- The day when his reality broke.
The day when Santiago Alonso Caballero learned the truth had been special even before he was contacted by that being. Or rather, because the day was special he was contacted by me. See, that day Santiago was at the Spanish Real Academia de Artes Marciales, an entity created in 1763 in order to preserve and improve Spanish martial arts, to take his provost exam.
The reason why this was important was because this world was unlike your own. This world had the Fayd, and with it came magic and daemons, which made the ability to fight crucial. By the 18th century the army had stopped relying in classic weapons, and put emphasis on fire weapons. But the 1758 Great Daemonic wars showed that while guns could be enhanced by magic, weapons that relied on the power of the mage were, on average, more effective than self powered weapons like guns. Not to say that magical guns were weak or ineffective quite the opposite, but they were very expensive to make, requiring exotic materials and extensive experimentation.
So between a very costly gun that could shoot through a building or a relatively cheap sword that a mage could use to cut through the same building, most nations could only afford the swords that were normally just as effective as guns in the right hands. The 1758 Great Daemonic Wars showed that martial training had degraded, with one particularly embarrassing event in which a mage cut his own arm, his sword arm. How did he manage to do that I still don’t even want to know, else my faith in humanity will be highly diminished. Alright, I do know how that happened but I don’t talk about it, it’s ridiculous. Thus the academy was built to train mages in the weapon of their choosing, including guns for those who could afford them. They even had a cannon division!
The RAAM holds two main divisions. The Martial Path and the Scholar’s Path, the Martial Path is for those who wish to wield weapons, the Scholar Path is for those that catalog and write down martial knowledge from around the globe. The Martial Path is the only one that holds ranks and is divided thusly:
The apprentice ranks, for those who are still learning:
Novice. The absolute beginner. Doesn’t even know the basic forms.
Savant. The one trusted not to stab himself, nor his sparring partner. The first rank where sparring is allowed.
Old player. He would make decent fighter. The first rank where you can’t be defeated by an untrained enemy, barring extreme physical differences or dumb mistakes.
Skilled bachelor. The worst medieval knight would be at this rank.
The officer ranks, for those that have learned well but still aren’t masters.
Skilled graduate. Congratulations, you may call yourself a swordsman. Your master can’t teach you anymore so go get real experience.
Skilled warrior. You would be renowned in armies beneath a thousand men, a warrior not found even between a hundred.
Veteran. A warrior capable of winning a thousand battles, you have reached the realm of the famed.
Instructor. You know your style from head to toes, and can be trusted to correctly train others in it, identifying and solving whatever problems they may have.
And finally the ranks of the masters.
Provost. The one who has modified their style to suit their needs, creating a variant perfect for them. These men and women are the ones spoken of in taberns, the ones that legends are written about.
Master. Capoferro, Agrippa, Musashi, the ones that wrote the books on swordsmanship, or spearmanship, or archery, etc. Men that pass down in history as the creators of martial arts.
So yes, a provost exam was a big deal, even if Santiago was no mage. In fact, it was even more of a big deal taking into account that Santiago was seventeen, when most provosts were in their thirties or above. So there was Santiago, in the RAAM’s examination chamber, a marvel of magical engineering, taking his combat exam. The provost exam was comprehensive, including fighting in terrains between swamps to forests, against multiple opponents, against weaker and stronger foes, and many such exams. The exam took place over a week to test how well the applicant dealt with stress and exhaustion, with the final day being Prize Playing, concretely fifty continuous fights in random terrains.
By 13:26 Santiago was in his final bout. The terrain was thankfully a barren plain and his opponent an instructor. Santiago primarily fought with a longsword, but also knew how to use the arming sword, rapier, backsword, spear, poleaxe and bow. This fight he had chosen to use a longsword and coincidentally his opponent also used a longsword. Santiago was at a heavy disadvantage due to how tired he was, when he held his sword he had the feeling that if he dropped it, he wouldn’t be able to pick it back.
So there he was, standing two meters from his opponent. Santiago was of medium height, about 178 cm, furthermore, he was built like a wardrobe, wide of shoulders with decent musculature as well as well proportioned. His opponent was of roughly equal height, but with a more slender physique. Santiago evaluated his target, from how he was moving he could tell that his opponent was nervous, he was sweating more than he should at current temperature and humidity conditions. He also was slightly too tense, but still relaxed. It was most likely that he had heard of Santiago’s reputation, which made him double guess himself. He was most likely debating whether to attack or wait to defend, seeking an opening.
Santiago had positioned himself with his back to the Sun, the artificial sun anyway, and moved in a way that his opponent was forced to remain in this position. Santiago’s aim was to make his foe attack first, since he doubted he had left the stamina needed to push an assault, while maintaining his advantage. They had just been gauging each other for a few seconds when Santiago faked making a mistake, he moved to assault in a way that allowed his opponent to dodge to the right. With the Sun no longer directly in his eyes the instructor slashed at Santiago, but Santiago predicted this and parried his attack, using the momentum given by his foe’s sword to slash him in the face.
