“You know this won’t end until you defeat me.” The armored figure in front of him stated in a matter of fact tone. This irked Jason even more since he had failed to to win this stupid game fifteen times in a row so far, and it didn’t look like it was about to change anytime soon.
“And why’s that Gohryo?”
“If you are going to use my name use all of it.” The samurai sternly demanded. He could be considered an imposing figure standing a full foot and a half over Jason himself. His traditional ō-yoroi armor likely added several inches by itself. It had a mix of vibrant gold metal plates and blue leather padding finally ending with a blood red demons mask to conceal his face underneath. He often found his attention drawn to that mask. Half wondering what was under it, and half wondering why he hides his face to begin with.
“Fine, Gohryo Niyou’do, He Who Shreds Walls, why’s that?” He repeated again.
“You don’t need to use my title. Just my name.”
“Just answer the damn question!” Jason finally spat out. He was getting more frustrated after each game and these name games were not helping.
“As you wish. You are currently in a coma from the blast that knocked you out at the “campus” as you put it. So until you are healed, which given the state of things is unlikely, you’re stuck here with me. Unless you can defeat me in my challenge. Then you may leave through one of the doors behind me. Which will give you freedom from your coma and myself in one fell swoop.”
“What doors?” The white mage peered behind his captor noticing two simple paper doors with something scrawled above them. “Oh those doors. So let me get this straight, if I beat you all this ends?”
“What’s the catch? Why are you helping me?” He asked suddenly suspicious of the katana wielding nut job in front of him.
“The catch is you have to defeat me first. Which you have failed to do thus far. And my reasons are my own, just think of it as an added incentive to win.” He didn’t like that one bit, but he really had no choice in the matter.
“Fine, same game as last time?”
“Good, let’s get started then.”
Whispers in the darkness surrounded him. Clearly present, but never quite understood. It was maddening. He thrashed around in void, searching for the source or sources of his latest torture.
“What do you want!?” He yelled out to the nothingness. It was his home and prison now, and this latest attack was very unwelcome here. He knew he couldn’t win after his last escape attempt. Even trying only made things worse for him.
Weakling. He’s so pathetic. Why won’t he just DIE. Suddenly the voices could be heard. They were speaking to one another about him.
“Go away! If The Rat hears you he’ll find me!” He called out too them again. He wasn’t ready for a rematch yet. He knew The Rat would win again if he tried to face it again. And the next time he did he might not be so lucky a second time.
Why is something this pitiful still alive. He’s hiding in his own mind. He’s worthless, why even bother? He’s just going to die in the end like the vermin he is.
“Hey, it’s not my fault I’m this way! Okay it is, but you don’t have to be so rude about it!”
Why don’t you just die? Die. Die. DIE. DIE!
“NO! Will you just shut up already!? I’m not going to die! I’m going to live and be free. I just need to figure out how. And if you’re not going to help me. GO AWAY!” Silence again permeated the area. He was alone again. He could finally get back to work.
“Alright Zeke I’ll help you.” A lone female voice spoke to him from behind. He jerked around to see the source. He didn’t know if his heart sank or was elated to see it’s source. A little of both he supposed, if it meant freedom anyway.
The form of Jyan’us Hyiel stood before him. Well a form anyway. It seemed like a lifetime ago since he last saw her, but he remembered her being taller and made of jet and marble. This form was pure marble, and she seemed less monstrous. And more human. Well as human as a hideously disfigured and disproportionate statue could be anyway.
“Well no, but I can lead you to someone who can.”
“That is a complicated question. Just wait and see for yourself. Oh and one more thing.” Zeke braced himself for the worst. “This is your battle, he can help, but success or failure lies solely on you. I will not help you again. Am I understood?”
“Yes, just take me to this person.”
You’re running out of time. Gohryo whispered in Jason’s mind as he finished his initial towers. He hated this game. Not because he kept losing or that it was a tower defense game. He hated it because it required more than his magic to win.
The rules stated that he wasn’t allowed to use his magic to protect the outer areas of his castle. Just these stupid towers, and if he didn’t use the towers he’s just get overwhelmed by the suits of armor that marched down his path. But he couldn’t simply build what he needed from the beginning. He got a couple freebies first, then had to earn enough to build more towers.
This was a real life tower defense game, and it was starting to annoy him. Tick tock, times up. And his opponents constant talking in his brain was not helping. He had already lost two games since the samurai told him about his way out, and he was not about to make it three.
