The ritual begins.
In fact, it was not a particularly long time ago that I was part of a different but fundamentally similar ritual, back on Earth. Francis, Delta, and I were captured in Paso Robles and almost forced to become loyal subjects of their wine-making city.
Back then, I was strapped to a chair and force-fed alcoholic beverages. This time, I float transparently atop a dark obelisk while a zombified clone version of me stands at the front, wearing mighty regalia and an oversized crown-helmet with horns shaped like haven roots. A pink mask covers up his face and mercifully shields all onlookers from seeing the degraded being’s barely living face.
As far as I can tell, Zombie Eryk currently wears the actual, original Amaranth armor that I created when I led the original Slayers. I can think of no other reason he would wear it than that, especially from the jubilant reactions of the audience.
It’s honestly hideous. A teenager’s idea of warlord regalia.
“Begin the ritual,” he says. “Merge us.” Then he takes a close, and presumably very longing look at me, though I cannot tell for the mask. “Merge me with me,” he whispers in my direction.
A group of [Mages] in dark New Slayers uniforms circle the altar and begin performing a massive magical group spell, one that creates shimmering auras and beams of light. I can hardly comprehend what is going on, because it is simply too far past my knowledge of magic.
They whisper things in the Ancient Elven tongue, or rather Japanese, and I certainly cannot understand any of it beyond a select few key words. If only I had studied Francis’s video games more!
These [Mages] have the ultimate destiny before them; they are to create a brand-new empire with their magical spell. The pressure on them must be more intense than anything a mortal has ever faced. If they fail, it will cost them their lives.
But, as far as I can tell, they perform the ritual perfectly.
I wonder what it will be like to merge with my clone. I will gain his experiences, his memories, his feelings quite immediately. Whatever passions he possesses, so will I, in a way. All my time on Earth, his to explore.
In fact, I wonder if he, with his bodily self, will not come to to dominate, while I lose out. Amaranth will return to his true glory, perhaps. And then he will also be able to go to Earth and unleash his full powers... Oh no.
No. I cannot simply let this happen!
I have to stop it somehow. With my... powers.
That’s the worst part of it all. I don’t have any Destiny Cards right now. The OTHER clone version of me, back on Earth, scrapped them all while I wasn’t paying attention. Both my bows disappeared forever. And I don’t get enough time to myself in the U.S. government facility to even draw any more myself. They’re watching me so closely, trying to study my system. Anything I can do to delay them is a path to success. So I never drew any new cards in these past days. I have absolutely nothing at my disposal.
The ritual goes on, and I am helpless.
Then, in flash, it all stops. The hues and shades disappear, and the [Mages] clasp their hands together.
“It is finished, Amaranth,” one says.
Zombie Eryk does nothing for a moment, and then removes his mask, revealing his horrible face to everyone. “But nothing happened.”
“We performed exactly the magic you told us to. Soul merger and identity reunification.”
“Yes, you did indeed,” he says. “It was perfect. And yet...” He looks at me, still floating above the obelisk. “I am still a putrid shell of a clone. And he is still a useless ghost.”
“Amaranth...” All the [Mages] bow, presumably in expectation of a quick execution. No such thing comes, though.
Zombie Eryk begins to chuckle, sounding less like laughter and more like gasps for breath. Slowly the chuckle grows louder and louder until it fills the whole throne room, booming with crackling anguish.
“The prophecy was a sham!” he shouts in a strangely delighted tone. Then he lowers his head and his volume as well. “The resurrection was fake. I realize it all now. Eryk, I made the perfect mistake.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“All a sham. I made the prophecies up, yes,” he says, completely ignoring me. “It was all part of the grand master plan, and I see it all now. My memory had failed me. I told these prophecies to myself, because it was the only way to—“
Suddenly, with a powerful blast of kinetic force, Zombie Eryk’s body, armor included, is cleaved in half. His top half topples to the floor, while the lower half stays upright for a few more seconds. Then it, too, falls down.
Mestopholees emerges into view from where Zombie Eryk once stood.
She raises her arms into the air, summons two giant fireballs, and blasts the halves of his body.
Over and over, flame and more flame.
All this until, finally, she lets the flames clear.
The Amaranth armor remains, but there is nothing inside except ash and smoke.
The smell is likely putrid, but I have no ability to detect scents in my ghostly form, so I do not know.
The crowd screams in horror, but they do not act against Mestopholees, for one look from her and they understand that they are powerless to defeat her.
She looks at me without the evil grin I might have expected. She is distinctly unhappy about this entire turn of events.
“That’s that,” she says. “Fake Eryk, fake prophecy, real death.”
“You spent a hundred years to deliver me to him, and you killed him in minutes.”
“It’s about what I figured was going to happen,” she says. “Well, now I’m the leader of the New Slayers, I guess.”