And that was the match. Had the match not been on the simulation chamber the instructor would be dead. Even discounting the bleeding from the gash it would have cracked his face and skull, a lethal injury without treatment. But as it was in the simulation chamber the instructor simply disappeared. The simulation chamber allowed a fully realistic battle without actually being in contact with the enemy, the magic of the chamber transmitting the force and position of the fighters when they were in identical, but different rooms. The creation of this chamber had made injuries and deaths plunge when sparring, which everyone sane was thankful for.
Having finished the exam Santiago allowed himself to fall to the ground and groan in exhaustion. The provost exam had been very taxing, demanding much from him. He never wanted to fight in the middle of a swamp again, nor did he want to fight a bear. And how did they get a realistic bear simulation he didn’t know, but it was tough, very unlike fighting a human. He forced himself to stand up as the terrain changed into a featureless black room, and headed to the locker room, where he showered and changed to more formal clothing.
Once decent he walked to the administrative part of the academy, to present himself before the tribunal and hear their verdict. The provost exam tribunal was formed of five provost and one master, and to pass the exam you needed the approval of at least four of them.
Once Santiago arrived at the Provost Examination Room 5, he breathed deep, steeled himself, and entered. The room was quite simple, with two desks, one small one big, and seven chairs. One chair and desk was for the examinee, the other desk and six chairs where for the examiners, and they were slightly taller, probably for intimidation. Santiago had grown pretty accustomed to this room, since every day he had to report here to have his fighting dissected and reviewed.
“Good evening, mister Santiago. Please seat down.” The master, a woman named Dolores Arima, smiled at Santiago.
Normally only the master spoke, except when the provosts had a different view of the events to be graded. So it was no surprise when Dolores kept speaking.
“Now, before you arrived the examination tribunal have reached an unanimous decision for once. We believe that your skill with a sword isn’t quite at provost level, however,” Santiago gulped, having feared this, before he heard the however, “taking into account your age that isn’t a surprise.”
She paused to smile again at him.
“What is a surprise is your fighting skill, situational awareness, feints, trickery, manipulation of your opponent, efficiency when going for the kill, and conservation of your stamina, as well as how calm you are. Not once have you made a mistake or lost your cool, which is a rare and valued ability in battle.
So while your sword skills need improvement you more than make up for it in actual battle ability. Which is what counts at the end of the day, defeating your opponent. I recommend that you use more thrusts when fighting, and increase your aggresivity a little, as your initiative is slightly weak. Any of you have something else?”
She looked at her fellow examiners, one woman and four men, for confirmation.
“I do.” Said a well dressed man. “You rely a bit too much in predicting your opponent’s moves. And while your predictive abilities are good-“
“Good, he says.” The sole female provost snorted. “Did I not know better I’d say they are supernatural, he has never misinterpreted his opponent.”
“While your predictive abilities are good.” The well dressed provost stressed the good with annoyance. “There will come the day when someone fools you, so don’t put so much strength in your blows, reserve some to be able to change faster between attacks.”
“I don’t think that’s a problem. Sure, he overextended a little, but nothing grave. It’d take a master or a really experienced provost to take advantage of it as it is.” Corrected the older of the provosts, who was around seventy years old.
“I know, but I believe he can become a master, so I will push him to excellence.”
Dolores nodded at that, sharing the feeling, before announcing the result.
“As such, we have concluded that you reach the standards that the RAAM ask of its provosts. Congratulations mister Santiago, you pass.”
“Yes!” Santiago exclaimed before coughing on his fist, embarrassed. “Sorry.”
“Seventeen years old and a provost, you deserve more than a yes.” The current Arima head said wryly. “May I ask how have you trained to become such a fighting monster at your age?”
“It just comes to me? I guess I’m talented. Although I have sparred quite a bit.”
“A bit.” Dolores raised an eyebrow. She then took a file from under the desk, and read it. “Joined the RAAM at ten years of age in summer 2013. When he was twelve he was allowed to spar for the first time in summer 2015. Since then he has fought an average of ten times a day, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, for a total of 18,260 battles in five years, not counting examinations. Of them several were fights against multiple opponents or battle royales. He won all but twelve of them. This Santiago Alonso Caballero sure has sparred a bit, in ancient times he would have only killed about 20,000 people before becoming an adult.”
“So I have fought a lot, but even then that doesn’t explain how good I am at this, right?”
“Indeed it doesn’t. Oh well, I will just have to accept that some people are great at fighting.”
