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We’re doing this again. Great.

I’m trapped in Mestopholees’s inventory, and I’m of course going to be whisked around the world and across time, because that is simply the nature of what happens to the ghostly form of Eryk Solbourne.

After just a few seconds of floating in this endless void, I reappear, with Mestopholees brandishing her dragonsword and facing down an entire army of Anti-Mages.

Rare themself stands at the back of the formation and raises both hands in the air as they summon the energy for a massive Spirit Bomb. But when they see me, they let one hand drop and point directly at me.

“I knew it!” they shout. “Anti-Mages! She has Eryk; we cannot let her escape!”

Mestopholees, right by my side, with a damaged suit and a smirk on her face—at least until she finally notices me.

“Dammit, not again! I forgot you even did that.”

Before the Anti-Mages can launch their volleys of Spirit Bombs, I’m poofed back away—

***

—and then finally arrive back into consciousness the moment that I see Malia’s face one again, staring right at me. My once and former love, even more aged than the last time I saw her.

We’re in the basement of a house. One candle lights the whole room, but not well. Clutter around us indicates that this is a familiar haunt for one of the two. I cannot tell which.

Mestopholees cackles softly, and Malia grimaces. These two women have a centuries-long history, and I can feel the tension of distrust and unease between them.

“I told you I have him,” she says. “I won’t let him go until the prophecy is fulfilled.”

“What prophecy? I don’t know of any prophecy,” Malia says.

“I don’t know. It’s what the New Slayers keep talking about, and I’m inclined to believe them. ‘Unslay the Slayed’ and all that. If we get this to work, Eryk will be back here on Mystix, fully alive, fully in power.”

“That same Eryk who was a [Demigod] warlord?” Malia asks.

“I suspect so,” Mestopholees answers, “and I want to see what he is capable of after all his time on Earth. I hear he’s become King over there already.”

“That’s our Eryk.” Malia’s words sting of bitter irony. “And so, let me understand. You want me to trick Rare into invading the Sunwell Region simply to distract them from your next advance south? You think that will really delay the Anti-Mages long enough to save you?”

“I do,” Mestopholees says. “Once I’m down past the Grander Line, it’s a straight shot.”

“And I have to trust that you won’t become a megalomaniac dictator once you gain control of the New Slayers?”

“You have to trust that I WILL,” our demon queen says with a fang-bearing grin. “I’ve been at full power for years now, but Rare has pursued me every step of the way. Once Eryk is back, he can help me bring peace to this damned world. The New Slayers will fall in line, after all. They’re so blindly loyal that—“

“Ahem.”

Both women take a look at me.

“Do I not get a say in this?” I ask. “I do not have a corporeal form, but I am still a sentient being, you know. Why must you use me like a pawn piece in a game of chess?”

“You and your board games,” Malia chides. “You and Rare are just the same.”

“And you will betray them just as you will betray me?”

She shakes her head. “I’ve lost my faith in Rare. They will bring ruin to Mystix if given the chance. I’d rather side with the devil I know than the one I don’t.”

“I like that philosophy a lot,” Mestopholees says. “I wholeheartedly endorse it.”

“Please don’t destroy the Anti-Mages,” she says. “They want to bring a better life to Mystix, even if they’re idiots about it.”

“I can promise nothing.”

“Just promise peace. We’ve been at war so long, so very long.”

“Deal.”

They shake on it, and then Mestopholees turns to me.

“And back in you go.”

***

“Here you go!” Mestopholees shouts. “All the proof in the world.”

Suddenly I realize I am up on high, overlooking a vast cliff.

But we are... underwater?!

Mestopholees has a magical breathing aura around her, and I simply exist without a bodily form to require air in the first place. But everyone else here is, well, aquatic.

A vast army of sentient crab people are assembled behind Mestopholees, as if the enforcers to her mafia will.

It works, though. All the people on the ocean floor, these mermen and dolpholk and nagai, cower before her might.

