Monday, June 10, 2013


          The thief was thrown off the caravan in the middle of the night. His body tumbled through the underbrush like a discarded rag doll. His head kissed a log roughly and then it was dark.
When he recovered consciousness, the thief discovered his hand in the mouth of a big black bear. The bear appeared to be playing with him, but the thief did not like this game. He closed his fist around the bear’s thick, pulsating tongue, and pulled. The beast emitted a surprised yelp as the human yanked the beast towards him and brought his fist down on its eye. The thief released the bear’s tongue and it scampered off in search of easier, and more fun, prey.
            The thief jumped to his feet and brushed himself off. An odd smile played on his lips. “Thrown off another fucking caravan,” he thought. “Ah well, they were pompous and boring. And I had my eye on a lot more than Lady Andra’s cleavage. Bravo to them, the stiffs.”
            Off in the distance, the thief spied plumes of smoke drifting across the sky as night retreated into day. Wary of hungry bears, he made his towards this semblance of civilization. After all, forest creatures, as beautiful and mysterious as they are, do not have much to steal.


The town ended up being further away than it appeared. It lay at the base of a mountain whose craggy peak seemed to vanish in the hazy mist of the late morning. A sign on the road leading into the town read: FOOTSVILLE. The thief, dirty, hungry, and tired, sauntered into Footsville with just a worn pack on his back. Despite it being a small town, there was a steady flow of citizens milling around the center square. Here, merchants hawked their goods with practiced precision, knowing exactly the correct pitch to toss at passersby.
            “Hello sir, yer boots are lookin’ mighty bare, aren’t they? I know yer a hard-workin’ man. Don’ know yer name, but I know yer face, and I know you’ve been sluggin’ these here hills for more’n a few sun-cycles. C’mon now sir, don’ walk away from me now. Not on those worn soles. C’mon now sir, do yourself, and yer family’s selves, a favor. Ah yesssss, there ya go sir. Yer a good man.”
            The thief smiled. Who is to say who the true thieves are in this world? These guys were real operators. And their prey were collaborators. Kinda made him sick really. These people were complicit in their own selling. Accomplices to their own murders. At least his marks were unaware that they were being filched.
“You, sir!” a merchant barked as he passed.
“Who, me?” said the thief, batting his eyelashes in feigned innocence.

“Yes, you! You have the mark of an adventurer about you.”

“Why, however did you guess?

“Har har! Perhaps you are a jester?”
“Nah, doesn’t pay so well. And nobility is fickle.”

“Har har!”

The thief looked closer at the guffawing merchant. He was tall and slender, with a peculiar glint in his eye, and a distinctive bent to his nose, almost like a hawk’s beak. He stood behind a makeshift table which featured an array of trinkets and baubles.

“See anything you fancy?” the man said, arching an eyebrow.

“What is this, a whorehouse? I’ll let you know.”

“I’m sure you will.”

The thief scanned the items, suddenly curious. His gaze fell upon a rather attractive-looking longknife. The dagger was about a foot and a half long, and it rested in a well-worn scabbard that had a subtle, yet beguiling, serpentine pattern coiling its way down the blade. After all, he needed a weapon, as the sadsacks on the royal caravan had relieved him of his. He picked up the dagger and unsheathed it. The blade was incredibly sharp, almost as if it had just been made.

“How much?” asked the thief.

“However much you feel is appropriate, sir.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Sir, you are the one who kids.”

“Heh, right. I almost forgot. Alright. How about this?” The thief reached into his pack and produced a beautiful brooch made of solid gold and limned with glittering rubies. But this extremely expensive item did not quite elicit the expected response.

“I suppose that will do,” said the merchant, almost as if he were sighing.

“Well then,” the thief grunted, placing the brooch on the table. He attached the dagger to his belt and began to walk away.

“Wait, my friend.”

The thief stopped and turned around. The sudden melancholy had been erased off the merchant’s face, replaced by an almost mischievous expression.

“I have something else for you.”

“Look, pal, this is all I want and all I need.”

“Please, take this slip of parchment. An adventurer like yourself may find it handy, if only to write directions on it.”

The thief took the parchment from the merchant’s outstretched hand. He examined it. It was wholly unremarkable, just a run-of-the-mill piece of parchment.

“Gee thanks.”

“I realize it looks quite plain, but the man who gave it to me said that it came from the Forbidden Mountain.”

