Normally, for Agarthans suddenly being struck by a bolt from the blue would be a thing to celebrate.
In other worlds you’d call it divine calamity, and it’d be a thing to fear. In this world, in Agartha, it was merely called graduation, and rather than fearing it ever everyone in the world dreamed of one day seeing it.
It was the thing that announced one’s entry into the true world of immortals. Being struck by it signified that one was no longer bound by the leveling system.
I seemed to be one person on Agartha who was still afraid of the things. That likely had something to do with the fact I was several hundred levels too low to be getting chased by a divine thundercloud.
So there I was teleporting for my dear life. Running from a falling, crackling, sword of Damocles that I’d idiotically stuck my head under.
Fleeing from what was effectively the crystallization of an insane and wrathful horde of vengeful divine souls.
No matter where I went it would find me, no matter how far I ran it would chase. And perfectly fitting my luck at the moment, it looked like I was finally finding the limits of my mental and physical capacity.
I’d been running for months now, teleporting for months now and I was finally getting tired. My jumps were getting last accurate. My stride less sure. My breath more ragged.
Finally after precisely three months, seventeen days and six hours, I was no long able to keep running. I fell to my knees. Exhausted. Staring up at the glowing rumbling black cloud that had been chasing me. Finding myself both horrified and fascinated by the ghastly faces that would emerge and disappear within the cloud. A great blue bolt of lightening felt down, and I closed my eyes preparing to have my soul scattered into the cosmic breeze.
There was a rumble and crack, as I sat there, feeling simultaneously relieved and terrified to see the story of my life coming to an end.
“Well…I can’t say it’s been a great ride…but it was what it was…I guess.” I grumbled to no one in particular. My voice high pitched and plaintive in my ear.
The divine lightning descended, rumbling roaring with the malice and wrath of roughly a hundred trillion years worth of divine madness and hate.
I made the mistake of opening my eyes near the end of it and I have no shame in saying I almost certainly pissed myself. I was an ant facing a wrath that burned hot enough to boil away entire worlds. Of course I pissed myself. It wasn’t even totally out of fear either.
I was facing something large enough to dwarf my entire existence as an adult of my spice. My entire existence as a sentient being. At least half of that piss was my brain simply forgetting its self-awareness while trying to understand what the hell it was, that I was looking at. Trying to under what was coming my way.
Imagine a microbe trying to understand the full implications of the anti-bacterial spray and anti-septic wipes that it and all its fellows were being killed with. This was how I faced my death. This how I ended up seeing things.
What was about to happen to me couldn’t even be called death. It was annihilation Unemotional. Malice-less. This whatever this was…wasn’t about me. I was just a mess that was being cleaned up and tidied away.
I waited to die.
But then….I didn’t die. The bolt of glowing blue wrath fell till it was just a hair away from touching my face and then it froze in place. It even slowly receded a little so that I could just barely stand under it. Had I had the wherewithal to rise up off my knees, anyway.
“Hey….” said a voice.
My nerves were on edge and so my neck snapped towards the new speaker so quickly that I heard something in my neck crack.
I expected to see my older-self. I figured was exactly his style to appear during bullshit moments like this one.
Instead I saw a man in a plain gray suit. A man pretty enough that I doubt anyone in the world would have said anything had her appeared in a plain gray dress.
Dark skinned, but more cocoa or coffee-colored versus my current dark caramel.
With a face that was so devoid of expression you’d think he’d spent every day of his life watching guys get bowled over by their own cosmic insignificance.
“Um…no offense but who the hell are you?” said I.
“A friend.” said the man.
I shivered. Somehow hearing that man call me a friend was terrifying in ways that being blown away into nothingness hadn’t been. Not “more” terrifying mind you, just differently so.
“Uh no offense buddy…er….sir…” said I. Feeling almost instinctively that this was a personage to whom one should refer with a sir.
“But I don’t recall making a friend like you.” said I.
“You wouldn’t its your older-self that I’m friends with and its to “his” older-self that I owe the favor.”
