Can’t kill him. Can’t capture him. Can’t control or subvert him. Can’t harm him, Basil thought, his body exploding into motion, running forward towards Emyr’s back, as the tall man moved to pass through the door and subjugate two worlds again – and Basil did not doubt that he’d be able to, not when the world was already in such utter disarray. I have to stop him.
So how do you propose to do that, genius? the Man in the Moon asked him. We’re talking about a guy who, when he calls himself a ‘God-King’, is making a perfectly reasonable statement about his capabilities.
Moving as fast as his legs would carry him, trying to stay as quiet as remotely possible, Basil leaped onto the dais. If his power works anything like what it seems like, like what we know of his original life, then I won’t be able to achieve anything he has outright forbidden, but I can still neutralise him in any manner which doesn’t outright violate any of his dictates.
Mate, listen to yourself, you’re talking about taking on a god. He can literally wish you dead! Just stand down, play nice and don’t fucking antagonise him! the Man in the Moon shouted within his mind, yet Basil advanced.
What kind of man would I be, if I gave up the first time a big challenge appeared? He was almost upon him, less than four steps away from the man thought to be the most powerful being to ever walk the Earth.
Big challenge? The Protector was a big challenge! Crocell was a big challenge! This is an impossible challenge!
The black marble-like floor in front of the doorway warped, flowing upwards into a rippling curtain of the same material, blocking the Godking’s advance.
Gloom Glimmer! Basil thought, though he didn’t bother to look. Instead, before Emyr could even react to the sudden appearance of a barrier, he leapt at his back, impacting him with quite a lot of force as he wrapped his arm around his head, pressing his right arm’s bracer against his mouth to prevent him from speaking.
Emyr gasped in surprise, staggering forward to nearly slam into the now-solid wall, yet at the last moment, his movement was averted by no apparent means, causing him to stumble and fall to the side, with Basil on top of him, holding on for dear life – the Man in the Moon wasn’t wrong, it was not unlikely that all Emyr had to do was to simply shout ‘Die!’ to kill everyone in this place who wasn’t himself, under Tartsche’s power or, most likely, Gloom Glimmer.
Still, without his speech, he was just a normal man, so as long as Basil could hold him in a proper lock, he-
Emyr easily overpowered his left-handed grip on his arms and reached over his back to Basil, a single long-fingered hand grabbing him by the back of his neck.
Before he knew what was happening, he was thrown away as if he weighed nothing, tumbling end over end until he slammed into the bare floor, over a dozen metre away.
“Did you really think I-” Emyr began to speak, but was interrupted when a piece of the floor below shot up to cover his mouth – though not his nose – and cling tightly, cutting off his speech. He looked down at it, then looked aside towards Gloom Glimmer, who was standing firmly on the ground, an arm extended towards him with its hand clenched into a tight fist, her eyes glowing red beneath her hood.
“I won’t let you speak one more word,” she spoke, her voice reverberating with power.
He expelled a breath through his nose, like a huge sigh, looking infinitely annoyed as he reached calmly for the gag made of marble-like stone clinging to his lower face. At the same time, he flicked a hand out at her, making an odd claw-like gesture.
Nothing happened, causing him to look at his hand in surprise.
Meanwhile, Legend was staring at the fight, her formerly haughty face utterly despondent and wild-eyed, gone a nearly purplish red as if she was struggling with herself, trying to say something – That’s right, he forbade her from talking – and pointing desperately, just out of sight from Emyr, towards something.
Basil followed her gestures and found himself looking at the table with the one burning basin left on it.
Of course! She summoned him by putting his book into the flames – perhaps destroying the basin will banish him again!
Spellgun and Hecate seemed to come to the same conclusion at the same time, and all three of them raised their weapons – Basil and Spellgun their rifles, Hecate her staff – and, just as Emyr’s fingers dug into his gag without any apparent resistance, fired a single shot each.
He reached out with a hand again, making a different gesture – thumb and index forming a circle, pinky sticking out and the others curled in – but again, nothing happened.
The basin exploded, as did most of the table, blown apart by the combined force of their attacks (though mostly by the explosive bullet Spellgun had clearly used).
A ring of blue fire shot out from the smoking wreck, washing over everyone, making Emyr flinch in what may have been discomfort.
His eyes grew wide as he looked down at himself, sawing his body begin to fade as the Protector had, earlier, when Hecate had dispelled Legend’s work, if slower than that.