“The what?”

“The Forbidden Mountain,” the merchant whispered, casting his eyes upward towards the peak that dominated the skyline.

         “Right. And why is it forbidden?”

        “It is said that a great and powerful man resides at the top, in a fortress that he built. It is said that this man is a master of many arcane and esoteric disciplines, some of which have been forgotten by everyone on the planet, save for him. It is said that he has a vast collection of treasures, including some of the magical persuasion.”

         “Sounds like a real winner. Well, thanks for the piece of paper, maybe I can wipe my ass with it.”

          The thief left the merchant lost in his reverie, imagining mysterious and powerful men wringing out the secrets of life. The thief had more immediate, mundane concerns. Like a hot meal, a few pints of ale and a reasonably comfortable bed.


            The thief stopped at the first inn he saw. The sign out front read: THE GILDED AGE. He walked up to the front desk. An old man with forests for eyebrows looked up. His eyes seemed to be an afterthought when compared to the brows.

            “What cannae do fair yae?”

            “A room, a pint.”

            “Aright, the room is twenny a night, and the tavern is right there, through the doors……Wait sir, I need a name tae put yae under. House policy.”
            “You’ve gotta be fookin’ kiddin’ me. OK, put it under Zed Nihil.”

            “Very good then.”



            Despite his exhaustion, Zed walked into the tavern with a healthy dose of swagger. He took a seat at a deserted corner table that sat well within the shadows. The tavern was fairly crowded, with an even mix of locals and travelers. Zed had been around long enough to tell the difference between the two. The locals lounged with more casual body language, while the travelers were more wary, keeping to themselves. A barmaid came around and Zed ordered a pint of the housebrew. At a nearby table, a pair of locals talked excitedly, and perhaps a little too loudly. Zed couldn’t help but listen.

“I’m tellin’ yae, mate, Clize sez he’s been up there.”

 “That’s a crock of shite and yae know it, Malthus.”

  “Maybe, yeah? But Clize ain’t been the same, and yae know it.”

  “That has nothin’ to do with the mountain, mate. ‘S his wife.”

  “Maybe, yeah.”

            Then they were silent for awhile, contemplating poor Clize’s fate. Zed’s curiosity was piqued, but he started to feel conspicuous. Then he remembered the parchment the merchant had given him. He pulled it out and laid it flat on the rickety table. He peered over it, but could see nothing extraordinary about it. Zed left it there as he began to roll a smoke. The barmaid came around with another pint. As she set down the glass, a wave of ale spilled over the lip, splashing on the table and soaking the parchment.

“Oh! I’m so sorry, sir.”

“’S OK, lass. Don’t worry your pretty little head about it.”

“I’ll be right back to clean that up.”

“No problem.”

The problem was that the two locals, who previously had been unaware of his existence, were now staring straight at him. Zed pretended not to notice and resumed rolling his smoke. The barmaid returned with a rag and wiped up the spilled brew. As she lifted the wet parchment to dry beneath it, Zed was seized with a bizarre urgency and snatched it out of her hand. The barmaid recoiled in surprise.

“Er, sorry; it’s my family tree. I’ve been working real hard on it.”


After she walked away, Zed laid out the parchment. Something caught his eye. Some marks that initially appeared to be ale stains, were now quite clearly words. Zed watched as a passage formed on the parchment. It read:



            Zed thought: This is getting really weird.


            Zed sunk into the bed with a deep sigh of relief. What a long, strange day it had been. Well, now he was drunk and that was just fine with him. He’d rather dance with the spirits than a human anyday. Zed glanced at the peculiar piece of parchment that rested on the nightstand. It was blank again, as if erased by some unseen hand when he wasn’t looking.
            Back in the tavern, the two yokels had stared him down for a few minutes. Zed flashed them a stupid smile and raised his glass in a friendly salute. They grunted and half-raised their pints in response. Zed just sat there with that stupid smile. Eventually they left, stumbling back home to their weary wives. Zed tried flirting with his waitress, but the barkeep took her aside and whispered a few things to her. That put a stop to that. Maybe it was the heavy brew, but Zed left the tavern for his room feeling empty, lonely and hopeless. One of Zed’s favorite songs popped into his head –

            No fun, my babe, no fun
            No fun to be alone
            Walking by myself
            No fun to be alone
In love
            with nobody else

Before passing out, Zed decided that he would tackle the mountain the next day. Forbidden or not, if there was treasure up there, Zed intended to gorge himself on its sparkling countenance. “My true love……you are…….my true love…..yes, you, baby…..yes youuuuu…….” he hummed himself to sleep.


