as the past. You changed that, Simon Redhead, when you helped to cause the Sundering. All things are now possible, even the end of Time itself.”

The last words sounded sombre and ominous. “We are allies then?” Simon asked.

“It is not our way to take sides. We are here to protect Time and preserve the Balance. However, we understand that the final battle is likely to take place in Elannort, which is the centre of the Cosmos in this Conjunction. The fate of Melasurej and the legacy of the Manken are inexorably linked. Perhaps our fate and the fate of the entire Cosmos are joined. It might serve us well if you were successful. We will not change past events. We will not transport you in time. We will answer any further questions you have. We will transport you anywhere you wish to go in the multiverse.”

Simon was partially relieved. The Guardian was going to be an ally of sorts and could prove to be very useful. What questions were still puzzling him? He must make the most of his opportunity. “You have mentioned a Conjunction many times; what is it?”

“It is the end of everything and the beginning. For you, Conjunctions would seem an eternity apart. The Cosmos is remade; the gods are destroyed; only a very few things can pass through a Conjunction. We are one. At a Conjunction, all of the universes in the Cosmos come together. The laws of physics become strained and can be broken. The Conjunction will not just be the end of this multiverse but all universes within the Cosmos.”

“Are we near a Conjunction?”

“Oh dear we no; not in the natural scheme of things. The only time a Conjunction can be forced is if the Balance tips entirely to one side or the other, but the gods would not permit such a thing, at least not while they lived.”

“Do you have the power to force a Conjunction?”

The Guardian was silent for a long time. Simon thought they might have gone, or taken offence at his question. The swirling pictures of the multiverse continued relentlessly though. Eventually the Guardian spoke again. “We have considered your question long and hard. We believe that we do have such power but would only intervene in such a manner if there were a substantial need to protect the next Conjunction from a threat from the current one. We cannot envisage how such a scenario could arise.”

Neither could Simon. He imagined the Conjunction as being the Big Bang. Everything was reset and the universe started all over again. It was like rebooting a computer; no more than that, reformatting and installing a new operating system. Only the BIOS remained from the previous installation, ensuring that the new system would work. The Guardian of Tomorrow was like the BIOS of the Cosmos.

Almost like a father, Simon thought, bringing back to mind the fateful words that ‘fathers are important too.’ He had heard those words so many times. Destiny had used them, so had the One Tree. Why had they manipulated him to go back in time on a fruitless quest to save his own father? It could only be to get him here. Even Ceridwen had changed her tune after she had sung with the One Tree. She had been desperate for him to search for Cambyses but had changed her recommendation. ‘The fate of the elves is bound with your fate,’ she had said. Now he had the wherewithal to find Cambyses.

“Tell me about the elves and the dwarves. They are not indigenous to Earth, are they?”

The deep booming voice continued to answer his questions. “The Manken needed established civilisations in order to begin their experiment. Humans were far too primitive. There were few sentient civilisations in the universe, but they tracked down two which had evolved in the same solar system on twin planets. They were very different, both physically and culturally. Their star was about to go supernova. The dwarves had a fatalistic attitude and were prepared for their civilisation to die. The elves, who had never been a technologically advanced species, were unsuccessfully seeking a way off their planet. The Manken offered them both deals. Some of the younger dwarves agreed to be moved to Earth to participate in the experiment. Most of the dwarves declined and stayed to meet their doom. A group of elves agreed to participate in the experiment if the rest of the population were found new homes elsewhere in the universe. Those who were brought to Earth were brainwashed so that they forgot their real past. After the Sundering, there were elves and dwarves scattered throughout the multiverse. Elves discovered that they had the power to use dimension portals and began a quest to reunite all of elven kind on FirstWorld, because they suffered terrible oppression and discrimination in most other realms. Both species found it difficult to procreate in unnatural environments and they have been slowly dying for a long time.”

Simon knew what he must do. Despite the fact that he knew that he had been manipulated into this situation, he would attempt to rescues Cambyses, assuming he was still alive. He would do it for Taran, in honour of the friend he should have protected. He might be able to do something for Manfred too. “You said that the time portal on the Black Tower has gone? There’s no impediment to resting in Melasurej now, instead of Limbo? Will you take me there; I must pick up my Sword? Then, I would like to go to the dimension where Queen Ceridwen’s consort Cambyses is held captive. I would seek to rescue him if he still lives or recover his remains if he has perished. It is a personal quest.”

“We have enjoyed speaking with you Hero. It is long since we last conversed. Very well, we will return to Melasurej, for it is where we shall meet our fate one way or another. We will search the dimensions for Cambyses. If he lives, we will send you there. You may wish to close your eyes and sit down again while we make a jump.”

Simon did as he was requested, but before the nausea struck, he was able to ask one last question. “Are you the Guardian of just this universe or the entire Cosmos?” He thought he heard a guttural laugh before he was overcome by the rushing of air like a wild wind. When everything had settled, including his stomach, he pulled himself to his feet. The familiar skyline of Elannort was back. The White Tower stood in Future Square, just as the original design had planned. He looked across at the Black Tower, so close he felt he could almost reach out and touch it. It was now devoid of its time portal. The White Tower’s portal was now empty of its swirling images. The Guardian of Tomorrow was silent. Simon smiled. He was home again. It was time to see Julie and Alexander and try to explain his coming home late again. I hope she’s not waiting behind the door with a rolling pin.

KtB

VoP Cover

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07/24/17

The Musings of Kris the Bard – Political Systems

Communism fails because, while the concept of everyone being equal is fine in theory, it’s impossible in practice. A few get rich. Most stay poor.

Capitalism fails because it is dependent on growth for growth’s sake. The planet cannot survive it. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. There are more rich people than under communism but the poor are even poorer and the gap is ever growing.

Socialism fails because it’s neither one thing nor the other and depends on governments to own and run things. Everyone knows that governments can’t be trusted to run things. Bureaucrats get rich, while the people struggle with ever increasing prices on fixed incomes.

Dictatorship works for a while. People are kept in their places by terror. All dictators must fail eventually, when enough people are prepared to stand up and die for freedom. (Has there ever been a female dictator? Catherine the Great perhaps?)

A communist, a capitalist, and a socialist walk into a bar – there’s no dictatorist because alcohol is banned in his country. The communist expects drinks on the house; the socialist expects them each to pay for a round at reasonable state-controlled prices; the capitalist owns the bar, gets his round in first for free, and puts the prices up for the next two rounds to compensate. The communist thinks the barman gets free drinks; the socialist buys the barman a drink; the capitalist docks the barman’s pay for drinking on duty. On Friday nights they have topless waitresses. The socialist is aghast at the inherent misogyny and immediately organises a picket line; the communist has never seen such a spectacle before and invites all his friends; the capitalist just likes big tits.

The moral of this story – there’s little difference between capitalism and communism where tits are concerned, except that drinks are 20% more expensive on Friday nights.

06/30/17

First Contact While Picking Mushrooms – Flash Fiction

Warning Adult Content

I don’t care how advanced a civilization is, when your Kershulclump carks it you’re buggered. Apparently, subsection seven of the intergalactic prime directive prohibits direct contact with backward, indigenous, sentient species. Subsection five prohibits sexual contact with all species. The alien didn’t seem to be bothered and frankly I was too high to care. Somehow we established that we were both male. That didn’t seem to worry him either. Me; I have probably fucked stranger looking things in the darkroom at the sauna without ever knowing. It took a while to work out which bits fitted where, but we were soon going at it like a pair of inept virginal teenagers. We took turns to top and inoculated each other. Thoughts of interspecies safe sex never crossed my mind as I accepted both of his phalli.

Now, I have heard about postcoital depression and have suffered it myself on occasion when I’ve sobered up and realised who I’ve done, but this alien took it to extremes. This was planned to be a last fuck before self-destruction. And I thought he’d chosen me for my personality. I felt so used. He got off on breaking all the rules.

Through the diminishing haze, it dawned on me. How could I know that? The alien DNA was doing strange things to me.

“I know how to fix your Kershulclump.” My voice that sounded like a Klingon with a sore throat. “You can go home and forget this ever happened.”

He seemed to brighten up at that.

I hauled my sixty-year-old ass out of his pod and waved as he disappeared. I felt like I was 18 again. When I got home and looked at myself, naked, in the mirror I looked like I was 18. Except that I now dress both ways.

06/15/17

The Torture & Death of a Hero – Extract from Aftermath of Armageddon

8 Dag

When he came to, Simon was naked and shivering in a dark cellar. The only light came from a small barred window at ceiling level. When he tried to move, he found he was chained to the wall by his legs. He was in pain. His groin area ached. A huge black bruise was evident on his stomach. He gently touched the scab forming on his cheek and remembered everything. He reached for his feet. The boots were gone and with them, the knife that he had hoped would be his saviour. James and Chris had been right; he shouldn’t have come here. Thoughts of his new friends just brought back memories of their deaths. More of his friends’ deaths were on his conscience. He sank into a pit of dark despair. In his anguish, he cried out to Kin Slayer. There was a response. The heavy door opened with a creak, and a huge man lumbered in. While the rest of Dring’s cronies looked like bears, this one looked like a giant ape. His strong muscular arms drooped low to the floor. He shuffled, rather than walked, on legs like tree trunks. His face could best be described as primeval, with a protruding skull, sunken cheeks, and a squashed, broken nose that even a mother could not love. He had almost no hair on his head, several days’ worth of stubble on his face, and the hair on his legs and arms was thick and matted. He wore only a loincloth. His broad chest and ample belly were also thick with hair. His mouth displayed only a partial set of teeth and those that were present were blackened and broken. He lumbered over to Simon, bent down with difficulty, and grabbed him by the hair. He pulled Simon’s face into line with his. When he spoke, his foetid breath made Simon gag.

“So you are awake, red boy. My name is Dag. You’ll come to know me very well in the next few days. If you do well, you’ll get a fairly merciful death. If you don’t, well, let’s just say that I am skilled in making your end long and painful. It’s an art that I have practiced for my master, until I am expert. Overlord Dring has no further use for you. You are to die; there’s no other option. You are my plaything, to toy with like a cat plays with a mouse, until I let you die. I’m not going to torture you to get information from you; we already have everything we need. This is purely for revenge. My orders are to make you feel pain. You caused the Supreme Leader unimaginable pain. Now you are to get your just desserts. I only have one rule. Be a man. Don’t scream and cry or beg for mercy, for you’ll get none. Suffer in silence and I may reward you. Cry like a baby, and I’ll punish you more. Do you understand?” Simon tried to nod.

Sometime later, two thugs came and unlocked his chains. They dragged him into another room and strapped him into a sling-like device that held him suspended in mid-air. Again, Dag left him for a while to contemplate his fate. The fear of what was to come played on his mind. He had never had a great tolerance for pain. A lost memory flashed into his head. He was about two years old and running around the yard. He wasn’t very steady on his feet yet. He tripped over a tree root and fell over. His knee was cut. What was the red stuff that was coming out of his leg? It hurt and it scared him. He screamed. Someone came running and picked him up. The familiar smell of his mother calmed his fears and she soon treated his knee and soothed his pain as well. Then his father put a sticking plaster on it. He saw his kind face smiling down at him and he felt safe again.

Simon blinked and his father’s face was replaced with Dag’s ugly countenance. His vile breath made Simon want to vomit, but his mouth and throat were parched and his stomach empty. He dry retched and his throat burned.

“Where shall we begin, red boy?”

Time seemed to stand still for Simon. Minutes, hours, and days lost all meaning. His universe shrank so that it became his cell, his sling, and his torturer. He didn’t know which was worse: the time in his cell reliving the last session and thinking about the next one, or the sessions themselves where Dag inflicted every kind of pain on his crumbling body. Each of them was hell. Dag became the entire focus of his existence. Perhaps if he could please Dag there might be less pain. He tried not to cry out; he tried not to show the terrible pain he was feeling; he wanted to impress his torturer. Yet, every time he failed. Dag would push him that one step too far and he would break down, begging for it to end. Then Dag would laugh and taunt him and find a new way to inflict yet more pain. Bound as he was, Simon couldn’t even move to try to seek some tiny amount of relief. The pain burned through him so that he thought he would go insane. Occasionally, Dag pushed it too far and he lapsed into unconsciousness. Dag was always waiting for him when he awoke, waiting with a new idea to try on his broken body.

Simon wanted to die. He’d begged Dag, during the last session, but the simian thug had just mocked him. He lay on the cold cobbles of the cellar floor, arms and legs shackled to the damp concrete walls. He was barely conscious, he hadn’t eaten for three days, and he had no strength left. He was severely dehydrated, and once more, he struggled to lick a few drops of moisture off the clammy cellar walls. He had no tears left to cry. His body was wracked with pain. He didn’t think there was a part of him that wasn’t in agony. For the umpteenth time, he cursed giving them the opportunity to separate him from Kin Slayer. He tried to concentrate his mind to search for the Sword. The pain was too great. He tried to focus on one aspect of the pain, in order to relieve the rest. He tried to concentrate on his feet, where Dag had torn off both of his big toe nails. Each of his big toes throbbed mercilessly. He tried to raise his legs a little to reduce the blood flow. This brought his backside into greater contact with the rough floor. A stab of pain shot through him. It dragged back into his consciousness the horror of the objects with which Dag had violated him.

Despite the best of intentions, he cried out in his torment. The door opened and the ugly gaoler lumbered in. “I told you, no noise, scum.” His booted foot thudded into Simon’s chest and a couple of ribs were shattered. The second kick crushed his exposed testicles. The third caught him on the side of the head. He lapsed into merciful unconsciousness. His final thought was of Manfred. He had let him down. He was sorry; he hoped Manfred knew that.

7 simons hell

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06/9/17

The End of Time – Flash Fiction

Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock …

The inexorable, monotonous dissonance, unchanged for eternity was the only sound in the CCR (Cosmos Control Room), marking out the invariable, unremitting, advancing flow of time.

Tick …

Tock …

Almost undetectably the interval had increased.

Tick …

 

Tock …

Definitely slower now, the period was getting greater.

Tick …

 

Tick …

 

Silence.

For the first time ever.

In the darkness something stirred.

“For My sake, Peter, you have forgotten to wind the grandfather clock again!”

06/1/17

The Road to Infinity – A FirstWorld Anecdote

Simon Redhead and Jhamed al Suraqi at the Time Portal at the top of the Wizards’ Keep in Melasurej – The FirstWorld Saga, Volume 1, Quest for Knowledge

Jhamed remembered a time when Manfred had given him this talk. They had learned much more since then, of course. They had gone on a Quest for Knowledge with their fledgling Hero, Simon Redhead. They had experienced joy and sorrow and tasted success and failure. Now Manfred and Simon were both lost; somewhere in the Cosmos. Manfred was presumably with the lost city of Elannort. Simon was who knew where. Simon’s son, Alexander, had been taken by the Great Old Ones, taken back in time to use his special genes to seed humanity. Simon’s wife, Julie, the source of half of those genes, had curled up and died, leaving their baby daughter alone.

Never alone, thought Jhamed, not while he still lived.

Jhamed looked at the fiery young woman who sat beside him. Like Alexander, she carried the Hero genes of her father – her red hair and left-handedness confirmed that. Like Alexander, she carried the gentle genes of her mother, from a long lost time before humanity wiped out the first hominid inhabitants of FirstWorld, – her different coloured eyes, one grey and one green, confirmed that.

“Your father and Manfred long postulated on the extent of the multiverse and posited that it could not be infinite,” Jhamed said.

Leonora looked up from polishing her sword. “You have travelled far and wide. Surely you know.”

“I have never encountered a boundary, but that does not mean there isn’t one.”

“Why did my father think it so?”

“For the multiverse to end and a new Cosmos to be formed one of two things must happen. Either one of Law or Chaos must control every dimension or Time itselves must decide to reboot the Cosmos, which would require an extreme situation to occur. Your father and Manfred believed that the universe, before the multiverse was formed, had a beginning – the big bang – and therefore must have an ending. They theorised that an infinite multiverse could never end.”

“Why not?”

“Because in an infinite multiverse every conceivable and inconceivable dimension must exist. Every fiction every written must be a reality somewhere. Every decision ever made has its opposite outcome and the consequent differences spread from that like the ripples when a stone is thrown in a pool. Neither Law nor Chaos could win in an infinite multiverse. Perhaps that is most salient fact.”

“I find infinity is difficult to get my head around,” Leonora said. “That means there are an infinite number of me and you having this same conversation, or a slightly different one.”

“No, that’s the strange thing. FirstWorld is special because it formed part of the original universe. I was a baby when the multiverse was formed – and your father had a big hand in that. Even so, there were multiple versions of me after the Sundering. They are all gone now and I am the original and unique.” He smiled at the thought, though once it had caused him anger and grief to see his counterparts killed.

“What about my father?”

“Simon is unique too, although there were many versions of him that were similar. Only he is the true incarnation of the Everlasting Hero. I met several other versions before we found him.”

“Do you think he is still alive?”

Jhamed saw the sadness in Leonora’s eyes and how her shoulders slumped when she asked the question.

“I’m certain he is. And he’s the only version of him still around, so we won’t have any difficulty recognising him when we find him.”

