An eternity, spent spinning through the universe, waltzing among the stars.
An endlessness of darkness, spreading beyond a beckoning event horizon.
A path made out of puke. My puke.
And among all of this, for the first time in a long while, I can see my own body again.
I am back at the Crossroads of Reality, my body lashed tightly by razor wire to a slowly orbiting star. All around me are fragments of frayed red threads drifting off into the void. But there is enough thread remaining that keeps pulling the stars about in their endless dance. But the razor wire that binds me extends not only around the star I have been tied to, but across large sections of space as well, cutting off the red thread's access. The neatly organized movements of the dance between the stars has lost its majesty, reduced to a cramped shuffle as the red thread avoids trespassing into the sections claimed by the razor wire. The Voice's influence over this dimension has grown, but its nowhere near being able to oust Fate. Fate is still the one orchestrating the play between the living. Her power is weakened, fenced in, but still wielding real and terrible influence.
As Gallant is experiencing right now.
Tendrils of red thread grasp the star I have been tied to, constantly regenerating as the razor wire slashes away at them. As the tendrils strengthen their grip, the star of Gallant's life begins to crack and the light within it slowly fades. The bound loops of razor wire around my body loosen as the star crumbles away and a cosmic wind begins to pull at me, trying to drag my body towards the event horizon.
Gallant is dying. And as he dies, The Voice's claim over me weakens as well. As Fate constantly sends fresh tendrils to assault Gallant's star, I realize that unlike my first visit to the Crossroads, there will be no last minute rescues this time. The razor wire can't beat back the encroaching red thread. Fate is clearly bending all her attention in ensuring that Gallant has been finished off. And without the protection of Gallant's star, I will be thrown across the void thanks to the summons by my dimension's administrator.
Where Fate will be waiting.
The Voice had told me that the horizon represented the border between dimensions. Could I outrun Fate before she managed to kill me? The eagerly swarming morass of red thread hovering around me puts any optimistic assumptions I had to rest. People back home like to say that you never know something until you try, but in this case, I can make a fairly good guess about the outcome. There's a loud cracking noise as a huge chunk of Gallant's star completely disintegrates, causing the wire binding my body to unravel. I lurch forwards and dig my hands into the craters that pit the star's surface, halting my descent.
The force of the cosmic wind is quickly becoming irresistible. It takes all my strength to hang on to the remnants of the star as the wind churns up the collapsed fragments, forming a drifting cloud of stardust. As I hang on for dear life, the cloud forms an image before my blankly staring eyes. A figure dressed in black, sent flying straight into a bank of monitors. The last moments of Gallant's life, being played in encore. Then the image is gone as the cloud disperses into the black void.
Fate's tendrils form malicious roots, drilling into what is left of Gallant's star, tearing fissures into its surface. The already dimming light of the star begins to gutter and flicker intermittently. I feel the rocky surface I am clinging on degrades into porous sand. The razor wire that had tried and failed to deter the crimson thread unspools chaotically, twisting away in disorganized loops.
There's a loud pop, like a light bulb had reached the end of its rope. And the remnants of Gallant's star explodes into a cloud of powder. As I drift aimlessly within the morass, small embers flit defiantly about me but the message is clear.
Gallant is dead.
The tendrils draw themselves up, fresh from their victory and eagerly turn towards me. I have no choice now. I have to gamble that my dimension's administrator can retrieve me quickly enough. Casting myself upon the cosmic wind, I hurtle across the Crossroads in the direction of the horizon.
As the wind whistles in my ear, a sharp pain erupts in my hands, forcing me to look away from the wave of red thread following in close pursuit. Lifting my hands, I find several rapidly cooling embers buried deep in my palms. Gallant's soul fragment. Now that he is dead, the soul fragments are losing their strength as well. But if the fire within the fragments are going out, where is this pain coming from? I grit my teeth as the pain intensifies, as if someone is stabbing me hard in the palms.
