Lusu drove, while The Hero sat in the passenger seat. They let me sleep in the back, because I’d seen so much.
I dreamed. It was a better way of living.
— — —
The Celestial Wall peaked over the horizon. It was beautiful, in a terrifyingly sublime sort of way. I knew I shouldn’t be looking at it, but I did.
I drove and drove. Val sat in the passenger seat, sleeping. Eventually, we reached a river, which ran not that far away from the wall. A couple of tents were camped out nearby. The road turned into a bridge, which ran across the span of the river. Somehow I knew better than to just try driving over it.
I parked the car and got out, leaving Val to sleep. By the time I’d made my second step towards the bridge, I’d heard a whistle. It almost sounded like a bird, but I knew enough to recognize it as human. I turned around, but couldn’t see anything.
Another sound. This one more like a whooping call.
“They’re just trying to scare you away!” said a voice. I turned around again, so that I could take a look at the river. There was a long-haired man swimming there. His whole body was like a kaleidoscope, blues mixing with greens mixing with reds and purples and oranges. The various colors swirled all over his body.
He looked relaxed, which surprised me.
“Maybe I should be scared away,” I said. “Isn’t that river dangerous? That’s what I’d always heard.”
“What are you worried about?”
“Heard there was a sea monster that protected the Celestial Wall.”
The swimmer smiled, glancing off to the side. “That’s not really true. It’s a little true, but not really.”
“Are you the monster?”
He shook his head no.
“If you were a monster, you’d probably lie to me, wouldn’t you?”
“Come a little closer, and I’ll tell you what the true monster is.”
I shook my head. “That doesn’t seem very smart.”
A streak of water flew out of the river, slapping me across the cheek. Then it fell, laying inert.
“The river is the monster,” the swimmer said.
My cheek smarted, so I rubbed it. “It doesn’t attack you, though.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Do you control it?”
The swimmer shook his head ‘no’ again.
“So what’s the deal?”
“You’re afraid of it,” the swimmer said. “That’s your problem. That’s what you have to fix.”
I held back a smile.
After everything I’ve been through? Fighting destiny, almost getting shot, arguing with the Angel of Death? Water is what I’m supposed to be afraid of?
Then again, it wasn’t the water I was supposed to be afraid of. No, looking out just a little into the distance — past the river and just before the Celestial Wall — I saw Hostem’s house. I saw the house of the god whose actions had taunted humanity for so many years.
I saw my creator. I saw the creator of us all.
I looked back at the car, towards Val. He was still sleeping, but he’d slept enough, hadn’t he? Isn’t this what I’d brought him back from death for? Isn’t this what he’d been fighting and training for, so many years?
I didn’t have to cross the river. I didn’t have to do much of anything, at this point. The reason destiny had brought me here was to bring Val back to life. That must’ve been it. It must’ve been it.
I began walking towards the car, completely ignoring the river and the wall and the swimmer and the shack. I walked towards the car, shaking, thanking destiny that I didn’t have to cross that river.
I opened the passenger door. Val, who’d been leaning against it, fell onto the grass.
“Val!” I yelled, not so much out of surprise as frustration. “Val!” I crouched down, putting two fingers less than an inch under his nose. He was still breathing. His chest rose and fell, so I shook him a little.
“Val!” I yelled again, looking at him. “This is what you’ve been waiting for. This is what your whole life has been leading up to!”
No response. I shook him again, even harder.
“I think your friend’s out cold!” the swimmer yelled at me.
I looked over at him with scorn. “He can’t be!”
“He is.” The swimmer said it so calmly.
Val lay on the grass. He was out cold.
I took in a deep breath of air.
It’s just you now, buddy. You, some fucked-up fish guy, and a suicidal god.
“You going to try and stop me from crossing?” I asked the fish guy, as I opened the trunk of Val’s car and tried to figure out what weapon to bring.
“No,” he said. “You’re supposed to cross.”
“Fuck you.” The words almost formed on my lips, but there was no need for them. Destiny had decided to work with me, this time.
Which weapon to bring? The Godkiller seemed to make the most sense, so I took that. Began to walk towards the river, but it lashed out at me — striking my hand and making me drop the sword.
“The river’s not going to let you cross with that thing,” the swimmer told me.
I didn’t bother trying to pick up the car. The swimmer looked at me, his smile challenging.
Back at the trunk of the car, there was a gun. I picked it up, walking towards the swimmer. For the second time, the water lashed out at me. The gun slipped from my hand.
“The river won’t let you cross with that, either,” he said.
Back at the trunk of the car, most of the weaponry seemed useless. The swords and guns couldn’t make it across the river.
I picked up the gas can, walked towards the river.
The swimmer looked at me, no longer smiling.
“Your river’s not going to stop me?”
“No,” he said.
“Why don’t you try and stop me yourself?”
“There are forces in this world more powerful than you and I,” he said.
With the way I felt, I was beginning to doubt it. Somehow, that same rush from back at Demersi’s surged through me again.
Keeping the gas canister high above my head, I crossed. The swimmer did nothing more than wade, watching me go by.
— — —
*BANG* *CRASH* *BANG* *BANG*
I woke to the sound of gunfire.
The Hero shouted at Lusu: “THE ELF GUARD’S GOING TO GET US!”
“Shut up,” Lusu said.
“YOU CALL THIS DRIVING?” The Hero yelled.
Lusu chuckled to herself, making a hard sharp turn that knocked my head against the car door.