Was that enough? Basil thought, hopeful, watching the Godking become more and more transparent.
Then he ripped off the gag Gloom Glimmer had put on him, though it rippled and melted again, flying back at his mouth even as he shouted at the top of his lungs-
“TIME, BE STILL!!!”
Immanuel tilted his head to the side, his eyes fixed on a particular point of the floor of his meditation chamber, looking straight at the entrance to Legend’s realm, his expression briefly slipping from its usual calm serenity for a moment before he reigned it in again.
“What happened?” Heaven’s Dancer asked, as she sat on the same dais he was sitting upon, though her own posture was far more lady-like than his – knees together and to one side, her feet on the other – as was her choice of clothing, a proper white business suit with a silver shirt and golden jewelry. Unlike him, she also insisted on footwear even in such a meditation chamber, high-heeled white pumps in this case. Even her hairstyle, a tight, intricate braid woven into her gold-blonde hair, contrasted his careless style, if it could even be called a style.
“Blackhill just… stopped time, I think,” he said, stroking his smooth chin with one hand. “Whatever he did after, I can no longer see into Legend’s realm, if it’s even hers, still.”
The gorgeous young woman frowned, her serious expression quite out of place on a face as young as hers. “Is he deliberately blocking you out? How would he even know about you in the first place; even if he compelled Legend into telling him all she knows, she knows next to nothing about your actual power.”
He closed his eyes, smiling his usual, serene smile. His compatriot did raise a good point. “No, I don’t think that he’s blocking me, specifically, more likely that he chose to fortify Legend’s realm in general and just happened to shut me out as well. With power like his, it’s not inconceivable that he might shut me down by sheer accident, after all.”
She actually growled in response, the vicious snarl completely out of place on her face. “I told you Legend was too irresponsible! You must have known that she had that book in her possession, why didn’t you take it away? What if he breaks out of her realm? Even if he’s weaker now than before, as you claim he would be, I still don’t see how we’d stand a chance to contain him!” Her voice rose towards the end, becoming more shrill and angry than usual.
When he simply waved her concerns off, she nearly exploded, though he didn’t give her time to do so, simply continuing to speak: “Relax. Even if he breaks out, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for us. His goals – as far as I understand them – and ours are not mutually exclusive. At best, we might actually be able to recruit him – he’s not entirely beyond my power’s reach, after all – and at worst, we might have a new leader – not a bad thing, no? He’s rather fearless himself, after all.” He smiled easily at her. “All that is assuming he can get out, though.”
She held his gaze for a while, blue eyes to brown, before she averted her eyes to roll them, sighing in exasperation. “You’re impossible.”
“You mean I’m impossibly amazing,” he replied with a boyish grin.
“Impossibly childish is more like it,” she countered, giving him such a pure ‘mom’ look he actually broke out into laughter.
She watched him as he shook, the corner of her mouth ticking up briefly before she got it under control again. He noticed it, of course.
He finally, he got himself back under control, wiping a few tears from the corners of his eyes. “Ahh, I needed that. Thanks, grams.”
She frowned again. “I am not your grandmother, young man, even if I may be twice your age.”
“Not quite ‘twice’,” he replied, raising a finger. “But yes, you are very old.”
The glare she was giving him now should, by all rights, have reduced him to a blast shadow on the nearest window. He felt an intense gratitude for the fact that her current form did not have any such power.
“I’m glad you are so amused by all this,” she said, her voice dripping dishonesty. “But I’m still rather put off about all this. We have her daughter within our reach, we should be capturing her, not letting her run around willy-nilly!”
And it was back to that subject. “You know as well as I do that we can’t contain her,” he gave her the same answer as every time she’d brought up the young Whitaker. “Even if we could, it would put us at the top of both Goldschmidt’s and Whitaker’s hit lists, something which we’ve avoided for nearly a century now by not doing things like these – or at least, not doing them in a way so easily leading back to us.” He gave her a beady-eyed stare. “You’re just sore you can’t take her for yourself, aren’t you?”
She gave him a furious look. “I could have, if you hadn’t insisted that-“
He cut her off with a stern look. “Take Whitaker’s daughter? Really? Remember what happened all those decades ago, when you tried to take Whitaker herself?”
As soon as he reminded her, she averted her eyes, lifting a hand to press against the left side of her lower ribcage in an unconscious gesture, shuddering and going pale.
“I thought so,” he continued, more coldly. “As powerful as Irene may be, she’s simply not worth the risk. Nevermind that she may be able to resist your power anyway.”
