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1.6

I dreamed. It was a better way of living.

— — —

The house was mine now, with my brother dead and my mother dead, my father never known and not even my dog had surviving long enough to wish me farewell. I rocked in my rocking chair, knowing it wouldn’t be long.

Beckett had come to wish me good luck. I appreciated that. I’d quit the newspaper months before, and they’d been nice, too. But it was hard to feel like anything that I did mattered. It was hard to feel like anything mattered then, when my future was so awfully known.

It was the details that mattered, in moments like these. The Fortune Elf had painted the broad strokes, so I knew Val and I were going to find Hostem, and I knew we were going to kill him. But I didn’t know what it was going to look like. I didn’t know exactly how we might begin.

I almost smiled, watching Val walk down the sidewalk. The Sun hung high in the sky, beating down on him. The image was beautiful, even if it’s meaning wasn’t.

“Brother! It’s time,” Val yelled, smiling wide. He wasn’t my brother, but I pretended to appreciate the gesture.

“Brother,” I repeated, quietly. Val Rador may have replaced the prophecy meant for my brother, but that didn’t make him my brother. He was of another family, holding entirely different views on the world.

Val rushed up the steps. “You seem upset.”

“There’s nothing to be upset about,” I said. “I’ve accepted my fate.”

“Accepted?” Val bellowed. “Don’t be that way. Yours is a good life, a true life, a wonderful life! You don’t have to muck about with the paper, anymore. You can join me in the ultimate quest!”

“It’s not a good thing, Val.”

“That’s where you’re wrong!” Val said. “Ours is a glorious purpose.”

“It’s a hit,” I said. “We’re killing the creature that created this world. We’re killing a god.”

“That’s the beauty of it,” Val said. “Unshackling humanity from the tyranny–”

“It’s not tyranny. It’s life.”

“The same could be said of your fate,” he said. “Don’t be so glum. Let’s go.”

I didn’t get up out of my seat. “What if I didn’t go?”

He laughed. “What do you mean, didn’t go? You have to go! It’s your future!”

“It should be my choice,” I said.

“It is your choice,” he said. “Just because we know what you choose doesn’t mean you didn’t choose it.”

“If it’s my choice, I choose to stay.”

His face turned from joyous to concerned. “Today is supposed to be a good day.”

“What you’re doing isn’t right. I won’t be involved.”

“Don’t be like your brother.”

“My brother was a good man,” I said, emotion boiling from my voice.

I don’t know if Val saw how much I loved my brother. If he did, he didn’t care.

“Your brother was stupid and selfish,” he said. “He killed himself, nearly killed you, and now I have to do the job he was born to do.”

That made me get up. I spat in Val’s face. Then, I slapped him.

“My brother’s twice the man you’ll ever be,” I said. “Sure, he couldn’t handle the pressure, but he wanted what was best for the world. He didn’t want to see a god die. He didn’t want me to live in a world–”

Val swung a punch. He knocked a tooth out. I hit the floor hard.

“I am your brother, so far as the future is concerned,” Val said. “I’ll talk about that fraud you grew up with however I damn well please.”

My mouth tasted of copper. Blood. I spat red onto the white concrete floor. It dripped from my lips. My head and mouth both hurt, but I made my way up off the ground. Then I swung my fist at Val.

Pain shot through my thumb. Felt like it was broken. I’d turned his head an inch to the left, so that he was looking at me through his left eye. He turned his head back, looking me straight in the eyes.

“You’re no fighter,” he said. “You’re a thinker, not a fighter.”

“Guess that means you’re a fighter, but not a thinker.”

“Come with me,” Val said. “That’s the way it has to be. I can’t fulfill my purpose without you.”

“That’s my hope,” I said. “That’s the point of not going. You can’t go out there and kill a god.”

“That god is out there killing us,” Val said, his voice getting louder, turning into a yell. “Hostem’s trying to kill all of us.”

“Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” I said. “Maybe the purpose of all life is to–”

Sharp pain. The other side of my jaw, this time. I was on the floor, again. Spat more blood.

“I don’t care what that shitbag created the world for,” Val yelled. “I don’t give a shit what his purpose was for creating life. We’re creating our own purposes, now.”

“If that’s true, why do I have to go with you? Why do the elves–”

He kicked me in the stomach. Then he crouched down, looking me in the eyes.

“You’ve gotta understand, George. You not coming with me would be the end of the world.”

I thought back on all the times I’d tried to kill myself.

“Maybe that’d be better,” I said. “Maybe we were a mistake.”

Val grabbed me by the hair and slammed my head against the porch floor.