In the distance the thunderous sound of soulless automata marching his way echo through out the valley. It was starting and he didn’t know if he was really ready or not. I guess I’ll find out. Jason told himself as the first few enemies trickled into view. At least he was allowed to let a few in.
“Come on, I only need to hold out till dawn.” The ‘walker muttered to himself as the archers atop his first tower opened fire.
“Just step through this door.” Jyan’us told Zeke as a door materialised. Zeke felt uncomfortable suddenly at the idea of blindly following this person’s instructions.
“Are you sure? Because the last door you wanted me to go through, you tried to kill me to stop me.” Her face lacked any emotional response to his crack. She didn’t even seem annoyed when she spoke next.
“Yes I’m sure. This is a door of my own making. There is nothing to be gained from me stopping you.”
“Right.” He wasn’t sure if she let something slip or not. “So where does it lead?”
“You’ll find out.” The biomage raised his furry hands in mock surrender.
“Alright you win, but if this leads to a deathtrap, I’m going to be very annoyed.” He commented as he stepped through the door.
“Only if you fail.”
“Was that a joke?” Zeke asked in confusion as he turned around, but when he did his marble guide was gone. “I guess not.”
Without another word he stepped through not entirely prepared for what he was about to see.
“I hate this game. I hate this game. I hate this game. I hate this game” Jason kept repeating that same phrase over and over again. He was on his seventeenth wave, and he had already lost two towers. Good thing he has dozens more built.
Jason rushed to the castle walls surveying the scene below him. In the distance he could see rows of armor marching down the only path to him. Taking every hit he threw at them. Archer towers fired volley after volley of arrows felling many of the weaker ones, but sheer numbers seemed to prevail here.
As they neared his secondary line gouts of fire burst from shorter towers burning even more to death, but they kept coming. More and more once they made it too his castle he had to defend it himself. A curse and a blessing for him really. He supposed it was time to prepare his last line of defenses.
“Oh god why!” Zeke screamed as he fell from the sky into a strangely deep pond. He was disorientated as he flailed around drinking who knows how much water from when he was screaming. He was lucky he didn’t belly-flop into it. Finally after several long moments of panic and drowning Zeke managed to pull himself from the water. He coughed and vomited up a lot of the stuff before finally standing. He looked around to see an old man sitting on the porch of his home. A simple wooden structure that was a little too symmetrical to be made by hand. He rocked back and forth in his chair watching him recover. Not speaking or making any attempt to help the clearly distressed person not thirty feet away.
Finally after several more coughing fits Zeke worked up the nerve to speak.
“Aren’t you going to at least ask if I’m okay?” Zeke called out to the stranger who continued to lazily rock in his chair, still not making any move to help him.
“Clearly you are if you can ask dumb questions. And besides I haven’t quite decided yet.”
“Decided if you are another manifestation of my mind to amuse me or not.”
“Why would you need to decide that?”
“Because the only other option is you’re a manifestation trying to kill me.”
“Ooooor, I could be real. Real sounds good to me. Where are we anyway?” The old man let out a hearty laugh and slapping his knee in amusement. “What’s so funny?”
“Most of my would be assassins aren’t this dull witted. You can’t be real because we are both located inside my mind. None of this is real boy.” Zeke felt his jaw drop from the comment completely missing the opening insult.
“How do you know this isn’t real?” Zeke felt strangely warm and dry and the pond water evaporated with the pond itself. He then had to quickly run away before the sudden army of pine trees hit him.
“Because I have been living this lucid dream for the past three centuries.”
“Okay, okay I get it.” The now standing Zeke walked closer to the stranger.
“Hold it right there squirrel boy. Not a step closer.” The old man pointed his cane at Zeke speaking in a stern manner.
“Why not? I’m not going to hurt you. I need your help in fact.” The old man put his cane back on the ground, never breaking eye contact. After a moment of silence he began to speak again.
“My help? This should be good. Okay then, tell me your story.”
“How far back do you want me to go?”
“The beginning is fine. We have nothing but time here.”
“I don’t know if you’re going to believe me.”
“Try me. My own story is rather strange. The worst that can happen is I don’t believe you.” A simple wooden chair spawned next to Zeke. It seemed rather inviting, so he took a seat before he began.
“Well you see I wasn’t always a squirrel.”
