by John Schweers
A lone figure stands before a stone bridge suspended 500 leagues in the air. Behind him is the Eternal Stair, a mountain so high and so treacherous no mortal could hope to ever ascend it. On the other side of the bridge lies his goal: the Glass Fortress. It is a mighty structure, towering more than half a league into the air, and half again as wide. The entire structure is made from semi-opaque glass. It looks almost like crystal, for pieces jut out in massive shards, giving the whole structure an unpolished and distinctly dangerous appearance. The Eternal Stair and the Glass Fortress are separated by a long stone bridge which spans the gap between them. Under the bridge is a 500 league drop to whatever lies below.
The figure crossing the bridge is unfazed by this, however. He begins to traverse the bridge; he assumes it will hold. The one crossing the bridge cuts a tragic image. He wears a tattered black cloak with torn dirty clothes underneath. He wears no armor to speak of. Over his right eye, he wears a black bandanna. In his left hand, he clutches the hilt of a sword with no blade. The hilt is made of ornate gold, with ebony inlays curving through it. He walks with a slight limp.
The figure is almost halfway across the bridge. There is no noise other than that of boots on stone. The air is neither stormy nor clear. This high above the ground, storms are not possible and the atmosphere is so thin that it is impossible for it to be what most people think of as a clear day.
The figure finally gets to the end of the bridge without incident. He now stands before the massive Glass Fortress. As he approaches, a section of the glass large enough to admit him seems to withdraw into itself, so that there is now a door that he can enter. The figure moves through with a sense of purpose.
The inside of the fortress is a spectacular sight. Massive pillars of glass cascade high into darkness. The largest of the pillars must span two hundred feet across. The pillars and the walls all look similar to the outside, with long spikes of glass jutting out at all angles, giving them a somewhat deadly appearance. The fortress is lit by white-blue orbs that seemingly drift about randomly. They are the souls which neither Heaven nor Hell has claimed. They came here for all eternity. It gives the entire structure a ghostly appearance, so that it is neither dark nor light.
The figure begins to move through the hall; he seems to know where to go. He has a singular purpose in his eyes, as if his life's work were about to come to fruition.
When he rounds one of the pillars, there is what looks like a human male lying on the floor. He, too, is a rather tragic figure, with his tattered brown rags and dirty features. However, he does not have the sense of purpose and pride that the figure in black possesses. The one on the floor sits up and looks at the newcomer.
"Who are you?"
"Someone of no consequence," replies the figure in a monotone that brooks no reply.
"Well, I suppose it's none of my business. I'll just sit here until someone who cares comes along, since no one wants to save me."
The figure in black just stares at the one on the floor, who appears uncomfortable under that gaze.
"My name is Failure," says the figure on the floor. "Like yourself, I too am one of the immortals. As you can probably guess from my name, I am destined to ultimately fail in my quest. That is why I am here. I am too weak to carry on. Sad, isn't it?" The figure in black remains silent.
"Well, uh, guess you'd better be going then, I wouldn't want to hold you up." The figure in black resumes walking.
About twenty minutes later, a noise begins to rise from all around the figure in black. It is a rustling, like thousands of insect wings beating furiously, or a violent hailstorm. The figure tenses, ready for whatever comes. He looks around, and the first of his enemies appears. It is a vaguely humanoid-shaped piece of paper. It stands five feet tall, with its arms held out from its sides. Another appears behind it. Then another. Another. Behind and around him, more and more of the origami warriors appear. When they stop appearing, there are at least three-hundred of them.
The figure in black takes the sword hilt in his left hand and presses the end where the blade should be to his chest, where his heart is. With a roar of pain, he pulls the hilt away. With it comes a glowing, four-foot long blade. It is coated in his lifeblood, but there is no cut where the blade came out. Steadying himself, the figure in black holds his new weapon at the ready.
Both sides stand for over a minute, unwilling to make the first move. After the second minute of waiting passes, one of the origami warriors from behind him makes its attack. Just as it comes within range, the figure in black spins around and slices it into two halves. The pieces drift to the ground, lifeless. At that moment, hundreds upon hundreds of the warriors charge.
The figure in black begins laying waste about him with his sword but he cannot possibly stop every attack. Some of the paper warriors get through his defense. They swarm over him, cutting in hundreds of places. Nevertheless, the one in black continues to fight, cutting down an origami warrior with every stroke. The battle rages for over fifteen minutes before it looks like the figure in black might survive. The origami warriors have been decimated; there are halves and quarters of paper warriors strewn all about the area where the battle took place.