He waited until she nodded, more subdued now as she recalled the humiliation (and pain) of her first and only encounter with the elder Whitaker. Satisfied at having made his point, he turned to look at the entrance to Legend’s realm again, deciding to simply wait and see what was going to happen.
He’d already called in reinforcements the moment Legend summoned Emyr, anyway, just in case.
Basil was sitting on a very comfortable, cushioned chair made of what looked like old, hand-carved dark wood. The others were seated in similar chairs, all arranged around a table just long enough to seat each of them, minus Legend whom he couldn’t see.
Emyr sat the head of the table in a throne-like chair made of the same dark hardwood, richly engraved with strange, yet beautiful winding patterns and flowers which certainly did not exist on Earth. He somehow managed to sit in both a regal and almost slouchingly relaxed manner, radiating a sense of being both utterly in control and utterly at ease as he looked around with a slight smile on his face, his black eyes looking almost warm as he regarded the teenagers sitting at his table.
On the long side of the table to Emyr’s right sat Hecate, Tyche, Basil and Polymnia. Opposite of him at the other end of the table and seated on a chair that was taller than the others, yet still smaller than Emyr’s, sat Gloom Glimmer. To his left-hand side sat Tartsche, then Spellgun, Bakeneko and Osore at the end, opposite of Polymnia.
The basin that kept Emyr alive stood at the centre of the table, casting a flickering, five-coloured light as his book floated gently within it, untouched by the flames. The doll and rosary which Legend had used to try and summon the Chevaliers with lay on the table in front of Emyr, and he was holding the Protector’s token, idly flipping it around in one hand. It looked like a leather wallet to Basil, an old, much-used one, though clearly well taken care of. A stack of papers, bound with some kind of cord to form a crude book, lay on the table right in front of him. He could read its title, upside down, written in neat, flowing handwriting – Hasty Dictates XXI. Nothing else about it stood out.
Everyone stared at Emyr with various degrees of consternation or horror on their faces. What they were thinking, he couldn’t guess at, so he focused on Emyr instead. First, he briefly considered trying to attack the basin again, but as soon as he thought about it, he had a sudden, intense feeling of unease, as if his every instinct was screaming at him that that could not be done.
That’s different from before, he thought. I can still consider those actions, but now I get a warning that they won’t work?
He changed something, the Man in the Moon said quietly. Maybe that book…
“You can write commands down,” Basil spoke up, breaking the silence and causing no small amount of gasps by his startled friends, though he paid them no mind, focusing on Emyr instead.
Emyr continued to regard the wallet for a few more moments, before he looked at him and smiled lazily. “That’s correct.” He tapped the thin book – no thicker than one of Basil’s fingers, really. “I’m sorry about the effect my earlier commands had on some of you.” He looked at everyone but Basil and Gloom Glimmer, in turn.
It took a moment before Basil remembered that everyone but Gloom Glimmer and himself had frozen up – perhaps it had not just been fear?
“I’m sure you know, stories told by mouth are fickle things, easily misunderstood, twisted and forgotten,” he smiled a mirthless smile. “But write one down and you can fix it for the ages.”
Does that mean his spoken commands have a time limit? Then why did he bother to specify ‘today’ earlier? Basil thought to himself, even as he kept going through more and more scenarios in his head, trying to find one that could work. Any way he could think of to directly attack Emyr was out. As was any attempt to reach the portal – now likely behind the heavy wooden door which stood behind Emyr’s seat, as well as any manipulation of the basin…
It was rapidly starting to look like Emyr had considered any possible quick solution to this situation which didn’t favour him.
More information might help.
“So if you write a command down, it becomes permanent?” he asked, suddenly glad that he’d set his helmet sensors to constantly record everything going on – provided he got out of this, the records of this encounter would be a thing for the ages.
Emyr focused on him, leaning forward just slightly as he kept flipping the wallet around in his fingers. “So long as the writing persists, yes. Before you think to try something untoward, I have already written that this,” he tapped the collection of dictates, “cannot be harmed or even manipulated by any of you.”
Bakeneko – now back to her cat-girl form – raised a hand, as if she was in school.
“Feel free to speak your mind,” he told her, looking amused.
“W-what was… what happened, earlier? When you said that stuff, I… I couldn’t…” she looked down, slumping her shoulders under the weight of his gaze – even when looking at someone kindly, his gaze was so intense even Basil could feel it, when he wasn’t even the one looked at. “It was like, like my brain just… froze up.”