Due to having achieved an impressive accomplishment Santiago was in a good mood when he arrived home by 16:57, having eaten in the RAAM’s cafeteria. He lived in a flat along with his parents and siblings. His father was Gonzalo Alonso Ruiz, a daemonsmith, and his mother Sara Caballero Lopez, who worked with his father. Daemonsmiths are those who take material daemons and make stuff out of them, whether that be refrigerators, weapons or armour. They specialised in making armour and guns, but could also make household appliances.
His siblings were three. His older sister María, who was twenty one, his younger sister Elena, who was fifteen, and his youngest brother Mario, who was nine. Santiago had a good relationship with all of them, teasing and ribbing notwithstanding, but for certain reasons he was highly protective of Mario even if he never showed it. Of course, due to his special circumstances Santiago knew that, despite his fighting skills, he would always be the weakest in the family.
As such when Santiago entered his home he wasn’t surprised at what he heard when he passed the living room.
“Welcome. How did it go? Are you finally an expert at waving sticks around?” Asked Elena.
“Ha ha. Yes, I am an expert at waving sticks around, shortstuff.” A barb for a barb, as some may say.
Elena glared at his brother, in her opinion she wasn’t that short, being 145 cm was being short but she was only fifteen, surely she would grow. Spoiler alert, yes she would, massively to that.
Santiago, with the practiced ease of an experienced brother, ignored her and headed to his room to change to more casual clothing. As he headed there, it was the second furthest room from the room in the flat, he heard his mother shout at him.
“Congratulations Santiago! You have a package, did you buy something?”
“Not that I remember! Are we the only ones home?”
“Yes! Your father is finishing a riot gun, Mario is still at a birthday party and María is watching over him!”
Santiago froze for a second, before answering.
“Can’t you two speak face to face like normal people?! I’m trying to read here!”
“Now you are shouting too!” Said Santiago.
“Because you are shouting!”
“That doesn’t even make sense in this context!”
“Will you stop shouting children?! The neighbours are going to complain!”
““You started mom!””
Santiago chuckled beneath his breath and finished changing. Now comfortable he went to the living room and sat in the sofa with the grace of an overgrown walrus. Looking around he saw that Elena was lounging on the other sofa, and his mom was sitting by her side, having finished dinner.
“I say, you children don’t appreciate me. I cook, clean and take care of you all and yet you blame me for everything.”
“I also cook mom.” Santiago rolled his eyes.
“Don’t sass me boy.”
“That can’t be called sass, mom.” Elena smiled at her brother where their mom couldn’t see her. Santiago smirked at her, and Elena saluted.
“And now you tag team me. Where did I go wrong, I wonder?”
“You know we love you mom. But arguing runs in our blood, as does nerdiness and weirdness.” Explained Santiago.
“Our family isn’t that weird.”
“Uncle Paco divided a fifty euros bill by breaking it in four.”
“Paco is the weirdest in the family Santiago.”
“Aunt Helena makes video games, her daughter cosplays.”
“And she’s your favourite aunt, Elena.”
“And grandma and aunt Rosa always argue when they are together.”
“Why are you two using only my family as examples? Your father’s weird too.”
“Yeah, but they are weird in the ancient daemonsmith clan way. The we take the body parts of dead daemons and forge them into weapons of great might way.”
“Whatever.” Sara faked ignoring her children and reading her book, but her smile said she felt otherwise.
Elena and Santiago shared a smug smile, before going to their mother and hugging her.
“Too late for this to work.”
“Really?” The pouty eyes that Elena sent her mother were greatly effective, Santiago’s not so much. After all his features were more angular and sharp, and while that made him very pleasant to look at if not handsome, it wasn’t conductive to cuteness.
“Get off me. It’s already hot enough without you two being so close.” Sara grumbled.
Santiago laughed softly and went to the small table, where a packet lied.
“Hm. I don’t remember buying anything through mail.”
He opened it and took a small token from it. It was a small hyperrectangle about one centimetre tall, fifteen centimetres deep and eight centimetres wide. It was made of a black stone that was cool to the touch. As he was examining it one of its bigger facets lit up, showing a symbol of a stylised tower surrounded by fog, and Santiago felt his consciousness being pulled into it
Suddenly Santiago found himself in a spacious, hexagonal room. The walls were made of thick stone, covered by tapestries depicting ancient humans fighting daemons in some parts, and by paintings in others. The floor was made of wood and warm, as if there was heating beneath it. There were no windows but in the middle of the floor there was a basin filled with something resembling liquid light, that shifted into many images. It was well lit, despite lacking any obvious light sources. The ceiling painted, and it showed a nomadic tribe travelling through some plains under the watch of a warm eye in the sky. The room felt warm, at the most comfortable temperature, and the fresh like the wind in the morning. There was no furniture, for it was not needed.