Finally, the figure faces only one last opponent. The paper charges bravely, but is easily cut down by the figure in black. Bleeding from hundreds of cuts, the figure looks even more abused than ever before. He lifts his sword and points the tip at his heart. He plunges the sword in, but the blade does not come out of his back. When he pulls the hilt away, the blade is gone.
After traveling for what seems like an eternity, the figure rounds one of the pillars and sees before him his destination--a massive staircase made out of the same glass as the rest of the structure. It ascends more than five hundred feet. The figure begins the climb.
When he reaches the summit, he stands on a flat space at the top. It is roughly forty feet square, and is totally bare save for a throne on the other side of the clearing, made of the same glass as the rest of the structure.
On that throne is a figure who defies explanation. Its color could best be described as black-purple, although it is the absence of anything that could be defined as "color". Its shape could be called roughly humanoid, but it is the absence of anything that could be defined as "shape".
In a voice that reverberates throughout the fortress, and perhaps throughout all of existence, the figure speaks.
"So, another pathetic creature clinging to existence stands before me. I am Antithesis, the zero-existence which all life simultaneously loathes and desires. I am the counterpart to existence, the other side of the coin. Why have you come?"
"To destroy you," says the figure in black.
"Ha, ha, ha. I cannot be destroyed. Without death there can be no life. Without an anti-existence, there can be no existence. You cannot destroy me without destroying everything."
"You are wrong," replies the figure.
"I shall end you here and now," the thing on the throne growls.
Reaching out what can only be described as a limb, pulsing waves of darkness wash over the figure in black.
"What? Why aren't you erased? What are you?" roars the one on the throne. "No matter, this will do instead." The creature on the throne launches itself at the figure in black.
A lone figure stands before a stone bridge suspended 500 leagues in the air. Behind him is the Eternal Stair, a mountain which no mortal could ever hope to ascend. On the other side of the bridge lies the Glass Fortress, a massive structure half a league high, and half again as wide. It is made entirely of semi-opaque glass. The air around the figure is charged with the energy of a storm. In the distance, purple lightning constantly flares. The storm is unnatural and gives the scene a haunting appearance. The figure quickly crosses the bridge. When he reaches the Glass Fortress, there is a door already waiting for him.
The inside of the glass fortress is a disturbing sight. There are massive pillars of glass supporting the roof. The hall is lit by red orbs which float about randomly. The light from the orbs is refracted and reflected through the glass over and over until the entire hall is bathed in a sickly red light. The figure appears unfazed and continues on his journey.
He comes upon what appears to be a human sitting on the floor, who looks to be resting. The figure looks up with a bored expression on his face.
"Hello," the one on the floor says in a flat voice. "My name is Apathy. I'm going to get around to slaying the master of this fortress eventually, but I'm resting right now." The figure in black stares at Apathy for a few moments, then continues on his journey.
"Wait! Who are you?" calls Apathy.
"No one you need concern yourself with," replies the figure in black.
About fifteen minutes after the figure's encounter with Apathy, the one in black stops. A noise rises up around him, like the beating of thousands of insect wings or a violent hailstorm. From around one of the pillars comes a vaguely humanoid figure. It is made entirely of paper. If it stood up straight it might be about five feet tall, but it is hunched over. It looks like it was once a human shape, but has since been deformed. From behind the pillars around him, hundreds of the paper warriors come out. The figure places his sword hilt to his heart. With a roar of pain, he pulls the hilt away. With it comes a four-foot long glowing blade, covered in his lifeblood. Upon inspection, the figure notices that all of the origami warriors are deformed in some way. The mass of paper shambles toward him.
The figure leaps into the ranks of paper and begins to lay waste all about him with his sword. The origami warriors seem handicapped by their deformities and barely hurt the figure. They are all cut down easily by the figure in black.
When they have all been defeated, the figure places the sword over his heart and plunges the blade into his chest. The blade does not come out of his back, however. When he pulls the hilt away, the sword blade is gone.
The figure continues to walk through the massive hall. He at last spies his goal--a massive staircase that rises over five-hundred feet in the air. The figure quickly ascends.
At the top is a flat space. It is approximately forty feet square and is totally bare except for a throne on the other side made of the same glass. On the throne is a figure who defies explanation. Its color could be called purple-black, but it is the absence of anything that could be called "color." Its shape could be called humanoid but is the absence of anything that could be called "shape."
