She died a few thousand years ago. For most people, death is their greatest fear. For her, it hasn’t proven to be that big an obstacle. It hasn’t been all that liberating either; she’s still among the living – most of the time.
Nothing in the intervening millennia has prepared her for her current struggle. She is cold. She can make no body heat to change that. It’s a situation she’s used to. Being used to it is no comfort now. There is a coldness beyond mere physical cold that chills your bones, this cold chills her soul.
She’s alone. Again. There is no one to seek for company here. She’s used to this too. Being used to it doesn’t make being alone any easier either right now. She’s alone against the most powerful foe she’s ever met. Her tormentor is immensely powerful. He’s not all powerful, but that knowledge offers no comfort either. Nothing about this situation is encouraging.
Demons she’s faced before and dealt with. Evil spirits have attacked her before and failed. She’s been defeated many times and continued anyway. She’s suffered unspeakable offenses and overcome them, or fallen and gotten back up afterward. Undead beasts, giants, trolls, you name it; she’s faced it before. Pitchfork and torch mobs are minor annoyances by comparison.
She’s controlled undead armies before. The Mists, The Fissure of Woe, The Realm of Torment, The Eternal Battlegrounds, these are all places she’s been to and returned from. She has traveled formless realms where navigation is possible only by intuition and guess. None of it compares to this.
Hell – Hell inside her own mind. And the evil confronting her now? Worse than anything she’s ever imagined. Dhuum, Menzies, Zhaitan, Mordremoth, all terrifying, none this powerful. The mental and intellectual duel has been going on for what seems like forever, the menace slowly but surely tearing down her defenses.
“You are alone,… without help,… without hope,” boomed a distant, hollow voice.
She knew that already, yet the steady reminders batter away. She’s searched as best she can, there isn’t even a mouse.
“No, being dead won’t save you.”
She had just wondered if and how that fact might bear on this struggle. At every thought, she finds him already there, every idea countered as soon as it occurs to her.
“No form you can assume, no power you can summon will avail you; you are utterly defeated, even before we fight.”
She’d just considered the different forms she could take and was looking for opportunities to reveal her tormentor with an area-of-effect skill. With no target, she realized there was nothing she could do.
With that thought a form appeared, powerful, magnificent, beautiful, yet beautifully disfigured. A target at last! She didn’t hesitate; she unleashed all the woe at her command in an instant and moved immediately to follow it with a direct physical attack, but was stopped in her tracks by what her foe did next. He caught the Necrotic energy of the first massive attack in his hand, held it up to inspect it, and described each of the pains she’d intended for him to suffer. As he described it, she felt it.
“Your powers cannot avail you! Who do you think gave you your powers, every one of them?”
“I am a Necromancer by my own study! As for the rest,… I’ve suffered for a long time to have them,” she responded, feeling sure of her ground for the first time in what seemed like days of contest.
“Wrong.” The voice was certain, definitive, confidence-shaking. “I empowered your teachers in Kamadan, in the Echovald Forrest, in Kryta. As for those powers you conceal, the ones you suffered so long for, it was I who gave your attacker his curse! I who empowered him to pass his curse along to you! I who empowered every one of the great foes you’ve compared me to. It was I who have empowered you to defeat them. I can defeat any power you possess.”
This she knew also. The battle seemed interminable, desperate, fruitless. Yet she still stood, still faced him even with no hope of escape or victory. “Why??” she shouted at last. “Why am I still here? Why don’t you destroy me?”
“You know why.”
She did – or at least suspected, but she didn’t want to believe it. She could not bear the thought of serving him. She’d seen to it the Vampire who cursed her was destroyed in order to become free of his will. It had taken great perseverance, great determination, and a great deal of luck. It had also cost her in terms of dearly won, irreplaceable friends. But she’d done it. Now, several millennia later, she was not about to surrender her will, even to end this torment.
She lashed out at him, channeling life drain. At once she felt the invigoration course through her as she was recharged by energy leached from him. Yet something was wrong. He seemed to be enjoying her attack.
“Yeeessssssssss, recharge yourself. Rejuvenate yourself. Be my guest. Nothing would please me more than to have you at your strongest. That way, when you do surrender to me, as you must, my prize will be all the more magnificent! You may not be the biggest, or the strongest minion I’ve ever had, but you will be the most powerful! Indulge yourself, take as much power as you wish. I won’t miss the paltry amount of power you can take from me. In return I will have you at your very best!”
