Water dripped from the ceiling, crashing onto the hard rocks, sending echoes across the empty chamber. If I concentrated, I could make out the faint breathing of the guards outside the door. The bubble fizzed and whirled with energy, energy that I couldn’t directly control. It was a refreshing experience.
Amy, Lily, and Runir; they were out there somewhere, trying to fix the problems I had created. There was a lot to do but then again, they had all the time in the world, and wouldn’t be coming for my help just yet. Good thing too, since I had more immediate matters to attend to. Specifically, a headache – a headache I’d been trying to heal for a long, long time.
The rhythmic breathing of the guards was cut off by a grunt and a sharp cry. The breathing resumed, only longer and deeper than before. I sat up as the creak of the door heralded the arrival of the beginning of my troubles, even though the curtains had just been primed.
A purple hellkitty strode into the room, tail upright, eyes glinting, and ears pointed.
“Hello Waon!” I said. “How are you, old nemesis?”
“Waon!” cried the hellkitty.
“Your dastardly plans shall never succeed!” I said, waving my fist at it.
“Waon.” The hellkitty yawned.
“Your provocations won’t work on me!” I said, holding my head high.
“You’ll never be funny.”
“Spoke too soon,” I said.
A hand reached down to pet Waon, who purred, filling the silent chamber with its guttural vibrations.
“I finally caught you,” said Clare as she stepped into the room and shut the door.
“Yes, you did,” I said.
“No teleporting away at the last second?”
“I would if I could.”
“No masked monstrosities to get in our way?”
“Origin is busy right now.”
“That’s you in the bubble right, not a clone or something?”
“What can I say, I’ve always liked bubbles.” I chuckled mirthlessly.
“No running away?”
“No, not this time.”
She approached the bubble. “You’ve been avoiding me all these years. How?”
“Tracked you and made sure I was somewhere else.”
“I could’ve spied on you for real, if I’d wanted to.”
“Somehow doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“Sorry,” I said, meeting her eyes for the first time in years. “I wasn’t ready to face you.”
“Because I knew you’d ask questions. The wrong kind of questions.”
She was quiet for a moment. A drop of water fell from the ceiling, startling Waon, who hissed and trotted away.
“I’ve waited so long for this moment but now that it’s here, I don’t know where to start,” she said, her voice low but still managing to carry across the empty cave.
“Start with the first question you wanted to ask me all those years ago,” I said.
“What’s the point? I already know your answer.”
“Couldn’t hurt to ask.”
“Fine, will you revive my parents?”
“Knew it. You’ve had decades to do so if you wanted to.”
“I wanted to. Oh, how I wanted to.”
“Then, why didn’t you?”
“You know why.”
“No, I don’t.”
I was taken aback. “Really?”
“Yes, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You can’t think of a single reason why reviving people could be a problem?”
“Don’t lie to me. You know.”
She hesitated, looked at her hands, then met my gaze. “No.”
“You’re lying. You came to the same conclusion I did but don’t want to say it. I won’t blame you, though. I know how hard it is to face the truth. Hell, I don’t blame Runir and the others either. They’re running from the same conclusions you’re avoiding; the same truths you convinced yourself were false.”
“You can’t bring them back.”
“I can!” I shouted, exasperated. “Don’t you see? That’s the entire problem in the first place! I can bring them back. Exactly the way they were. Same memories, same characteristics, same everything.” I pressed my face against the walls of my prison and whispered, “Doesn’t that send a shiver down your spine?”
“Yes,” she said. “It scares me how you refuse to do it even though you can.”
“Damn it, you don’t know anything. None of you do!”
“I know you’re a pathetic human being.”
“No, you’re a pathetic human being. That’s the point, don’t you see? Can’t you see anything?”
“All I see is a hysterical madman with a god-complex.”
I grabbed my head and kneaded it like dough, as if that would help me calm down. It didn’t.
“Hysterical. It’s funny how we use such a funny word to describe what happens when smart people can’t get through to idiots like you.”
“I’m cracking up,” she said, dryly.
“Sarcasm, lovely. It’s so hard to tell when someone’s being sarcastic. They could be telling the truth or implying that you’re an idiot for thinking that they were telling the truth.”
“It’s usually easy to tell,” she said.
“It’s very easy to tell,” I agreed, crossing my arms.
She sighed. “I spend decades tracking you down, looking for an answer, and all I get are incoherent ramblings.”
“I never ramble,” I assured her. “Everything I say, everything I do, I do with a purpose. I don’t let what other people think cloud my judgement, because other people don’t have the same perspective.”
“You’re underestimating them.”
“Really? When people see a hill, and it’s the tallest thing they’ve ever seen or heard about, they’ll think it’s the tallest place in the world! People make decisions based on the information they have and the goals they want to achieve. But what if you don’t have all the information? What if your goals are impossible to achieve or even worse, what if when you do achieve them, you realize that they suck?”