“Join the New Slayers!” she shouts, her voice booming thanks to a vocal enhancement skill. [Altered Best Voice,] if I remember the card correctly. “Fulfill your destiny and perform a great service to Mystix. If you wish to avoid the perils of the Anti-Mage terrorists, then you must join us. Join, or be pressed into joining. I don’t care which.”

She seems about done with me, since she poofs me right back in—

***

—and now I’m face-to-face with a beastly human man with the biggest muscles I’ve ever seen, and an underbite that could rival a bulldog’s. He has not one, but two large clubs in his hands, and wears a leotard with no armor at all.

“This. All this. For such puny.” This man is laconic, to say the least.

“This ghost is the soul of the most powerful being in all of Mystix,” Mestopholees explains.

Where are we, anyway? Some open savanna of some sort, but not one I recognize at all. It looks almost like Los Angeles, if you removed all the buildings and replaced them with absolutely nothing. Not a compliment to either this place, nor Los Angeles. It’s the dark of night, too. I honestly haven’t seen a sunny day in an extremely long time here on Mystix. It’s all caverns and tunnels and nighttime clandestine meetings.

“Powerful soul. Not enough for my tribe.”

“Come on. Just think about the stuff you’ll be able to conquer. The places you’ll be able to see. The riches you can bring back to your tribe. Join us, and you’ll be amazed at what you can find.”

“No.”

Mestopholees sighs. “So be it, Guk. I’m marching my armies through your homeland whether you like it or not. You can either join us, or you can fight us. Neither one will change the end result. If we enter your villages, we will destroy them.”

“If.”

Mestopholees turns her head to the side, stifling her desire to respond to the two-club man.

“You know,” I butt in, “I am a person. You can’t simply parade me around like a trophy to be—“

***

“—bragged about! It’s unconscionable!”

“Ugh, not you,” Mestopholees grumbles. But she grips her dragonsword tightly and blocks a fierce strike.

She’s in the middle of a fierce duel with Guk, the human warlord from earlier, with hundreds, if not thousands of bodies covering the ground around us. A near perfect mix of the two armies, too.

Looks like the New Slayers weren’t as invincible as she thought.

I laugh to myself. “Maybe if you ever explained anything to me, I’d be able to advise—“

***

“—you on any number of matters—“

“Shut up, Eryk,” says Mestopholees. “Don’t continue your whining or whatever it was you were about to talk about. I don’t remember, and I don’t care. So listen up. I’ve got something very, VERY important to ask you.”

“And what’s that?”

“Do you have ANY Destiny Cards that could save our lives right now?”

And then I see it.

A shambling mass of horror-terrors gathering on every crevice of the hills and trees around us. The air is cold, and these creatures are even colder.

“I’m about out of Life Points,” Mestopholees tells me, “and I’m completely out of Destiny Points. I really, really screwed up here, and if we mess up here, we’re both dead.”

“You mean you’re dead, and I’m free to go,” I say.

“No. Horror-terrors eat souls.”

“Oh.”

“Oh indeed. Please help me.”

I wrack my brain trying to remember the Destiny Cards I still have. “I think I have... [Energy Sword.] Is that enough?”

“Better than nothing. Trade me right now, please. I’ll give you my [Demonic Swarm] and you can do whatever you want with it.”

“Th-that’s a rank 9 card...!”

The creatures stumble closer and closer to us. “Yeah, I get it. Just shut up and trade me!”

Despite the lack of a HUD, I still manage to use the spirit of my destiny itself to trade her the cards. No blue boxes here, but a good use of our combined strengths.

She summons an [Energy Sword,] sends sparks in the sky, and poofs me—

***

—just in time for me to see a vast mountain ahead of us. We’re part of a caravan, riding in a small carriage. The total party is maybe seven strong. Each of the people here have distinctive, interesting armor sets, cobbled together from all sorts of scraps they’ve probably found over the years. They look like they’ve been together for many years, and Mestopholees seems perfectly at ease with them.

Almost... happy.

Is this another Adventurer’s Guild group?