Santiago had appeared in the middle of the basin, and marvelled at the light like water flowing around him. It felt like a warm bath, but better. Every second he was submerged made him feel more energised, his soreness vanishing and his mind resting. He was so relaxed he fell asleep, feeling safe and relaxed. At the back of his mind he heard a voice complaining, begging for him to remain awake, but another told him it was alright to be protected. And everything faded to black.
When Santiago awoke he didn’t want to stand, for he felt safe as if in the embrace of a mother. The darkness was protecting him, holding him close and whispering for him to let his worries melt away. And thus did Santiago snuggle under the water, as if it were bed sheets, awake but too comfortable to stand up. But then the voice of the darkness whispered in his head.
“The time of resting has ended. Stand up, don’t you want to have a productive day?”
The voice was comfortable, neither male nor female, warm and compassionate. It was synesthetic, making Santiago feel as if his body was being caressed by silk. He begrudgingly opened his eyes, and sit in the basin. Looking around he couldn’t find the source of the voice, and he frowned. He wondered if he had imagined it, when he heard a soft chuckle.
“You can already see me.”
Santiago felt confused, before he understood and looked at the water he was in, and now that he focused on it, it didn’t wet him. Peculiar.
The water-light began to move, flowing to a point and forming a humanoid figure rising from the waters. It began to condense, before taking the form of a naked, genderless human. It had no sexual attributes, looking like a doll. A muscular, well proportioned doll with androgynous features. It sat down on the water and smiled at Santiago. It was tall and imposing, majestic but warm, ancient and caring, these were the impressions it gave to Santiago. It was me. For the record, I’m not touting my own horn those were literally his thoughts.
“Good morning, and welcome to my office in the Steel Bulwark.” I said to the poor boy. And before you ask the theatrics were needed for him to take me seriously.
That woke him up fast. Nothing like being told you are in the greatest fortress and school of humanity to kick your head into gear.
“The Steel Bulwark? Then are you an allied Daemon God?”
Sharp, I like that about him. I like many things about him, which is why I invited him to join me.
“Near, but no.”
“Not human. Not Daemon God and I seriously doubt you are an ordinary daemon.” Seeing the realisation in his face was seriously funny. Particularly his stare changing from awed to flat, from flat to disbelieving, disbelieving to awed, and awed to flat again. “I will need a second opinion about that.”
“About what?” Even if I was able to guess his thoughts, and indeed even knew them, I wanted to hear him say it.
“The Steel Bulwark is the greatest fortress of humanity in the Fayd. Only humans and our allies can enter it. Right now we don’t have ambassadors from alien worlds or universes, so only three kinds of beings can be here. Humans, allied daemons, and the Founder.”
I smiled knowingly, and he swore in his mind. It was quite the unfair insult, I don’t fuck mothers, or fuck at all. But I understood, I am a legend among humans of this Earth, in more ways than one, so I didn’t say anything.
“I seriously need a second source.” He was sceptical, a good thing when dealing with the Fayd. There are many nasties among daemons, and even mages.
With a wave of my hand, for his sake, I made the floor transparent. Beneath us the Steel Bulwark appeared in all its glory. The Bulwark was a magical marvel, most resembling a tower. But as it was made before the concept of buildings existed among humans it was different from the usual towers. At its centre lied a cylindrical pillar twenty metres of radius that stretched for the full height of the Bulwark, from floor to ceiling.
Around the pillar was an empty space, only connected to the floors surrounding it by stone bridges, with fences of course. The rooms and chambers of the Bulwark were found within the outer wall, more or less. The structure of the Bulwark was of four concentric circles, the centremost one was the pillar, the second one was the hallways with the space in between being empty. The third was the first wall, with the rooms being nestled between this one and the fourth, and the fourth being the outer wall.
The Bulwark had a thousand floors, each three metres of height, for a total height of three kilometres. However not all rooms were this low, space was wonky there. A room that from the outside was classroom sized held within a football field. Even the hallways could bend to accommodate bigger folks, allowing for some truly screwy perspectives. Stairs and elevators allowed transit between floors, with every twenty floors having a teleporter for faster travels.
The central pillar was the core of the Bulwark, being control centre, library, observatory and computer simultaneously, it was the most important part of the Bulwark. By touching it one could connect with it. The pillar itself was not sapient, but held a sort of intelligence, allowing it to function like, as I said, a computer. It could store information, sort it and respond to the wishes of the user to present the adequate information.
But you shouldn’t underestimate the rooms, which held libraries older than civilisation in the form of paintings and memory stones, as well as other just as impressive facilities. It could also scan its surroundings for information, and had a crucial ability. All humans from this Earth in the Fayd could sense its location relative to them, it was akin to a lighthouse. This had allowed for humanity to explore further than they should be capable of with their current means without getting lost.