“Favor?” said I.
“Don’t worry about it…That timeline is gone now…even the consequences of it, still remain. That you no longer exists. Er…Come.”
He tugged me too my feet, pulling me out from the frozen bolt of blue annihilation.
With a snap of his finger I was suddenly feeling fresh and refreshed in all sorts of ways. My clothing tidied. My energy stores restored.
I looked around and realized that the setting had changed.
We both stood in a great, empty, rolling pane. A desert wasteland amongst desert wastelands. Complete with an arid and empty sky.
“Er…thanks.” I said.
“Don’t mention it.” said the stranger.
A chair appeared behind the man and he sat down. I looked behind me and saw that there was a chair there too and I sat down. A strange gray creature in a gray butler’s suit appeared from nowhere with a tea cart in tow.
It gave us both china cups and set up a table of snacks between us.
We ate the silence. The man ate with a strange daintiness. His manner filled with the deceptive daintiness of a beast pretending to be human.
I had a very distinct feeling that I sitting besides a monster worse than any monster born on Agartha. An existence that was even more devastating than the both the lightning and the golden goddess that killed me last time had been.
“Um…like I was asking before…if-, if you don’t “mind” me asking…that is….Who exactly are you?”
The man finished eating his snacks and drinking his tea before he answered. Then after airily wiping his face and his hands with a napkin he clapped to call for the decidedly non-human little butler to come and take the tray away.
Which was a shame because I’d hardly gotten a chance to have any of it. From the smell of the tea it was probably very good. Or at least very expensive.
“Nh…I’m the guy in charge.”
“The guy in charge of everything.”
“Everything?” I said. Sort of catching the man’s meaning but not quite believing it.
“William vi Asphodel. Head of Asphodel Industries. Nice to make your acquaintance….again.” said the man. Reaching forwards and proffering his had. I shook that hand. It was both soft textured and firm, like sandstone or jade.
Then looked up at the man, unsure of my own feelings. Sure I should feel outraged but only finding numbness there instead.
I heard myself say,
“So…you’re the one behind this shit show where people spend their days dying for the “greater good” huh?”
The man just shrugged.
“Well, if you’re talking about my being the one responsible for making sure your people aren’t just burnt up like matches to make sure their world and all the other worlds in this section of reality doesn’t go tits up…then yes. That is pretty much the job I was hired for.”
The sharpness of his words should have made me feel like I’d struck a nerve, but the flatness with which he’d said them, was so complete it almost felt like neither of us had said anything at all.
I couldn’t let it go like that of course. The next words out of my mouth were…
“….So this is supposed to be you people saving “all” our worlds? By turning our world into a hellhole of endless strife and suffering?”
I couldn’t help wondering where I’d suddenly gotten the guts, because I heard myself go on to grumble some more. Saying,
“So this is you saving us….I’d surely hate to see what the solution where you don’t save us was supposed to be…”
The man didn’t even look at me. He just sat there sipping his tea. His eyes focused somewhere on the skyline. It wasn’t even like he was averting his eyes either. I got the sense it was more that I was below his notice. Which kind of pissed me off.
Then finally he did look at me. Staring me straight in the eyes. His gaze avid, dazzling gray-green. Luminous and sparkling like he had stars in his head rather than actual eyeballs. I felt all the piss and vinegar drain out of me in a single second and it was only by some miracle that this drainage didn’t end up literal.
“Yes, you probably wouldn’t want to see what Plan A, the solution where we don’t try to at least let you save yourselves looked like.”
I didn’t quite get it. Then I got it and found myself chilled. Shuddering in revulsion. He didn’t say what plan A was, but he didn’t need to. The Archive supplied that answer. I saw a future where the people of Agartha lived in plagued by some dreadful disease that filled us up with divine power and then made us burst, disintegrating in front of our horrified friends and loved ones like fireworks made of salt and sand.
There weren’t just one set of Plan As either. There were numerous versions of similar plans. Plans where we were forced multiply and then die or sometimes were supplanted by an invasive species that would act as the catalyst to defuse the bomb that we called a planet instead….after wiping out all us humans as the opening act.