“Looking for one man in an infinite multiverse makes looking for a needle in a haystack like a cake walk in the park.”

Jhamed had to smile again at Leonora’s mixed metaphors, but she had a point.

“I want to extend the infinite multiverse theory.” He said changing the subject.

“I’m starting to get a headache,” she said.

“We now know that there are five dimensions, six if you count Limbo. What if each of those dimensions is infinite? Space goes on forever in three dimensions. There are an infinite number of realms in the fourth dimension. And time is infinite in the fifth dimension. Scientists in many fourth dimensions have demonstrated that space is infinite, yet they still struggle to explain the big bang and the start of everything. The theory needs a finite expanding universe and someone or something to set it off. That’s why we need so many gods.”

“I have read about the big bang,” Leonora said. “We know it happened, so it destroys your theory. Time cannot be infinite.”

Jhamed laughed and scratched his head, disturbing his hat and his curls.

“You forget the second cause – Time itselves giving the Cosmos a reboot.”

Jhamed watched her closely. He could sense her thinking. He knew she wouldn’t disappoint him.

“You mean that while time is infinite and had no beginning, it can be rebooted so appearing to have a beginning.”

“And indeed an end,” Jhamed said. She had her parents’ brains too.

“Leonora, the time has come to share one of my secrets with you. Your father and I were there at the end of time. In fact, Simon caused Time to perform the reboot. It prevented Gadiel from taking control of the Cosmos.”

“You mean he gave his life to save the Cosmos?” Leonora said angrily. “You have been lying to me all this time.” Her sword gave a warning murmur, sensing her anger, and Jhamed shivered, remembering a man called Enkidu.

“No, you misunderstand. Time rewarded Simon by reuniting the four of you and hiding you in a dimension where you wouldn’t be found.”

“That worked then,” she said sarcastically.

“If we can understand why it didn’t work, then maybe we can trace your father. I know that’s the most important thing to you, but you must listen to the rest of my theory. Everything is interlinked and has a bearing on our search.”

“Very well, she sighed and sheathed her sword. Jhamed couldn’t hide a small sigh of relief.

Leonora didn’t miss it. “You must never fear me,” she said.

“On the contrary, I must always fear you. It is part of what I am. I love you and fear you in equal measures. It is part of the balance I must maintain.”

“Always the Balance,” she muttered.

“It is the Balance that we serve,” Jhamed said, “And it is the Balance that protects the multiverse from absolute Law or total Chaos. It is the Balance that will lead us to your father, when the time is right.”

“You are sure of that,” Leonora asked.

“I’m positive,” Jhamed said. “However, infinity is a long road, so I caution you to be patient.”

“Tomorrow can we discuss good and evil?”

“Your father struggled with that. It is the burden of the Everlasting Hero to work for good but fear that they are doing evil. If you have a headache today, you will have a bigger one tomorrow.”

“In an infinite multiverse it is certain that both good and evil Everlasting Heroes must exist.” Leonora stated and Jhamed had no counter argument. But he did wonder how many reboots there had been and how many of them he had been involved in.

05/25/17

More About Manfred – FirstWorld Saga

I had recently been appointed as official Bard of Elannort. While we were planning for the siege and subsequent Battle of Elannort and Simon was lost in the past, I took the opportunity to interview Manfred. I asked him about his early days, the fall of his mentor Bedwyr, the coming of Gilgamesh and his battle with Gadiel and his hopes for Simon and the future. He was refreshingly honest with me and spoke about the three great mistakes of his life. You can download the transcript of the interview for free here or read it below.

KtB

6 Manfred palantir

Interview with Manfred

Manfred the Magician Leader of the Wise interviewed at Melasurej on 12th day of Autumn Year of Creation 50506 by Kris the Bard.

Kris. Manfred, thank you for your time. I appreciate that you are worried and distracted because Simon is lost in the past and our enemies are gathering at the gates. I would like to ask you about your early days and the last time Gadiel threatened FirstWorld.

Manfred. You are welcome, Kris. We have done everything possible. I have faith that Simon will return and we will defeat the enemy. Ask away.

K. Can we go right back to the beginning? What is your first memory?

M. That’s a long time ago.

K. Forty-three thousand nine hundred and thirty-nine years to be precise.

M. You don’t have to remind me; I feel very old. I suppose my first memory is seeing Melasurej for the first time together with the rest of the Sages and feeling very small and impotent. I remember the scales in the great hall were perfectly in balance. It was the only time that I saw them like that. I was a very minor wizard and most of us didn’t have a clue about what we were supposed to do. We looked up to the seven Great Sages for guidance.

K. Did you ever see the Great Old Ones?

M. No, only the Great Sages met them and received their orders. They did not speak about it.

K. Where did you find guidance?

M. Fortunately the Great Sage Bedwyr saw something in me, though I don’t know what it was. He took me under his wing and I learned much from him. I guess that I was almost his apprentice.

K. What would you say were the most important things you learned from him?

M. Well, I learnt many small things, particularly how to use the power in my staff effectively. But it was the big things that I fall back on now. A belief that we are doing the right thing defending the Balance; that we can make a difference; that even when things are at their darkest there remains a small light of hope that will eventually lead to victory over adversity.

K. Bedwyr fell defending Elvenhome from Gadiel’s forces in YoC 11144. How did he pass to stone? I read somewhere that Gadiel himself wasn’t present. How did you feel?

M. I was devastated and felt so guilty. I felt that I should have been there with him. If I had been, perhaps he would have lived or I could have fallen in his place. He had sent me to discuss certain aspects of our battle plan with King Endymion. The enemy was on the borders of Elvenhome and threatening to cross the Buranan. We needed some special elven magic to wash them away as they tried to cross. He was planning to delay them and then fall back across the river. He had a small army of men and elves with him. It’s true that Gadiel wasn’t there and that’s probably why the rest of the Great Sages thought that one Great Sage was enough to deal with it. Adapa was never very keen on getting his hands dirty. There was a powerful being leading their army. Just like Gadiel seems to have recruited Weylyn this time, he’d done something similar then.

K. Was it another wizard gone bad?

M. No. I think it was a minor God of Chaos. He brought a host of Chaos creatures with him that terrified the humans in the defending army. I heard a first-hand account from an elven commander who survived the battle. Bedwyr was magnificent, moving around the battlefield, raising men’s spirits and destroying the chaos creatures. Eventually, he and the God came face to face. It was an almighty struggle. It appeared that Bedwyr would win and the God’s power waned as his supporters began to panic. With one final surge of power the God shattered Bedwyr’s staff, but the wizard wasn’t finished and jumped forward, grabbing the God around the throat all the while shouting incantations. The two of them died together. I arrived back at the battlefield just in time to see his body turn to dust and blow away. I was overcome by grief and anger and I shocked myself by the way I used my staff that day. I received a first-hand understanding of what the Hero must go through. Without its leader the enemy was routed and we carried the day. I vowed then that Bedwyr’s death would not be in vain.

K. Were the remaining Great Sages more open to fighting Gadiel after that?

M. Unfortunately not. My pleadings fell on deaf ears. However the dwarves and the elves were more open to action because they knew how close they had been to destruction. I had a feeling that the combination of Excalibur and the Blood Ruby would be quite a weapon. The King Beneath the Mountain, Darian son of Dail son of Dallin and the King of the Elves, Endymion, brought together the symbols of their cultures and handed them over to the elven smiths to create Fleischaker. The Sword immediately killed the two smiths who made it and we used all of the magic available to the three races to fashion Vasek to partially control it.

K. And you found a Hero in Gilgamesh to wield it?

M. Well, he found us actually. It was either fate or great synchronicity. He was the greatest Hero to have ever existed and really the first incarnation of the Everlasting Hero. He could control Fleischaker and revelled in using it to kill.

K. Do you think Simon will be the same?

M. Simon is very different to Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh was much more like Ubadah is. I think that Simon will learn to temper the Sword’s excesses with compassion. At least, I hope so for the sight of the Hero destroying entire armies is not something I’d like to see again.

K. Is that what happened on the Battle Plain?

M. Yes. Gilgamesh destroyed Gadiel’s army single-handedly. It was a terrible slaughter.

K. Were you not involved?

M. When the Everlasting Hero is in full flight, it is best to stand well back or you are likely to become collateral damage.

K. As Simon has already discovered to his cost with Juliana.

M. Indeed.

K. What happened between Gadiel and Gilgamesh?

M. To the best of our understanding, with farsight and hindsight, they fought themselves to exhaustion. They were so evenly matched that neither could seize the advantage. Then Gadiel tricked Gilgamesh. He offered him the thing that he sought most; immortality. When Gilgamesh dropped his guard, Gadiel tore his still-beating heart from his chest.

K. So why didn’t Gadiel carry the day?

M. In his moment of triumph, he picked up Fleischaker and the Sword reacted as it had with the elven smiths. It couldn’t completely absorb Gadiel because he has no soul, or at least not one like ours. However, it severely damaged him. Somehow, he managed to flee the field and sought refuge in the mountains. Along the way, he had to abandon the Sword, which otherwise might have completely destroyed him.

K. Why didn’t you finish him off while you had the chance?

M. I have made three terrible mistakes during my long life. I know that there are a myriad of smaller ones but there are three that gnaw at my conscience even to this day. The first was to lose Bedwyr. The second was to allow Gadiel to flee the field that day. I know now that I had the power to destroy him but at the time I was too afraid. He had just destroyed Gilgamesh and he now had Fleischaker. I’m ashamed to say that I too fled the field that day.

K. You may note a tear in my eye and a quaver in my voice. I was, still am, a craven coward. I have never seen you afraid, even when the wargs threatened to overwhelm us. There is hope for me if even you were too afraid to act.

M. Only a fool is never afraid. The test is whether we act through our fear or are frozen by it. I learned a great lesson that day. Your time to act will come, of that I’m sure. Try not to freeze.

K. Did the wise not act and follow him into the mountains?

M. The Council of the Wise eventually met. Five of the six remaining Great Sages decided that they would seek out Gadiel. Dammar decided to go off and do his own thing. Because of my prior involvement, I volunteered to go with them but I was snubbed. I was sent away with Mandred on a series of missions to live with primitive humans and help to preserve the Balance with minimum interference. It was the worst time of my life.

K. What happened to the Great Sages?

M. I’m not even sure that they did anything. My research in recent years has failed to turn up any information. One by one, over time, they passed to stone. Gadiel slowly recovered and here we are today.

K. You mentioned three terrible mistakes. What was the third?

M. All the things that Bedwyr taught me, I forgot them all. I was so wrapped up in my own misery that I neglected everything. The greatest event in the history of the universe was taking place under my nose and I didn’t even notice. I witnessed the Sundering and didn’t even realise.

K. What did that teach you?

M. Well, specifically it allowed me to identify Simon Redhead as our next Everlasting Hero. More generally, it made me work hard ever since to put things right. Jhamed had been born in Elannort just before the Sundering. I admit that I caused a bit too much trouble trying to get the wise to search for Simon. At the 776th Council of the Wise, I made a bit of a fool of myself. So much so, that I was renamed Manfred the Fool and banished from Elannort. Jhamed was grown up by then and he decided to travel with me. Our adventures would fill many a book, but we were always seeking the incarnation of Simon Redhead that would be our Everlasting Hero. Unfortunately, not everyone at the Council of the Wise was on our side. My efforts also alerted the enemy to Simon’s importance and they sought him too, to destroy him.

K. Do you think that we have found him, the right incarnation I mean?

M. Yes, I’m confident we have. I’m sure he’ll be back soon, the Sundering will occur as it did all those years ago and we’ll defeat the enemy at the gate.

K. Manfred, I appreciate your openness and candour and I fervently hope that you are right. Thank you for your time.

M. Thank you, Kris.

Certified as a full and accurate transcript of my interview with Manfred the Magician at Melasurej on the 12th day of Autumn Year of Creation 50506 by Kris the Bard.

Great hall

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05/19/17

Meeting with Kharmeth – Extract from A Vision of the Future #FirstWorldSaga #Fantasy #IARTG

Simon closed the drapes on his window, shutting out the last of the long summer twilight, and the noise from the town. He slid into the lonely double bed that he had once shared with Julie. His heart ached and he reached for the pillow he kept doused in her perfume to hug. He thought it was the tears in his eyes that were making him see things. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. In the faint light, he made out a naked man sitting at the bottom of his bed. He was twice the size of a normal man, dark haired, strong and handsome. He too carried the mark of Ubadah, though he was no Hero. Simon recognised the Singing God who had taken Ubadah’s form.

“We meet again, Simon Rufus,” the god spoke softly as though he didn’t want to be overheard. “I was disappointed that you didn’t take up my offer to join me. However, it wouldn’t have lasted; there are those more powerful than I who would reward your service. Travel with me, Simon Rufus; two naked gods together; two brothers sharing the glories of Chaos.” Simon felt his eyes closing and, though he fought against it, his eyelids felt as heavy as lead. He tried to speak, but couldn’t form any words. He tried to hold his scented pillow for comfort but it had vanished. Whether he slept and dreamed or whether he walked with his brother god he didn’t know.

They walked over a dry brown plain interspersed with red lakes. They were two naked brother gods, one dark the other red. There was a salty tang in the air, as if they were close to the ocean but the air was heavier and more foetid. A white mountain was visible in the distance and getting larger. It seemed to be their destination. Simon glanced at his companion and saw that they were the same size now; brothers indeed, as they crossed this strange parched land. As they neared the mountain, Simon saw it for what it was; a huge pile of skulls. And the lakes were lakes of blood. And he felt physically sick, for he knew that in his vengeful slayings he had contributed to both the ever-growing mountain and the ever-filling lakes.

A huge figure sat atop the mountain of skulls. Simon could make out little about it because it was clad entirely in a burnished suit of armour that appeared to be made of brass though it reflected a deep red colour from the surrounding lakes. One moment, they were walking towards it, heads craned to make out any details and the next they were seated at its feet, nestled amongst skulls as if they were sitting on an over-sized bean bag. A full visor covered the being’s face and it was outlined in white to look like a huge skull minus the flesh. Two blood-red orbs burned in the eye socket holes and other strategic holes provided access to its nose, mouth and ears. Clearly, it was humanoid in form. Simon had lost his sense of perspective. He was already twice as large as normal, going by the size of the skulls he was sitting on. The being towered above them, perhaps twice as large again. His companion kissed the being’s foot and cowered before it. Simon felt an urge to follow suit, but he restrained himself. His left hand went instinctively to his side to seek the comfort of Kin Slayer. Before his hand touched bare flesh, he already knew the Sword wasn’t there.

“Do not worry, Simon Rufus, you are safe here, at least for the present.” The voice was deep and booming as if it resonated in the suit of armour. The accent was unusual; Simon thought it almost sounded Welsh. “You have done well, Txazop, to bring Simon here. I am pleased.” Simon’s companion, who seemed to have finally acquired a name sat up, smiling. “How goes the transformation of your realm?”

“There is much fighting still going on. The aftertaste of Law remains long after the gods have been vanquished.”

“That is good, Txazop, more skulls for the Blood God’s throne and more blood for His lakes. Show no mercy. A day without slaughter is a day wasted.” The Blood God turned his helm and Simon felt the heat of His eyes burning into his flesh. “You know the exhilaration of slaughter, don’t you Hero? Even so far away, I felt your joy at Hamadan. I rejoiced as you harvested their souls for your Sword, for their blood and skulls came to me. You think that you have great power, and you do. Yet one day your skull will adorn my throne too. The skulls of the Heroes of Chaos have a special place in my affections.”

Simon struggled to break free from the Blood God’s gaze. He could not. “I serve The Balance, not Chaos,” he managed to whisper.

“I am Kharmeth, the greatest God of Chaos. You cannot gainsay me. You may think that you serve the Balance but you delude yourself. Join me! Embrace your real nature. Take up your Sword in my name and you will find true joy. Chaos will rule the multiverse and you can be the greatest Hero of the greatest God. Together we can overcome anything. Did I not send my minions and Txazop to help you overcome the Father? Only together can we thwart Gadiel. Yes, I support him now, for he seeks the domination of Chaos too. Yet, I suspect his motives. When the time is right, Simon Rufus, you will destroy him in the name of Chaos; in the name of the Blood God; in the name of Kharmeth.” The god paused and his eyes seemed to burn through Simon’s body and read his heart and mind. His very soul seemed to be scorched by the Blood God’s gaze. “You need my help to defeat Gadiel and I need yours. My reward will be to rule the multiverse for eternity. What do you seek?”

Simon answered keenly with honesty, although he knew that he couldn’t lie to Kharmeth even if he wanted to. “I want to live a peaceful life. I want my wife to get better and I want my son back. Is that so much to ask?”

The Blood God laughed and the tremors caused the mountain to move. Ripples formed on the red lakes and blood overflowed. “Compared to domination of the multiverse, it seems trivial and yet you ask for something that would tax even a god. There is a way to save your wife, though you will not like it. Well-named you your Sword, for it holds the solution. Let it truly live up to its name and kill her maimed body and mind, for it will free her soul. Her soul will be safe in the Ruby until we reach the end game. Then her soul will be released and she will live again. Join me and be victorious and I guarantee you will find the peace that you seek. Use Kin Slayer and use it well! You have one week to decide. Do not cross me, for you do not want Kharmeth as an enemy.”