The weight of his statement struck her harder than any attack she’s ever felt. Even whole again, she could not affect him. All she could do was suffer; the contest so far had proven that. Holding out offered no promise except that of pain. Everything she’d believed before this battle was illusion. She felt like a pawn, a puppet, purposeless except as a toy to amuse this beast.
To stay locked in this battle where he allowed her to batter at him without effect would serve no purpose, it couldn’t possibly. She’d spend eternity in this unidentified, formless waste seeking victory or destruction, and finding neither. The only way within her power to end it was to surrender, yet she could not bring herself to do it.
Why? Why was such a torment even possible? She had been a monster by most standards for over 5000 years, and had never conceived of a cruelty like this. She was being given a choice with no good options, the best of which was to surrender, of her own free will, and become a servant, no – a minion, of this beast. She was to be denied even the dignity of being defeated. The injustice was unimaginable. This was theft of the meanest kind, the theft of her personal freedom to choose.
Despair overcame her and she collapsed. She was indeed utterly powerless to hurt him. There was no exit, no advance, no retreat, only a non-descript nothingness filled with her foe and herself. She could refuse to surrender, but to what end? She would only face the never-ending decision to surrender or not to surrender, with each moment not surrendering only leading to the next moment and the same choice still before her.
In her misery, facing her own total inability to help herself, she wondered how her existence could have come to this. Surely, she thought, there must be something else, some other to oppose this beast before her.
She thought she heard something. In her demoralized state, she was sure she was losing her mind, panic made her worry that she was imagining things, but then she heard it for sure.
That was it. A simple, soft, soothing invitation to stop crying, to calm down, to be at peace. She mentally turned toward that sound and at that moment, even the suddenly outraged demands of her tormentor seemed ineffectual. In that moment she understood. As long as there was a chance that she would surrender, there would be torment. She could turn the tables on him now. She calmed herself, stood, and faced the beast.
His voice filled everything, “You cannot hope to stand against me! Why do you even dare! Do you hope for rescue?!?!?! Do you think there is anything you can possibly do?!?!”
“No,” she said flatly. “There is nothing I can do.”
“Then surrender and end this!”
The rage spike was unimaginable. “WHAT?!?!?! You DEFY me?”
“No. I neither defy you nor surrender to you.”
The tirade that followed lasted for 15 minutes before he even paused to draw breath. The physical force of the bellowing was withering. She stood, mute, immobile, weathering the storm. More energy than she’d ever felt before swirled around her threatening to come too close at any moment and completely erase her from existence.
Silently she stood. She waited for him to either destroy her and lose his prize or tire of ranting and,… and then what?
She clung to the peace offered by that still, small “shhhh.” It buoyed her as the storm buffeted her.
Eventually the beast paused to draw a second breath, and then fell silent. He eyed her for a time and finally said, “I see. How have you discerned this?”
She dared not speak, dared not give him anything to work with. Silently, she held his gaze.
His rage even now was palpable, yet he stood with the calmest demeanor. “It doesn’t matter!” he spat. “Your victory means nothing! Go! Go, if you can! You are free to leave, if you can find your way!”
For a brief moment she almost faltered. The “shhhh” was of no help here; it offered no guidance to any exit. Yet it had totally changed the course of the encounter. She stood, remaining motionless.
“I am where I belong,” she said calmly, without quite understanding why.
“So you belong to me?” the beast inquired.
“No. I remain my own.”
The palpable rage increased by an order of magnitude, yet the beast betrayed none of it in his action, he merely eyed her for a time. Finally he asked, “How have you discerned this?”
She made no attempt to answer. She wasn’t sure what “this” was, and even so dared not jeopardize whatever it was by offering him any explanation.
The beast smiled the most beautifully corrupted “I see right through you” smile and said, “I see.” With that he turned and strode off, taking the formless void where the encounter occurred with him, leaving her on the stage of The HERO Channel making her first broadcast with Mike, her co-host, who was asking if she was ok.
IP NOTE: The Mists, the Fissure of Woe, the Realm of Torment, the Eternal Battlegrounds, Dhuum, Menzies, Zhaitan, Mordremoth, Khamadan, the Echovald Forrest, and Tyria are all references to Arena Net’s Guild Wars game series.