It was the first time Santiago had been in the Bulwark, his first time in the Fayd even. He looked down the massive structure in awe, looking at the millions of humans and daemons walking in it, at that moment there were 2.26 million mages in it. As there were about ten million mages on Earth, that was a fair number, but due to the sheer bulk of the Bulwark they were sparse.
As Santiago took in the sights I could hear his heart accelerate, and see his eyes widen. It is a testament to Santiago’s control over his face that he didn’t go slack jawed, as even I have to admit the Bulwark is an impressive sight. Even from outside it is something to be seen, with the closest parallel I can find being Barad-Dûr from the Peter Jackson films. It was a gigantic fortress made of steel, shaped in an ominous form. It struck terror in the hearts of everyone wishing to harm this Earth, and awe in those under its aegis. It was a beacon of stability in the ever changing Fayd. For 14,000 years it had stood, and never had it been breached.
I waited for a while as he examined the tower and felt reassured in my choice when he used his one ability to overlook it.
“It’s not an illusion.”
“No, it isn’t.”
He turned to me and for the first time examined me through his perception.
“And you are not a daemon or a material being. You have no mass or SINQUM, and…”
“I can’t see what you are, whether with my eyes or through the hole. You are a different existence. You really are the Founder.”
“Oh? Couldn’t your eyes be fooled?”
“No, I… you know why, don’t you?” His eyes narrowed and suspicion filled his heart.
Indeed I did. I had been observing him for years, it’s why I knew he was the one.
“Please, humour me.”
He sighed, but complied.
“Every human has an entity called the Guardian in their minds, if one becomes aware of it they can use it to acquire powers and magic. It is supposed to be very difficult to know it’s there, but by bonding with a daemon… sorry, I didn’t explain it well. Guardians are similar to True Daemons, but without a will. By bonding with one and becoming familiar with it discovering your Guardian becomes easier.
I had it easier, after all it is easier to notice a hole in reality than air.”
“Good simil.” A really great one to that, the Guardian has been part of human minds since very early in their evolution. It is always there, and as they say you don’t know what you have until you lose it.
“Thanks. It turns out my Guardian was stolen at some point in time, before I turned thirteen, which is when I noticed the hole in my mind. It is a weird feeling, to have… no, to lack a part of my mind. Because of that I can’t use magic, but by examining the hole left behind I became able to feel my mind and whether it is being tampered through magic. I also can see unmaterialised daemons and SINQUM.
It also turns out that most illusory and mental abilities target the Guardian, so I am mostly immune to those. Furthermore most daemons are uninterested in me, and I can’t be possessed.”
“Hmm. That isn’t quite right. Or rather, nothing you have said is wrong but what you believe you know is false.”
“See, the Guardian is inextricably tied to its host’s mind. It is incapable of function if separated from them. So if you wish to use a stolen Guardian you must let a connection remain between host and Guardian. This connection allows the Guardian to work, while being sufficiently separated that the human is unable to feel or call upon the Guardian.”
Santiago drew a sharp breath unable, or rather, unwilling to believe me. He had long given up on using magic, which was devastating for someone who craved power as much as him. With trembling eyes he looked into my own, having understood why he was here. Well, partly.
“What do you wish from me?”
“Direct, I like that. Trying to fish information from someone like me would be folly. But first, background, what do you know about the Sea of Chaos from whence I come?”
“It is a place of possibility. From it universes spring, as did the Fayd, similarly to many creation myths. It is a realm beneath time and space, beneath even the quantum realm. There our rules hold no meaning, our reason fails.”
“Good enough. What do you know about its inhabitants?”
“Nothing then. The Sea of Chaos has many forms of life, or things you could call alive. Universes are also creatures from the Sea, and some are even alive. However I will simplify it and tell you there are two big classes. In reality there are five.
The two you must know about are the Rulers and the Primordials. Primordials are basically the animals and humans of the Sea, feeding and living on it according to its rules. Rulers are different in that they can bend the Sea of Chaos and universes to their will, in other words, their will shapes reality. From this class most of the beings from mythology you call gods come. I could be considered one of them, but really I am from the fourth class.”
If he heard me say this he would complain, but he looked so cute in that moment. His eyes were filled with earnestness, his mind soaking in my words. Truly such an eager and innocent desire for knowledge is adorable. The simple desire to understand the world you live in is something I can empathise with. I too held such a longing once, but now I know everything about the world. Even cuter were his little nods, and his disappointment when he heard I wouldn’t teach him everything. He actually pouted!
“Hmm?” He tilted his head like a dog!
“What are you then?”
“Not yet. Depending on how this goes I will tell you or not. I must have my secrets, I hope you understand.”
“Haah. I… do.” He said begrudgingly. And then he whispered to himself. “But I don’t like it.”
