Tim felt his entire body trembling as he slightly tilted his head towards Frank, the hairs on his arm standing up as if he’d been electrified, and his instincts screaming at him to say ‘yes’ before this offer was retracted. Multiple possibilities flitted past Tim’s mind, and his eyes gleamed with a mixture of hope and fear, or rather abject terror at the possibility of a denial. The slight shard of hope, the light at the end of the tunnel he’d seen after these agonizing two years, if this too ended up being a pipe dream… well he wasn’t sure how he’d deal with it, but it wasn’t going to be pleasant.

But perhaps this was exactly what he needed, exactly what his psychiatrist was trying to explain in sessions that cost his father thousands of dollars by the hour. The undeniable, irrefutable truth, told by an existence so powerful that it could cause this ascetic who had subdued some of Earth’s most deadly weaponry with a mere swipe of his hand, to address himself as if he were a roadside beggar when compared to his Lord. A truth told to him by God Himself.

Either way, if he wanted closure… if he wanted to once again be the cheerful, idealistic, and slightly naïve Timothy Quill of the past, this was a path he had to follow. Even if it meant having his hollow heart shattered again, it was better than living like… this. Living without a care for anything, without a desire to accomplish anything, and a refusal to use his privilege to make the world a better place. Though now, he wasn’t sure if aliens accepted payments in US Dollars – any way that was beside the point. His present state was no different than a dead man walking… and Tim desperately wished to change that.

“Frank, you already know that I can’t say no to this, don’t you?” asked Tim, in a steely voice that indicated that nothing could dissuade him from choosing this path.

Frank audibly sighed, and then with a resigned expression on his face turned his gaze to the ascetic instead of Tim, “What are the odds of death in this trial of yours?” asked Frank, in a resigned tone.

“While I am not allowed to disclose the odds, the possibility that you may meet your end in this trial definitely exists. But, I suggest you ponder on why the trial only allows participants with a strong will to participate,” the ascetic replied in an amiable tone, and while he didn’t directly give Frank an answer… the implication was enough. The possibility of death was high, but the trial shouldn’t impossible. But for a civilian like Tim, Frank didn’t feel too comfortable about his chances.

However, even Frank had to admit that the chance to ask one of, if not the strongest being in the universe was a proposition that had his blood boiling. The ascetic had opened his eyes to an entire world, no, an entire multiverse’s worth of possibilities, and Frank had a feeling that this new world was one where people like him could reach terrifying heights. Perhaps not at the level of the ascetic, Frank couldn’t imagine himself playing catch with ICBM’s overnight, but the possibility definitely existed.

“Haah, I get paid too less for this,” Frank let out an exasperated sigh, but there was a twinkle of excitement in his eyes. The previous world belonged to the businessmen, scientists, and educated professionals with a few hundred grand worths of degrees, this was a world where men like him would once again take center stage, a world where physical strength was valued more than financial. If he ran away from this, then would he ever find a place where he truly belonged again?

“Can we enter as a pair? We both passed the test, so I don’t see why you’d have a problem with that?” asked Frank, fully ready to negotiate if the ascetic gave him the slightest indication that he had some leeway in the matter.

The ascetic chuckled lightly at the question, and then answered, “You would be surprised at how few events in the multiverse don’t already have an existing precedent. While your situation is slightly rare, that is only when compared to other humans already living in the multiverse. The Azkansh Race, in their induction to the multiverse 900,000 years ago, did not have a single being that required the aid of a calming soul balm to stabilize their will. Implying that their entire population was eligible for the trial,” the ascetic dropped two bombshells at once.

“Wait! There are other humans in the multiverse!?” Tim exclaimed in shock, wondering how that was even possible, interrupting the ascetic before he could finish.

“Yes, but I urge you to pay heed to my previous lesson. Now, getting back to the matter at hand- you may enter as a pair; however, the trial shall compensate for your advantage by adjusting the difficulty accordingly. I would not recommend it,” The ascetic cautioned, but his tone remained calm and composed.

“Frank, you’re not doing this for me,” Tim firmly said, and then took a deep breath before continuing, “Apart from my parents, you’re the only family that’s been there for me. The others… they think they can hide their disgust when they talk to me or talk behind my back when father’s on a foreign visit. Only you, only you can understand how it feels like, and I will not have you die for my selfishness. Please, Frank, I won’t be able to live with myself if all my foolishness achieves is losing another person I care about,” Tim shakily told Frank, his voice almost cracking near the end.

“Tch… all those lesson’s and you’ve learned nothing,” Frank lazily disparaged. “I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t care about your safety, but that’s not the only reason I’m going with you. Don’t you see it? If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s fighting. Now I don’t know what kind of abominations are waiting at the other end for me, but heck if that’s a challenge I’m gonna take lying down. So, let’s crush this challenge and take some of this ‘endless wealth’ it talks about. Now… are you in or not?” Frank asked spiritedly, without a trace of fear in his voice.

“But if you go alone it’ll be easi-“

“No buts, Tim. You called me family, didn’t you? Last I heard, familial relations work both ways, and no way in hell am I sending my nephew to his grave because I chickened out from a challenge. Just like you can be a stubborn little bitch, I’m not budging on this one either,” said Frank, his tone raised as if he were offended by Tim’s complaints.

Tim swallowed his next words, and after a minute of contemplation, he finally said, “Fine. But I’m not going to let you die.”

“Just worry about yourself, you cocky little shit.”

“May I take that as consent to enter the trial together?” asked the ascetic, having chosen not to interrupt their deliberations.

Two yesses echoed out in unison, and the purple door slowly opened to reveal the pitch-black void behind it.

“No hints, eh,” Frank muttered in a wronged tone and gave Tim one last sideways glance.

Tim had a hardened expression on his face and replied “I hope that this is worth it,” and before he could have any more second thoughts, a strong gust of ‘wind’ pushed both him and Frank into the purple door with such speed that any resistance was futile.

A note from Daoist Enigma

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Daoist Enigma

  • Atlanta, GA
  • Wordsmith


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