“Then give them that information. Don’t guard it like a dog with a bone. Get some more opinions on it. Maybe your conclusions aren’t right?”
I laughed. I laughed so hard my stomach began aching. “I can’t even –” I laughed some more.
She frowned. “What is it this time?”
“I don’t understand.”
“You’re not making any sense.”
“Yes!” I screamed. “Yes, I am!”
She looked at me pitifully. Waon turned its tail to me and rubbed against Clare’s legs. “You weren’t like this when we first met. You were kind, caring, sane. What happened?”
“Oh?” I tilted my head and smiled. “Finally, an interesting question. Tell me what you know so far and I’ll begin from there.”
“I know you left Reneste as soon as you revived me and changed my ability and title –”
“Wrong! I never changed your title.”
Her eyes widened. “What? But then…”
“It was a natural consequence of your position in the world. Your title represents who you are publicly. But it doesn’t base that off what society thinks of you, but rather what the system thinks of you.”
“So, it’s based on what you think of me?”
“No, the system is independent of me. I created it, created this world, in fact! But it isn’t literally me. Now continue, what do you think I did after I left Reneste?”
“You went all over the world.”
“And how do you know that?”
“You know I never gave that to you either?”
“Another consequence of the system?”
“It’s what you wanted, apparently.”
Her mouth hung open for a while. “What?”
“I wanted to give you any ability you wanted. This is what you chose.”
“But why would I choose something like this?”
“You liked stargazing, didn’t you?”
“That can’t be it.”
“You also hated being lost, no, you hated being left alone.”
She stood quietly.
“So, I traveled the world,” I continued. “Then what?”
“You went to Fohil and stayed for a while. I almost caught you.”
“Almost,” I smiled.
“Then you went to the Fire kingdom and we met at the shrine.”
“I didn’t think you’d catch us.”
“I wouldn’t have if I’d followed my ability, but I decided to guess where you were going and took a shortcut.”
“That delay in Ashpoole probably helped too.”
“Yes, I saw that in the sky.”
“You can’t see the details, right?”
“Then you don’t know what I’m trying to do.”
“But you do know where I’ve been teleporting to over the past year or so.”
“Why didn’t you just wait for me there?”
“I thought you wouldn’t go there if I pitched a tent and waited.”
“Actually,” she said, lifting Waon and petting it. “Why did you go there every time? I can’t think of anything special nearby, except maybe Reneste.”
“It’s the most special place in the world!”
“It’s where I did it.”
“Made my decision.”
“About this world.”
She stopped petting Waon. “And that decision is?”
“What do you think?” I said, smiling.
“You won’t destroy it,” she said, looking away thoughtfully. “You love it too much. I doubt you’ll change it much, considering how you haven’t done anything for decades. You obviously aren’t going to fix anything.” She tapped her chin. “I don’t know, maybe you’re going to stay in there and let everyone else clean up your mess?”
“My mess?” I raised an eyebrow. “You think this is my fault?”
“Of course,” she said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “You’re Fate. You cause pain, suffering, and death. You have the power to shape the world any way you want and you chose to make it the way it is.”
“I didn’t know.”
She dropped Waon, who complained with a shriek. “Didn’t know what? That your actions were causing so much misery? That you were responsible for millions of deaths?”
“Yes,” I said, my voice finally dropping. This was why I didn’t want to meet her. I knew she’d find my biggest weakness – my guilt. “I didn’t know. In my world, all of this was a game.”
“Pathetic excuses,” she spat. “Even if you didn’t know before, you’ve had decades to stop the madness yet you refused. You can’t plead ignorance to that.”
“No,” I whispered. “I can’t.”
She clenched her fists and her expressionless face broke into an angry scowl. She kicked the bubble and shouted, “Why!”
I watched quietly.
She kicked again. “Why!”
And again. “Why.”
And again. “Why…”
She fell on her knees and began crying. “Why couldn’t you be the Kai I first met? Why couldn’t you just do the right thing so we could move on? Move on to watching the stars. Move on to telling stories by the camp fire.”
I dropped onto one knee on the other side of the wall.
“You were amazing; my knight in shining armor! My bard telling stories in the moonlight. My – my big brother!” She sobbed. Waon sat down beside her, rubbing its head on her side. I looked down, breathing slowly to calm myself. I knew this would happen if I met her, yet I’d persisted. It wouldn’t hurt if I was expecting it, right?
“Why are you still here?”
I looked up. Her eyes were red, her cheeks swollen, and her face covered in tears.
“Why haven’t you escaped yet?” she repeated, her voice hoarse and words broken.
“You think I can escape from this?”
“Of course, you’d never let them put you in there if you didn’t have a way to get out.”
I frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I figured it out a long time ago.” She laughed as she cried. “You couldn’t have avoided me like that just by tracking me. You were always a step ahead, as if you knew what I was going to do.”