“We’re….we’re people damn it…You can’t…That’s not….” I supported. Haunted horrified. Feeling like I’d aged a thousand years in single ten second time-span.
“That’s not right?….Come now, Desmond. You know better than that. In this world there are very few absolute wrongs and rights. And even if it were “wrong” look at it in perspective the human body is made up of thirty seven point two trillion cells. Each death of each human on Agartha can be said to save all the lives in about that many worlds in the neighboring universes. Do you truly think that the protectors and rulers of those worlds would chose your lives of that of their wards?”
I wanted to say something. I wanted to find some argument. Instead I just sat there tongue-tied. I was stupefied.
“Still, we have…”
“Right? Human rights? Those aren’t real things. By the time you lot came here, you were only being looked after by a set of young traveler gods and a handful of guardian angels. When things really kicked off, and the time came to discuss what to do with you. The only ones who would speak in your favor were those, and the handful of immortals and high powered A.I.s that had managed to just barely ascend before and after your voyage to this planet. So basically all you had were some young or low level immortal. None of them having so much as touched the rank of a heavenly-king by the time things came to a head. Tell me, what happens to a nation, or people without the power to defend their interests?” said the man.
I went into my head, begging my archive to find something. Anything to prove him wrong. All I got was a litany of examples from this world and the old earth where militarily, politically, and economically inferior states got pushed to the kids table.
Before the age of imperialism ended such peoples found themselves swallowed whole.
In history while one could argue that might did not necessarily make right. It could also be argued the right, had rarely counted for anything without some measure of might on its side, whether political, military or economic.
The America of the earth we Agarthans left behind was created by the loss and stress placed on that world’s English powers and the increase of our on military and economic presence.
A cynical enough mind could argue that protests and cultural movements were manipulation, albeit peaceful ones of the political powers of a region. In which case it could possibly even be argued that right had “never” counted for anything without some measure of power behind it.
Justice and righteousness without power behind them were toothless and therefore meaningless in a world where might ruled over all.
At this very moment my archive was picking up trades deals taking place all over this planet. I was witness to scenes where entire cities found themselves being traded and doled out without their say. Sometimes to serfdom or slavery in the more unlucky cases.
I might have called the sects and schools countries within countries before, but perhaps that was underselling it. After the end, after the bombs dropped and the system was rolled out. They were the ones with the most levellers. Meaning that they were the ones with the most say so in the world. It might have been better to call them countries over countries. Having a branch of a sect or school in your lands was akin to having it announced that you were their property falling within their territory.
This was what it meant to live in a world where a single man could possess the power of a nation all on his own. This was just what happened when you lived in a universe where there were beings who could snuff out planets by accident.
(Wait, Seriously?…By accident?!…Shit…)
The current world saw countless instances where popular kings or populous nations got their whole lives sold out from under them, because they were too weak to say otherwise.
Assuming the same were true in the world of immortals, would we even be counted as people if it was in comparison to all the other lives that could be saved by our deaths?”
Even the angels, benevolent and kind as they were supposed to be, could only be trusted to try and ensure that our ends for the sake of the greater good, were no more painful or prolonged than necessary.
Which came as some very cold comfort when combined with the fact that there had been many immortals in the heavenly realms, theorizing that human emotion, human anguish, would be necessary for the safe and efficient diffusion of the divine energies that suffused this planet.
“….Anyway….I’m not here to talk about me…I’m here to talk about you, both in the present and the future…or should I say the present and the past? Nh…This time travel stuff is tricky isn’t it…The future-past? Anyway, I’m here to talk about you now and the you that once were meant to be.”
“Ah…er….sure.” I said.
Feeling somewhat beaten in my other arguments. Willing to move on because I saw there was no point in trying to explain why all these eternal giants really did have to pay heed to the rights of us fragile, and ephemeral ants.
“So…here you are at a bit of an impasse…”
“An impasse?” I goggled at the man. Not quite getting what he meant.