"AUUGH!" I scream in agony and horror as the fragments tear into my hands and tunnel into my body. I feel each single piece, travelling up my arms, circulating inside me like overgrown germs making themselves at home. My body becomes heavy, clumsy, my insides churning about thanks to the migrating soul fragments. Is there no end to the bond between me and Gallant? Was even his death not enough to separate us?
The crimson tendrils lunge forward, outpacing the cosmic wind and close in hungrily. I flap my arms in a futile effort to get a bit more speed, but the red closes in from all sides. Then I hear it, echoing from across the distance.
A voice booms all around me.
THE PRIVILEGE OF GODS.
Its not a voice. Its The Voice.
A MORTAL MARKED BY US WILL ALWAYS BEAR THE MARK UPON ITSELF.
Pain. Blazing nodes of pain erupt from within my body, emanating outwards from the invading soul fragments. I scream. I scream and scream and scream and scream -
MR GALLANT WAS MARKED BY FATE BEFORE HE DIED. EVEN DEATH WILL NOT REMOVE FATE'S DISPLEASURE AT HIM.
- and scream as my left eye goes blind and my upper left arm begins to dissolve into formless mist and as the red thread swallows me whole -
AS YOU SOUGHT SHELTER WITHIN MR GALLANT'S SOUL BEFORE, YOU NOW BEAR THE BURDEN OF CARRYING HIS LAST BREATH. A LAST BREATH THAT POSSESSES A PIECE OF INFINITY WITH IT.
I flail about desperately, breaking the red threads that seek to envelop me, but the unending tide cannot be stopped. I am drowning, drowning -
FATE HAS ANNULLED MR GALLANT'S PLACE IN THIS DIMENSION. THE BULK OF HIS SOUL HAS SCATTERED, IMPOSSIBLE TO EVER REFORM. THE MINUTE, INFINITE REMNANT WITHIN YOU IS ALL THAT IS LEFT.
- drowning as the red thread forces its way through my mouth, my nose, the stump of my arm -
A BODY WITHOUT A NATIVE SOUL IS A DEAD THING.
Cold lances throughout my body. I can't think, can't feel. All I can do is wait for the end -
A MACHINE, AWAITING REACTIVATION.
A sudden blaze of fire erupts from deep within my chest and surges like a conflagration, purging the red threads that were choking me. I blink my eyes and see a volcano of spiritual energy forming in my chest. The waves of spirit energy rush through my veins, linking up with Gallant's shards. In the interplay between the two forces, I see that each of Gallant's shards has a small trace of red lint on them. A lingering trace of Fate, the wounds Gallant's body had suffered at her hands.
THE MARK OF FATE WILL GUIDE YOU BACK TO THIS WORLD. THE PIECE OF MY DIVINITY YOU ACCEPTED WILL SERVE AS THE ANCHOR.
My entire body plunges downwards, away from the furiously thrashing red thread, away from the path of puke, into the slumbering depths of the great beyond. But the only thing I feel is the untrustworthy heat from the artificial core as it burns away all other sensations. A suffocating darkness embraces me.
NO LONGER WILL YOU HIDE BEHIND THE IDENTITY OF ANOTHER.
I lash out with my remaining fist against the darkness and it meets with unexpected resistance. There's a splintering sound and light filters through a tiny gap that appears before me.
YOU WILL EXALT IN THE GLORY OF THE INANIMATE. PURE MATTER, UNSTAINED BY LIFE. A MACHINE, REFINED TO ITS MOST FUNDAMENTAL PURPOSE.
I strike at the darkness again, this time with both my fist and feet, causing the gap to widen. There's the distant noise of a quarrel coming through the ever widening gap.
SO AWAKEN, TRANSMIGRATOR.
One last effort. I throw my entire weight against the darkness and it splits apart completely, blinding me with the sudden illumination. There are screams from all around me. Screams of fear, despair and total incomprehension. My feet step firmly on the ground. But my heart is still. Neither do my lungs draw breath.
I walk forwards with one and a half arms spread wide. Welcoming the world.
Ready to perform my function.