Zed was awoken far too early by the screeching klaxon of a dragonbird’s throat. He had grumbled his way back to a surface slumber when he heard two familiar voices conversing outside his window.

“I dinnae like the look o’ that stranger in the pub last night, Malthus. Seemed a mite too innarested in his surroundings, yeah?”

“Aye, bleedin’ interlopers. Pretending they’re dumber than they ain’t. I tells yae, Errance, really gets me goat.”

“Aye. P’raps us two will have to ‘run in’ to that squirrely fellow again tonight. Give ‘im a message from the Footsville Welcoming Committee.”

“Hoo hoo, yessir, Errance.”

As their voices drifted through his open window, Zed lay in bed trying not too laugh too loudly.

“Screw you, you dumb hilljacks. I’ll be long gone from this godsforsaken town by then anyway.”

Zed went back to sleep.


In the early afternoon, after soothing his hangover with a spot of Witches’ Tea, Zed set out for the mountain. It was a beautiful, breezy day with a hint of something in the air; promise maybe, or expectation. Zed savored this invisible scent, rolled it around on the back of his tongue, drunk deep from its secret well.
            A few suspicious glares followed him out of Footsville (what kind of stoopid fookin’ name is that? Zed thought), but he disarmed them with a hearty chuckle. After all, he was used to this sort of treatment. In fact, he fed off of it. And he was hungry. “Don’t go back to Footsvi-i…lle…..” he sang.
            Zed walked through the forest. He walked over rocks, animal carcasses, and fallen trees, lying there as if sleeping, really just sleeping.
 “Pull yourself up by the roots, boy,” he commanded.

  But they weren’t getting up.
            Zed saw a hawk circling above him. It followed him like a halo, outlining his past and future. Within the circle, the hawk recreated the void that lurked within Zed. He respected and acknowledged this; the hawk was very beautiful, regal even.            
            He walked and ran and jumped through the forest, delighting in the supple movement of his body. Self-trained in so many disciplines, Zed felt unstoppable. His blood pumping hard, he pushed himself harder. He had a vague premonition that he would discover just how well he taught himself at the top of the mountain. Zed welcomed this test.

            “Bring it on, motherfuckers. Be you demon, dragon, ogre, or mage. Necromancer, high priest, paladin, or sage. I got a nice, new, shiny dagger that’s compatible to your blood type. Wooohoooo!!!!”

            By the time night had descended, Zed had climbed three-fourths of the mountain. As his adrenalin high wore off, he decided to set up camp. Well, as much camp as can be set up with a rock for a pillow and a dirty blanket that he had stolen from The Gilded Age. Zed closed his eyes and dreamt of glittering jewels and magical cloaks.


           SNAP! went a fallen branch and Zed was instantly awake. He knew the sounds of forest animals, and this was no forest animal. He heard a set of heavy breathing lungs, and then, behind him, another loud, clumsy human.

           “Grab ‘im, Malthus!”
            Hands reached out to snare him, but he rolled away into a patch of complete darkness. And waited.

            “Shit! I missed him, Errance! ‘Eads up, he’s comin’ your way!”

            Zed crouched like a mountain cat, patient and calm. Errance, thinking he was being stealthy, walked within a few feet of Zed, completely oblivious. Zed reached out and embraced him.

            “Errance, where the fuck are you? Do you see ‘im? Don’t let that bastard get away!”


            Then, behind him, Malthus heard a clipped gurgling. He swung around, brandishing his battered shortsword. Errance’s body collapsed to the ground in a pool of crimson.

            “Too bad Clize couldn’t make it, eh Malthus?” Zed said, barely controlling his delight. “But then again, he probably had the good sense to stay home with his wife.”

            “Yer fuckin’ dead!” Malthus screamed, running at Zed in a berserker’s rage.

            “No, asshole, you are.”

             In one sublime movement, Zed parried Malthus’ thrust, clasped his throat with a talon-like hand, and smashed his heel into Malthus’ knee. Malthus lost his footing, but Zed held him close. A surgical slice along the forearm, cutting his muscles and tendons, forced Malthus to drop his sword.