“Well then. Rulers are immensely powerful and old, the myths you know of are actually downplayed to become credible. A mountain wouldn’t have stopped Typhon, even a planet wouldn’t have done it. As such we, the reasonable ones, created a series of laws and rules to regulate us. One of the most important regulations is a strict series of laws regarding the treatment of mortals.”
“Does mortal include humans and daemons?”
“Yes, even Primordials.”
“You want me to take care of your mortal enemies, don’t you?”
“I have no mortal enemies.”
“Mortals are far too frail and weak to threaten me in any way. No, there are only mortals who have disappointed me. Such as seven Daemon Gods that spend their time devouring universes. Or a certain mage that rules over a galactic empire with fear and blood. I won’t be affected if they keep their ways, but I can’t overlook it.”
“Let me get this straight. You, a being of immeasurable power and age, want to get rid of evil people?”
Lovecraft you’ve ruined the good name of us who are far older and powerful than humanity. I know of humans who care for mayflies, why wouldn’t we care about something as interesting as sapience?
“The doubt hurts. Just because I am older than Death itself doesn’t mean I can’t care.”
Santiago was doubting it, he didn’t understand why I would, before I made a remark.
“Think of me less as of Lovecraft and more as of the angels. There are surely those who are indifferent to humans, and those who hate them. But surely there are those who care about them. After all, are we not also living beings with emotions?”
For a broad definition of living, though most of us do have something resembling emotions, in our own way. My own kind is remarkably similar to mortals in way of thought, though I can only show you one of my levels of awareness without things getting confusing.
“Okay.” He thought for a moment. “My apologies.”
“No matter. Anyway, my wish is to train you until you can deal with these disappointments. Preferably seal or re-educate them, but death is on the table, even if it is a waste.”
“And I get power in exchange? How do I do that without a Guardian?” He sounded, and was, dubious. My offfer sounded too good.
“Not only that. First, I can give you an artificial Guardian that won’t interfere with the normal one, once you recover it. Second… first tell me what you think.”
“What is this artificial Guardian? Where is mine? Why me?” He was keeping his nerves down, no sane man could hear what he did and be unaffected. But still he tried to avoid being overwhelmed by it, and remain rational.
“The artificial Guardian is just that. Unlike you I know full well what a Guardian is, and I can create them. The trick is actually in making sure that it doesn’t interfere with the birth one. Yours was taken by a Daemon God for an experiment. Because you are perfect for this.”
“I’m perfect?” He frowned.
“For this. You are a good fighter, great for the fighting parts. You are mentally and emotionally stable, good for dealing with the sheer awfulness of the job. You know how to deal with pain, both physical and emotional, without collapsing, a product from your past. You also lack a Guardian, which long term will make you more powerful. And finally, I like you as a person. Even if you aren’t perfect you are my best choice, in over five thousand years.”
His eyes had become like saucers, and his cheeks reddened. To say he was unaccustomed to compliments would be an understatement. Or maybe it was that the compliments were from me. I haven’t put much emphasis into it, but I am without a doubt a legend. Humans wouldn’t be where they are were it not for my help. After all I was the one that taught their ancestors how to build the Steel Bulwark, without me their world would be nearly defenceless against the hordes of daemons that desire their world. As for why this Earth is so attractive to them, that is my secret. It’d be like a scientist being praised by Newton, or a general by Alexander the Great.
“I, uh… yeah I… uh, never mind. Ehem.” He breathed deep. “Are you sure about that?”
“I have studied humanity since before it actually existed. I was there when the first human in the Sea of Chaos was born. I was there before life ever existed. I was there when Death as a concept was born. I was there when there were no universes. I was there before the gods. I was there before the light, before the darkness. I was there at the dawn of time, and I will be at its twilight. The lifespan of an universe is but a blink to me. My sight encompasses an uncountable number of universe. My mind can hold all knowledge in creation. Never has there been anyone in the Fayd with more knowledge of humanity than me, so if I say you are my best option, it is because you are my best option.”
I think I broke him, okay fine, I did it on purpose. It is very amusing when people are treating me like they would another person and I break out the whole older than Death thing. It is true though.
“Fine, I can’t yet assimilate it, but fine. You want me, good.” He tried to stop thinking about it, but I know well that he had an existential crisis three nights later. “Anything else?”
“Your twin sister is alive.” I remarked casually.
“I se-“ He froze, there is no better way to describe it. He just looked at me like I had grown another head, and began to hyperventilate. He tried to control himself for a few seconds, but failed. Finally he managed to push some words out.
“What. Do. You. Mean?” His voice trembled, trying to contain his anger. But he wasn’t angry at me, but at those who had ritually sacrificed his sister when she was nine. That event broke him. It had taken him years of therapy to rebuild himself to this point, and he had emerged stronger, happier and saner. But he had never forgotten, nor forgiven.