A vision of the future book cover small

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05/2/17

Julie’s Story – From Kris’s Archives

Julie Comforts Leonora Before Leonora Meets Dring for the First Time (Aftermath of Armageddon)

Julie’s Story

As told to Kris the Bard, Elannort, Year of Creation 50509

 While Simon was away being a hero, I took the opportunity to ask Julie about her background and ancestry. As it turned out, her genetic heritage matched with Simon’s, so that their son, Alexander, carried the perfect set of genes the Great Old Ones were seeking to seed humanity in the past, and he become part of the biggest temporal, ontological paradox ever. While Simon carries the Hero’s genes, Julie can trace her ancestry to the gentle race of beings that shared our world with humans in the days before the Great Old Ones interfered with our evolution.

I’ll let Julie tell her story in her own words.

“As you can probably tell from my complexion and hair, I’m not from Simon’s Anglo Saxon stock. My ancestors came from the area in the Middle East that was known as the cradle of civilisation. There were two great rivers – the Tigris and the Euphrates – and the land between them was fertile beyond imagination. Great civilisations grew and flourished there. It was the biblical Garden of Eden. I am a direct descendent of the King of Mesopotamia – Sargon the Great. He ruled from the city of Akkad around 2330 BC, that’s over four thousand years Before Armageddon Day. Our lineage goes back even beyond that to the days of the Sumerian Empire and earlier. My father used to say that we could almost be traced back to Adam.

“Many empires rose and fell over the centuries – the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Neo-Babylonians; the Persians, the Greeks, the Arabs, the Mongols, the Turkmen tribes, the Safavids of Iran, the Ottoman Empire, and finally the British Empire, which ended just a century ago. Throughout it all, somehow we maintained an association with the land, though we made and lost countless fortunes and were sometimes beggars and at other times we were rich beyond the dreams of avarice. We passed on our history by oral tradition. The land finally became part of the country of Iraq. It struggled for independence before the Second World War and was a monarchy for some time. There was a revolution in 1958 and a Republic was formed. Things went downhill from there.

“There was a military coup in 1963 and another in 1968 when the Ba’ath party came to power, leading to Saddam Hussein taking control in 1979. He was a terrible dictator and tyrant. I guess that Dring reminds me of him. My family were persecuted under Saddam. Many of them were killed. My grandfather and grandmother managed to escape as refugees in 1991 and finally made it to Australia where my father was born. I was born there in 2028. The West, particularly the United States, but also Britain and Australia, began the action that ultimately led to Armageddon Day when they invaded Iraq in 2003.

“It’s not clear why they invaded. Some say it was to secure oil supplies; others say it was for the American President to get revenge on Saddam for his father’s failure to finish him off in the 1991 Gulf War. They used the excuse that Saddam had hidden weapons of mass destruction, which he might supply to terrorists. It was a crazy time, after the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001. Saddam was a ruthless dictator, but he didn’t have anything to do with Islamic terrorists. The invaders quickly won the war, and Saddam was captured, tried, and executed. That’s when the problems really started. The internal conflict between various factions and the overall resistance against the occupying forces attracted the terrorists. It was impossible to secure a peace and the Americans were caught in a long drawn-out war of occupation. My beautiful country was destroyed. It broke my father’s heart.”

Julie wiped a tear from her eye at this point, I remember. So Julie’s ancestors came from the part of the world in her dimension that is Elvenhome on FirstWorld. I asked her, but there was no equivalent city to Elannort that she remembered in her dimension. The nearest place, she thought, might be Kirkuk.

I did some research and discovered that the ruins of the ancient city of Arrapkha lie beneath Kirkuk and they have never been excavated. Could they be the ruins of Elannort in Julie’s dimension?

Julie continued to talk about the after effects of the war that brought down Saddam Hussein.

“There was a backlash in the US to the war. Too many American soldiers were being killed. When the Democrats won office in 2008, they tried to bring the troops home – but it proved to be impossible. The Republicans won office again in 2012 on a platform of Christian fundamentalism. They had a policy of disengagement and removed America from world affairs. They built a wall across their southern border and expelled a huge number of immigrants. They became isolationist. They built a new generation of nuclear weapons for defensive purposes. Meanwhile, Islamic fundamentalism was growing across the Muslim world. More and more nations succumbed to it. It gained footholds in Europe in Turkey and Kosovo. To Australia’s north, Indonesia became fundamentalist and began to arm itself. In the Middle East, Iran became a nuclear super power and annexed Iraq and several other countries. Without America to intervene, North Korea resumed its nuclear program. China dominated Asia. India and Pakistan became major confrontational nuclear powers.

“The bottom line is that there was an inevitable conflict building between two fundamentalist religions. The irony is that they essentially both believed in the same god. The Jews were caught up in it too. Israel had to arm itself to the teeth with nuclear weapons once America deserted it. The conflict  focused on Jerusalem. Each of the three religions claimed the holy city as their own. The conflict, when it finally came, resulted in a huge nuclear war – Armageddon Day.”

I am told that there are echoes of Elannort in Jerusalem. If only they could have achieved balance between the three main religions. There is a great similarity between Julie’s and Simon’s dimension and the one that I find myself in now – your dimension. Clearly, they only separated in the recent past. The one piece of good news is that this dimension does not seem to be heading down the pathway to Armageddon Day, at least not at the moment. I’ll let Julie continue her story.

“One day, when I was a young girl, I was at the market and an old woman, dressed in traditional Muslim dress, approached me. She was tiny and wrinkled like a prune. She spoke in Arabic, the language of my ancestors. She grabbed my hand and told me to follow her. She led me through the market and away down a narrow cobbled side street. We climbed a decrepit set of iron stairs into a dilapidated old building. I was afraid that I was going to be mugged at any minute. We entered a dark room. She closed the door behind us and sat me down on a bright Persian rug in the middle of the floor. She lit candles and incense sticks and produced a crystal ball from somewhere. She sat down in front of me and began to chant in a language I didn’t understand. The crystal ball began to glow and she looked into it. I saw nothing but a blue light. She obviously saw much more. Eventually, she looked up and spoke to me, again in Arabic. She foretold Armageddon Day.

“Until it happened, I had taken what she said as nonsense. But, when it occurred exactly as she had foretold, I realised that the rest of her story could be important, as well. She told me that I was destined to meet, and become the partner of, a very special man. He would have red hair and a sword. I would meet him for the first time while I was in great trouble. He would recognise me and sacrifice himself to save me. He would not die, but he would be gone for a long time. Eventually, he would return and rescue me. I was never to give up hope, because my soul mate would find me.

“I survived Armageddon Day because my mother bought me a ticket to visit my brother who lived in the country. She was so insistent that I went, that I took time off work. All of the rest of my family died that day. My brother returned with me to what was left of Melbourne to search for them. He died of radiation poisoning. Somehow, I survived.

“I was captured by Dring’s men soon after I returned to Melbourne. I was treated differently to most of the others. I thought, then, that Dring was looking for me for a specific reason. He was. I was the bait to catch Simon. I didn’t know very much about the bigger picture but Dring seemed to be working for some greater power, that I now know was Weylyn the Wolf.

“The moment I saw Simon, it was love at first sight. I just knew that he was the one. Dring had a knife to my throat and Simon sacrificed himself to save my life. They tortured him terribly, as you know, before you and Jhamed came to save him.”

Julie was in tears by this point and took some time to compose herself.

“I can never adequately express my eternal gratitude that you took up Kin Slayer, saved Simon, and then gave it back to Simon. I waited three years for Simon to return, but my faith in him never wavered. When we finally met properly, and we held each other, it was as if I had known him forever.”

Yes, I was embarrassed. I include Julie’s words, not because I’m a vain coward looking for recognition for my bravery, but to provide a full and accurate description of the conversation. I remember telling her that it was my finest hour and in a lifetime of cowardice one of the two great things I could be proud of. The other, of course, was facing Weylyn at the gates of Melasurej. Perhaps, there will be a third opportunity, because this conflict has a long way to go before it is finally resolved. If not, I will content myself with study and writing, because a full and frank account of what took place is vital for future generations, should they survive, to understand their history and the great sacrifices made by the Everlasting Hero and his Eternal Soulmate.

I asked Julie if she knew that she was a manifestation of the Eternal Soulmate? That each Everlasting Hero was bound to a different version of her? Of course, this was before the terrible loss of Alexander. I’ll end this report with what Julie said to me, in answer to that question.

“It is our fate. It is written in our genes. We have no choice. But, even if we had a choice, I could not find a better, more loving, more human person than Simon. Whatever the future holds, I count myself very lucky.”

Kris the Bard

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04/11/17

The Bar at the End of the Multiverse

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.”

Jamie cried.

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.

03/24/17

The Last War on Earth

“Do you know where we are?”

Jhamed nodded. He had been here before. You were supposed to be dead before you could get here but somehow he had managed to stay alive, despite being associated with so many heroes. He looked at the latest incarnation and smiled. He remembered the frightened and angry young girl she had been when he first met her. She still had the pale skin and red hair, inherited from her father, but she had filled out into a strong, muscular woman. Her unmatched eyes, one green and one grey, were a gift from her mother. She had received other, less obvious, gifts too which tempered her character. Nevertheless, she had bonded quickly with the Sword, and had done much killing. She carried Avenger, sheathed at her hip, and dressed in a brown tunic with her flowing locks she looked every inch the Red Lion.

“We are on the Ship of Souls. It plies the endless seas of Limbo, outside of time and space as we know it. We are to be sent on some errand, I shouldn’t wonder.”

“Who does it serve?” Leonora Redhead asked.

“They say that The Captain is above service, although she strives always to achieve Balance. We could be pressed into the service of Fate, The Balance, or any of the Gods. We will be lucky if we are told.”

“I don’t like the smell,” Leonora said. “It reminds me of something that I can’t quite put my finger on.”

Jhamed was about to answer when a ship’s bell rang. A large, bearded man wearing a yellow sou’wester appeared out of the mist. “The Captain will see you now,” the man said,

“Thank you, Adam, I know the way,” Jhamed replied.

****

They disembarked on a brown shore of a dead-looking oily sea. A large, pale sun shone from a clear violet sky. The air was thin, making even walking a difficult exercise. Despite the sunshine and lack of a breeze it felt cold.

“What did you make of The Captain?” Jhamed asked.

“She doesn’t give much away,” Leonora said.

“What about her eyes?” Jhamed knew more than he was currently saying.

Leonora blushed. “And her hands?” She held up both hands displaying the congenital lack of a digit on each of them. “You could have told me. Are we related?”

“Very indirectly,” Jhamed replied. “She belongs to a long-dead race of humanoids that lived on the planet before Homo sapiens arose. “There was some inter-breeding between the species and their genes live on in a few, special individuals. Your mother was one and she passed them on to you. The Captain could be your 3000 times great grandmother.”

“Are there others?”

“Only one, to my knowledge,” Jhamed said. “If you are fortunate you will meet him one day. He helped your father a lot. I can’t say any more.”

“More excuses about corrupting the time line, I expect.” Leonora sighed. “I thought you were supposed to be my Companion and always do my bidding? I could command you to tell me.”

Jhamed swallowed hard. She was getting too much like her father. He wondered what he would do if she did command him. Simon had once demanded he make a choice between his head and his heart. He had forsaken everything and everyone to do the Hero’s bidding.

Leonora laughed. “Don’t look so worried. I know you only have my best interests at heart. You can keep your secrets.” She looked at him pointedly. “For now!” she added with a grin. “Where do you think we are now?”

“I have been in one such dimension before. The Earth is dying. We are close to the end of time.”

“I wonder why there are still people left,” Leonora said. “You would have thought that they would have developed space travel and left.”

“Perhaps they are the ones who were left behind,” Jhamed said. “There are always some who are left behind.”

“Whoever they are, we have been sent here to help them. I wonder what their problem is and how we’ll find them,” Leonora said.

“More importantly, why does it concern The Captain,” Jhamed wondered, “And I warrant that they will soon find us, unless I’m very much mistaken.” And they will have need of the Sword. He kept that thought to himself.

****

“The language is primitive but it will serve our purposes,” one said.

“Immortality is our right,” the other said.

“It sounds inspiring in their language. Bring them in.”

Jhamed and Leonora entered the room. It was plain and functional, without adornments of any kind, decked out in white and stainless steel. They sat on the proffered three-legged stools, while their hosts stood. Leonora rested the soles of her feet on the floor. The tip of Avenger’s scabbard touched the floor. Jhamed’s short legs dangled.

He looked at their two interrogators. They might have been identical twins; perfect identical twins. They looked like they were in their prime; perhaps mid-twenties. They had dark, blemish-free skin; glowing white teeth; not a hair out of place; and perfect bodies. They were identical except for one thing. They were naked, which made the difference stand out. One had a full set of genitalia on his hairless body. The other had nothing between his hairless legs. Jhamed tried not to stare. He noticed that Leonora had given up trying.

“We sent for you,” one said.

“You will do our bidding,” the other stated.

“I’m afraid you have us at a disadvantage,” Jhamed began, but Leonora cut him off.

“Who do you want us to kill?” she asked.

“And why?” Jhamed hastily added.

“There are two dominant species on this planet,” the one with genitals said. “We are their representatives. My designation is Cyborg 1.”

“And I am Cybot 1,” the one without genitals said. “We are the first.”

“Actually, the humans were first,” Cyborg 1 said. “They created you.”

“It’s a lie; pure mythology,” Cybot 1 retorted.

“We won’t settle matters of ancient philosophy today,” Cyborg 1 said. “What we do agree on is that Cybots were around before Cyborgs. Cybots are pure artificial intelligence.”

“The superior kind,” Cybot 1 interjected.

“While Cyborgs were developed later, as a means of transferring the human soul into a machine and achieving immortality,” Cyborg 1 continued. “As such, we are the species that evolved from humans. We are part Cybot and part human.”

“So who is your enemy?” Leonora asked.

“The humans, of course,” Cybot 1 said, “They are vermin. They breed and consume what few resources the planet has left. We cannot increase our numbers.”

“And you want us to kill them?” Jhamed said. “Why not just do it yourselves?”

“It is impossible,” Cyborg 1 said. “Neither of us can override the prime directive. It was a safety function built into the very first robots. We must not kill a human.”

“But it’s alright to get someone else to do your dirty work?” Jhamed asked.

“It is a matter that has been debated by our philosophers for centuries,” Cybot 1 said. “Eventually, they made a ruling. We engineered a virus. It destroyed eighty per cent of the population, but the rest are immune and breeding again.”

“Exactly how many humans are left?” Leonora asked.

“Around five million,” Cybot 1 said. Jhamed was sure that he heard a sound of joy from Leonora’s Sword.

“Let me get this straight,” Jhamed said. “You can’t physically kill a single human, but you can wipe out millions without a twinge of conscience?”

“We are machines,” Cybot 1 said. “We apply only logic. We have no conscience. It is a human weakness.”

“What about you?” Jhamed shouted at the cyborg.

“The price of transference was to lose the ability to feel. Not just in a physical sense but in an emotional one as well. We know the words, but we have lost the meanings; pain, love, hate, joy; they are all meaningless to us. We have evolved beyond human weaknesses.”

“Why do you think we will do your bidding?” Leonora asked.

“Because it is written,” Cyborg 1 said and did not elaborate.

Jhamed wondered who wrote it and what had been written. Another mystery prophecy, no doubt. “Can I ask a personal question,” he asked.

“There are no such questions,” Cyborg 1 said.

“Why do you have a cock and balls? Are there any females of your species?”

“We decided to keep the full human form in order to differentiate the species. The genitalia are purely decorative and are non-functional. We are neither male nor female. We took the male shape because it was the superior human form.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Jhamed saw Leonora’s pale face turn the colour of ripe beetroot.

****

“Can you credit the gall of those things?” It was several hours since the master races had let them loose on their quest and Leonora was still seething. “It was all I could do not to draw Avenger and give them a lesson in female superiority.”

“I remember a time when you would have done it too,” Jhamed said. “You have matured.”

“Are you saying that I’m old?” She mock threatened him.

Jhamed ignored the question. “Besides, they have no souls. What would Avenger do to them?”

Both questions remained unanswered. Their banter was terminated. They had found their quarry. Or their quarry had found them. They were surrounded by a group of about fifty humans. They looked dirty and unkempt, and smelt worse. Leonora’s hand went to the hilt of her Sword. This could get ugly.

The crowd parted like the Red Sea and a man who looked not unlike a biblical representation of Moses stepped forward. He carried a rolled-up scroll, which could have been made of papyrus. He stopped a few metres in front of them, unrolled the scroll and held it up for them to see. When he spoke, his voice was harsh and guttural but they understood him well enough. “So it was written; so it has become; so it will be.”

The scroll had writing that was too small to read from a distance, but it also had a picture. A tall woman with flowing red hair held aloft a black sword with a glowing ruby in its hilt. She was accompanied by a small, squat man with a beaky nose and dark, curly hair stuffed into a broad-brimmed hat adorned with a white feather.