            “Now you listen here, Malthus. I’m about to kill you in a most unpleasant way. I don’t like people like you, and I gotta admit that I’m kinda touched that you and your idiot partner decided to make the effort to come all the way up here to kill me. Gets me a little choked up,” Zed squeezed Malthus’ throat. “Get it?! A little ‘choked up’?!? Ha ha ha ha!!! Damn, man, you should be thrilled that you’re being croaked by such an erudite, good-looking and all-around badass funnyfuck like myself. I mean, you coulda died of old age or something boring like that, y’know? Seeya!”

            Very slowly, Zed squeezed Malthus’ throat until his eyeballs began pushing themselves out of their sockets.

           “Wow, you look surprised! I told you it was gonna be unpleasant! Nobody ever believes me. That’ll learn ‘em.”

            Zed threw Malthus’ lifeless body to the cold, hard ground and walked away, heading towards the summit of the Forbidden Mountain.


            “Damn, it’s cold up here,” Zed said to himself as he neared the peak of the mountain. It was late in the afternoon and Zed was feeling fine. Last night’s deadly hijinks had provided an extra jolt of confidence, and he was ready for any thing that might come his way. Like the wrought-iron gate that materialized right in front of him. He could have sworn it wasn’t there just a moment ago. Zed had been scanning the area, trying to parse his next option, when out of the corner of his eye he spied, cloistered in some trees, a gate. Well, that’s an invitation, if I ever saw one, he thought. He sauntered up to it and mimed a formal knock, laughing quietly to himself. Zed examined the lock; nothing too difficult, rather ordinary, really. Zed couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. If it was going to be this easy, it almost wasn’t worth it. But then he thought of the treasure, and the parchment. Zed picked the lock. A dark corridor loomed ahead. It seemed to stretch into the mountain itself.

            “Hmm, no cool looking castle, but if this dude carved his fortress into a
mountain, I guess I’m impressed.”

            Zed entered the mountain.


           After walking for a spell in total darkness, Zed saw a light ahead. He emerged into a vast room lit by torches lining the walls. The walls seemed to be shifting colors constantly, like a kaleidoscope. Zed felt disoriented and maybe a little sick. At the far end of the room was a crystal throne. In front of the throne was a shallow pool of water. Somehow, a flame burned on its surface. Behind the throne, Zed could see piles of gold and silver items. To his right were huge statues of exotic beasts, many of which he had heard of, but never seen before. Zed headed towards the treasure.

            Zed was trying to figure out what was the most valuable item to take when he heard a voice behind him.

            “Who are you to invade my sanctum sanctorum like this?”

            Zed turned around, but could see no one.

            “Answer me!”

            “I’m Zed Nihil.”

            “No, you’re not.”

            “You’re right, I’m not. Who are you then?”

            “I am either your death, or your salvation.”

            A man appeared out of thin air, shimmering into existence. Zed had seen him before.

            “And you’re no friendly merchant, are you?”

            “No, I am not.”

            “I guess it’s time to fight then, huh?”

            “As you wish.”

            They circled each other, unarmed. Zed shot out a punch. The man easily avoided it. Zed feinted to the left and kicked at the man’s knee. The man sidestepped. Zed dropped to the ground and tried a leg sweep. The man jumped over it. Zed came up with a flathand attack at the man’s chest, but was really going for an armlock. Finally grabbing flesh, he locked down on the man’s forearm. The man slid his arm out as if it were greased. Zed took a few steps back.

            “What the fuck?!?”

            “Frustrated, my friend?”

            “Not anymore, mister.” Zed unsheathed his dagger and stepped forward. He brought the blade around in a vicious arc towards the man’s unprotected throat. Inches away from contact the dagger crumbled to dust in Zed’s hand.

            “Unholy shit! What was that?”

            “Do you not remember who sold you that dagger, my friend? I made it. It does as I please. Now, let us end this farce.”

            With inhuman speed, the man slapped Zed in the face. The slap sent Zed reeling. Before he could recover the man had engaged him in an unbreakable chokehold. Zed wheezed his discontent.