“I’m going to kill you dead,” she muttered to herself. “So help me, I’m going to–”
She kept talking, but I couldn’t hear what she said.I was going back.
Back to the dream.
To a different time.
— — —
I was drenched outside Hostem’s temple. A chill rolled down my spine, looking at it.
It felt like a strange spot to get a chill. The grass here was green — beautiful. The Sun was shining bright. Everything felt like it should be alright. Everything felt like it should be perfect.
Did Hostem really want to kill himself? Why here? Why in a place like this, at a time like this?
The scenery was just so damn unsympathetic. I guess that’s why the chill rolled down my spine.
Clothes sagging towards the ground, shoes squeaking with every step, I made my way towards the temple. Such a simple-looking thing. The roof was thatched, the walls made of straw. It looked so much less intimidating than I’d expected, so much less permanent. It was tall, though. Maybe twenty feet high. Much taller than you’d expect from a thatched hut.
There wasn’t any door to knock on, so I just entered the place.
Spots of light got in through the thatched roof, but not much. The whole place was shrouded in darkness.
“Fiat Lux,” I said with confidence, snapping so that my fingers sparked and a flame shot out of my fingers. The confidence made the flame stay there, billowing in the darkness.
Setting the gas cannister down, I dug my other hand into my pocket, taking out a bag of sunflower seeds. Tore at the top of it with my mouth.
The floor here was stone, which seemed odd. But that didn’t matter. Standing next to the groove, I tipped the bag over slowly, carefully.
A small vine sprouted out of the crack. It grew one small leaf, then two, then three. The vine grew upwards, becoming a stalk, looking like a pole shooting out of the ground. It shot up to a little over ten feet, then stopped.
A couple hundred vines shot out of the stalk, weaving their way through the air. Sister vines joined the figure, wrapping themselves around the sturdier vines. More sister vines joined these, and I saw Hostem become a tapestry. Vines grew and twirled and strengthened each other, and before long, I was looking at a thirteen-foot titan.
“You’re here,” Hostem said. Its thick vines criss-crossed over each other, seeming to hide something but in fact being the entirety of that thing before me: the spirit was nothing more than sentient vines, and yet it had done so much, caused so much damage. Hostem, who had gathered his god-children together, to kill so many humans. Hostem, the enemy.
“Yeah,” I said, more softly than intended. “I’m here.”
“And Val?” Hostem asked.
“Something went wrong,” Hostem said. His voice was deep, unreal. It was without a doubt the most natural thing I’ve ever encountered, yet it sounded so synthetic, like multiple voices merged together, working in an out-of-pitch harmony: uncontainable, uncontrollable, an incoherent cacophony that made all too much sense.
“A lot of things went wrong.”
The god smiled, giving a bit of a sigh. “So many things,” he said, placing his thorny hand on my shoulder. “I know you’re here to kill me.”
A lump sat in my throat. Of course he knew the purpose of my visit. But something about the way he said it — the gloomy sense that it was inevitable — disconcerted me.
“But do you think you can best me?” Hostem asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “But if I can’t kill you here–”
“I didn’t ask if you could kill me,” Hostem said. “I asked if you could best me.”
I stood there in silence, not know what to say.
“When it comes to brute force, you’ve bested me — surpassed my efforts, more than would’ve been imaginable a hundred years ago. But can you do better? Can people and elves and all the rest of civilization survive without me?”
I took in a deep breath of air.
Could we? the thought reverberated through my mind. Once a creator was gone, what direction would the world go in? What would be out there to keep everything out there? It would be a rudderless world.
Then there was the other thought, the scarier thought, the one that would keep me up for many nights, in the future.
Should we? Once the creator was gone, what would be the point of life? What would be the point of anything — what would keep up going?
Once the creator wasn’t gone, wasn’t that the end? Clearly he hadn’t meant for us to outlive him. Surely we weren’t supposed to kill him. So we were broken creatures — flawed — unable to live up to our perfect potential.
“You’re crying,” Hostem said. He was right.
“I don’t know shit,” I told him. “I don’t know if we could survive without you, or if we should survive without you, or if you’re worthy of our love or our hate, or of any emotions at all. Every time I look myself in the mirror, I don’t know that I’m worthy of anything. But of one thing I am certain. Of this I am certain. You and your children committed crimes against sapient beings. You killed before, and now you want to kill us all, because you’re too weak to live in the world that made you.”
The words didn’t sound like mine. My mind flashed back to all those fever-sweat nights — the depressed mornings — the minutes and hours and days and years where I felt like a worthless sack of shit.
But then I pushed that all away. I felt like Val.
You know something? It felt good.
“It’s a cycle,” Hostem said. “Life and death, creation and the apocalypse. It’s all–”
“Fuck your apocalypse,” I screamed, voice cracking. This was the creature that had made my mother. This is the creature that had driven my brother to death. I was fucking done with it.
I bent over and grabbed the gas cannister. Splashed gas all over him, flinging it at him, drenching him in it.
He didn’t try to stop me. He just stood there, unwilling to do much of anything.
In the heat of the moment I didn’t notice how sad he looked.
No, my heart was too busy burning with coal-hot rage.
I snapped, turning off the flame emanating from my fingers.
“Fiat lux,” I said, softly, snapping my fingers so that a spark flew from the fingers and onto Hostem. His whole body shot up in flames.
I stood there and watched as he burned with the glory of life and death and everything in-between.