My waking life has become a nightmare, but my dreams certainly are not much better.
I do not wish to discuss much of my imprisoned life so far, for it has been beset by revelations and pain far beyond my scope of comprehension. The medical examination alone was something I will attempt to forget for the rest of my life.
All that in just one day.
The United States has me under captivity on Earth. And the New Slayers have me under captivity on Mystix. I hate this extreme lack of freedom. I hate that my failures in so many ways have led to me becoming a ghost of my former self, in quite literal ways.
And, most of all, I hate that an entire day later, I still have a parade around me the moment I appear back in South Spire.
“Amaranth Ascendant!” is their new slogan. I guess if you have an entire day to come up with new chants, you will undoubtedly do so.
The cheers and shouts of my devoted followers deafen my ears. Somehow, despite a full century since my death, and even longer since my memory erasure, there are still thousands, even millions of people who devote themselves to the Slayer cause. Almost every single person alive right now was barely a speck in their grandparents’ eyes when I was at my height of power. Except for the elderly elves and ancient humans, I cannot see how there would be any notable base of support for me that still persists after, what, 110 years? That means their devotion has not only passed on over the years, but it has passed on from mother to daughter, from clan allegiance to clan mythology.
I am being worshiped, in a way, and it scares me to no end.
Who in the world could possibly be the one behind this all?
I am going to find out extremely soon, especially since Metsopholees herself is right beside me.
“Come on,” she says. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
I am led into the throne room.
It’s a grand central palace place with pearls and pottery and pall sorts of pretty pictures. Wait. All sorts.
Everything is made of marble, and giant colorful banners fly from the ceiling down to the ground. It’s a throne room, all right, but nothing outside of what I am used to in my time in the Adventurer’s Guild. I have seen better, and I have seen worse. In fact, King Bodhi’s palace probably impressed me more.
“Unslay the Slayed!”
Yes, I am aware of these things that are shouted so loudly in my vicinity. No, I do not endorse them.
Finally, we reach the king’s throne, which is...
I can’t help but gasp. “Holy Goddess, this is...”
“Yeah,” Mestopholees says. “I know.”
In front of us is...
Wait, I was checking to make sure if I wouldn’t get poofed back into consciousness on Earth right at this moment. No, not happening this time.
In front of us is...
A version of Eryk Solbourne aged well past the point of oblivion. Skin crumbling, muscles exposed. A worm popping out of his arm. Drooping eyes that seem not to make eye contact with anything in particular. More bone than being.
“Zombie Eryk, I like to call him,” Mestopholees says.
Then Zombie Eryk creaks into some semblance of motion. “I’ve been waiting.”
“He speaks. Wow.” Mestopholees folds her arms. “Never heard that before.”
“I’ve been waiting for a hundred years,” Zombie Eryk says, his voice as dry as a desert-buried body. Tone barely above a whisper.
“A hundred years...” That’s... Who is this, really?
“Miss M was supposed to deliver you to me,” he says. “The prophecy was supposed to be fulfilled.”
“I got a little sidetracked,” she says. “Like, uh, finding Rare instead. That took a lot longer than I thought it would. Sorry.”
“She thought they would be a better help than me myself,” Zombie Eryk says. “She was sorely mistaken.”
“All this time, you knew about this?” I ask. “And you kept it from me?”
Mestopholees’s cool composure breaks into a shameful bow. “Not just you I kept it from,” she says. “Rare didn’t know. Malia didn’t know. Nobody except me, because on the day after you died, he found me. I thought it was some grief-stricken nightmare, or something. But then a couple days later, your ghost showed up, and then the New Slayers not too long after that. I told him I’d deliver you to him, but I also said the same thing to Rare. I chose the harder option first.”
“You chose poorly,” my decrepit self says.
“What does he want with me? Why does a zombie version of me even exist?”
“He wasn’t like this when I first met him,” Mestopholees admits.
“I am a clone,” Zombie Eryk says. “A clone without a soul to bond to cannot thrive. When your ghost was gone, so was my life force. Now I have become... this.”
“An abomination of time and space,” I say.
“But now that you are here,” he says, “we can begin the ritual.”
Right in the middle of the throne room, a large altar raises up from the ground. A large obelisk sits on top of it.
Every single New Slayer in the throne room, the select few allowed access to the greatest epicenter of power, bows in respect. Even Mestopholees.
“We shall fulfill the prophecy,” Zombie Eryk says.
“Unslay the Slayed,” everyone chants. “Amaranth Ascendant.”
“We will take your ghostly form, and my fleshy form, and merge the two sides,” he says, so quietly that only I can hear. Then he pulls back and allows the full audience to hear his cracking, bone-dry shout: “Two beings who have defied death will restore into life one more. Eryk Solbourne will be crowned King Emperor of Mystix!”