Another sword bounced off of Jason’s spell armor as he defended the main gate. His own sword cut the head off of an enemy soldier which was quickly replaced by another.
“Forget this.” Jason muttered to himself before projecting a basic force wave to push them back to give him a few seconds of breathing room. A small pocket of them opens up long enough for him to cast his next spell. In a flash dozens more swords floated around the opening slashing one after another at the soldiers.
Now letting his own weapons fight for him Jason began the next part of his defense placing layer upon layer of defensive shield spells. Soon he found the clockwork soldiers burning from simply touching the shield, as he weaved more offensive spells into the fabric of his barrier. This wouldn’t stop them forever of course, but it would buy him valuable time for the final stretch. Now all he had to do was prepare.
“So let me get this straight. You were once human and lived on a plane where magic didn’t exist on.”
“You then were inexplicably transported to another plane along with the rest of your college that doesn’t study magic.”
“And there, you and your friends found out they could cast magic, and some were even planeswalkers, beings of incredible magical power able to traverse the multiverse at will.”
“But all was not well, since you and several other of your friends abused your power by testing it on another one of your fellow mages, and he finally got fed up and left. But you didn’t see the him wanting payback part coming.”
“Well you see…”
“And then after several attempts by him he disappeared for a while followed by this Tom and Lee.
“And while all this was going on you accidentally turned yourself into a rat while trying to fix your eyesight, but you didn’t want to be a rat and couldn’t stop it so you turned into a squirrel instead. Which then created an evil rat version of yourself that is smarter than you, that is also trying to destroy your college and rule over an empty plane devoid of sentient life.”
“And on top of all that creatures theorized to have spawned from what you call “wild magic” began also spawning in large numbers attacking the campus.”
“AND suddenly amidst all this a strange figure made of jet and marble forced you into a hedge maze battle game so you could leave through a door that you don’t know where it leads, but it was your only option.”
“Oh and while this game was happening your rat side took over and tried to kill everyone with an army of rats that didn’t exist before but was controlled by a beacon placed on a moon that you convinced people needed to be built. And after the army and rat was thwarted you or the rat pretending to be you convinced people that the moon needed to be blown up instead of just the device. Ignoring the consequences of destroying such a large satellite so close by.”
“It sounds kind of silly when you put it that way.”
“And then, while on the strike team to destroy it and playing the game this Fallor showed back up and captured you all which consisted of several high level mages and planeswalkers. And he lured rat you disguise as squirrel you into a one on one fight where they joined forces and faked their own deaths and simultaneously winning your hedge maze game thus sending you, Fallor, and the moon into another time and plane of existence where they debated whether a plague or a curse was more effective. And using the explosion generated by the super weapon during the brothers war they managed to teleport back to the correct time and plane with the moon. At which time they began their game which to a now Evil Lee leading an army of those shifters and another planeswalker using using a beast army to do a simultaneous three way attack that overwhelmed the defenders and killed a bunch of people.”
“Can I just say…”
“And finally an enraged Tom who now magically has returned from who-knows-where accidentally created a giant monster that killed even more people and imploded destroying what was left of your campus flinging the survivors, if any, to somewhere else.”
“And you need my help to defeat the rat that now controls your body, so you can be free to find your remaining friends and or kill Fallor and the rest of the people responsible for the attack.”
“Okay now that that has been cleared up shall we begin?”
“Wait what?” After the old man had repeated a story that after saying it sounded utterly ridiculous unless you were there. Hearing him say that last line had caught Zeke utterly by surprise.
“I was always going to help you. I just wanted to hear how absurd your story really was. Anyway…” The old man easily stood up for someone of such advanced years, and stretched his arms and legs relieving any stiffness from his muscles and joints. “You’re a biomage is what I gathered from that tale no?”
“Yes in simple terms I have an affinity for green and white magic.”
“No I don’t like blue magic much. It never struck me as… fair.”
“Hmm that might be a problem then. It would have been easier to spend the next few months teaching you about mind magic, but that’s not really an option now.” He rubbed his bearded chin in contemplation. Not really paying any mind to the person sitting in front of him anymore.
“Why would that have been easier?”
“Because now I have to teach you how to manipulate the inside of your mind without an easy medium. It took me years to master control of this world, and I was trained by the best mind mage in history.”
“Really? And who would that be?”
