“Why did I fail?” The Earth Golem who had been called High King asked to the empty sky.
The clouds held no answer. They hung thick and low above him, forming a dirty sky that warned of the coming rain.
For what felt like the hundredth time today, the Earth Golem reached up with his good arm and rubbed the stump at his left shoulder. He could still remember the cold glean off the reflective silver mech as it burst through the barricade and raised its sickle to strike. He had been confident, then. He had been high king.
That sickle was the sharpest thing he had seen in his brief reign.
“To survive in the prerogative of the great,” his mother had whispered to him when he was young. She would drag the sheepskin covers up to his chin then, and finish with, “As long as one lives, all is not lost.”
Oh Nana, I wish the world was like your stories…
Below him, the vast horde of the afraid traveled with a momentum that couldn’t be stopped. They marched and steamrolled the steams and lives of many without a thought. A few days ago one of the leaders of the Council of Fates had died and there had been some scrambling around, but the body was too large for the head to control any longer; the migration was considering down to the promised land.
And as one who had been neutralized and spirited away to be a critical appendage for the head to keep control of the body, the one who had been High King felt lost. For many reasons.
Most of the mechs had a rough grey hue from enduring the harsh winds of the Earth Golem Land, but not that terrible model that had struck him down. The one referred to as Seraphim. He had never seen the pilot, but he had seen her long tawny hair, cascading down her back.
At the time, his gaze was blurry from agony and the heartbreak of his loss, but he would never forget how the pilot had moved. She had stepped down out of the suit and glanced at him. She wore a black helmet. Then she turned and walked away.
“As requested, he has been delivered. I’ll expect the payment in the usual place.”
“Why…” He muttered again. In spite of himself, he sat up and looked over the edge of the cliff next to him toward the living mass of bodies moving below. It was somewhat mesmerizing, to look at them all flowing like ants over each other. They were about to reach the first line of defense for the Monster Race armies. Currently, a delegation of the monsters was in the heart of this horde, seeking to bargain for a peaceful passage.
But without a doubt, there was no stopping this force. The Monster royal family could either join in or have their entire land laid waste by the flood of people.
The one who had been High King sat up quickly, reaching for the club at his hip. At the head of the path a slim man stood. There was an easy smile on his face, and he possessed short black hair. Immediately, the one who had been High King relaxed. Although he wasn’t overly familiar with this man, it was someone he knew.
“To be blessed by the presence of the Prince of Monsters… it is a rare honor for one such as I,” He said monotonously.
The Monster Prince’s eyes flashed emerald as his smile turned indulgent. “Please. I have never been recognized as half of what you have been named. It is my honor to stand before the High King, the greatest the Earth Golems have seen in generations.”
“To hear that title from you… it sounds like a sad joke,” The Earth Golem said. Laboriously, he stood. “Besides, the fact that I yet live is extremely sensitive. Since you are aware of me… it is possible that I may need to kill you.”
“Could you?” The Monster Prince’s smile widened.
For a second, the one who had been High King felt the urge to test out the young man’s resolve. The Earth Golem had no doubt that the monster before him was strong. Not only had he accompanied the group that went to the Land of Dreams, but he also returned to a Land and united it all within two years.
Although there was nominally a regent that governed the main workings of the Land before the Monster Prince’s thirtieth birthday, everyone knew who held the reins of power in the 3rd Land.
“...prince, I’m too tired for games. I have lost much. I’ve been broken. But that does not mean I’ve weakened. In fact, I have grown strong. So strong that I feel like the current me could cut down my past self just as I was cut down. But that is a cold comfort. Some foes cannot be fought.”
The Monster Prince rubbed his chin. “The Great Weaver is dead, is it not? Who is left to fight?”
“Fate.” The one who had hoped to be Emperor sighed. The one who had been High King shook his head sadly. “I fought not against an individual, but against the world.”
The Monster Prince walked over and joined the Earth Golem at the edge of the cliff. His emerald eyes studied the flow of bodies below, then moved back to the Earth Golem. “Against… the world?”
Stoically, the Earth Golem shrugged and gestured to the sweaty and endless crowd below. “It is so. I have been raised to pursue an impossible dream. Perhaps the great Earth Golem Emperor once existed… but I have felt the laws of the world. There is a bar there, preventing another such one from rising. My people… for hundreds of years… have chased a lie.”
“You are being melodramatic,” The Monster Prince chuckled.
The Earth Golem’s temper flared, but he let the emotions wash through him before continued to speak. “Perhaps. You are young. Although you have faced adversity… Can you know for sure you know better than I? Have you been broken down to nothing? Have you been left to die or treated like cattle?”
The Monster Prince just looked at the Earth Golem. His eyes were empty and green. They were as peaceful and deep as a fae moon.
To his own surprise, the Earth Golem looked away first. Generally, he would be incensed by the loss of pride before this young man, but the Earth Golem was surprised to find a strange feeling of intimacy toward the prince. “...well, each treads our own path. All I can say is that when I rose to my apex… the Spriggit’s, who had stalled out on their mech research for three hundred years had a revolutionary breakthrough. Within two years, they had created avatars with the strength of the Progenitor’s messengers. What am I supposed to do but assume this is the will from above? I was deemed not worthy.”
“If all you are going to do is whine about your loss,” The Monster Prince turned away, looking at the dust cloud that followed after the host of people. It wafted low and fat behind them. It almost seemed like the migration was fleeing from the trail of airborne debris they left in their wake. “Then I will go. You don’t need me to feel sorry for yourself.”
“Why are you even here?” The Earth Golem hissed. His phantom left arm reached out and roughly grasped the Monster Prince to spin him around, but of course nothing happened. Just as soon as it had arrived, the intimacy fled, leaving only his vicious sense of helplessness. “This journey of yours was pointless. Your land will either join the movement or burn. There is no other option at this point.”
At that, the monster prince reached up and covered his face with his hand. Although his back was to the Earth Golem, it was clear that the prince was bearing a great weight on his back. The Earth Golem’s words brought that back into stark relief.
There was a shred of regret in the Earth Golem’s chest, but only that. His expression turned bitter. Had not he felt that same helplessness? Wasn’t that the same weight under which he now struggled?
His mother was incorrect. There was no meaning in life when the world considered your dream anathema. What was the point of it all…?
“Is this so simple a world that there are only two paths forward?” The Monster Prince said in a light tone with his back still to the Earth Golem. “And that is why I can still chide you in my situation; to find a dead end at the end of one path doesn’t invalidate a dream.”
The Earth Golem spat off the cliff toward the masses below. “You did not witness the Seraphim when it descended and slew the High King. It was the will of the Progenitor itself, such was its strength. And even now, with the confidence of crushing the Seraphim, there would be no point. Another judgment would lay beyond this one. The trials are endless. The world is constant strife.”
“If you were so confident of your victory… would you really be laying here with just the sky?”
The Earth Golem ground his teeth, but could not force words out of his mouth.