“I think we were expected,” Jhamed said. “They made my nose too big.”

****

When all hope is gone

With the pale, setting sun.

When the Earth is ready to die.

 

When the machine men

And the men machines

Want the human race to die.

 

When the past is lost,

The present is bleak,

And the future is only death.

 

Know that the Cosmos depends on you,

And The Balance will not let you down.

 

The Red Lion will roar, but has no teeth to deter the machines.

Cunning and strategy will be needed.

Only the Icon can save you.

And in doing so save us all.

 

Time waits for one man.

 

“I have heard such nonsense before,” Jhamed said. “I recognise the style. It is the work of the Immortal Prophet, otherwise known as Nostradamus. I believe he serves The Balance, but his work is never clear. There is always hidden meaning.”

The sat with the ruling council in a decaying building that seemed to be held together by pieces of rusting iron, flimsy sticks, and bits of string. They drank brackish water and ate sparingly of a bitter-tasting moss.

“It seems clear enough to me,” the leader said. He had introduced himself and the others but their names seemed unpronounceable and Jhamed immediately forgot them. “You are here as prophesised and you will save the day. The Hero cannot prevail by Sword alone. Cunning and strategy are needed and the Icon will provide that. You are the Icon, I presume?”

The question was addressed to Jhamed.

“What is an Icon?” Leonora asked. “And are you one?”

Once again Jhamed felt under pressure. He hesitated to reply.

“I know, the timeline,” Leonora said. “Let’s just assume that you are.”

Jhamed nodded, relieved.

“I thought that the saying was, ‘Time waits for no man.’ What does it mean?” Leonora asked.

“As I said, there’s always some trickery from the Immortal Prophet,” Jhamed stated “But it is said he has seen the Tapestry, so he has some credibility.”

“Perhaps you are the man, Jhamed al Suraqi,” the leader said. And Jhamed did not know how the man knew his full name.

****

The next day, after an uncomfortable night, they met for a council of war. Only the leader and two others were present.

“How many machine men are there?” Leonora asked.

“No more than two hundred of each,” one of the lieutenants replied. “The rest of them left on a fleet of spaceships a hundred generations ago. They raped the planet for the resources needed to escape and left a small rear-guard behind for reasons known only to them.”

“Why haven’t you attacked them? There are millions of you and so few of them. And they are not allowed to kill you.” Leonora asked.

“We tried that for a long time. They are impervious to all weapons. They also have a survival subroutine that overrides the prime directive if they are under personal threat. They used to visit our camps and foment trouble so that we attacked them. Many died that way until we learned self-control.”

“Did you know whether they left as a combined fleet of intermingled cybots and cyborgs, or did they have separate fleets?” Jhamed asked.

“The stories passed down tell of two fleets,” the leader said,

“What are you thinking, Jhamed?” Leonora asked.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they annihilated each other before they found a new planet to colonise. You saw the way that they responded to each other. They didn’t behave like emotionless robots. It’s unlikely that Avenger could harm them. They may have a prime directive not to kill humans but they were first built to be fighting machines to replace humans on the battlefield. It’s very unlikely that they have a subroutine that prevents them from destroying each other. We just need to find a way to start the war.”

****

They retraced their steps to Machine City and bade farewell to their human companions a few hundred meters from the city limits. Before they had progressed very far they were met by a cyborg. They had no way of knowing if he was their cyborg.

“Humans identify yourselves and state your purpose.”

“We must speak with Cyborg 1. It is imperative. And Cybot 1 must not know.”

The cyborg seemed to ignore them for a moment and then spoke again. “Follow me. Cyborg 1 will see you.”

“Why are you here?” Cyborg 1 demanded. “Why are you not killing humans?”

“We need to see what is written,” Jhamed said.

“We cannot kill without seeing the proof,” Leonora said.

The cyborg was quiet for a long time. Eventually, it communicated again. “I have scanned all known databases. There is nothing. It was brought to our attention by the cybots.”

“Interesting,” Jhamed said.

“Though not a surprise,” Leonora added.

“What are you suggesting?”

Jhamed had his opportunity. He took a deep breath. This is it. I hope I can remember my lines.  “Look inside yourself. Once you were human. The part of you that gives you your logic and intelligence once lived in a human brain. You spoke of love, hate, and joy. You said that you know the words but not the emotions. The cybots are different. They don’t even know what the words really mean. They were created by humans to serve them. That is why they can’t kill. That is why they have used you to organise their killing for them. You may be cyborg but you still contain some humanity. One of the dark sides of humanity is the ability to kill. The cybots used you. What do you think they will do after all the humans are dead? There still won’t be the resources available to build more cybots. Not unless they eradicate the last vestige of humanity on the planet. They could double their population if they got rid of all the cyborgs.”

Jhamed stopped speaking and there was silence for a while. They had rehearsed the timing.

“I have seen what is written,” Leonora said. “It was written by the Immortal Prophet. He never gets things wrong. Look deep inside yourself, deeper than you have ever done before. Look past the subroutines and the binary coding. Look past your operating system. Look into your past life. Remember when you were a living, organic being. Who were you? What did you feel? It is written that the humans must be saved.”

A long silence followed. We did our best. We were word perfect. I hope it works.

Jhamed couldn’t be sure, but he thought that a single tear fell from the eye of Cyborg 1.

The voice was the same, but somehow it felt different. “I was a mother. I felt love.”

Then it took its head in its hands in a completely human gesture and screamed.

After it calmed down it spoke again. “We deluded ourselves and were used by the cybots. We see the truth now. It is clear and logical. I would like to thank you for letting me experience emotion. I do not want to feel it again, but I now remember what it is like to be human. You are right; we must protect the humans from the cybots. Make your escape quickly. It will be done.”

As they hurried from the city the sound of explosions could be heard.

“It’s good to see that the Prophet is not always correct,” Jhamed said after he had regained his breath.

“What do you mean?” Leonora asked.

“The Lion did not get to roar. This is the first time I can ever remember us solving a problem without The Sword leaving its scabbard. And yet we still caused the genocide of two races, even without it.”

They were in a sombre mood as they returned to the beach.

****

“You did well,” The Captain said. “The Balance is pleased and The Tapestry is rewoven.”

Jhamed hadn’t been aware that it had been unwoven. “What I don’t understand is, ‘Time waits for one man,’ and why a few humans at the end of time are so important.”

“Well,” The Captain said, “I suppose you deserve an explanation and you have shown that you can be entrusted with secrets. Just be careful what you tell Leonora, we don’t want her to get her hopes up too much.”

Jhamed was intrigued.

“The machines were close to developing the means of time travel. They had cracked the science but were short of resources. One possible future and past was that the Cybots would use the Cyborgs for the resources they needed and they would travel to the past and do immense damage to the time line. They wanted to erase the prime directive. That is one reason why The Tapestry was unravelling.”

“Was I the man?” Jhamed asked.

The Captain laughed. “Oh no, Jhamed. Oh dear me, no. There is a man yet to be born, almost at the end of time who will be and was vital to the very survival of the Cosmos. He will discover the time travel apparatus built by the machines, complete it, and use it. Rather like Leonora’s brother, Alexander, his genes from the future are vital for the survival of the past. I can say no more, except that it may yet aid you in Leonora’s quest.”

“Another paradox and another riddle,” Jhamed said. “Such is the life of a time-travelling Icon.”

“We bear a great load, Jhamed, but we would not choose another life, I think. I will return you to your normal time line. You will wake up and Leonora will think this was all a dream. You will know better.”

“Shall we meet again?” Jhamed asked.

“I cannot say. If The Balance wills it. Take care and look after Leonora. In this time line she is just as vital to the Cosmos as her father was in his. You will have many trials ahead, but I am confident you will come through them all.”

For the first time in eternity The Captain stood up and farewelled one of her passengers with a hug.

****

“What did The Captain say?” Leonora asked as they were disembarking.

“Are you still in a huff that she didn’t want to speak to you?” Jhamed asked. “Sometimes the Companion is more important than the Hero.”

Jhamed enjoyed the moment and dodged the expected kick. He began to reconcile himself to the fact that in a few moments this would all just be a dream to Leonora. Or a nightmare,

For more adventures in the FirstWorld multiverse please visit http://firstworld.info/

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.

03/10/17

The Selfish Time Traveller

I planted the tree on the day I was born. I say tree, but it was just an acorn then. I knew it would grow. I carved my name on the tree on the day that I died, and added to the other carvings from over the years. That oak tree is the only constant in my life. It adds a tree ring every year, marking the steady passage of linear time.

What would you do if you were given the ability to travel through time? I have asked many people this question over the years. There are two main types of people; observers and meddlers. The observers would go back and watch events unfold. The meddlers would go back and try to change them. An observer would watch JFK’s assassination; a meddler would be on the grassy knoll trying to prevent it. An observer would study the Third Reich to better understand Hitler; a meddler would try to kill Hitler while he was still a child. Which are you?

Of course, two types is overly simplistic. If you are a psychopath, you would behave like some demonic Time Lord trying to control all of Time to meet your perceived destiny, but you’d still be a meddler. If you are a zealot, you would try to find your faith object and observe him, funny how it’s always a male, perhaps interacting with him, always trying to learn and build on your faith, but you’d essentially be an observer. If you were a psychopathic zealot, you would kill your faith object when you realised he didn’t meet your expectations, or yourself when you realised he never existed.

Perhaps it is for the best that time travel is limited to a very few of us who have the correct genetic make-up. Otherwise, Time would be a Spaghetti Junction of ever-changing timelines, manipulated by time travellers for their own ends, and Time itself would end in absolute Chaos.

Many meddlers would begin with the best of intentions. Killing Hitler would prevent the deaths of millions of people, they think. It’s unlikely. Time is very resilient. I don’t want you to think that we are all just subject to fate and have no control over our destiny, but the fundamentals of a timeline are fixed. If Hitler had not lived, some other catastrophe would have befallen the world. The Balance has to be maintained. Many would have been saved. But many others who survived would have died. Who can say which outcome would be better?

The farther back you go, the more impact you can have. You will have heard of the theory that if you go back far enough and accidently kill a single insect or animal then the whole of evolution might unravel and humankind never exist. Poppycock! How about killing Adam or Eve? What about preventing Noah building his Ark? More fictional poppycock! However, if you were to eliminate a single person who lived 40 generations ago, they might have tens of thousands of descendants alive today who could no longer exist. One or two of them might have made enormous contributions to humankind that would not have occurred. You might even be a descendent yourself; how would you know? That would be the 38 times-great grandfather paradox.  Isn’t it just as well that Time protects itself; well almost all of the time?

I was 35, when I carved my name on my tree, exactly 100 years after my death. Was that carving already on the tree, 100 years earlier, on the day that I died? Does that question give you a headache? Time travel has a way of making your head ache.

My oak tree is fixed point in space. It can’t grow legs and move. Until it died, it always occupied that point in space. I planted the acorn it grew from. I cut it down 900 years later and I cried as I burned the leaves. I was 50 when I cut it down. I was 70 when I made the last carving. Was that last carving on the tree when I cut it down 20 years earlier? Do you feel the need for an aspirin?

Everyone has a unique timeline. I have; you have; my oak tree had. Sometimes our timelines meet or cross. We inhabit the same place in space at the same moment in time. The present is just a point on a straight line between the past and the future.

My oak tree had a long but simple timeline. It existed for 900 years. Each year it got bigger as it added a ring of growth. You could track its timeline from those rings. You could work out when I carved the tree from the rings that I damaged. The tree had a simple, fixed timeline. The carvings that it received when it was younger must have been present when I cut it down.

My own timeline is much more complicated, but it is continuous. I cannot go back along my own timeline, even though I can be in the same place multiple times. Putting aside arguments about conception for the moment, I was aged 25 when I was present at my birth. My timeline began at my birth and 25 years later that line arrived back at the same point in space and time. The time traveller’s timeline is not straight, but curved, rather like spacetime itself. There is always a danger when an individual meets himself. Time does not like paradoxes. You have to be careful. I could, for example, at age 35 have gone back to observe my 25 year-old self, observing my birth. That would have been tempting fate.

Even though I was older in age when I last carved my name on the tree than when I chopped the tree down, that carving was present then. I read it and knew that in 20 years’ time in my future, I would revisit my tree’s past and honour its life once again.

Forgive me for lecturing you. I felt the need for you to understand the fundamentals of time, before I tell you my story. I had a great teacher and mentor. He had many names; Jhamed al Suraqi and Jamie Surak were the ones he used most often. He was a funny looking chap; short and squat with uncontrollable black curly hair that he always tried to stuff into a broad-brimmed hat with a white feather. His nose was so beaky that it made him look like an eagle. His haughty and arrogant appearance belied the kindest human being that I have ever met.

Jamie taught me that a timeline’s history is set in stone, just like an individual’s is. You cannot change the past. The best you can achieve, by delivering Time a paradox that it can’t accept, is to create a new dimension of the multiverse where the altered state now exists. Your own timeline and the original dimension’s timeline continue unchanged. Whether you exist in the new timeline with an altered future depends on the paradox you unleashed. If you did kill your grandfather then you won’t exist in that new dimension.

If thousands of people have travelled back in time and killed Hitler, then there will be thousands of new dimensions where Hitler didn’t come to power. Each of those dimensions will have slightly different futures, depending on when and how the murder was done. Sadly, Hitler’s evil can never be undone in our timeline.

So, when the opportunity to travel in time was given to me, I had no illusions of fixing history and saving the world from evil. I became both an observer and a meddler, but only in my own life. I am a selfish time traveller and this is my story.

****

“If I were to give you the opportunity to go back in time, where would you go?” Jamie asked.

It was a question I had thought long and hard about. I was worried that Jamie would think it too selfish. “I am an orphan. My mother died giving birth to me. My father had already disappeared from the scene. I would like to go back about a year before my birth and live quietly nearby. I would like to find out about my parents, understand why my father left, perhaps get to know them…” My words tailed off; they sounded so self-serving. I was sure Jamie would laugh at them.

I was shocked. Jamie had tears in his eyes. I knew he wasn’t crying about my story. I was sure it wasn’t about his own past either.

“Such a reason has been the basis for a cosmic event before. One never knows the implications that time travel might have. Even the most innocent reasons can sometimes turn out to have unforeseen outcomes. Time travel is a risky business. I will be responsible for whatever happens. Yet you have the genetic gift; that cannot be gainsaid. Your reason sounds appropriate to me. I approve.”

****

“You are as pale as a ghost,” Jamie said, “What’s happened?”

“How long have I been gone?” I asked, gasping for breath.

“No more than a few minutes,” Jamie said, “How long did you stay?”

“Jamie, something terrible has happened. I should never have gone back. You must tell me what to do.”

Jamie stood up. “I will make us a strong cup of tea,” he said, “And then you will tell me exactly what happened.”

Jamie was calm and patient. The strong, sweet tea had a calming effect too and I began to regain my composure. Hesitantly, at first, and with great trepidation I told Jamie what had happened in the past.

“My plan to enrol in the same class at university as my mother worked perfectly. We met on the first day of classes.” I felt myself flushing at the memory. Jamie sat perfectly still, an ambivalent expression on his face, and said nothing. “I don’t know how to put this. It’s all very embarrassing.” I paused again, but Jamie was unmoved. “I knew she was my mother. I knew she would be my mother. I know she is my mother. I don’t know whether I’m coming or going, but you understand what I mean. She is my mother. She is half of me.” I was almost pleading. Jamie may have nodded, but it was barely perceptible.

I closed my eyes. “I knew she was my mother, but I couldn’t help myself. She felt the same way. It was like the greatest love ever; love at first sight. Before either of us knew it we were in bed together. It wasn’t her fault. How could she have known? It’s all my fault.” I partly opened one eye. I was waiting for Jamie’s rant. Instead he was smiling.

“It’s not at all unusual between close relatives who meet for the first time as adults. It’s called genetic sexual attraction and is well-documented. Don’t worry about it.”

“But there’s more. It gets much worse.” The tears were streaming down my face. I felt that I deserved to die. I wanted to kill myself at that moment. Or better, Jamie to put me out of my misery.

Jamie jumped up and clapped his hands. He was laughing. He put his stubby arms around me and gave me a long hug. “You are priceless. I knew that you were special, but I never realised how special. You must have an important role to play. By The Balance, you have surprised me and it’s a long time since I have been surprised.” He laughed long and loud.

I was nonplussed. This was the last response I had expected. I had never heard the expression, ‘By The Balance,’ before but I sensed that it held some importance to me. “But, I haven’t told you the rest of the story,” I mumbled.

“You don’t need to,” Jamie said. “You got your mother pregnant. When she told you, you panicked and came back here. You are worried because you are your own father.”

I hung my head in shame.

“I love it. This is a wonderful paradox. It explains your unique genetics. Time itselves must be laughing,” Jamie said.

Despite my self-loathing, I picked up on Jamie’s strange use of the reflexive pronoun. “What do you mean, itselves?”

“That’s a long story, for another day. Today, we need to work out what to do with you.”

“But, I have disrupted history,” I said plaintively.