“Oh you probably don’t know him. He’s from another plane. He’s a merfolk by the name of Ambassador Laquatus.” Zeke felt his jaw drop at the name the guy had said so casually. As if he were talking about the weather, and not a mass murdering psychopath. “Oh you do know of him.”
“Yeah, only in texts though. I know what he did to the merfolk and how he died, but I’ve never heard of him having a student, let alone a human one.”
“That’s because anyone who did know died.”
“So, why are you here now?”
“That’s a story for another time I’m afraid.”
“Then can you at least tell me your name.”
“For now you may call me Ezra.” He offered his hand to the squirrel person in front of him. After a brief hesitant pause Zeke returned the gesture.
“Hello Ezra, I’m Zeke.”
“Finished, finally just in time.” Jason muttered to himself as his final spell finished applying itself. It would have been a thousand times easier to combine the spells if Chebon were here. In fact it would have been a thousand times easier if any of his other friends were here. For a game of defense it was pretty hard to win without an offensive caster present. Ah well it just meant he needed to double his effort to win.
In the distance Jason could see Gohryo mounted atop a black horse shrouded in shadow. The demon faced samarai pulled back on the reins of his mount to come to a stop at the end of the valley path with hundreds of tin-soldiers between him and Jason’s fortress. Then with a single hand motion the last wave of the battle charged his defensive line.
Dozens were shot, immolated, melted, blown-up, sliced, diced, exploded, and flat-out crushed, but there were hundreds more to replace them. So many it congested the path they had to follow. Marching ever forward towards oblivion or victory. Never stopping from the endless barrage of attacks. As one fell the rest simply continued marching forward crushing the remnants of their fallen comrade into dust as if it wasn’t there. Within minutes they had punched through to the shield mage’s last line of defense where he had been patiently waiting.
Without a word Jason charged forward, his spells became evident as the destroyed and intact bodies of the armor soldiers made contact with him. They began to crumple by a mere touch and reform into pieces of armor. As more touched him the armor would grow greater in size. Fully encasing the gate’s lone defender. Finally after growing larger than the very castle gate he was defending, the huge metal samarai began attacking. Destroying scores of them with long horizontal slashes from his equally massive katana.
Eventually, he broke through the hoards of enemies to his real target. The master of these fake soldiers. Still sitting atop his shadow stead wielding a naginata, The Shredder of Walls charged the mech-clad ‘walker heading as if he was going to joust him with the glaive-like weapon. Jason himself chopped downwards at his opponent hoping to bisect him. Seeing this the golden armored entity loosened his grip to allow the weapon to slip further from its center. Then in one smooth motion spun the weapon upwards adding to its momentum till the blades of both combatants connected.
Jason was startled by the strength of the impact as he felt himself take a step backwards to keep himself from falling down. Gohryo quickly followed up with another that Jason attempted to block with his off hand only for it to become severed. Reversing his hold on the shaft of his weapon the horseman attacked from Jason’s opposite side now which the ‘walker made a vain attempt to parry. Resulting in his mech’s other arm to become severed.
“Come now, you’re toy is useless. Fight me like a man.” Wordlessly the giant charged Gohryo trying to crush him, and with barely a thought he in turn hacked the legs off of it sending him crashing down in front of him. Gohryo dismounted and cautiously approached his victim. It seemed like he had won, but felt like a trap. Eventually he found himself standing on the chest of the prone metal giant. With his opponent showing no sign of leaving his shell, the warrior turned his pole-arm weapon upside down and stabbed to finish this round.
As if in reaction to the attack what was left of Jason’s creation exploded with enough force to incinerate him and everything within a thirty foot radius. The flames continued to burn with intensity beyond the strength of mundane fire, as more of the solders marched endlessly into them with little regard for their inevitable deaths. And in the center two figures stood. Both untouched by the flames.
“You know this won’t stop me.” Jason smirked at the comment.
“I know. The flames aren’t for you. They’re for me.”
“What?” He had barely said the words before the inferno around them began to shrink and compress. Eventually the fire raged only on the blade of the katana that Jason had been holding in his right hand. It was extended outward not pointed at anything. Then darkness rushed forth engulfing and mingling with the fire-blade. They seemed to clash and fight for dominance.