“Ah, I do apologise for that,” he said softly. “That is one of the downsides of me relying purely on verbal commands. They affect everyone who hears them differently. For example, when I decreed that I would neither be hurt nor captured, some of you became unable to take any aggressive action against me, your minds locked up by what you couldn’t do rather than focusing on finding loopholes. Or, to make it more simple, my commands, when phrased too broadly, tend to affect everyone in different ways.” His shoulders shook as he laughed briefly, the sound low and completely at odds with the situation – as if he was sitting with friends at home, telling a story. “As to why some are affected one way, and others another, why some,” he looked at Bakeneko, Tartsche, Spellgun, Tyche, Hecate and Polymnia, “were struck with inaction, while others,” he looked at Basil and Gloom Glimmer, “where able to seek – and even find – loopholes, that I know no hard rule for. It appears to simply rely on the personality of the person in question.” He flipped the wallet in his hand, and Basil finally got a glimpse at the other side – it wasn’t a wallet, it was an EMT badge, belong to one Jason Devon.
“I, I see,” she said, looking away with an expression on her face that Basil couldn’t quite interpret – though the fact that her face was largely inhuman right now certainly didn’t help.
“Is that how the Martians’ ‘magic’ worked?” Basil couldn’t help but ask – he seemed amenable to talking, for whatever reason (though he could think of a few why he might).
Emyr redirected his unnervingly intense gaze onto him, but Basil remained calm, refusing to shrink back from it.
Not that there was anything like an overt threat there, or even an implied one. In fact, Emyr just smiled nicely. “Well, knowing what you know now, how do you think it worked?”
Basil frowned, briefly considering what he’d seen and heard so far. “It seems pretty simple, now, even if mind-boggingly powerful. You just wrote down how magic works, didn’t you?”
That earned him another smile. “A gold star for you, young man!” he said, snapping his fingers, and a golden star – an actual, solid gold by the looks of it, five-pointed star – appeared on the table in front of Basil. “That’s precisely how it works. I spent a whole month writing the entire Book of Magick. Then I had my priests create copies of it and spread them around.” He sighed, his gaze growing distant, lost in his memories. “That was a fun month. I’m really quite proud of the system I came up with. Very well-defined, like a science. Anyone could use it, too, not just Martians, though I did write in a few limitations to the effect that none of it could be used against me, personally.”
“Why not just restrict it to your Martians, or only to people who worship you?” Hecate blurted out a question of her own, leaning forward as they moved onto a subject close to her heart. “Seems like a safety precaution worth taking.”
Basil took the gold star and put it into his pocket.
Emyr directed his gaze, and smile – He really smiles a lot, doesn’t he? – at her, making her shrink back in spite of the complete lack of anything threatening about his bearing. “That’s a very good idea, my dear, but I did intend to integrate humanity into my empire, and having them all be unable to use magic would’ve reduced them to mere second-class citizens, especially once it turned out that my Martians were quite capable of manifesting powers of their own, as well. As for the worship, I-“
“Wait, they could what!?” Hecate jumped out of her chair, very nearly throwing it over. “The Martians… they could… I mean, we thought it was all just…”
“They could manifest, of course. It is not limited to humans,” Emyr replied, making a dismissive gesture with his free hand. “No, don’t ask,” he continued, pointing at Basil. “I will not reveal to you the origin of powers, nor any other of its secrets. You needn’t bother to even ask, for I will not answer,” he explained, his voice cold and hard again. “And be thankful for that, my boy. Some knowledge is naught but a burden to all those who know, and not to be shared lightly.”
“You can not expect me to ignore the fact that you apparently know the answer to the single greatest question of the last hundred years!” Basil shot back, leaning forward as he clenched his hands around the tips of his chair’s armrests.
Mate, what’d we say about pissing off megalomaniacal godlings?
Shut your mouth.
“I don’t expect you to ignore it, and I certainly don’t simply expect you to drop it,” Emyr replied, relaxing again as he lowered his hand down to the table. “I order you to drop it.”
And just like that, Basil knew he would no longer be able to bring the subject up. “Alright,” he grunted between clenched teeth, barely holding back the desire to charge him across the table and try to hurt him for so casually controlling him. He opened his mouth to continue, make a scathing reply in spite of his better judgement, when Spellgun jumped in after Tartsche poked his side with his elbow.