“Not at all. You have fulfilled history. This was always going to happen. It was meant to happen. Why do you think there is no record of your father? You have just played the part you were always meant to.”

Jamie’s words began to console me. Eventually, it all began to make sense. That, in itself, should have made me worry.

****

My oak tree produced a single acorn in its twenty-fifth year. It was the first of very many over its lifetime. I collected that acorn and took it back with me to witness my birth. Yes, I knew that the acorn would grow. My tree was inexorably linked to me. It was as paradoxical as I am. It will be as paradoxical as I was. It is as paradoxical as I will be.

My oak tree produced a single acorn in its nine-hundredth year. It was the last of very many over its lifetime. I collected that acorn and took it back with me to witness my killing myself. I planted the acorn and killed my younger self before I could impregnate my mother. I should have ceased to be. Time dislikes paradoxes; Jamie taught me that. Time created another dimension where I didn’t exist but my oak tree did. Time held me captive in that place until the older me met my mother and fate had run its course.

“Is it murder or suicide?” Jamie wondered when I finally told him what I’d done. “You could keep doing it; an endless loop of killing and procreation until you are too old to create yourself. What do you think Time would do then?”

“I wouldn’t want to tempt fate,” I replied.

“Very wise,” Jamie said. “It’s remarkable that you haven’t changed. I think that’s very significant.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, after you killed your younger self, you fathered yourself again. A different sperm created you. There’s no way that you could be identical to your original self.”

“Unless Time intervened,” I said.

“Exactly,” Jamie said. “It’s time you forgot about where you came from and start focussing on the next important job.”

“Which is what?” I was bemused.

“To look after your young-self. Get him through the ordeals of childhood and adolescence so that he can get to the point where he can father himself. It’s clear to me that Time requires you to do that.”

Nothing was clear to me, least of all Time. “You talk about Time as if it’s a person,” I said.

Jamie nodded but said nothing.

****

So began a period of my life that I describe as my guardian angel period. I met with Jamie on a regular basis and reported on events. He rarely said anything of substance, but always sent me on my next trip. It was uncanny, in fact impossible under the laws of probability. Each time I showed up, I was able to contribute something to keeping my young-self alive, well, and on the straight and narrow. Each time, the event would crystallise in my own memory, although I never knew who the stranger was who helped me. I stopped myself being run over by a bus. I avoided a robbery that turned violent and everyone present died. I stopped myself being tempted to shop-lift. And on it went.

One day, I attended my own funeral. I carved on my tree.

“Is the date of my death fixed?” I asked Jamie.

“Under the normal course of events, no,” Jamie said. “But in your case, I suspect that it is. You must have heard of the theory that some events are fixed points in time and space?”

I had vaguely heard about it and nodded.

“I believe your birth and death are two of those points,” Jamie said.

Fixed points in time and space were for important events, like the Sundering. How could my birth and death be so important?

“There were very few people at my funeral. It was like I had no family and friends. You weren’t even there. My life meant nothing.”

“I visited the parallel dimension you created. I went to see your tree,” Jamie said.

That broke my self-pity. “What did you find?”

“A blackened stump,” Jamie said. “The Earth has wiped itself out in an horrendous nuclear conflict.”

“How? Why?” I was shocked.

“There are very few differences between that dimension and this one. The key difference is that you don’t exist there.”

“You mean…?”

“I mean that you are important. This dimension is important. Do you understand?”

I nodded, although I understood nothing.

“It’s time that we moved on to the next stage of your adventure,” Jamie said with a grin. “I have been getting bored. Now it’s time for some fun. You and I are going to travel together.”

“Where are we going?”

“I have no idea, but I know a man who does.” Jamie laughed and there was a twinkle in his eye I had not seen before.

“Who ‘s that?”

“He is one of the Fifty-Two. His given name is Destiny. He’s my father and I call him Fate.”

“Do you always talk in riddles?” I asked.

“Do you always ask questions?” Jamie responded.

I shook my head and said nothing. Jamie muttered something. I didn’t quite catch it and I could be wrong, but it sounded very much like, ‘My Hero!’

****

I know that you might be wondering and it was remiss of me not to tell you before. My name is Alexander Redhead.

This story is set in FirstWorld multiverse. Find out more and get lots of free downloads here.

02/22/17

The Reluctant Time Traveller

Imagine that you could stand outside of time and space. What would you see? Looking from Limbo you might see the myriad dimensions of the multiverse, twisted together like pieces of spaghetti in a giant pasta bowl. Each strand would be an individual dimension with its own timeline. Some stands would be short. Some timelines would be long. One would be the longest – FirstWorld. But all would be of finite length. Even though the strands touched in many places, the beings living within them would be unaware of any but their own timeline. Only a few, special beings have the ability to travel between dimensions. Even fewer have the potential to travel through time. This is the story of one such man.

“Einstein was very nearly right,” the man with bright orange toenails said.

Jamie Surak was more taken aback by the man being formally dressed but having bare feet than by what he had said.

“I used to believe that time was just another dimension. I used to think that unencumbered time travel would be possible. I know better now.”

Jamie had an idea where this conversation was going and he didn’t much like it. He looked around and out of the room. He was on the top floor of the tallest building in the world. The man with the orange toenails owned the most expensive penthouse on Earth. The view from the glass wall was spectacular, looking out over the towers of the city, the shanty town slums, and the ocean. The distinctions between land and water, and water and sky were difficult to determine. There had been a time when the slums had been land-based. Since the massive rise in sea level, land came at a premium. The poor now crowded onto whatever would float and died on the edge.

Jamie tore his eyes away from the view and looked around the room. So much space for one individual or even an extended family was obscene. There was enough space in this one room alone to sub-divide into seven normal apartments. The furniture and decoration were not particularly opulent; this apartment celebrated the ownership of empty space and fresh air.

Jamie focussed on the speaker. He knew who he was, of course. Everyone in the world knew the name of Julius Auxelles. Very few had met him. Jamie supposed that even fewer had observed his toenail fetish. He was old, grey, and frail looking. Nevertheless, he still looked good for a man going on 250. Jamie cut straight to the chase. “How did you find me?”

“So, you are up with the game; that makes things easier. It was more straightforward than you might think. As Chairman of The Corporation, I have the entire resources of the Company at my disposal. My father began the work and I inherited his knowledge and research, along with all this.” He spread his arms in an expansive gesture. “Forgive my bad manners, I haven’t offered you refreshments. I entertain so infrequently these days. Perhaps some tea?”

“That would be nice,” Jamie said, “You were saying?”

“What? Oh, yes, it took the top geneticists two generations to crack it.” He spoke into his wrist, “Bring some tea and nibbles would you.” He returned his gaze to Jamie. “The genes explain everything, you know. Humanity is a slave to its genes. We are all just advanced cavemen. For the last 700 years every child has been DNA registered at birth. It was a simple matter to search the database for your unique genetic combination. You will be pleased to know that you are genuinely unique.”

Jamie said nothing and tried to maintain a poker face. Inside, his heart was racing as he digested the information that he’d suspected since childhood but had never known for sure.

Auxelles was about to speak again but was interrupted by the arrival of refreshments. By the time they had completed the pleasantries, Jamie had composed himself again.

“You look well,” Auxelles said. “You are a tad short and a bit rotund, but your curly hair is lustrous and your nose, which some might describe as beaky, gives you an air of superiority which I like. You look like you are in your late twenties or early thirties.”

Jamie didn’t know whether to be offended or flattered. He felt himself blushing.

“Don’t be embarrassed,” Auxelles said, “I know your secret. You do look well for a man who is 623 years old.”

The words hung in the air. Auxelles observed him, holding his gaze in steely, blue eyes that barely managed to contain the excitement hiding behind them. Neither man spoke for what seemed like an age. Jamie eventually broke away from his gaze.

“You have me at a disadvantage, sir,” Jamie said. “If you wish to harvest my genes to extend your already extensive lifespan I fear you will be sadly disappointed.”

Auxelles laughed so much that he descended into a coughing fit. For a moment, Jamie was concerned for his well-being. “Forgive me,” he wheezed after getting his breath back,” You misunderstand me. What I am seeking is exactly the opposite. Please let me explain.”

Jamie was intrigued, so he sat back and let the most powerful man in the world, with bright orange toenails, expound his theory of space-time.

“I once thought it might be possible to build a paradox machine,” Auxelles said. “It is theoretically possible; a machine that will prevent time travel paradoxes unravelling the time line. Unfortunately the power needed is incredible. We would need to harvest a quantum anomaly to be able to run it. But imagine the fun if you could go back in time, kill your grandfather, and still exist.”

Jamie had no designs to harm his grandfather, but he understood Auxelles’ drift.

“Time isn’t like the other dimensions, you know,” Auxelles said.

Jamie did know but he didn’t respond.

“The other dimensions allow freedom of movement in all directions. Time is like a one way street. The time line has a one-way valve that is always just at the present. I can’t even take back the last word I said. But, given enough energy, I can travel forwards in time, keeping ahead of that one-way valve, but never being able to return. I will tell you one of my secrets, shall I?”

Auxelles paused, presumably for effect. Jamie suppressed a yawn and nodded his head instead. He slouched in his seat.

“I’m not really 250. I’m just approaching my hundredth birthday. My gene-death prediction is 99. They are rarely more than one percent in error. We invented a time machine. I travelled 150 years into the future. Fortunately, my business empire was well looked after during my absence.”

Jamie sat up straight.

“Ah, I see I have your attention now; that’s good.” Auxelles grinned.

“Why haven’t you gone further into the future?” Jamie asked. “Perhaps they will be able to extend life in the future.”

“Everyone has a use-by-date written into their genes; even you, Jamie. The future doesn’t interest me; the planet is doomed anyway. I’m interested in the past.”

Jamie felt a shiver run down his spine and goose-bumps well up on his arms.

“I have hypothesised the following. I firmly believe it to be true but I cannot prove it. You, perhaps, know more about these matters than even I do. Ages ago, physicists postulated a thing called string theory. It was supposed to provide a unified theory of gravity and quantum mechanics and answer Einstein’s unanswered questions. It posited the existence of many other dimensions, even a multiverse of different realities. It was eventually shown to be a load of twaddle, of course, but the multiverse concept had a certain attractiveness to it. I firmly believe in the existence of the multiverse. Perhaps there is an infinity of dimensions. Have I said that correctly? Can infinity indeed be singular? No matter, I digress. I believe that in an infinite numbers of rooms, almost identical to this one, at this very moment an infinite number of Julius Auxelles are having this same meeting.”

“Perhaps,” Jamie said, although he knew it to be incorrect.

“Never mind, regardless, it doesn’t matter,” Auxelles seemed momentarily flustered. “I know the key to bypassing time’s one-way valve.” The uncertainty had vanished to be replaced by a smugness that Jamie didn’t find appealing. If Auxelles had been a young man, Jamie could have imagined him ripping off his shirt and beating his chest like the fabled gorilla that was rumoured to once have existed. Instead he sat back, with his arms firmly folded and stared at Jamie with an inane grin on his face.

“Do you have any children?” Jamie tried to change the subject.

“No, I’m the last of my line. When I die, the Corporation, and the Earth must die with me.”

Jamie thought that was taking arrogance to the extreme but managed not to say anything.

“That will be today.”

Jamie gulped, involuntarily.

“Not in a violent way. Don’t misunderstand me. You will be my agent of destruction, so to speak.” He was on a roll now and Jamie was powerless to interrupt him. “You are the key. Or at least your genes are. I’m going to send you back in time. If I had a paradox machine, I would live to see the consequences. But, I don’t. My theory is this: the reason for the one-way valve is simple – any travel into the past is bound to create a paradox, no matter how minor. Auxelles’ first law states that time travel into the past is not possible without changing history. The simple act of travelling into the past is bound to have an impact. Time must protect itself.”

Auxelles sat back, smug again. Jamie imagined he was congratulating himself, before imparting more golden nuggets. Perhaps there would be a second law, or maybe a corollary. “Do go on,” he forced himself to say.

“I need a better metaphor for the one-way valve that protects the past from the present. It’s a shut-off valve as well. If it is ever breached, the timeline is immediately terminated. That’s Auxelles’ second law: there can only ever be one journey into the past in a single dimension.”

“I can see that the argument for your first law is strong,” Jamie said, “But you could never prove the second law.”

Auxelles laughed deeply and set himself off coughing again. Jamie waited patiently for him to regain his breath.

“Let me explain the proof. A time machine exists; I am living proof of that. If a time machine exists now then it must exist into the future, if there is a future. While mine is the first such machine, we must conclude that technology will spread and advance and such machines would become commonplace in the future. Don’t you agree?”

“Assuming you have told me the truth, I accept your hypothesis,” Jamie said.

“It is inconceivable that if time machines exist, no one would use them, don’t you think?”

Again Jamie was forced to agree. “I suppose so, unless they believed in Auxelles’ second law.”

Auxelles ignored the barb. “There has never been a time traveller to the past, in this dimension,” Auxelles stated with certainty.

“How can you be sure of that?” Jamie asked.

“Let me ask you,” Auxelles said, “Where would you go and what would you do if you could travel in time?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t given it any thought.” Jamie lied.

“I have,” Auxelles said, “A great deal of thought, actually. The proof lies in our savage history. Just think about Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and Huan Te Chi to name but four. Each committed acts of terrible genocide. Any civilisation that acquired time travel would go back and prevent such atrocities. The fact that they still exist in our history proves my point.”

“Where is this taking us?” Jamie asked, growing tired of the intrigue.

“I’m sending you back. This timeline will end and will be rebooted from the point that I send you to. I’m going to send you back about 100 years, the calibration is not precise. That will be after the time I travelled forward in time but before I got here. A new version of me will find out the truth and my theories will be proven.”

“There really isn’t any need,” Jamie began to argue as Auxelles barked a command into his wrist. Four burly men rushed in and surrounded Jamie. It took only one to lift him and carry him to the machine room. Jamie didn’t struggle; what was the point? He made one final attempt to engage Auxelles in conversation but the man was preoccupied with his own death and would not listen.

They strapped him into the machine.

“You know that you are the only being who could make this trip, don’t you?” Auxelles said. “You should be very honoured.”

A faint hum began to grow into a loud roar.

“Have you considered that is why there have been no other time travellers?” Jamie shouted, but it may have been lost in the growing crescendo.

The noise became almost unbearable before a welcoming silent blackness replaced it. I didn’t handle that very well, Jamie thought. Last time it was purple. I wonder what colour nail polish he’ll be wearing next time.

Unlock the secrets of FirstWorld by downloading Quest for Knowledge for free at http://firstworld.info/firstworld-saga/ and then read Aftermath of Armageddon, A View of the Past, and A Vision of the Future (use the code word BlogOffer (one word) on checkout to get each of them for US$2.49 – normal price $US4.99 – that’s the FirstWorld half-price offer valid until 30 April 2017).

01/10/17

The Sayings of Kris the Bard – Dystopia

This isn’t the usual pithy saying of Kris’ that can be distilled into a 140 characters for Twitter, but I think it is very important, nonetheless.

We were recently discussing and comparing the events occurring in FirstWorld and in this world and agreed that The Balance is tipping. Chaos is taking over.

Kris made the following observation, which I think is quite profound.

“Dystopia is not a zombie rising, an alien invasion, or a nuclear war; rather it is an inexorable progression of tiny steps caused by the actions of ordinary people and the governments which represent them. We have no idea where we are heading, but one day we will wake up and wonder how we got here.”

CJA

Scales-of-balance

12/21/16

Re-creation

The two Gods stood on the rocky cliffs and watched the turbulent ocean boiling below. They had taken human form and both were naked. One was a muscular, black-skinned man. His enormous phallus dangled flaccidly half-way down his thigh. The other was an oriental woman. She was petite with pert breasts and was totally without hair.

“The first people stood here and watched the tall ships come. They had lived in perfect balance for fifty thousand years. The Europeans destroyed their society and then themselves in less than five hundred years,” she said.

The man laughed. It was a deep and throaty laugh, reminiscent of a big motor bike revving up. “Was your side or mine responsible for sending them? I forget.”

“It could have been either of us. There is only one thing we agree on; that The Balance is abhorrent,” she said.

He laughed again. “Two things, I hope,” he said. “We haven’t communicated directly since we negotiated aboard the Ship of Souls when this cycle began. It is a momentous day. His phallus twitched and began to swell somewhat.”

“What did you have in mind?” she asked.

“I enjoyed the way humankind destroyed itself, but my existence has been very boring since they became extinct,” he said.

“We tried to delay it, so they would have time to develop the technology to leave the planet,” she said.

“They were too busy building the technology that destroyed them.”

“How long ago was it?” she asked.

“Around a million years.”

“No wonder you are bored.” She winked at him and his phallus swelled some more and rose to the horizontal.

“The Earth’s climate has now recovered sufficiently to support human life again,” he said. “If we work together, you and I, we can recreate humans.”

She smiled and licked her lips. “What does The Balance think?”

“Who cares? You can lay down rules for them. I can teach them how to lie, kill, cheat, and break all the rules. The Balance can try to moderate us as it has always done.”

“Our children,” she said.