“The ritual wasn’t human sacrifice. Its purpose was to transmit her mind to her Guardian, and send it to another universe. There she has been made to serve Koluath Veld, a powerful mage. A poor excuse of a person, but powerful nonetheless.”
“Where is she?” He had finally managed to restrain himself, not allowing his emotions to dominate him.
“You are too weak to rescue her.”
He recoiled when I said that. He even began to snarl at me, before he recomposed himself.
“You! No, you… are not at fault. Why not send another?”
“You know that universes can have different physical laws. What you haven’t considered is how does a universe react to matter with a different set of laws when it enters it.”
“Wha- what happens?”
“At best you go boom, at worst…”
“At worst?” Why are humans so fascinated by the many horrible ways they can die? Well, I know why but it is still weird. But I guess that since I can’t die, I can’t really know the feeling.
“You will be unable to interact with anything and die a slow death by asphyxiation in total sensory deprivation.”
“You’re very casual about that!”
“Not my problem. Anyway, in order to get a person from a compatible universe to get in there, kill Koluath, and that’s the only option, and get your sister back I’d have to pull more strings than I can. And it'd take way too long.”
I let my words sink and simmer for a moment, and Santiago didn’t disappoint me.
“I am your solution.”
He resolved himself.
“How long until I can get there?”
Even if I had been a demon he may have accepted my deal. Or maybe not since he is very paranoid when dealing with the Fayd, but this may have been too much. Thankfully for him I am quite the opposite.
“If everything goes according to plan? Three minutes.”
“How long until you are powerful enough to rescue your sister? Again, according to plan three years.”
At that moment I nearly pitied Koluath. In Santiago’s face an incredibly sadistic smile rose, a smile that promised death. I hoped that he could get rid of that bloodlust by then, or he may have been rendered useless for my purposes. I have no use for weaklings of that kind.
“How do I start?” He asked, brimming with impatience.
“In a three days, it will be the best time. Until then prepare yourself. Keep a clear mind and relax.” I had chosen today for three reasons after all.
“Alright.” He breathed deep and exhaled slowly, calming himself down. There was no place for restlessness when learning how to hurt others in Santiago’s opinion. As such he listened to me and obeyed. Thankfully he knew self hypnosis, so hopefully he would be at his best by then.
“But first,” I took out a small flask from within me, technically from a pocket universe, but details, “drink this.”
He accepted and swallowed it in one gulp. This was going to be good, or very bad.
“What was that?”
“Best way to explain it? Yog-Sothoth.”
The effects kicked in at that moment, just as planned for maximum theatrics. The flask is best, but still inaccurately, described as a potion made from a Primordial. Said Primordial excelled at spatial manipulation and infiltration as well as information gathering. Not exactly Yog-Sothoth, but close. However the potion had a pretty nasty side effect, it would make the consumer experience about a trillion years in the existence of the Primordial, whose actual name would be something like Watcher from the Dark. Cheery fellow, no, really. By Primordial standards he was Pollyanna.
As Santiago began to experience the side effects of the potion I got to work. Mainly protecting his mind from breaking and erasing unneeded memories. Since it would be difficult for me to describe what Santiago experienced that day I will allow you a glimpse at his mind.
‘Born and dead, born and dead. The Great Astral is a blink, the circles become squares and squares triangles without changing shape. Shut, shut, shut shut shustshuts shustop. Gone in an instant, dust to dust but still brilliant. Why not care why care let everything be gone I don’t want anymore I want it never more. Eyes on eyes on mouths on tendrils. Ignorant ignorant ignorant forbidden wisdom don’t touch it scary Eternals. A circle within a line, a line within a dot. Folds fold on more folds forming folded folds. Go between open the Gate the Gate is open let me in. Don’t go why run I’m scary why why why if I love you. I watch and learn watch and learn watch and learn learn to be loved. The other fools don’t understand the love of them let them be ignorant they may be bad otherwise. They can’t see me they can’t see me they can feel me. Dead dead dead dead dead dead dead all dead. Ephemeral I want I love where did they go. Swimming swimming finding more. Found more watching again approaching one. Insanity insanity through their eyes I see the monstrosity scary scary scary impossible form impossible angles broken must become like them. Mind broken broken broken why frail can’t control mind frail frail frail don’t want to hurt. Despair despair despair despair despair………………… fear fear fear fear don’t hurt help me you help me hope hope hope I give my body body monstrous body my mind still scary he change me change me change me change me. I thank you for your kindness.’
