The warehouse dissolved above us. We were falling, but now we were falling in chaos. I clutched tight to Ax’s arm so that I couldn’t lose him in the madness. The rainbow cacophony of light and color was blindingly disorienting, the endless sounds and sights and smells assaulting our every sense.
It felt like my flesh was melting away in frozen pieces at the same time it was burning. After a time, my eyes and ears stopped working, too damaged to function. But that didn’t stop the chaos from buffeting me from all sides, assaulting me to my very soul. I focused on Ax, holding onto my brother, to keeping him with me. I had a half notion that somehow I could pull him to safety, but he had to be in the same agony as I suffered.
We had to be dead now. I couldn’t remember the last breath I’d drawn, or the last time my destroyed vocal cords had screamed in agony. We could only be souls now, but could two souls cling together? What was the soul, after all, but a collection of who and what you are as a person? As I thought about souls, a deeper understanding of what they were infiltrated my brain. This new understanding of how souls interacted with the universe, and how they tied to the essential magic of existence bloomed within me. The philosophical debates of my college classes seemed meaningless and ignorant now, when I truly understood.
But what was the soul without the body? The body was a necessary conduit for the soul to interact with existence. No disembodied soul could truly impart its wills and desires anywhere. In fact, a disembodied soul could easily get distracted by the minutiae of existence, and that existence, as I was learning, was quite painful if you wound up in the wrong place. Just the thought of pain reminded me of my own agony, so I focused once again on holding tight to Ax, trying to ignore the renewed assault.
Some time later, my attention wandered back to the body, and I thought over how a body worked. The chaos around me seemed to like the order my brain, or perhaps my soul, was seeking. My knowledge of biology came through, and how the essence of existence tied the soul to the body became clearer. I understood how magic could heal or harm both body and soul, for they were linked as long as the body remained alive. Only here, in the chaos, could a strong soul survive by itself, at least for a time. But with that knowledge came relief. It was a relief to know that the agony would end, for even the strongest of souls would perish if they couldn’t find an anchor in reality somewhere. I flailed for an anchor even as I wished for the end of my existence, for Ax would need a safe haven even if I could not endure.
The nature of magic became my next distraction. It really was hard to maintain any one focus, for the pain would flare stronger at the least moment of inattention. I started to understand how magic could interact with the physical world, how it could be imprinted into places and things, to make places of power. Why was our reality so devoid of magic? It was barren, or almost so. Tie-man had some minor magic, but he had died in the end. I hoped he was suffering at least as much as I was. Ax. I had to hold on to Ax. Is this how a mind goes insane? Realities. I’d thought realities. There must be more than one. A glimmer of knowledge began to seep in that there were a great many, and how they interacted with Primal Chaos. I began to wonder how they were made.
Then the pain ended.
“What have we here?” rumbled a voice as old as mountains. I could sense the words more than hear them, for I’d gone blind and deaf so long ago. “Look what I’ve caught in my net. I’m a fisher of men!”
The voice laughed at his own joke. I could sense that he was a powerful being of some sort, and he was holding me aloft to examine me. His gaze was palpable.
“I see. Two souls that have wandered a few octaves too deep. And you’re going through time in the wrong direction! That must be painful. It’s a wonder you’re still in such sturdy shape. Holding tight to each other, too. Ah, brothers. If only all such familial bonds were so strong.”
I blinked as my eyesight came back, as did my hearing. I couldn’t move and couldn’t turn my head to see Ax, but I clutched tighter anyway. Standing before us was a giant of a man, wearing a greek outfit of some sort, that was clasped only at the shoulder. A leather belt was tied around his waist, and leather sandals were tied up his calf. He looked straight out of some sword-and-sandals movie, complete with the curly brown hair and black eyes. He laughed at me.
“Yes, but you are the one out of time, not me,” he said.
Is he reading my thoughts?
“I am reading your soul,” he corrected. I understood immediately.
He regarded me carefully, thoughtfully. “So what do I do with you? I see you reached deep within the Chaos, and the fire of vengeance burns strong. Your love of your brother carried you through. But are you strong enough? Will you sow what you reap?”
The god, for that’s all he could be really, turned to Ax. “And you. Your loyalty is both your redemption and your downfall. Yet you are not unlike your kin. You are Kabiri, through and through. You have fire, held tight in bonds of steel. What will you build, with a fire that burns?”
He wandered around the black bubble of space we occupied, puttering around doing unfathomable things and muttering to himself. “Not there, the Atlanteans turned away. I foresee only doom. Hmm, yes, and adding them will cut it to less than a century instead of ten. I won’t treat with the desert ones, those jackals. Thessaly, yes, that is good. The Devourer shall see the fruit of his bitter seed soon enough. As does the father, so does the son. Ah, yes, there. That’s logical. That will have to do. Hmm, yes, she will play an important role. Strange bedfellows, these times do bring.”
“I have decided to help you,” said the giant man.
Great, I thought. A muttering madman wants to help. We don’t even know who he is.
He laughed. “Ah, the cynicism of your age and realm is most refreshing. I do so love seeing all those wonderful innovations from your world as well. Mankind is so endlessly inventive. It’s your true gift, you see. No other mortal race is quite so… adaptable. I am Prometheus. I like to come out here to think, to plan. I don’t go swimming the way you did, of course. That would hurt. In fact, it might just kill me. There are Rules for a reason, you know.”
Prometheus. My mind raced. The Titan who gave fire to men? The one who sided with Zeus against Cronus? My head swam at the implications. Those stories were mythology.
“I see you are a bit overwhelmed,” said Prometheus. “No matter. Your understanding isn’t necessary. You just need motivation. Kronos did indeed arrange for those cultists to gather in your city. His High Priest, Asphalion, is breaking all the Rules, trying to build new anchors for Kronos in many realities. Thus, Asphalion is the one who is directly responsible for Kabili’s death. Is that motivation enough for you? Good. Go to Dodona. You will find allies there.”
That bastard. At that exact moment, I didn’t know if I was angrier at Asphalion for killing my father, or at Prometheus for turning hollow the victory we’d had by killing the head cultist in the warehouse. But Prometheus was right. My anger was far from placated. I also understood exactly how those anchors were being placed, and how to break them. My vengeance would be had.
“Excellent. I suppose some healing will be necessary. You’re both in terrible shape! If we were in a reality, you’d both be dead!” He laughed again, amusing only himself once more. “I guess we’d better put a little knowledge in those brains of yours too, or you’ll be killed before you learn the language.”
Prometheus leaned over to where Ax was, just out of my line of sight. Then he came over to me. “Remember me fondly, won’t you? I don’t foresee us ever meeting again.”
He tapped my forehead, and an explosion of information burst into my head, tearing its way painfully into me. At the same time, I started to regain sensation in my body, and the agony struck me again. Mercifully, I passed out.
Bio: I live on the coast of Virginia with my wife and daughter, where we enjoy hiking and camping. I am a lifelong reader and occasional writer who has decided to start sharing my work. Writing for me is recreation, what I do instead of watching endlessly repetitive reality tv or derivative shows. I joined RoyalRoad so that I can have a place for feedback to improve my writing, and in return I will be posting something every week.