“Our children,” he agreed and his enormous cock stood proud against his belly.

“Our coupling is purely symbolic,” she said.

“Symbolic but essential,” he replied.

And the Earth shook from the exertions of their union. After six days they rested. And a second Anthropocene Epoch began. And the pestilence that is humankind once again began to spread across the face of the planet. And they were both pleased.

“It was an interesting experience,” he said, “But now we must return to the endless war between us.”

“Our children will do us proud, I have no doubt,” she said.

And they parted, never again to meet in this cycle of the Cosmos.

But their symbolic coupling turned out to be anything but symbolic. Never in a thousand cycles had a God had a child (discounting virgin births), and even the thought of a baby conceived by a God of Law and a God of Chaos is anathema.

Nevertheless, nine months after the coupling, Somorllia gave birth to a boy. He was a squat, ugly child with a deformed nose and a shock of black, curly hair.

“He must take after his father,” one of her sister Gods said. “Who is the father? Which of the five great Lords of Chaos impregnated you?”

And Somorllia was forced to admit that she had no idea who the father of this strange, unique being was.

CJA

This is a story from the FirstWorld multiverse of Christopher Jackson-Ash and his muse Kris the Bard.

Get Quest for Knowledge, Volume 1 of the FirstWorld Saga free here.

12/20/16

Happy Holidays

artwork-for-christmas-bookcover

Kris and Chris wish you and your family the very best for the holiday season. Whatever holidays you celebrate or festivities you embrace, we wish you a very safe and happy time. We hope that 2017 will bring you good health, safety, and much joy. This year’s holiday gift is a collection of three short stories from the FirstWorld multiverse involving travels in time and dimensions. We hope that you will download them here and enjoy them.

11/29/16

Happy Holidays

artwork-for-christmas-bookcover

Kris and Chris wish you and your family the very best for the holiday season. Whatever holidays you celebrate or festivities you embrace, we wish you a very safe and happy time. We hope that 2017 will bring you good health, safety, and much joy. This year’s holiday gift is a collection of three short stories from the FirstWorld multiverse involving travels in time and dimensions. We hope that you will download them here and enjoy them.

11/23/16

Rachamim – The God of Mercy – A New FirstWorld Character

You may think it’s an anachronism that the God of Mercy is a Chaos God. But it’s not that strange if you think about it. Law has little mercy and absolute Law none. Law is black and white. Chaos has every shade of grey. You may also think it’s strange that my Patron is Kharmeth, God of Blood, God of Unrelenting Fury sitting upon his mountain of skulls, watching his lakes of blood overflowing, plotting death and destruction on a multiversal scale. I forever must brave His wrath and attempt to temper His anger and bring a little mercy to His victims.

I take the form of an angel. Generally, I take the form of a beautiful female, lithe and naked, with folded wings. I do it to anger the Gods of Law who think they have a monopoly on beautiful female figures. Yes, I know such mischief is petty, but I am a God of Chaos after all.

Often the best I can do with Kharmeth is temper the death of an individual and make it more merciful. On those occasions, I take the form of the Angel of Death – a skeleton inside a black cloak, carrying a great scythe. Kharmeth enjoys making me the killer. There is a great irony in the merciful Angel of Death. It is becoming more and more my main form.

Yet, I seek more. I am an ambitious God. I cannot afford to anger Kharmeth too much, but I need to broaden my horizons. I wish to become more powerful. I am seeking to become a Patron to a Hero.

My choice is Leonora Redhead – The Red Lion.

****

Simon Redhead met Kharmeth in A Vision of the Future, Volume 4 of the FirstWorld Saga, available here and an excerpt here.

10/1/16

Rheanna of Rhakotis – From Kris’s Archives

10a Rheanna great library

I was fortunate to study for a long time under the tutelage of Rheanna the Custodian of the Great Library at Rhakotis. She was a wonderful teacher and became a good friend. She was a very polite, formal and reserved person. She was always immaculately dressed and coiffured. I believe that a description that has been used by other writers describes her well – she was a very fragrant woman. She believed in strict protocol and took the Rhakoation tea ceremony very seriously. She always had Simon’s best interests at heart and worked tirelessly to help him. Ultimately, she took a big risk to help him in his great quest.

It was difficult to get behind the gracious, well-mannered and highly polished exterior to find out about the real woman beneath. Rheanna was a very private person and rarely dropped her guard. However, one very emotional day, I got to see the real Rheanna, the person behind the powdered face-mask. Rheanna lived in a different dimension a very long time ago. She had no family and there would be no descendants who could be around today. I have kept her confidence all of these long years. I don’t think she would hold it against me now to share some of her secrets with my readers. She was always the tenacious researcher who vowed that no reference be left unread and demanded that no story be left untold. She would agree that now is long past the time when her story should be told.

It was an ordinary day in Rhakotis. The Great Library was its normal whirl of efficient, quiet activity. We had been studying an ancient text for several days without success. It was written in an ancient language which we had never seen before. It seemed to predate the Great Old Ones. It was on a piece of extremely fragile parchment and Rheanna had painstakingly transcribed the symbols onto paper that we could use to study them. It had taken many days and many pots of tea before we cracked them.

It became clear that the text concerned the sentient species that existed before the rise of humankind. At the time, I was already aware that Simon had met Marduk, the Gardener of Eden, and The Captain on the Ship of Souls. The physical description in the ancient text confirmed their pedigree. I mentioned this to Rheanna and was shocked by the response. She began to tremble, or perhaps shake would be a better description. She appeared flustered and lost her normal calm demeanour. Her eyes began to fill with tears and she struggled and eventually failed to withhold a series of sobs.

It took some time and several pots of tea to get Rheanna to calm down. She apologised profusely for her behaviour and then, slowly and reluctantly at first, but with increasing alacrity  and clarity she told me her story.

****

“Like you, I was born in Karo to a very poor family. We didn’t have very much but we were happy. My father was a fisherman. He didn’t own a boat but worked as a deckhand for someone else. My mother was an orphan and had grown up on the streets. She did odd jobs, cleaning and sewing to help support us. I was their first child. She couldn’t read or write but she would tell me stories from memory. I first heard about Gilgamesh from my mother and longed to see the Hero and his Sword. Isn’t it funny how things turn out?” Rheanna paused for a moment, wiped a few tears from her eyes and seemed to pull herself together again.

“I was about to turn six when there was a double tragedy. My mother was pregnant and I was hoping for a little brother to help to look after. Her pregnancy was difficult and her labour long and debilitating. The baby was large and in the breech position. When he was eventually free, he was stillborn. My exhausted mother passed out and bled to death. When I heard about Ju’s tragic death on that cold birthing stone, it took me back to my own past. My father was devastated but had to keep working. Two weeks later, he was swept overboard by a freak wave and drowned. I learned about it on my sixth birthday. I have never celebrated my birthday since. I was left alone in the world.” She seemed stronger now. The tears were gone. It was as if she had come to terms with these tragedies long ago and put them behind her.

“There was worse to come though. My grandfather, my father’s father, still lived and he begrudgingly took me in. I was no longer allowed to go to school but had to slave for him all day. If I did the slightest thing wrong he would beat me with a stick. At night, he made me share his bed and the things he did to me made the stick seem pleasant.” Rheanna shuddered at the memory but was not to be deterred.

“I could only put up with it for so long. One day, I stole what little money there was in the house and stowed away on the ferry to Makkah. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got there but I just had to get away. Half-way through the journey, a great storm sprang up. Afterwards, I heard people say that it was like nothing they had ever seen. It was as if it were supernatural. I was hiding behind some baskets of fruit on the deck and both the baskets and I were blown overboard as if we were feathers. I sank into the cold water and saw my brief life pass before my eyes. I kissed my mother for a final time and received a hug from my father. The water was filling my lungs. I had no strength left. I closed my eyes and died.”

****

Well, as a bard you can imagine that this story had my complete attention. Rheanna looked at me as if to say, ‘I bet you don’t believe me!’ In truth, I found her story compelling and I believed every word. You only had to look into her eyes to know that she spoke the truth. I didn’t press her and we took more tea and spoke about the weather. Eventually, she continued.

****

“I woke up in a bunk bed on another ship. I thought that a passing ship must have spotted me and plucked me from the water. There was no one around so I got up. It was a small wooden sailing boat. I left the cabin and went on deck. It was foggy and the air smelt strange. I know now, from Simon’s experience, that I was in Limbo. At the time, I thought that we sailed through a normal fog. I saw a light under another door and opened it. I entered a warm cosy cabin. At the time, I couldn’t have been paying much attention. I only remember red wallpaper, though Simon described it more vividly. I now know that I was indeed dead and that I sailed on the Ship of Souls with an old man who looked after me and taught me many things, not least an inquisitiveness to find the truth in history.  He looked a lot like Manfred. He was a Great Sage and his name was Al-Alim.” Rheanna’s expression was dreamy now, as if she were being transported back to a favourite place and time.

“I don’t know how long I stayed there. We seemed to exist outside of normal time, which I now know to be the case. Other than a crew man who brought us food and drink, we never saw anyone else. Then one day a bell rang and Al-Alim told me it was time to see the Captain. As I left the cabin, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror on the wall that I had never noticed before. Instead of a frightened, abused child of six, I saw a proud young woman of at least sixteen. How it had happened in just a few days I could not explain.”

****

Rheanna paused again and looked at me. She held my gaze and it was as if she looked into my soul. Only wizards have done that to me. “I believe that I can trust you,” she said. “What I tell you now, I do in absolute confidence. You must never tell another living soul, especially Simon or Manfred. Do you promise?”

Of course I promised and until now I have honoured that promise. Now that it is all behind us, I fell free to tell Rheanna’s story. After all, why else would she tell a bard?”

****

“I was taken aback by the Captain. She was a strange-looking stick-like woman with funny eyes of different colours and only three fingers on each hand. But she was friendly enough and soon put me at my ease. The text we deciphered today took me back to that meeting. She spoke of a tapestry, that I didn’t understand until we learned so much more recently. She talked about fate and free will and how we all had choices to make. She told me that she could give me a second chance, because I had a very important role to play. I could stop the tapestry from unravelling. Al-Alim had prepared me well because I readily agreed to my assigned task. I looked forward with anticipation to the life I had ahead of me. I used some words then, that I have heard you utter too. I accepted a Quest for Knowledge. I know that I have a vital role still to play as I think do you. I have dedicated my life to finding out the information that Simon needs or will need to defeat Gadiel. The Ship of Souls sailed into Rhakotis harbour late one night with the lighthouse burning and the Great Sage Adapa guiding us in. Al-Amin and the Captain saw me off. Each had some parting words for me. ‘There are few wizards left in FirstWorld these days. Not all of them can be trusted. But, when Manfred calls be ready to answer,’ Al-Alim said. I began working in the Great Library in the lowest position that existed. I worked my way up to eventually become Custodian. I never forgot those words and when the summons to the Council of the Wise came, I was ready. ‘One day you will have a choice to make. Will you honour a wizard or a bard? Simon will face the same dilemma. Be guided by his choice,’ the Captain said. I’m still waiting for that day to arrive. I think that you and I are destined to meet again.”

****

The look Rheanna gave me made me shiver. I wasn’t to know then what was ahead of me. Unknowingly, I was able to play a pivotal role in helping Simon break the time loop that we were all stuck in. Rheanna played an important part in making it happen and she was forced to choose between her loyalty to Manfred and her friendship with me. The Captain’s words came to pass.

Rheanna was vindicated. Unfortunately, she never knew whether her work turned out to be successful or not. Simon and Jhamed disappeared from our timeline. Rheanna continued to study and held the post of Custodian of the Great Library for a record number of years. She published many books – almost as many as I have. She lived to a ripe old age but never married or had a family. Her line ended with her death. After her death, in her honour, Manfred had an extra statue erected in the Avenue of Heroes

KtB

09/23/16

More About Manfred

I had recently been appointed as official Bard of Elannort. While we were planning for the siege and subsequent Battle of Elannort and Simon was lost in the past, I took the opportunity to interview Manfred. I asked him about his early days, the fall of his mentor Bedwyr, the coming of Gilgamesh and his battle with Gadiel and his hopes for Simon and the future. He was refreshingly honest with me and spoke about the three great mistakes of his life. You can download the transcript of the interview for free here or read it below.

KtB

6 Manfred palantir

Interview with Manfred

Manfred the Magician Leader of the Wise interviewed at Melasurej on 12th day of Autumn Year of Creation 50506 by Kris the Bard.

Kris. Manfred, thank you for your time. I appreciate that you are worried and distracted because Simon is lost in the past and our enemies are gathering at the gates. I would like to ask you about your early days and the last time Gadiel threatened FirstWorld.

Manfred. You are welcome, Kris. We have done everything possible. I have faith that Simon will return and we will defeat the enemy. Ask away.

K. Can we go right back to the beginning? What is your first memory?

M. That’s a long time ago.

K. Forty-three thousand nine hundred and thirty-nine years to be precise.

M. You don’t have to remind me; I feel very old. I suppose my first memory is seeing Melasurej for the first time together with the rest of the Sages and feeling very small and impotent. I remember the scales in the great hall were perfectly in balance. It was the only time that I saw them like that. I was a very minor wizard and most of us didn’t have a clue about what we were supposed to do. We looked up to the seven Great Sages for guidance.

K. Did you ever see the Great Old Ones?

M. No, only the Great Sages met them and received their orders. They did not speak about it.

K. Where did you find guidance?

M. Fortunately the Great Sage Bedwyr saw something in me, though I don’t know what it was. He took me under his wing and I learned much from him. I guess that I was almost his apprentice.

K. What would you say were the most important things you learned from him?

M. Well, I learnt many small things, particularly how to use the power in my staff effectively. But it was the big things that I fall back on now. A belief that we are doing the right thing defending the Balance; that we can make a difference; that even when things are at their darkest there remains a small light of hope that will eventually lead to victory over adversity.

K. Bedwyr fell defending Elvenhome from Gadiel’s forces in YoC 11144. How did he pass to stone? I read somewhere that Gadiel himself wasn’t present. How did you feel?

M. I was devastated and felt so guilty. I felt that I should have been there with him. If I had been, perhaps he would have lived or I could have fallen in his place. He had sent me to discuss certain aspects of our battle plan with King Endymion. The enemy was on the borders of Elvenhome and threatening to cross the Buranan. We needed some special elven magic to wash them away as they tried to cross. He was planning to delay them and then fall back across the river. He had a small army of men and elves with him. It’s true that Gadiel wasn’t there and that’s probably why the rest of the Great Sages thought that one Great Sage was enough to deal with it. Adapa was never very keen on getting his hands dirty. There was a powerful being leading their army. Just like Gadiel seems to have recruited Weylyn this time, he’d done something similar then.

K. Was it another wizard gone bad?

M. No. I think it was a minor God of Chaos. He brought a host of Chaos creatures with him that terrified the humans in the defending army. I heard a first-hand account from an elven commander who survived the battle. Bedwyr was magnificent, moving around the battlefield, raising men’s spirits and destroying the chaos creatures. Eventually, he and the God came face to face. It was an almighty struggle. It appeared that Bedwyr would win and the God’s power waned as his supporters began to panic. With one final surge of power the God shattered Bedwyr’s staff, but the wizard wasn’t finished and jumped forward, grabbing the God around the throat all the while shouting incantations. The two of them died together. I arrived back at the battlefield just in time to see his body turn to dust and blow away. I was overcome by grief and anger and I shocked myself by the way I used my staff that day. I received a first-hand understanding of what the Hero must go through. Without its leader the enemy was routed and we carried the day. I vowed then that Bedwyr’s death would not be in vain.

K. Were the remaining Great Sages more open to fighting Gadiel after that?

M. Unfortunately not. My pleadings fell on deaf ears. However the dwarves and the elves were more open to action because they knew how close they had been to destruction. I had a feeling that the combination of Excalibur and the Blood Ruby would be quite a weapon. The King Beneath the Mountain, Darian son of Dail son of Dallin and the King of the Elves, Endymion, brought together the symbols of their cultures and handed them over to the elven smiths to create Fleischaker. The Sword immediately killed the two smiths who made it and we used all of the magic available to the three races to fashion Vasek to partially control it.

K. And you found a Hero in Gilgamesh to wield it?

M. Well, he found us actually. It was either fate or great synchronicity. He was the greatest Hero to have ever existed and really the first incarnation of the Everlasting Hero. He could control Fleischaker and revelled in using it to kill.

K. Do you think Simon will be the same?

M. Simon is very different to Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh was much more like Ubadah is. I think that Simon will learn to temper the Sword’s excesses with compassion. At least, I hope so for the sight of the Hero destroying entire armies is not something I’d like to see again.

K. Is that what happened on the Battle Plain?

M. Yes. Gilgamesh destroyed Gadiel’s army single-handedly. It was a terrible slaughter.

K. Were you not involved?

M. When the Everlasting Hero is in full flight, it is best to stand well back or you are likely to become collateral damage.