In a voice that reverberates throughout the structure, and perhaps throughout all of existence, the thing on the throne speaks.
"Another pathetic creature stands before me, clinging to existence. I am Antithesis, the zero-existence which all life simultaneously loathes and desires. I am the counterpart to existence, the other side of the coin. What have you come for?"
"To destroy you," replies the figure in black.
"Ha, ha, ha. You cannot destroy me. There can be no life without death just as there can be no existence without an anti-existence. I shall end your pathetic life now!"
The thing reaches out what can only be described as a limb. Pulsing waves of darkness engulf the figure in black.
"What? Why are you not erased? What are you?" The thing pauses. "No matter, this will do." The thing on the throne launches itself at the figure in black.
A lone figure stands before a stone bridge suspended five-hundred leagues in the air. Behind him is the Eternal Stair, a mountain so high and so treacherous no mortal could hope to ascend it.
There is no weather. There is no sky. Where the sky should be is a white that is an absence of color. A black sun sets on the figure's left side.
On the other side of the bridge lies the Glass Fortress. It is a massive structure made entirely of glass. It is half a league high and half again as wide.
The figure comes before the Glass Fortress. A small portion of the wall in front of him bursts, showering him with tiny glass shards. The figure now bleeds from many wounds, but he seems to ignore them. He walks through the newly created entrance.
Inside is a scene from Hell. There are massive glass pillars that stretch to the ceiling. The hall is lit by thousands of small orbs that seemingly float about randomly. Every orb is a different color, every color imaginable. The colors refract and reflect through the glass, creating an effect that would drive any mortal insane. This is combined with the fact that the orbs wail and howl in a grating voice that can kill a normal human. The figure in black pushes on, regardless.
He comes upon a figure who leaps about wildly and shouts at the top of his lungs.
"Greetings! I am Insanity, the disturbed immortal! I am here because we are all here, and none of us are here. Except tomorrow!"
The figure in black keeps walking and pays no attention to Insanity.
"Wait! By what name are you known?"
"It's not important," replies the figure in black.
"Ah, I see. I also sea, and also C!"
The journey of the figure in black continues for half an hour before he encounters anyone else. He is greeted with a sound that is as if a thousand insects are all beating their wings, or as if there is a powerful hailstorm. Something materializes out of the maddening pattern of light. More and more of the things appear.
On closer inspection, the one in black sees that they are in fact origami humanoids. Or they had been at one point. They are now deformed almost beyond recognition. They are bent and twisted and folded into impossible shapes. If the figure in black were a mere mortal, he would have dropped to the ground and screamed at their impossible illogicality. But the figure stands strong.
He presses his sword hilt to his chest, where his heart is. With a roar of pain, he pulls the hilt away. With it comes a glowing, four foot blade. It is covered in the lifeblood of the figure. The deformed origami creatures begin their attack. They are ineffective fighters, and the figure in black quickly routs them. He receives only a few wounds by the time the battle ends.
The journey stretches on for what seems like an eternity. The figure in black finally sights his goal. It is a massive staircase made out of glass. It stretches over five hundred feet into the air. The figure quickly ascends the stairs, knowing that his goal is close.
At the top of the stairs is a flat space about forty feet square. It is completely bare except for a throne on the other side, made of the same glass. On the throne is a figure who defies description. Its color could be called purple-black, but it is the absence of anything that could be called "color." Its shape could be called humanoid, but it is the absence of anything that could be called "shape." It speaks in a voice that reverberates throughout the structure and perhaps throughout all of existence.
"Another pathetic creature comes before me, clinging to its existence. I am Antithesis, the zero-existence which all life simultaneously loathes and desires. Why have you come?"
"To destroy you," says the figure in black.
"Ha, ha, ha. You cannot destroy me. There can be no life without death, just as there can be no existence without an anti-existence. I shall end you now!"
The thing on the throne reaches out what could be best described as a limb, and waves of darkness hit the figure in black.
"What? Why are you not erased? What are you? No matter, this will suffice." The creature on the throne launches itself at the figure.
"NO!" yells the one in black.
The creature stands motionless just before the figure in black. Then, it slumps to the ground, the figure's sword through its heart. What can only be described as its lifeblood pools on the floor.
"All of existence is doomed now. There can be no one-sided coin. You have destroyed yourself."
"I am the one with the power to slay you, demon. Do not presume to lecture me." replies the figure in black. He pulls his sword from the dying creature and turns to leave.
"Wait, who are you?" asks Antithesis.
"My name is . . . Sacrifice."