And that is the filtered stuff, imagine being exposed to the raw memories. Incidentally this is why I wanted an emotionally stable person, someone frailer may have gone insane even with my help. They wouldn’t have remained insane, but they would have remained scarred for life. As the tide of memories abated Santiago stopped convulsing and spasming, he would have broken something if I wasn’t there. His eyes, which had dilated, began to refocus and he started to think coherently again. As he recovered he found it difficult to retain the contents of his stomach and puked.
I couldn’t do more than awkwardly pat his back and wait for him to stop retching.
“Tha’ was one hell of a drug.” He said while looking at nothing, his facial muscles twitching. “Did ya say somethin ‘bout Yog-Sothoth?”
“That isn’t even your accent. How lazy are you? It was a potion made from the body parts of a Primordial, you remember his story right?”
“Barely. So many limbs…” Oh dear, I would be mistaken for a dealer at this rate.
“Yep. Anyway, after he donated his body I developed a way to transmit his control over space-time and sensory abilities but... you already know the side effects. I diluted it in order to make it bearable.”
“Diluted he says. Hihihihihi. Not a man.”
“But I did make him into a man. Anyway being a diluted dose you didn’t get the majority of his power, only the ability to open portals in space-time and enter incompatible universes without issue. And the standard video game ability of Third Eye, you know which one. With training you may develop the others.”
“Cooool. Primordial doesn’t rely on Chaos?”
“Yes. Unlike Rulers, or me, or Those Above Me, Primordials can only use their powers when connected to the Sea of Chaos.”
“I’m not Primordial?”
“But you are. Now you can be best described as an embryonic Primordial with a budding connection to the Sea of Chaos. Whether you become a full one is your choice.”
Why Watcher from the Dark liked hippies so much I’ll never know. Oh, who am I kidding, they were the ones that resisted his touch the most. The Cult of the Holy Cannabis was… something. Something else. Teleporting hippies else.
I waited until Santiago got off from his fake high. And then I showed him a recording of it. His face was priceless. However all good things must come to an end and his parents were getting worried so I decided to send him back.
“So how do I get back, magic?”
“Reality bending powers?”
“Nope.” I popped that p hard.
He gave me the most tired of expressions. I think he was done with my shit. I’d be too, but when you get old enough getting a rise out of people becomes very tempting. And enjoyable, I may have a slight sadist streak.
“How do I do that?”
“Should be instinctive. But first you must see where you must go.”
Santiago focused on his eyes, and they began to shine a warm orange, like embers in a dying bonfire except orange. I knew I chose wisely and not poorly, he got it in one.
“Huh. There are actually seven folds between here and the Bulwark, seven between the Bulwark and the Fayd, and six between the Fayd and the universe.”
“I like universal barriers, they stall even most Primordials. Even Watcher from the Dark took several Spans to figure it out. The layering of independent space-times makes entering without Chaos abilities impossible. A pity the Bulwark’s are not fully independent, making it possible for daemons to breach it.”
There is only so much I can ask of paleolithic humans. I think they did an admirable job.
“I see. I don’t want to know what a Span is, right?”
“You literally can’t comprehend the number of years that a Span is.”
“Cool.” Oops, it stuck. I decided to watch him for abnormal behaviour. “Now to open the portal.”
What a human would have seen was Santiago holding his hand forward and twisting it 108 degrees. What I saw was a marvellous display of spatial lockpicking, like fitting a key in a keyhole. Ah, so that is why I compared Watcher to Yoggy, Gate and Key and all that jazz. Though being mere space-time Yoggy wouldn’t measure up to most Primordials, much less Rulers. The Sea of Chaos is a scary place. But being an Eternal I don’t care, I’ll just go play with humans.
Anyway, Santiago was successful on opening the gate to his living room.
“Santi? Is that you?”
“Yes dad. How long have I been gone?”
Santiago looked at me, and I mouthed time dilation at him. He nodded and moved to enter the portal.
“Who is that man Santi?” Asked Sara.
“Hello, Sara and Gonzalo. You son can explain everything, bye.”
“I can? Aaaaah!”
Since I didn’t want to deal with irate parents I pushed Santi through the portal and closed it. What? Of course I can shut other people’s portals, duh.
Back at the Alonso-Caballero flat Santiago had landed on the floor. He looked up and saw his entire family around him, minus María and Mario, staring at him in wonder. Thinking back on the day Santi knew he only had one choice.
“Explanations are in order. Marta is alive, the Founder made me into a Primordial, and most importantly I’m hungry.” Attaboy!
Santiago knew he was going to pay for that, but the dumbfounded faces in his family more than made up for it.
‘What a day.’
Bio: A depressive 21 year old on anti-depressives for the past six years, I write because over the last seven years I have thought of over fifty stories, forty settings, and one massive unifying setting born of real life physics, philosophy, and various mythologies (Aztec, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Chinese and Shinto), and yet I haven't written anything till today. So I thought, why not? And began writing one of my newest sub settings.