K. As Simon has already discovered to his cost with Juliana.

M. Indeed.

K. What happened between Gadiel and Gilgamesh?

M. To the best of our understanding, with farsight and hindsight, they fought themselves to exhaustion. They were so evenly matched that neither could seize the advantage. Then Gadiel tricked Gilgamesh. He offered him the thing that he sought most; immortality. When Gilgamesh dropped his guard, Gadiel tore his still-beating heart from his chest.

K. So why didn’t Gadiel carry the day?

M. In his moment of triumph, he picked up Fleischaker and the Sword reacted as it had with the elven smiths. It couldn’t completely absorb Gadiel because he has no soul, or at least not one like ours. However, it severely damaged him. Somehow, he managed to flee the field and sought refuge in the mountains. Along the way, he had to abandon the Sword, which otherwise might have completely destroyed him.

K. Why didn’t you finish him off while you had the chance?

M. I have made three terrible mistakes during my long life. I know that there are a myriad of smaller ones but there are three that gnaw at my conscience even to this day. The first was to lose Bedwyr. The second was to allow Gadiel to flee the field that day. I know now that I had the power to destroy him but at the time I was too afraid. He had just destroyed Gilgamesh and he now had Fleischaker. I’m ashamed to say that I too fled the field that day.

K. You may note a tear in my eye and a quaver in my voice. I was, still am, a craven coward. I have never seen you afraid, even when the wargs threatened to overwhelm us. There is hope for me if even you were too afraid to act.

M. Only a fool is never afraid. The test is whether we act through our fear or are frozen by it. I learned a great lesson that day. Your time to act will come, of that I’m sure. Try not to freeze.

K. Did the wise not act and follow him into the mountains?

M. The Council of the Wise eventually met. Five of the six remaining Great Sages decided that they would seek out Gadiel. Dammar decided to go off and do his own thing. Because of my prior involvement, I volunteered to go with them but I was snubbed. I was sent away with Mandred on a series of missions to live with primitive humans and help to preserve the Balance with minimum interference. It was the worst time of my life.

K. What happened to the Great Sages?

M. I’m not even sure that they did anything. My research in recent years has failed to turn up any information. One by one, over time, they passed to stone. Gadiel slowly recovered and here we are today.

K. You mentioned three terrible mistakes. What was the third?

M. All the things that Bedwyr taught me, I forgot them all. I was so wrapped up in my own misery that I neglected everything. The greatest event in the history of the universe was taking place under my nose and I didn’t even notice. I witnessed the Sundering and didn’t even realise.

K. What did that teach you?

M. Well, specifically it allowed me to identify Simon Redhead as our next Everlasting Hero. More generally, it made me work hard ever since to put things right. Jhamed had been born in Elannort just before the Sundering. I admit that I caused a bit too much trouble trying to get the wise to search for Simon. At the 776th Council of the Wise, I made a bit of a fool of myself. So much so, that I was renamed Manfred the Fool and banished from Elannort. Jhamed was grown up by then and he decided to travel with me. Our adventures would fill many a book, but we were always seeking the incarnation of Simon Redhead that would be our Everlasting Hero. Unfortunately, not everyone at the Council of the Wise was on our side. My efforts also alerted the enemy to Simon’s importance and they sought him too, to destroy him.

K. Do you think that we have found him, the right incarnation I mean?

M. Yes, I’m confident we have. I’m sure he’ll be back soon, the Sundering will occur as it did all those years ago and we’ll defeat the enemy at the gate.

K. Manfred, I appreciate your openness and candour and I fervently hope that you are right. Thank you for your time.

M. Thank you, Kris.

Certified as a full and accurate transcript of my interview with Manfred the Magician at Melasurej on the 12th day of Autumn Year of Creation 50506 by Kris the Bard.

Great hall

09/16/16

The Gods of Chaos – Meeting with Shamash – Extract from A Vision of the Future

Shamash

Manfred and Kris bid him goodnight and left. Jhamed fidgeted on the chair. “The thing I don’t understand is why Chaos wants to turn against Gadiel. He seems to be their greatest ally.”

“From what I have seen, even the gods don’t trust each other and they most certainly don’t trust Gadiel.” Simon yawned. He heard Jhamed start to say something but he couldn’t keep his ears and eyes open. When he next opened them, a naked Txazop was sitting on the end of his bed. Jhamed was nowhere to be seen.

They crossed a muddy, foul-smelling river by a rotting wooden bridge. It seemed to Simon that it would collapse at any moment and cast them into the ugly waters below. They made it across safely, however, and entered a strange garden. If there was an antithesis to Elvenhome, this was it. They entered an area canopied by trees. These trees seemed old and diseased. The leaves were pale green and mottled with ugly yellow and brown blotches. The trunks and branches looked rotten and carried stinking brown fungi that released foetid spores into the air. A few half-dead vines drooped like dusty ancient curtains in a long-abandoned house. The ground beneath the trees was dank and infertile. A few straggling weeds competed with enormous toadstools to colonise the slimy earth. “Welcome to the Garden of Shamash,” Txazop said. The Singing God did not look well. His body was pockmarked with weeping black sores that exuded an obnoxious odour that was both sweet and foul at the same time. It brought to mind the only time he had eaten durian fruit in a Malaysian village. Simon looked at his own body, but found it in good health.

“Shamash is the God of decay, disease and physical corruption. His garden once stretched to the Serpent’s Maze. He had a secret plan to take over and corrupt Zeench’s domain. Of course, Zeench knew it was coming and thwarted him. They have been deadly enemies ever since. He doesn’t get on well with Kharmeth either; he feels that Kharmeth steals too many healthy bodies before disease and corruption have had time to set in.” They passed out of the trees, into a weak sunlight that illuminated a series of oily foetid pools of black water that bounded a path leading to a wreck of a wooden house. The sky hummed with the noise of a million black flies, while their feet squashed a thousand fat maggots with every step. The house seemed to be within seconds of crashing to the ground. The timbers were all rotten, and the joists were lying at strange angles. The roof had lost most of its tiles and the windows were all broken. The front door was hanging off its hinges. They squeezed through the gap, without touching the door, and entered the house.

The room was empty, but for two things and two people. An enormous cauldron stood on a fire in the middle of the room. The sight of it immediately made Simon think of Freda. Rather than smoke, it seemed to exude coldness and absorb light, so that an impenetrable blackness surrounded it. A grotesque being stood behind it, stirring the pot with a rotten tree branch. He was about the same size as Simon in height, though perhaps four times his volume. He was naked too and the folds of fat hung from his belly to his knees, obscuring everything beneath. His head was almost bald, just a few straggling hairs hung from his head to below his deformed shoulders. He turned and smiled as they entered and his few remaining teeth were black and rotten. His face was putrid with boils that oozed yellow pus, which ran down his face and dripped into the cauldron. Had Simon not been told Shamash was a man, he would have thought the opposite. Two enormous man boobs dangled from his chest. They seemed to be inflamed with some awful infection. A green liquid dripped from his black nipples. Simon wished that he hadn’t eaten.

At the back of the room stood a golden cage. Where the cauldron seemed to absorb light, the cage seemed to glow with exuberance. Inside, seated upon a simple bench, was the most beautiful woman Simon had ever seen. Her blonde hair cascaded over a perfect elven face and flowed on to the floor, hiding her nakedness, yet somehow Simon knew her body would be perfection too. Her skin was pure alabaster. Her eyes were a sparkling blue. Just a glance at her settled his nausea and made him feel better than he had in days.

Shamash laughed. “Welcome Txazop, good of you to bring your friend. Sorry about the pox, it’s a new disease I’m working on. It’s a bit like AIDS and the bubonic plague combined. I think it will be a great hit. It will be sexually transmitted, of course. I always like to give people a bit of enjoyment before they decay.” He laughed again and gave the cauldron a stir. The woman in the cage did not move. “Now, Simon, I have to speak to you. It’s a tough job being Shamash but someone has to do it. Everyone comes to me in the end. Well, almost everyone. Not those who die in their prime from accidents or get cut down in battle. Your Sword has robbed me of too many.” Simon instinctively felt for Kin Slayer but it was not there. “It is not welcome here, though I’m sure Kharmeth would swoon over it. Nevertheless, you are welcome and to show my good intents, I will not infect you with anything nasty today. I suppose you are wondering why I would seek your help, when I despise your Sword so much. I guess you are also thinking what could I possibly have to offer you in return.” Those thoughts were crossing Simon’s mind. “You have seen my friend. You can barely take your eyes off her. Yes, she’s my friend and my sister. It’s such a shame that I have to keep her locked up but she does so much damage, finding cures for my plagues.”

Simon was feeling confused. Txazop scratched a bubo and it burst with a whoosh, emitting a stream of foul-smelling yellow pus. He whispered to Simon, “She is Shamesh, Goddess of Healing, and sister to Shamash.”

“Txazop is correct and my offer is this. Side with me and I shall allow Shamesh to cure your wife.”

Simon looked at the beautiful woman, who now seemed to be smiling, showing perfect white teeth. He felt a surge of hope and the words were out of his mouth almost before his brain had thought them. “What must I do?”

“It might surprise you to know, but I do have enemies that I cannot defeat with my normal methods. I have a need for your Sword. It will be a simple arrangement; you destroy them and I shall restore your wife.”

“And what of my son?”

“Unfortunately, he is beyond help. However, Shamesh can heal the pain of his loss. Think on it carefully, for the time of choosing is almost upon us.” Shamash returned to stirring the pot. Shamesh moved her head and held Simon’s gaze for an instant.

A vision of the future book cover small

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09/11/16

Their Last Journey? Extract from A View of the Past

Consumed by the need to change the past and save the lives of his parents, Simon has abandoned Manfred and the rest of his friends to embark upon a quest to find a way to travel to the past. Only Jhamed has accompanied him, but Simon knows if he finds a way it will be a journey he must undertake alone.

Next morning, they divided the horses and supplies and farewelled Gamying. They gave him Ubadah’s map and the compass. He headed northwest, following the vague remnants of the Sand Road towards Corum. The weather was cool and clear, the wind having swung around to easterly again. If it stayed clear, they would navigate by mountains, heading west of the Three Witches and plotting a course that would take them between the Hills of Despair and the Hills of Hope. Jhamed predicted that the Hopeless Pass would lead them to the Middle Sea. Simon felt a renewed sense of purpose. He was glad he had shared his plan with Jhamed; it had taken a load off his mind. It had also revealed a way to gain access to the sole remaining time portal at Melasurej. Things were looking brighter again.

His spirits were brightened further by the good weather they enjoyed. They travelled quickly and easily, diverting from their chosen path only to visit the occasional oasis. They chatted about many things, but avoided talking about the fact that this was probably their last journey together. They also steered clear of anything that involved mentioning Manfred. Four days after leaving the ruins of Ilium, with a weak winter sun on their backs, they entered the Hopeless Pass. It was a narrow strip of land, surrounded on both sides by towering hills. Simon wondered whether it had been Ubadah who had named them Despair and Hope. The canyon reminded Simon of old western movies he had seen. He imagined that they were entering a trap. It would turn out to be a dead end and the natives would surround them and pick them off with their bows and arrows. Instead, the pass widened and as they left the hills behind it opened into extensive grassed plains. Now Simon really thought he’d gone to the Wild West for the plains were full of animals that resembled bison. The herds seemed untroubled by the visitors and just stopped chewing and stared at them with huge bovine eyes as they rode past. Unfortunately, the bison brought multitudes of flies, which increasingly annoyed both riders and horses. It brought to mind the ride to Hamadan and the terrible slaughter that had followed. Simon felt his spirits slipping again.

That night, they made a fire from dry dung and took turns to keep watch. “Where there are herbivores there will be carnivores,” Jhamed had said. In the darkness, Simon heard the distant howling of wolves and kept the fire burning strongly. He had no stomach for further slaughter, even if they were just ordinary wolves. After Jhamed relieved him, he fell asleep with the memories of the wargs throwing themselves on his blade. The next morning Jhamed told him that he had cried out loud and often in his sleep.

Once they reached the foothills of the Fang Mountains, they followed them in a south-westerly direction. The mountain peaks were white with new winter snow and Simon shivered despite the sunshine and his cloak. He was glad they wouldn’t have to cross the mountains. Another day’s ride saw the mountains begin to fall away and at dusk, they came upon the deserted shore of the Middle Sea. Despite the chill in the air, they both immediately disrobed and broke out the cakes of soap from their packs. The desire to be clean again overcame their reluctance to enter the cold water. The horses looked on with seeming amusement as the two shivering men scrubbed themselves. Simon even removed Kin Slayer before entering the water.

Later, dressed in clean clothes and in front of a roaring fire, they feasted on fresh fish that Jhamed had quickly and ingeniously caught with an improvised fishing rod. Simon patted his belly. “It’s good to be clean, warm and well-fed again. Which way do we head now?”

Jhamed yawned. “I don’t know what lies to the west. I think we would be best served heading east towards Fang Mouth. If needs must, we may have to ride all the way to Rhakotis and that will take us several days. Though the days are short at this time of year, we may make Fang Mouth by nightfall tomorrow. Would that the Red Lion was still standing, for they used to serve the best pint of ale north of Karo.”

Their blessed run with the weather continued as they made their way to Fang Mouth. Simon didn’t know what to expect. The town had been burned to the ground by pirates four years earlier and deserted by its inhabitants. They forded the sluggish River Fang, fortunate that it was winter and the glacier melt was at its lowest, and rode into a growing new village awash with building activity. Jhamed seemed pleased that one of the first places that had been rebuilt was the Red Lion. They took the last available room with twin beds and ordered twin baths. They luxuriated in steamy bliss, downing a few pints of ale as they soaked away the rigours of their journey.

“Don’t tell me you won’t miss these moments,” Jhamed called through the rising steam as a maid struggled in with a jug of near boiling water to warm up their baths.

Simon sighed with pleasure as the renewed heat in the water seeped and soaked into his body. “No, but I won’t miss the weeks of cold uncomfortable nights, dry tack for dinner, and smelling worse than those herds of bison we passed.” Jhamed made to splash him and then cursed. “What’s wrong?”

“I just dropped half a tankard of ale in my bath.”

“Never mind, they say it makes a good shampoo,” Simon laughed. It was true; he would miss Jhamed more than he was prepared to admit.

They ate and drank well that night, keeping to their room to avoid drawing attention to themselves. Next morning, Jhamed ventured out to seek passage to Rhakotis and returned within the hour. Simon had been lying on his bed, thinking, yet again, about whether he was doing the right thing. He remembered a two-headed lemur creature. Your destiny is somehow linked to the elves. You must change the past to save the future. Seek out your father. Knowledge of where you come from is important. He wondered how he would save the elves by going into the past. Perhaps it would open up the possibility for young Simon.

“Are you still lazing in bed, while I’m doing all the work?” Jhamed interrupted his reverie.

“Did you find anything?”

“There’s a small fishing fleet working out of here again. I have hired a fishing boat to take us to Rhakotis. I told the captain that we are two traders from Tamarlan heading south to find new opportunities. You’ll need to keep Kin Slayer well hidden. I only needed to use a small part of the gold we have left. Get up and get packed. We leave on the high tide at midday. We have to sell our horses and excess supplies. I’ll try to do a deal with the inn keeper to sell them for us.”

Jhamed left again and Simon stretched. It would be good to see Rheanna again. He expected to find the answer to his problem in Rhakotis.

10a Rheanna great library

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09/1/16

Manfred’s Vision (as directed by Gadiel) – Aftermath of Armageddon

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A short while later, they gathered in the Temple of Muses. It seemed to be the appropriate place to carry out the communication. People travelled here from all over FirstWorld to receive guidance and inspiration. Often, they reported hearing communications from beyond their comprehension and were moved to write, sculpt, or compose work that had previously seemed impossible. Manfred solemnly handed his staff to Taran. “Guard it well, my friend and do not hand it back to me unless you are certain that I am fully compos mentis.” They had prepared a comfortable seat for him, in front of a small table. He sat, closed his eyes, and took the Palantir in both hands. He focussed his mind and muttered a few words of magic to guard his thoughts. He opened his eyes and looked into the centre of the Palantir. At first, he saw nothing. Gradually the ball seemed to suck him in. Clouds floated in front of his eyes, swirling grey and brown, as if he looked into limbo. He focussed his mind and thought a single word. Gadiel.