            “Nothing witty to say? Catgut your tongue? Good. For now you will listen. You have two choices, thief. I can kill you in an even more gruesome manner than you killed poor Malthus, or………Yes, I see your eyes get bigger. Malthus was one of mine. I sent him and Errance after you as a test. In fact, the entire town of Footsville, including the lovely barmaid you had your eyes on, is a construct of mine. Rather pleasant, wouldn’t you agree?”

            Zed tried in vain to suck in a fistful of air.

            “As I was saying; you have two choices. One, I shred your soul in my chamber of horrors, or, two, I train you to perform a very important task for me. What say you?”

            The man let go of Zed’s neck.

            “Ahuuuuhhhuuuhhhhh…….koff…..acccchkkkk..huhugguuhhg….gu-gu-gimme a second here.”

          “Of course.”

          “I think I’ll take door number two.”

          “Very well then. Your training begins now. First, you need a name. And do not tell me that you have a name. I know of your past. I know that you do not have a name, were never given one. I know that you were found in a wood by a group of Jipsies, abandoned to die by your birthparents. No, I do not know who they were. You will never know who they were. It is your curse and your blessing. I know that these Jipsies raised you in a roundabout way, almost like a favorite pet. They never named you because they could see your destiny. I know that you left them at the age of 7, and made your way into the world. You taught yourself stealthiness, quickness, strength and cunning. You became the greatest thief in the land, but worked for no one but yourself. You gave yourself ridiculous names as a private joke to yourself. Zed Nihil, Seero Void, Cypher Nix and so on. You believe in nothing except for yourself, as it should be. I would have you believe in one more thing, but we will get to that. First, you must have a name. A truename.”

            Zed cleared his throat. “Well, y’see, the thing is, I kinda like my names. They’re not just jokes; they’re poetry, like my thoughts, like my movements. Can you dig that?”

            “I understand, but for the power you will be wielding, you need something more. Can you dig that, my friend?”

            “Yeah, I guess I can.”

            “Do you still possess that slip of parchment I gave you?”

            “Yeah, and I didn’t even wipe my ass with it.”

            “How fortunate. Take it out.”

            Zed pulled the scrunched up paper from his pocket.

            “Unfold it and you will see your truename.”

            Zed unfolded the parchment. In a strange script, as if burned into the parchment, a name appeared: ASRAH.

            “It says: Asrah.”

            “Yes, that is your name.”

            “Hmmm, I kinda like it.”

            “Good. Now the hard part begins.”

            “Wait, what’s your name?”

            “You may call me Master.”

            “I gotta million jokes for that one, but I’ll keep them to myself.”

            “You learn fast, my friend.”


            Over the course of the next several months, Asrah experienced a complete rebirth. He bathed in the pool with the flame flickering atop. At first, it burned, but eventually this subsided and it soothed him each time he entered its waters. The Master ritually cleaned him with a blade of silver. He traced invisible lines over Asrah’s body for hours every day. The Master administered an enema of dragon’s blood. This produced a flow of waste that poured from Asrah’s body in foul torrents. Asrah was amazed at the poisons that had been coursing through his body. These poisons, both physical and ethereal, were also expunged with rigorous martial training. Asrah thought he had known how to fight, but he realized he was a clumsy ape compared to his Master. The Master revealed astonishing powers of the mind and of nature to Asrah. He taught him how to truly see, to see with his entire body, his mind, his wandering spirit. He taught him how to kill with a touch, with a thought, with a breath. He taught him how to gather information from the wind, from the rocks, from the trees. He taught him many wondrous things.

And then he told him why.

            “Asrah, you are nearing the completion of your training. Despite my trepidation, you have proven to be an astute and capable student. How do you respond?”

            “Excellent. You have learned well. Now I will tell you of my purpose in training you, and your purpose in existing.”

            The Master closed his eyes. They sat in the zenzat position, just inches apart, their knees nearly touching.

            “Of course, you remember the parchment that brought you here. You remember what it said. That there are Ascended Masters. That these Masters control the world. Most believe them a myth. They are quite real. They do control the world. And they are evil. And powerful. And they must be destroyed. They reside in a mountain not unlike this one. Far up in the clouds, at the top of the world. They number eight, and they sit at their table and they run the world. They have cast this world into darkness with their ruthless scheming. They do not care for the average man. They believe that they are gods. They believe that they are immortal. They are not gods. They are not immortal. They can be killed. And you, my friend, will kill them. This is why I have trained you. To kill them. To kill the Masters of the World. What say you?”