“Normally I would use sunlight, but that’s not really an option here.” The planeswalker raised the blade above his head into a double-handed grip and charged forward. Gohryo himself threw away the weapon that had splintered in his hands and drew his own blade to clash with the supercharged weapon. It was his turn to defend as he parried one strike after another from Jason. Each impact whether against his weapon or the area around them erupted with fire and shadow. And the battle continued to rage on.
What had been the span of a few minutes felt like hours to Jason. The fighting seemed to grow more intense as time passed. He knew the end was getting close he just had to hold out a little longer. Although the battle had been brutal, as it carried out into the ranks of the marching army. Jason would likely have felt terrible killing so many of the things if they had been real people. But they weren’t which made him feel indifferent towards them as they inevitably were caught in the crossfire of the two combatants.
As they parted from their latest clash Jason sent a wave of darkness to envelope his opponent. Which failed in that task, but pulled dozens of soldiers into it to never be seen again. Gohryo retaliated with a storm of blades that rained down on not only him but his own creations. He saw many collapse from the shear volume of the various knives, swords, scythes, and other bladed instruments that cut and pierced the things around him. Jason himself was perfectly safe from one of the many shield spells he had cast previously. So all he could see were the weapons bounce off of it and land harmlessly in a pile on the ground around him.
Then with little warning Gohryo burst from the ground cutting upward and sundering part of Jason’s chest piece of his spell armor. Blood seeped from the wound inflicted as he fell back onto the ground. The injury was wicked and painful. His demon masked foe stood over him now. The eyes almost mocking him and his pitiful attempts to best him.
“Say what?” Jason wheezed.
“Say that I’ve won. You can’t win this time dawn is to far away and I’m about to end it again.” Looking up at his opponent, Jason could tell that he was right. With his injury and his current placement, there was no way he could win in a fight.
“Alright Shredder you…”
“What did you say?” He interrupted.
“I was about to say that you…”
“Not that! What did you call me!?” He interrupted Jason again. He often gave an air of indifference towards Jason. But now from his body-language and tone he could sense anger or indignation from the person that so easily bested him.
“I called you Shredder.”
“That’s not my name!”
“Sure it is. It’s in you’re name after all.”
“My Name Is Gohryo Niyou’do! That Is Part Of My Title, And It’s He Who Shreds Walls. Shredder Isn’t In There At All.”
“But Shredder is way easier to say and is so much cooler sounding. It’s like you’re the main villain in the ninja turtles.”
“I’m Not a Ninja Turtle!”
“No, you’re Shredder who was a bad ass alien that wore samurai armor. Although he didn’t use your weapons, but hey close enough.
“You Will Address Me By My Proper Name Or I’ll…!”
“Or you’ll what?” It was Jason’s turn to interrupt now, and it felt good to get under this bastard’s skin. “Kill me? Beat me up? Make me play in an infinite loop of games that hurt me? Admit it Shredder you have nothing to threaten me with.”
“I Will End You!” Shredder spat out at the prone ‘walker. Jason had definitely made him angry, and that was good, because angry people were stupid people. He could feel Gohryo’s anger as he raised him blade to attack.
He clearly planned to kill Jason to finish this game instead of forcing a yield. As the katana descended spirits erupted from the ground beneath Jason absorbing the attack. The the black semi-opac ghosts swirled around the blade, and as more arrived they would surround more and more of the swordsman. Gohryo swung his blade again at Jason and again the spirits of the dead formed a wall that absorbed the attack, but that wasn’t all. With each additional attack from the enraged warrior equivalent marks appeared on his own armor. As if he was attacking himself.
Soon the roles were reversed as Jason was standing over the injured and kneeling form of Gohryo Niyou’do. He was breathing hard and cut marks riddled his armor and the wall of souls still swarmed around him, keeping him at bay. Then the the first rays of the dawn light began to trickle into view, slowly filling him with warmth and relief. Until finally Jason felt himself bask into the full light of morning.
“No! NO! IT CAN’T END THIS WAY!” He wailed at Jason. Jason could feel the large grin forming at those words. Then as if to jerk him from the after glow of his success, the protection mage could feel darkness overtake him as he found himself standing inside that same barren stone room with the paper doors he began in. Gohryo wasn’t anywhere to be seen though. He felt strangely nervous being alone, but it wasn’t anytime to falter not after he had come this far.
Wordlessly Jason stepped over to one of the doors and read the word “Night” over one of the doors and deciding that one was as good as any stepped through, to leave the room and battle behind him.