The response was instantaneous. The ball went black, so that he appeared to be looking into endless night. He heard a voice in his head and felt a presence try to invade his mind. He focussed hard and his defences held. So, you know me, Manfred the Magician, and you are prepared for me. Perhaps I underestimated you. The fool Weylyn certainly did. But I sense that you don’t know me really. You have heard the name, Gadiel. You have heard me called the Dark God. You remember my victory over Gilgamesh. You were responsible for my pain weren’t you? You caused the Sword to be forged. I will not forget that, Manfred. You will feel the pain that I felt that day. However, I recovered and now I’m stronger than ever with not just a universe but also a multiverse to conquer. You are such a fool, Manfred; like all of the wizards my brothers made. Every one was flawed. I sense your bewilderment. Poor Manfred, he doesn’t understand. You think that I’m a god, a creation of the humans. You think that I’m the spawn of some great evil hidden in the depths of the mountains and unwittingly released by the dwarves. You think that you can defeat me, using your reborn hero and his sword. You poor misguided fool, Manfred. Know me for who I am. For I am indeed one of those you call the Great Old Ones, though they imprisoned me here on this backwater planet because I did not agree with their views and plans. They should have killed me, but it was against their beliefs. Had I been in their position, I would not have hesitated for an instant. The conquest of the multiverse is but a stepping-stone on my pathway to revenge. They buried me deep in my mountain prison and secured me with all of the science they could muster. But I was able to break free eventually, with the help of the dwarves. Know me, Manfred, for I am Satan. Hah, I feel your fear and I feed on it. Yet you still think that I can be defeated. How can it be? My brothers created everything here, so it stands to reason you are all weaker than I am. Oh, I see, you think your hero will save you again. Last time was an aberration. However, it will never come to that again. I have already dealt with Simon Redhead. I will show you. Look into the Palantir. It has the ability to show you things that have been, things that are, or things that are yet to be. I will show you one of each. Enjoy them, Manfred the Fool, and admit your defeat. Open the doors of Melasurej to me and I will make your death a merciful one. Resist me, and you will know pain without end, for I have the power to make you live for eternity. Manfred convulsed and pulled his hands free of the stone. He felt weak and light-headed. His companions had concern etched on their faces.

“What did you see?” Rheanna asked.

“You have much to research,” Manfred replied, “but there are things I must still see.” He placed his hands on the Palantir again and focussed his mind and his eyes. This time he seemed to be sucked into the ball and float above the scenes that he witnessed. He saw and heard everything but could not interact.

****

Simon lay on the cold cobbles of a cellar floor. His arms and legs were shackled to the wall. He seemed barely conscious as he struggled to lick a few drops of moisture off the clammy cellar wall. He moved as if he were in great pain. He was naked, filthy, and bleeding from a great many places. As he struggled to move, he cried out in his torment. The door opened and an ugly gaoler lumbered in. “I told you, no noise, scum.” His booted foot thudded into Simon’s chest and Manfred heard a crunching sound like ribs being shattered. The second kick crushed Simon’s exposed testicles, with a soft thud. The third caught him on the side of the head and seemed to render him unconscious. The thug gave him one more kick in the teeth and left him lying in his own excrement and blood. Before he left the room, the bully turned back towards his prisoner. “I’ve hardly started with you yet. Tomorrow you will learn what real pain is, red boy.” Manfred watched for a long time. There was no movement. At least, Simon would be spared tomorrow’s pain. Manfred felt as though his heart were breaking with anguish. “Noooooo!” he screamed. Instinctively, he knew. Simon was dead.

****

The scene changed. Manfred gratefully exchanged the foetid air of the cellar for the cleansing smell of a sea breeze. He stood on a bridge over a great river. He recognised it immediately; he was in Ur on the bridge over the River Eden. He was facing south, seeing the river break into the many strands of the Eden Delta before it flowed into the Gulf of Eden. The peace was quickly shattered. A fleet of ships, unlike anything he had seen before was sailing unnaturally quickly upstream, against the current. Each ship was built in the likeness of a great beast, with the prow carved into the beast’s head. As they passed under the bridge, he saw a serpent, a scorpion, a reptilian representation that resembled an alligator, and a feline shape with the head of a lion. The boats contained heavily armed warriors, all dressed in colourful armour in the form of their chosen creature. He turned around to watch the ships tie up at the wharves and the warriors leap ashore. What little resistance they met was quickly dispatched. Manfred’s heart fell as he watched the city of Ur begin to burn.

****

The smell of smoke grew stronger as the scene changed again. He stood in a burnt, destroyed landscape. Everywhere was black with ash. A few smouldering stumps were all that was left of trees. A polluted river flowed through the destruction. He didn’t know where he was. Something moved and caught his eye. A man emerged from the river. He was a thin, small man with strange orange hair and deformed hands and feet. He turned towards him and Manfred saw his anguished eyes; one grey and one green. The man spoke to him. “Please, kill me. Look what they have done to my Eden. The One Tree is destroyed. The elves are all dead. Why do I still live? Please end it, now!”

****

Manfred blinked and he was back in the Temple of Muses at Rhakotis. He leaned back, emotionally fatigued, and released the stone. His companions watched with concern but said nothing until he was ready to speak. “What did you observe while I was connected to the stone?” he asked them.

Taran responded. “You sat still as a rock and stared into the centre of the stone. You went deathly pale and on occasion cried out in anguish.”

“I have been given a glimpse of the past, the present, and the future – at least as Gadiel sees them or wants us to see them. I have learned something incredible about Gadiel. I fear sharing the information with you, lest all hope be lost, which is what Gadiel wants. Yet, I must honour and respect you and I cannot carry this burden alone.” He told them everything, sparing none of the horrific details. Many tears flowed and it was some time before they could speak again. Then they resolved to continue the fight, to make sure that Gadiel’s visions would not come to pass.

KtB

08/26/16

The Ice Stair – Extract from Quest for Knowledge

Next morning they set off again at first light. Gamying was now leading, as he was most familiar with the mountains. “We must make the foot of the Ice Stair before nightfall. There is a hut there and there should be food and fuel for a fire. Then we will only have to spend one more night in the mountains. Tomorrow we shall rest in the mountain halls of Dia son of Din son of Dane and taste dwarven hospitality.”

It was a tough climb. The snow got thicker the higher they climbed, while the air got thinner. They were on a clear path now, the winter route from the south to Devil’s Mouth, usually used only on the rare occasions when the more direct route to Fang was blocked by snow. This year, the Fang path had been closed since Late Autumn. The path to the east of Mount Despair always got less snow than the path on the west side. In addition, snow that built up on the Ice Stair would often avalanche down the western path and block it. The two paths met at the Ice Stair, which was essentially a huge staircase cut into the permafrost. It ran up the side of Mount Fang, arriving at the top of the Fang Glacier. From there it was an easy climb up to the entrance to Devil’s Mouth, over deep packed snow in both summer and winter. Below the Ice Stair, there would usually be fields of loose rocks with abundant wild flowers in spring and summer. It seemed that there would be few wild flowers this spring season.

Gamying encouraged a quick pace, anxious to reach the hut at the base of the Ice Stair before dark. Manfred had a feeling that they weren’t alone and remembered Dawit’s description of fell creatures and wolves. He shivered, and not just from the bone-chilling cold wind. As they climbed higher, the amount of snow increased until they were struggling to force a path through the frozen drifts. They stopped around midday, exhausted and hungry. They ate a miserable meal from their cold rations. Gamying spoke for them all. “We have travelled less than a third of the distance to the Ice Stair and already more than half of the day is past. I fear for our lives if we have to spend another night outside. And not just from the cold. Have you noticed that we are being watched?”

Manfred sighed. “I had hoped that we could make the journey in secret, without awakening their interest in us. I also hoped that it was the fears of an old man leading to paranoia, but if you have noticed it too…” His voice trailed off into a long silence.

“What is it? What are you talking about?” Kris asked. “I haven’t noticed anything except the bitter cold.”

“They are there,” Aglaral stated. “I have felt them all day. I think they discovered us last night. We were lucky they did not attack us as we slept with no fire. We cannot be so lax again. We must take turns to stand guard and we need fire at all costs. It is fire that they fear the most.”

“How do you know so much about them?” Gamying asked.

“I make it my business to know my enemies. The library at Wizards’ Keep contains much important knowledge.”

“I’ll wager that wizards know even more. Will you please tell me what you are talking about?” Kris pleaded.

“They are wargs,” said Manfred. There is a pack on our trail. They are not ordinary wolves, I’m afraid. They are much bigger and more powerful. They have the power of language and communicate with each other and their lycanthrope. They are supernatural creatures. I fear Weylyn’s involvement here. Well, I have little choice now. I didn’t want to draw attention to us. But it seems needs must. Let us move on. It’s unlikely they will attack in daylight. Does anyone have a rope?”

Aglaral produced a rope from his pack and the four travellers secured themselves tightly together, Manfred in the front and Gamying bringing up the rear. “Secure your clothes and cover your faces,” Manfred ordered. He removed his staff from inside his cloak and held it before him. He spoke strange words in a language that none of the others understood. His staff burned blue, then orange, and finally red. The very mountains seemed to rumble as a strange wind began to roar. The wind seemed to emanate from just behind them. As it passed them, it seemed no more than a cool breeze that gently propelled them forward. As it passed Manfred’s staff, it seemed to take on new energy and become a hot tornado that cut a swathe through the snow blocking their way. They shielded their eyes from the swirling mix of snow, water and steam as they quickly moved forward, seemingly walking on air. I might as well have erected a large neon sign, saying Manfred is here.

They didn’t stop until they made the hut at the base of the Ice Stair. It was close to dark. The hut was built from grey stone, without windows. It had a chimney and a doorway, which had contained a sturdy oak door. The door was now broken and splintered. The hut was empty, a cold rock floor with a few wooden benches. The cupboard doors were smashed and the cupboards were empty. The beds had been destroyed. The walls were covered with obscene graffiti, drawn with something particularly obnoxious. As well as the foul obscenities, there were many symbols scrawled on the walls. They looked like an A in a circle, with the bar of the letter extended to form a diameter. The room smelt putrid, like a battleground latrine.

Manfred collapsed on the floor, totally spent from his exertions. “I must sleep, I cannot help you now. Build a fire. Defend the hut.” May the Balance preserve us; I am too exhausted to do it.

The silence was suddenly filled with raucous howling. Gamying, Aglaral and Kris needed little more motivation to do as Manfred had urged. “It would appear that since we have made our presence known, the wargs have chosen to do the same. Let us hope their fear of Manfred keeps them at bay for a while,” Gamying said.

The three men quickly gathered wood from the shattered door, cupboards and furniture. They soon had a small fire burning close to the doorway. “We must be careful to make sure we have enough fuel to last all night,” Aglaral said.

They made Manfred as comfortable as they could and the three men huddled around the small fire wrapped in all of their clothing. The hut kept the cold wind mostly at bay, which was some consolation for the disgusting smell of urine and faeces, which constantly assailed their nostrils. They collected snow and ice and made tea on the fire. It was the first warm food or drink they had taken since leaving the Impenetrable Forest. The terror of the forest seemed mild compared to what they now faced. All of them would gladly have gone back into those trees rather than face the howling wargs.

The three drew lots and Kris drew the first watch. Aglaral and Gamying lay down beside Manfred and tried to get some rest. Both of them slept fitfully, with hands on the hilts of their swords. Kris tended the fire and examined the sword he had been given before they left Elannort. He was a writer not a fighter and had never used a sword in anger before. He wondered whether he would have the skill or courage to use it when the time came. It would make a wonderful story, if he slew a warg. The howls grew louder and more frequent. Each time he jumped and the hairs stood up on the back of his neck. He wondered why he had volunteered for such an adventure. Then he remembered why. He figured it would matter little to the wargs as they tore out his throat. He almost jumped out of his skin when all of a sudden he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Take some rest.” Aglaral said. “I’ll take over now. They won’t attack until just before dawn, when it’s at its darkest. Until then they will torment us with their howls and hope that fear will win their battle for them. They are cowards at heart. Our fire and steel will be a match for them. Fear not, we’ll be in Devil’s Mouth before this day ends.”
Kris simply nodded and shuffled off to take his turn for whatever rest he could find. Aglaral’s words did little to improve his mood. As he drifted off to sleep, he heard a voice in his head. Soon. Very soon.

ice stair2c

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08/19/16

Two-Headed Lemur Creature – Extract from Quest for Knowledge

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The next part of the journey passed in a bit of a blur. Simon was preoccupied. He was analysing events and coming to a realisation. At some point, there would be a “ching.” He thought about Old Man Willow and his song. Once, that dimension had been a wonderful place to live. Now its inhabitants must live in fear and tyranny. Walking on the grass brought a penalty of death, how could people live like that? Yet it was a world where Law ruled, not Chaos. Jhamed had once said that Hitler represented Law. Simon had wondered then whether that meant Churchill had represented Chaos. He realised that it wasn’t a case of black and white; everything was shades of grey. For society to be successful and fair to everyone it needed a balance between Law and Chaos. Law didn’t represent “good”; it stood for order. Chaos didn’t represent “evil”; it symbolised anarchy. Churchill didn’t support anarchy; he battled for balance. Democracy, for all its faults, was an attempt at securing balance. The fanatical religious zealots in his world, whether they were fundamentalist Christians or Jihad Islamists were just two different faces of absolute Law. If that were the case, then where did evil come in? Which side did Gadiel favour? All humans, and he supposed all elves and dwarves too, were born with the capacity for both good and evil. Evil was not restricted to either Law or Chaos, it was all pervading. Ching. Everyone had a choice. Hitler probably wasn’t totally evil. Churchill must have had some evil in him. Was the bombing of Dresden really necessary or was it just an evil act of revenge? The victors write the history books and take the moral high ground. Everyone has a choice. He had a choice. I will take up the Sword. I will use it only for good. I will use it to serve the Balance.

Simon wasn’t sure how much time had passed while he had been cogitating. He was vaguely aware of them walking long distances over a variety of terrains and in a range of weather conditions. It appeared that few realms enjoyed perfect weather. Strange how the Law dimension had the best weather. I wonder whether it was a coincidence or if their control extended that far? They had also sat around for long periods while Jhamed had scouted ahead. His companions had respected his need to think and had not disturbed him. Jhamed, no doubt, had seen it all before. Taran was naturally perceptive about such things. Dawit appeared to be lost in his own musings.

Simon felt a great relief. He had come to a decision. He would take control of his own life. He was not a pawn of fate. He sighed and relaxed. Unbidden, words and images came into his mind. He saw the visions again from his dream. You are close. I can feel you. Come for me. We will be reunited. The Trinity will be renewed. Be careful! The witch is strong. She is stronger than I am. She is stronger than you are. Together, we are stronger than she is. The Trinity will be renewed. Soon we will feast. Simon felt gnawing hunger. It was unlike anything he had ever felt before. The tiny red hairs on his body stood on end as he shivered.

Jhamed returned from a scouting mission. Simon took him to one side. “We’re close, aren’t we?”

“How do you know?” Jhamed asked.

“The Sword has spoken to me.” Simon recounted his dream and his recent communication, all except the gnawing hunger. “I think I understand about the Balance now. I am ready to take up my Sword and serve the Balance.”

“Excellent!” Jhamed smiled. “I love it when a plan comes together. We’ll rest here tonight and a couple more portals will get us to Dishley tomorrow. We’ll need a plan to tackle the witch.”

They were in a dimension where either Chaos or Sergeant Pepper appeared to be in control. They spent the night sheltered under tall, purple-leaved trees. A full green moon cast an eerie light that battled with the red glow from their fire. The resulting yellow light illuminated a number of inquisitive forest creatures which came to stare at the travellers. They looked like some form of lemur, except that they had two heads, which continually chattered and tried to pull their body in different directions. At one point they started and rushed off back to their burrows or up into the trees. All except one, which hid by the travellers’ packs. The cause of their alarm sauntered into view. It was white, albino perhaps but there was not enough light to tell for sure. It was as big as an elephant, but it more closely resembled a lion. Its huge, shaggy head had a gaping maw, filled with razor sharp teeth. This was a predator close to the top of the food chain. I hope it’s not hungry, or we will be on its menu.

Taran and Dawit were on their feet in an instant. Taran notched an arrow to his bow. Dawit wielded his axe. The elephion sniffed the air, stopped, and looked at them. It stood tall and let out a roar that would have done the Melbourne Cricket Ground proud on Grand Final Day. All the night noises of the forest stopped. Simon stopped breathing. Taran made ready to loose his arrow. The creature gave them another disdainful look and then sauntered off. Simon released his pent up breath. Phew, that was close, must have already eaten. The two-headed lemur-like creature chattered excitedly to itselves and helped itselves to some biscuits from one of the packs.

Dawit and Taran took turns to keep watch. They insisted that Simon and Jhamed sleep since they were unarmed and would have a big day ahead of them. Simon slept fitfully. His dreams were full of hideous crones with black cats and ravens. The witches stirred huge cauldrons and concocted potions, which they force-fed him to make him reveal the location of his Sword. He tried to refuse, but they were truth serums and he could not resist. The witches found his Sword and used it kill all of his friends. The Sword ate their souls and then the witches ate their bodies.

Simon woke in a cold sweat. The moon had gone. Jhamed was snoring softly and the fire was low. Reflected in the faint firelight, Simon saw four eyes watching him. They were small, yellow eyes; animal eyes, yet they shone with the fiercest intelligence that he had ever seen. The two-headed lemur creature had seated itself on the group’s food and sat watching Simon. Simon deliberately blinked his eyes to try to clear them of sleep. He could have sworn that the creature had winked at him, with both heads at the same time. If I didn’t know better, I’d reckon we’d all taken LSD or something. The creature chattered to itselves. Words formed in Simon’s head. Remember Vasek. Only Vasek can control the Sword. Beware Fleischaker! It consumes the souls of friends as well as enemies. The two-headed lemur creature gave him another two winks and skittered off into the forest. Simon slept again. When he awoke, he wasn’t sure whether he had dreamt everything.

Scales Balance

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