He pointed upwards and I looked up. Nearly shitting myself as I saw the thunderhead hanging above me, a bolt of frozen divine destruction hanging above my head.
(How in the nine hells did I forget that?!)
Then in next moment the man pat my leg and I found myself thinking some faintly warm, very alarming thoughts.
“I have to say, both I and the you that’s no longer you, are very proud. You know..though the leveling system is my creation the idea of making this world an immortal kiddie pool was his…er …your idea..”
And this was the point where I finally grew tired of jumping all the time and being alarmed at everything. After freezing up for a full five minutes I sighed, a long steamy glowing breath escaping me. I found my body relaxing against almost against my will.
“Are you serious?… Why the hell would I do that?”
“Really? Well, I guess I get where you’re coming from…probably in the same way you…the future-past you got where I was coming from. Despite your looks, our looks I guess, we’re a decidedly greedy lot. I’m pretty its probably even one of your vices. There are things we’d go to any length to acquire. Things we’d go to any length to protect. That’s just the way guys like us are built.”
To tell you the truth I didn’t understand a word the guy was saying but the fact he said it with the same plain faced seriousness, made me slightly afraid to tell him he’d kind of lost me.
“In any case.”
He snapped his fingers, and the sky went away. I stood exposed to the naked glare of the heavens and felt an urge to curl up and look away.
“…like I said. I’m just here to do you…the future-past you. A favor. I wouldn’t be living the life I live today, if he hadn’t played a certain trick on me…”
I didn’t like the sound of that and prepared to run despite knowing I’d probably not be getting away from the man who could stop time and halt the divine lightning like it was nothing.
I froze and then I flinched as he leaned towards me. Returning to the resignation that I’d felt before the man arrived, since it apparently looked like I was going to die again.
But then…again, I didn’t die. Instead I found the man hugging me. His arms wrapped around my shoulders.
It was weird hug but not entirely unpleasant and despite being so pant-shittingly terrifying, the guy smelled crazy nice. Like a mixture of pine forests and laundry detergent, the good kind of laundry detergent, not that harsh no name stuff. Like fresh cut grass and lavender. A mixture of sharp and soft accents that could and should be bottled and sold in markets around the globe.
And somehow I couldn’t remember when the last time I’d been hugged. He pat me on the back and then he stepped away and bowed. A deep bow. It felt wrong to see a man like him bow. Especially to a no one like me.
“From the bottom of my heart…on behalf of myself and my wives and all our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren…Thank you.” said the stranger.
“Uh sure…Does this mean you’re going to deal with that thing that was chasing me?”
The man shook his head, managing an odd chuckle. Slightly musical and slightly repulsive in the way his facial expression didn’t change at all as he did so.
“Oh heavens no. If I robbed you of this opportunity I’m pretty sure, the you from the future-past would at least “try” to kick my ass. And then he’d die which would make me sad since I am “very” obligated to him and very fond of him as well.”
“….Oh.” I said looking up to see that the cloud had followed me despite being time being frozen.
“What I “can” do, is assure you that at very least you won’t die from it, at least not permanently and to tell you if you lean into this particular curve in the road you’ll finally be able to be free of the karma that brought you and the future you to go to such extremes.”
“Er…I-, I guess that’s good too….Um, thanks?”
“Not at all.” said the stranger.
Then just like that he disappeared. Vanishing in much the same way I imagined that I’d seem to vanish if someone happened to be looking.
A few minutes passed during which I collected myself and stored away all the more understandable bits of all that had just taken place into my memory. To digest at a later time….If there were any later times for me. Which according to the stranger, there presumably would be.
At some point I realized that time was starting again. Slowly lurching into motion as the eerie silence that I’d been too preoccupied to notice before was swallowed up by the roar and rumble of the wrathful thunder cloud. The blazing bolt descended and I grit and clench my entire being. Throwing everything I had against it.
I’d had time to calm myself.
“Oh, bollocks…I guess I’m doing this, yeah?”