“Your nihilism is a disease,” Val said. “I want to see you get better, both for your sake and the world. You know what that madman Hostem is doing?”

“You shouldn’t call him Hostem. That’s disrespectful. He’s our Creator.”

Val sighed, then wore a smile. “Alright, then. He’s our Creator. But our Creator is trying to bring about the apocalypse, right now. He wants to die.”

“I do, too,” George said.

“Look at all the pain I just caused you,” Val said. “Did it feel good?”

“No,” I said.

“That’s what death is,” he said. “Pain, misery. Death is anti-life.”

I lay there for a good long while, feeling dizzy, lightheaded. A few times I almost fell asleep, but Val made sure to shake me so that I stayed awake.

Finally he said, “We’ll take you to a doctor. Then you’ll come with me. Right?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“It’s what you want to do,” he said. “The elves saw your future that way for a reason.”

“But my brother…”

“Your brother wanted to be a hero, too,” Val said. “I’m sure he tried, but he was afraid. He just didn’t have it in him.”

I remembered my brother crashing us into a tree. I was so young, then. Maybe Val was right.

“Okay,” I said, woozy. “I’ll go.”

— — —

“Sam,” a loud, angry voice yelled. “Sam, I’m going to need you to wake up now.”

I did, slowly, begrudgingly. When I opened my eyes I saw the nurse standing there.

“This is a delicate time,” she said. “It looks like you have a good chance of getting rehabilitated back into the timestream. But you can’t stay with any one memory for too long. If you do, you could get stuck there.”

“Mhm,” I said. “But why did you call me Sam?”

She gave me a strange look, and I remembered.

“What?” she asked.

“Sorry,” I said. “In my dream, I was somebody else.”

“Not a dream,” she said. “Your past.”

“Is there a difference?”

My roommate said, “See? That’s a crazy thing to say. I think he really does belong here.”

“You can go back into the timestream,” she said. “I’m just going to make sure you’re not at any one time period for too long.”

“I want to call–”

But it was too late. I was dreaming again.

— — —

I drove the car through the afternoon and into the night, my eyes focused on the great road that stretched out before us, stretching from here to the Celestial Wall.

“We’re really doing it,” Val said. “For the love of everything, we’re really doing it.”

“Yeah. We are.” My tongue felt a little numb. I worried what the doctor must have done.

Occasionally I would look over at Val, to take a break from the road’s monotony if nothing else. Looking at him made me feel worse. He looked so giddy, his eyes aglow with something foul, something excited.

I wondered if I could ever feel that way. Was it possible for a guy like me to feel like that? Or was there something separating Val and me, something that made him always excited for the future ahead, while it left me feeling a sense of dread?

He’d gotten a lot bigger since we’d been kids. Soon as he learned he was replacing my brother in the prophecy, he began to train. He went hunting all the time, and his father found him some of the best teachers the world had ever seen. Maybe that was the difference: he thought he could take on the word, because that’s exactly what he’d been trained to do.

“Did you tell your teachers about the prophecy?” I asked.

“Some of them,” he said. “The ones who I knew would understand, and one or two who didn’t, when I was too young to tell the difference.”

“Did the ones who didn’t ever stop and make you think?” I asked.

“Don’t try stopping–”

I cut him off, “I’m not. I just want to know if you ever felt the doubts I felt. It’ll help me to know.”

Silence blanketed the car. The quiet offered a sort of peace, but also a sort of anxiety. I never trusted a man like Val to keep quiet. It meant they’d stopped talking, only to start really thinking.

“Yeah,” he said. “They made me think.”

“What’d they say?” I asked. “What made you decide to ignore them and charge on?”

“My Ethics teacher was the worst. Young teacher who read too much for her own good. You know the type. She had bright red hair, and a devilish smile that followed the hardest of ethical questions. Dad sent me to her so that I could learn to weigh my actions, figure out when to kill and when to let live.

He continued, “She took her job very seriously. Early on, I told her what I was forced to do, because I figured she’d be able to point me in the right direction. It felt important for her to know the truth.”

“What’d she say?” I asked.

“She told me all about deicide, about the pride that it took to kill a god. She argued that once god’s creatures killed their creator, they were left rudderless. They lost all purpose in their lives and got stuck. The planet would fall apart, and all the creatures would die a horrible death.”

“An apocalypse,” I said.

Exactly.”

“I can’t imagine that didn’t bother you.”

“It did bother me,” he said. “I had nightmares for months. It was all I could think about.”

“And then?”