I opened my mouth but no words came out.
“That’s why I was so angry when you said you didn’t know. Liar. You’re a liar, Kai!”
“Yes, I am.”
“You know everything!” she shouted, getting up. She pointed at me and yelled, “It’s why I hate you so much. Not only do you have the power to change everything, you have the knowledge too! You knew I was going to come here. You knew we’d have this conversation. You knew that I knew, but you pretended like you didn’t. You keep asking all these questions even though you already know what I’m going to say. You give me all these half-answers even though you know I won’t understand any of them! You’ve been leading me around the world, playing me like a puppet on a string. It’s all a game to you. We’re toys for you to amuse yourself with. For you to poke and pinch, and make funny noises! You’ll throw me away as soon as I lose my value, as soon as I stop being interesting. You don’t care about any of us; never have and never will. You made us so you could play us, and don’t have the decency to put us away properly!”
“You’re wrong,” I said. “I do care.”
“Sure! Like I said, you care about us if we’re fun. If we’re entertaining. If we’re willing to play your little game. But no! I won’t do it. I won’t play your game, I will not be a character in your game!”
“But I don’t have a choice, right?” She wrenched her hair. “You know what I’m going to do and you’ll make that a part of your game too. In fact, you’re probably enjoying my breakdown right now. You’re laughing inside, I’m sure of it!”
“No, no I’m not.”
“Liar, you’re a liar Kai!”
“Yes I am.”
She laughed hysterically – there’s that funny word again – and fell flat on her back. Waon shrank away. I stared resolutely at the ground.
“What happens next?” she asked from the ground.
“I make them fight each other.”
“What I’m going to do with this world.”
She laughed. When her laughter died down, she said, “And you won’t tell me, will you?” She stood up. “No need to answer. I already know what you’re going to say. Is that how you feel all the time?”
“Not really. It’s not as fun as you’d think.”
“How can knowing everything not be fun?”
“Because everything you can know is not everything you want to know.”
Silence. Water dripped from the ceiling, but didn’t make a sound as it hit the floor.
“What should I tell them when they get here?”
“You can track other people too?”
“You knew that. Please stop pretending. Please.”
“Tell them to bring me their best solutions.”
“Solutions to what?” she asked, picking up Waon again.
I stepped back, standing right in the center of the bubble or anomaly as Runir called it. Me? I called it by its true name.
An error in the system. A piece of code that didn’t do what it was supposed to do. The bane of every programmer. A bug.
I called up my status. It hadn’t changed since the first day I got here. Even my age had been frozen. Under the abilities section was the source of all my headaches, my ability – re:write. Sometimes I wanted to erase it. I would have been able to do it, I knew I could. But that’s exactly why I didn’t. Absolute power was a pain in the ass, but absolute knowledge was the worst part.
“When I sat down on the Hill outside Reneste, I pulled up my status screen just like this. I finally had the chance to explore the full extent of my ability, so I decided to make the most of it,” I said aloud, more for myself than for Clare. “It started off with a map of the world, then an expansion of my own abilities of comprehension and retention. Soon, I knew what everyone on Erath was doing. But that wasn’t the limit, so I pushed on.
I found out everything about the past nine hundred years and beyond. I watched my characters play the game, leading millions of helpless souls to death over and over again. I saw the carnage I’d caused, the pain I’d inflicted, and it filled me with grief, disgust, and guilt. I wanted to fix things, I really did!
But I didn’t stop there. I kept exploring. Having reached the limit of the past, I turned my attention to the future. And that’s where things went to hell. I spiraled into a never-ending vortex of frustration, one I haven’t been able to escape since.”
My eyes went from my ability to the lower right corner of the screen. There lay a small red button with a ‘D’ on it. I heard footsteps from beyond the door, more than a dozen of them. Someone cursed.
“The guards are out of commission!” came a voice.
I pressed the button as the door shook.
“Damn it, this can’t be –”
The door opened. Runir stepped inside, followed closely by Lily, Amy, and the other goddesses. Clare had her back to them but her lips were trembling.
The bubble was gone and so was I. I observed them from afar as Runir threw Lily out of the room. Amy caught her and blasted off as Runir fired a void ray at her back. Amy let go of Lily as they burst out of the cave, unable to touch her anymore. The void ray narrowly missed Lily’s neck but she managed to land and broke into a sprint.
The goddesses left, Lunaris cursing loudly and Solaron biting her lip while looking at the sky. Clare was the last to leave the room and headed straight for the Hill. The armies that had been marching to unite against Origin, suddenly came to a halt and switched directions. An army rose from the Fire kingdom, led by the Circle and the king, both working together. The armies stopped on either side of the Bridge of Babel and waited.
The sun blazed, sending relentless waves of heat and light onto the thousands of people lined up below. The faint sound of crashing waves carried over the hot air, filling the ears of everyone present with a distant yet powerful roar.