But then my question is answered, unfortunately, when they see me and the whole party bows in reverence to me.

“Grand Amaranth,” a lightly bearded, light-skinned man mutters. “You grace us.”

“I thought it’d been a while since I let you out,” Mestopholees says. “Thought you might be getting lonely in there.”

“I don’t experience the passage of time while in your inventory, Miss M.”

“Oh, right. I forgot about that, honestly. It’s been so long that I can hardly remember the details, except that stupid dragonsword thing. Too bad I lost that one in the Resonance Wars.”

“You lost the dragonsword?! After all this time? Oh, The Goddess, I’m so sorry...”

“Don’t worry about it,” she says. “My magic is so strong I don’t really need weapons anymore.”

The others in the party continue to stare at me as if I am something truly remarkable. They act as if they are seeing something they have built up their entire lives to. Like a devoted follower finally meeting The Goddess for the first time.

“...How long has it been since you split with Rare?” I ask.

“Oh, since THAT? Damn, I don’t even...” She counts silently with her fingers. “Eight...teen years, I think?”

At this point, I am too used to this kind of insanity to feel any shock. I am numb to the passage of so much time. It is as if it has lost all possible meaning.

“So that means the time since I died has now become...”

“About one hundred years,” she says. “Since the time I first put you in my inventory. Yeah, a whole century now.”

“By The Goddess’s name. My own children have likely perished by now. My GRANDCHILDREN are surely elders in their own right.”

“I didn’t know Amaranth had descendants,” a young goblin girl says in an almost whisper-like hush. She looks disturbingly like a young, green-skinned Delta.

“They aren’t important to the quest,” Mestopholees says. “The North Spirans were wiped out by the Old Slayers, most of them anyway. Any remaining descendants will not be of any matter to us, because they probably don’t even have the Destiny Deck System.”

“You know...” the goblin girl continued. “My Grandpa fought alongside you, Amaranth. He taught my father all he knew, and then my father joined the New Slayers to serve your will. Now, I am humbly honored to fight alongside you as well.”

“I...” I do not know how to respond to such a statement, so I keep silent for a while.

The carriage and other parts of the caravan continue leisurely across the plains, and the mountain grows steadily closer. It juts out of the landscape in an unnatural way, as if it were planted in this spot. Perhaps some mighty force built the entire mountain out of mortal hands, or perhaps it was a special creation of The Goddess. Either way, I am completely unfamiliar with it.

“What is that place?” I ask.

There is laughter among the group, as if I have asked a truly foolish question.

Mestopholees shakes her head. “You should know about South Spire, Eryk.”

“South Spire... Wait, we’re really to the southern edges of the continents?!”

“Indeed we are. And it only took a generation to reach it and evade the Anti-Mages’ grasp.”

“Whatever happened with those horror-terrors?” I ask. “Or the sea people?”

“What?” She stops for a moment to search through her memory. “Uh, sorry. Don’t remember what you’re talking about.”

“Oh. So it truly has been that long a time. You look very well, even so. Your suit is incredibly dashing.”

“Thank you. I had it tailored with a Destiny Card,” she says. The others laugh along with what I assume is a hearty joke.

We quickly draw close to South Spire. the polar, magical opposite to North Spire. But unlike the realm of pink cliffs and haven roots, South Spire is an inhospitable, snow-covered waste, or so I’ve always heard.

However, it looks like I am proved wrong, considering the gigantic man-made structures jutting out from the mountain’s summit.

“It’s almost time to crown Amaranth the King of the New Slayers,” Mestopholees says, not to me but to the others in the party. “Say goodbye to him for now, for he must rest until he is ready.”

They all bow. “Goodbye, Amaranth. Unslay the Slayed.”

I shake my ghostly head. “You know I can’t rest while I’m in your inventory, I just...” I stop myself because I know she’s about to take me and poof me back into—

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Again, no chapters next week. I'll see you in thirteen days.


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Thedude3445

Bio: I like to watch movies.

Avatar art by Mikayla Buan. https://twitter.com/mikayla_buan

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