“And then I realized that there were two sorts of apocalypse. I finally understood what an apocalypse could really mean,” he said. His speech turned breathless, Holy. “There’s the physical apocalypse, the one where everything gets wiped out. A god dies, and he takes the whole world with him.”

“Then there’s the other apocalypse, the psychological apocalypse. It’s a revelation, a change from one system to another, the old making way for the new. It doesn’t require the end of all life, or even the end of most life. All it requires is for us to see the world in a new light, to see it in such a different light that the world we’d seen before is effectively eradicated. Killing a god would bring about an apocalypse, but only psychologically. It would mean the end of an old era, and the beginning of a new.”

“But things would die,” I said. “Like your teacher told you, a lot of things would die.”

“The old making way for the new.”

“That doesn’t bother you? All the death?”

“Death’s just a part of life,” Val said. “And anyway, it wouldn’t be so bad to get a look at the Angel of Death, am I right?” he let out a huge laugh.

Of course, I’d already encountered her at that point in my life. I hadn’t told Val, and I wished it had never happened. Or maybe I wished it had never happened. I loved her, I hated her, I didn’t know how I felt.

Didn’t matter. Not really. It had happened, and I was there in the car racing towards the end of the world.

Somehow, I began to lose track of the time. The sounds of the night flooded my ears: the sound of tire against asphalt, the sound of owls in the trees which hung by the side of the road. The feeling of the car speeding along and bumping down the road put me in a trance, and it made me feel like I wasn’t anyone at all. I stopped thinking about my past or my future, stopped even thinking about my present. I stopped thinking, letting blind impulse drive the car. It was the best I’d felt in a long while.

“You’re going to take a left up here,” Val said. And just like that, he broke the spell. Just like that, dreaded words and dreaded thoughts flooded their way back into my stream-of-consciousness.

“This lady really lives in the middle of nowhere,” I said.

“This lady’s a genius,” Val said. “She’s the blacksmith who’s going to help me kill Hostem.”

— — —

Stung cheek. I blinked my eyes open and saw the nurse, standing before me again.

“Call Beckett,” I said. “Beckett Winters.”

“You’re not–”

“Call her,” I growled. “Call–”

I didn’t get to finish the sentence. I was back there, then.

— — —

*CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK*

“5160 steel’s your best bet. It’s all you should ever need,” Jules said, her hair tied up in a bun while she grabbed one of the swords in the forge. It glowed bright red, like the heart of a star. She swung the sword around, nearly nicking me in the process. Then she placed the sword under a power hammer. The machine was loud, its big piston working overtime to slam the sword over and over again. The occasional spark flew off the sword while the power hammer pummeled the sword to make it beautiful.

*CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK*

“We’re looking to kill a god,” Val said.

*CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK*

“You might need something a little stronger, then,” she said, not missing a beat. “Here, hold this. Move it around so that the sword gets shaped evenly.” She looked at me, so I figured she must be talking to me.

*CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK*

I took the hilt in my hand. It felt nice. I’d never wielded a weapon before.

*CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK*

“I’m sure I can figure something out. A god, you say? Might take me a couple days to find the right material. Cost you a pretty penny, too.”

*CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK*

“We’ve got plenty,” Val said, surely speaking for himself. “Money’s no object.”

*CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK*

“Money’s always an object, Val,” I said. “Doesn’t matter how much of it you have.”

*CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK*

I figured both he and the blacksmith must be looking at me strangely, but I didn’t care. I was enamored with this sword, which held up to the adversity of the power hammer, being shaped by the adversity.

*CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK*

“Your friend alright?” the blacksmith asked. “He seems a little odd.”

*CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK*

“Going through a weird time in his life,” Val said. “Seasonal depression.” He was half-right.

*CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK*

“How much for the sword?” I asked, watching the power hammer pummel it.

*CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK*

“After how much you’ll have to pay for the godkilling sword?” the blacksmith said. “I’d feel guilty to charge you more. Consider it a freebie.”

*CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK*

I smiled. Then I noticed Val Rador, who was smiling at me.

*CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK* *CHUNK*

The adventure had truly begun.

— — —

I woke up without help, this time.

“I’m telling you, I’ve got no fucking clue who elf ears is,” Beckett said.

“I won’t have you speaking to me in that disrespectful–” the nurse began.

“You’re the one who called me. So cool it, lady.”

“I only called per the request of my patient.”

“Who’s in the loony bin for a reason,” Beckett said. “I don’t know her.”

I was falling back into the past.

No. I needed to tell Beckett who I really was.

No. Didn’t she see?

No, no…

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