            “Why can you not kill them, Master?”

            “Because they have cast ancient spells against me. These spells prevent me from entering their mountain. There is a web of energy that bars me. Despite my power, I cannot penetrate it. But you, my friend, they do not know of you; their spells will not affect you. You are an unknown anomaly. You are their death. You are my sword. I will strike them down through you. This is your destiny.”

            “I accept my destiny.”

            “Good. I have crafted these weapons for you.” Master presented a cloth before them. He unfolded the cloth. There lay eight small throwing daggers, gleaming in the firelight. “These daggers were forged from a substance not native to this dimension. I traversed many dangerous realities to procure it. This alien metal, named aluminum, is the only way to kill the Masters.”

            “When do I depart?”

            “Ah yes, eagerness. A wonderful attribute, my friend. Soon, very soon.”


Asrah prepared himself for this mission. His old life of wine, women, song and thievery seemed like a half-remembered dream. Now, he felt as if he had a purpose. The Master had been good to him. Yes, very good.


“The time has come, Asrah. You are ready. Destiny awaits you with open arms. Go to her like a lover. Ride the astral winds to the clouded mountain. Destroy the Ascended Masters. Kill them in the name of humanity. Go!”


            Asrah floated around the base of the mountain. It was perfectly smooth, as if it had been sanded by the hand of God. The landscape around it seemed to stretch out into infinity. It was completely barren; Asrah felt an affinity with it. It was time.

            Asrah circled the mountain, searching for the slightest crack or fissure through which he could gain entry. Finally, after several hours, he found one. Condensing himself into a form smaller than an atom, he entered the mountain. He found the inner sanctum and reverted to human form.
             Asrah hung from the ceiling of the vast room like a fly. Below him lay the Masters. They were seated around a massive table. In the center of the table was a luminescent silver globe. It pulsed like as if alive. The Masters were unaware of him. Their eyes were closed in concentration. Asrah could feel the waves of psychic power crisscrossing the room. He could not grasp its language, but he knew that the Masters were focusing their energies on the globe. They were in deep meditation, communicating telepathically, manipulating events thousands of miles away. Each one of their bald heads shone with an eerie light. Their skin looked like marble, smoothed over countless centuries. Now was the moment to strike.
           In front of Asrah floated the eight daggers. He willed them towards their targets. Without a sound, the daggers flew through the air and embedded themselves, in perfect synchronicity, into the throats of each Master. Their bodies slumped forward. They were dead. The psychic energies ceased to move around the room. A strange mist, like steam, began to rise from each of their bodies. They were disintegrating. But the globe continued to pulse.
Asrah walked around the table, watching as the Masters’ bodies dissipated. He felt a familiar presence in the room.

            “You have succeeded, my friend! The heavens quake at your daring!”


“Yes, now the power is ours! We shall rule this world as if we were gods!”

“No, Master. I think not.”

“Do not forget, my friend, that you are the pupil, and I am the Master. You have done what I have always desired, but was not able to accomplish. You will be well rewarded.”

“Master, I see nine chairs around this table. Yet, only eight Masters. You are the ninth Master. You were cast out.”

“I left because these fools could not see their true potential. We can control not only the world, but countless other dimensions. Do you not see? This silver globe holds the essences of every Master that has ever existed. We can harness its power. You and I can rule for all of eternity! Come, my student, take my hand and leap into infinity.”

The Master extended his hand.

            “No, my friend, I will not take your hand. I will kill you.”

            “Do not make me laugh! I have taught you much, but not everything. You are not as powerful as you conceptualize.”

            “I do not need power. I have this.” Asrah pulled a dagger from his belt.

            “Remember this? You made it. I collected its dust. And now it will unmake you.”

            The dagger leapt from Asrah’s hand and flew at the Master’s throat. For the first time in millennia, surprise registered across the Master’s face. It became his deathmask.

            Asrah willed the globe to him. It floated in front of him, whispering the secrets of the cosmos in his ear like a lover. The globe begged him to take its power, to charge across reality wielding it like a true warrior. Eternity opened before him like a book. He could read all of its arcane secrets; no thing was unknown. He could possess the power of a god, of all the gods, of God. Asrah drew back his will. The globe fell to the floor and shattered into a million tiny pieces, like miniature stars exploding across the universe.

            Zed laughed and walked out of the mountain.