“You did the same thing for their technology, didn’t you Sir?” he asked respectfully, his Southern accent thickening as he got more nervous with each word. “Ah mean, the ships, the portals, the weapons, none of it seemed like, you know, normal science” He looked aside, unable to stand Emyr’s intense gaze.
“The Book of Emyrian Science was my second written work on Mars, yes,” he affirmed.
“But none of it works anymore, does it not?” Basil threw in, drawing that unnerving gaze back onto himself. “Their machines, their spells, it all stopped working when you died. And it’s still not working, even now that you’re back.”
“How do you know it doesn’t? Do you have some means to observe the outside world from in here?” Emyr asked curiously, not seeming perturbed at all.
Basil shook his head. “I do not, but I noticed you making a strange hand gesture several times earlier. Both times, you clearly expected something to happen, and both times, it did not. Which tells me that you could use your own magic, and that you need your writings yourself in order to cast your spells, if you can not just speak it all out loud or do not want to, and it does not work now, even though you are back and clearly expected it to work.”
“Very perceptive,” Emyr replied, tapping his left cheek. “You are right, loathe as I am to admit it – either my former writings have stopped working entirely, or else they don’t reach into this pocket dimension. Though it’s more likely the former than the latter, as they have reached into such places in the past.”
“Or maybe you are just not really Emyr Blackhill,” Basil pressed on, drawing several hissing breaths from the others, as he kept up the eye contact with Emyr. “Because you are still here, wasting your time talking with us, when you were just trying to get out. So I am inclined to think, you tried to, and you stopped time, so you had the, time, to try as much as you wanted to, and you could not. You are stuck here, even though you took over from Legend.”
Emyr leaned to the side, resting his cheek on the fist of his left hand, his right one still playing with the badge.
Since he didn’t reply, Basil pressed on. “So, I guess my real question is, why are we still here? You certainly didn’t set this all up just to have a nice chat among friends. What do you intend to do with us?”
The Godking of Mars looked at him, smiling. Then his smile spread, and he began to chuckle, his shoulders shaking as the chuckle moved on to a pleasant laugh, and the laugh into full-throated laughter, as the heroes in the room stared alternatively at him and at Basil, at the latter as if they couldn’t believe he was talking like that.
After more than a minute, he finally calmed down, spots of red having appeared on his high, razor-sharp cheek bones.
With a smirk, he wiped a tear from his eye. “Ah, that was good. Haven’t had a good and proper laugh in a while.” He flung the tear away from his finger. “You are, of course, right. I don’t want just a nice chat among friends here.”
He raised his hands, making everyone but Basil and Gloom Glimmer – who had stayed completely quiet so far – tense up and lean away… and clapped them, twice.
From off to one side, Legend appeared, wearing an utterly ridiculous dress – oddly reminiscent of a maid’s dress, though in red, gold and black, with actual gold filigree worked into the cloth, tight around her body yet still modest, even tasteful… if one thought a gaudy fantasy-version of a maid’s dress could be tasteful – and an utterly furious, humiliated, terrified expression on her face, as she carried a tray with a variety of goblets, walking around the table – starting with Hecate and moving around counter-clockwise back to Emyr – as she put a unique goblet in front of everyone.
Each goblet seemed to be customised to fit the general appearance of the person it stood in front of, made of materials and covered in jewels that matched their respective colour schemes. Basil’s own was made of what he guessed to be Obsidian, with numerous tiny diamonds worked in, forming his sigil in a colour-inverted version.
They were also, one and all, completely empty.
All of them looked at the goblets, then at Emyr, who picked his own up as Legend took up position behind his chair and to the side of his left, moving smoothly, not like a puppet at all, and yet there was no doubt to be had that she wasn’t in control of herself anymore – her facial expression alone said it all.
Emyr’s own goblet was made of gold – of course – and had five large jewels that encircled it – an Emerald, a Diamond, a Sapphire, a Ruby and an Onyx stone – with no further decorations. Though it was larger than any of the others, it seemed to merely be so it fit into his long-fingered hand, not for the sake of, well, having the biggest goblet around. It, too, was empty.
“Chateau Margaux, 1787,” he said simply, and the goblet filled up with a sparkling red liquid. He took a long, slow drink, savouring the taste as he put the goblet – it instantly refilled – down on the table again, leaning back with his eyes closed for a few moments. “Ah, always a good one.” He opened his eyes, surveying everyone around the table. “Please, order your drinks. You can have anything you can reasonably describe. And afterwards… afterwards, we talk.”