Thursday, February 9, 2012

Puppet Show in an Empty Theater

The day after the Singularity, everyone woke up feeling just fine.

CODA


When the gods speak to you in the quiet moments, alone with Gutspiller, your sword, it's in the voice of roaring flame, crying babe and creaking bones. The name they use for you is not familiar—though if it be applied by the gods it must be yours.

YOU ARE WASTED HERE, they burn, screech and crack. YOU WILL JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF ALL THINGS AND DO WHAT YOU MUST.

You pause mid-whetstone-stroke. Always, you think, with the obtuse. The last time the gods tasked you to do what you must a kingdom burned, and that had angered them. How were you to know the Virgin Concubine was reserved for Athnas' crippled avatar alone? One sock to the Old King's grey head and the avatar broke open upon the flagstones; then the 43 murders—kingsmen all, and in furious combat, but that's not how you prefer to think of it—and a harrowing scene of a Death-amusing swing from one Impossible Tower to its twin on a rope spun from the Concubine's song as she clung to your back in a parody of the moment five minutes hence when she relinquished her title upon your surging member.

The Pillars of Creation shook that day. But then they did on most days when you were sober enough to tumesce and hold a sword.

"Gods," you grumble, "What use have I for gods? Does the foe leap upon my sword, the maid upon my member, the wine and meat upon my palate by whimsy alone?" Still, you rise.

As is usual, the gods are not content to simply open a hole for you to walk through... it is a myriad of black mouths that dial open in reality, all swirling, sucking, tearing at the scenery and tugging you, screaming with rage, in all directions at once.

DO THIS THING AND IT'S GNORTHLAX THOUSANDLEGS' STORIED HAREM FOR YOU; FAIL US AND... IT'S GNORTHLAX THOUSANDLEGS' STORIED HAREM FOR YOU.

And so your boots are set upon The Path.

There is a swamp with a lowly hut, really no more than a mound of offal and detritus wherein dwells hideous conjoined twins, one impossibly old, the other a pouting toddler; this did you smite.

There is the four-space labyrinth of the Dread Pfeffnorg, where hallways branch back into themselves and the blindfold does nothing for it is behind your eyes the Pfeffnorg lurks; this did you smite.

There is a village of Golden People who worship the idol of a squat frog-god and keep a library of life-effacing technology as well as the Chronicle of All Peoples and Times; this did you smite, burn and partner for a time with the Golden King's daughter, whose smirk and sword were as wicked-cool as her heavy breasts.

There are others, and crowns looted from severed heads, wheelbarrows of swag and burning castles. This is The Path, and though you share it now and again with sidekick and warrior princess it is in the end yours to stride alone and so you do, more often than not... as is your fashion.

When The Path terminates, it is at the Center of All Things. The World Beast rages, beset on all sides by ranks of heroes; sword and spell flash against hide and will as the thing bellows and swats cohorts of them dead with each lumbering step. An ensorcelled catapult fires a volley of sainted skulls into the thing's 37th eye—it roars soundlessly and shifts to the left—

There is a Seal at the end of Creation—a Great Key that locks Everything in its Place; the wretched to their swamps, pfeffnorgs to their mazes, golden kings to their thrones—and Gutspiller in your fist.

And the World Beast has just lifted its hindmost foot off of it.

While the gods could have been more explicit, they could not have lined up a better shot. There's a break in the legions of heroes, a surging zig-zag course that opens between you and the Seal. It is The Path. Sheathing Gutspiller, you run. Through carnage and din, past exploding wizards and eyeless clerics, de-limbed warriors and bandy-legged thieves—you run. The beast rages and rears, a mountain walking or stumbling all over the world's finest. Its shadow is everywhere.

The Seal is a stride-wide plug, a keystone set with a massive ring of eldritch metal, impossibly cold to the touch. You set yourself over it, take one last look at the chaos that roils at the Center of All Things, spit on your hands and seize the ring. The cold is stunning and you almost cry out; instead you bear down and pull with everything the gods gave you. Sinew and bone compress as muscles bulge. You can feel the strain in your teeth as they begin to crack. Veins stand out on your glistening tan, making you look for all the world like an angry, man-sized penis—

Once upon a time, a philosopher-king said that flesh is but the shadow of will. Wary of tricks, you disemboweled him.

In this moment you're almost sorry as the plug comes loose with a final shout and The World drains ou—