“If we wait any longer, we’re both going to die!  What on Earth are you dawdling for at a time like this?!” cried Kisha.  Her instincts had completely taken over her movements, and without looking back at the advancing enemy, she darted down the crumbling walls, clutching the small leather bag to her chest.  Alongside the tall girl ran a boy roughly her age who appeared to be roughly a head shorter than his counterpart.

            The boy stared unwaveringly over his shoulder, steadying a long jeweled staff that he held with both his hands, trying to align it perfectly.  It was a frustrating task because between the ground’s erratic rumbling, the fragments of the wall that broke like cookie crumbs but impaled like obsidian arrowheads, and the monster’s wretched limbs that groped the musty air, every adjustment was countered by a dozen disruptions.

            “Kisha, I know that!” the boy retorted hotly as his hands began to shake with impatience.  He took a deep breath to calm himself down, but still he was shivering with mortal anger.

            “No, I don’t think you know that!  You have your damn Legendary Staff, so just fire at the dang monster now instead of aiming for some stupid ‘critical spot!’  You’ll hit it anyway, considering the strength of your spells nowadays.”

            The boy ignored his partner’s words, continuing to nudge his fingers in the minutest manner, until finally, there was a brief moment when the loop atop the rod stared straight into the monster’s mouth.  The boy held his breath, muttering an incantation of sorts, then let loose a spell that seemed to draw from all the elements around him and channel them into a single rushing current.

            Kisha heard a bellow of pain, and turned around to see the monster glowing brightly, the scalding heat radiating so that even Kisha felt baked.  An enormous explosion ruptured the monster from inside, and the hallway around it collapsed to form a makeshift tomb.

            “Heh, I knew you’d do it,” said Kisha triumphantly, smacking Narben on the back.  He did not resist her impulse, and fell flat onto the ground.  “Eh?  In no mood to part~ay?”

            “Kisha, I’m sorry to make you worry so much, but I only had one spell left.”

            “Eh?!” cried Kisha, refusing to think about the implications of Narben’s words.

            Narben smirked.  “You warriors do not know this, but magic is not like strength.  It comes from within you.  But not only that, but it is your own energy that you expend. your very own soul is magic.  I magician must know this from the very first day of his or her training.  It’s only a matter of time … .”

            Kisha was far too brash and tested to cry at this moment, but instead, her love forced her to stand rigidly, out of her respect for the one before her.  She had loved him from the first day that they met, but it was only now that her love was finally complete, when she knew that it was a man, and not a boy, who she had met that day.  Narben’s eyes looked estranged and distressed for a moment, then relaxed.  And Kisha



            “No!” I cried from my bench, noticing that a few of the children around me had paused their game of freeze-tag in order to look at me.  I stared in horror at the page that sat on my lap.  It was atrocity to all writing-kind, the kind of story that was fake.  The story was fake because it used sacrifice as a tool to squeeze out tears, because it explained stupidity as nobility, because it treated love as an inevitable consequence of cohabitation.

            But most of all, the story was fake because it would never be read and understood.  A record that never sees another’s eyes will die with the soul like a seed that shrivels upon its mother-tree.

            But of course no one would ever read it – I had not talked to another soul, except to purchase goods or to make a friendly greeting, for seven whole days.  It had also been seven days since I stopped going back to my dorm at night, opting to pass the night away in the library that allowed twenty-four hour patronage.  Now, it was even becoming difficult to remember why it all started – what had gone wrong in the first place.

            I vaguely remembered that I had set out to try, one last time, to prove my existence to this world through the expression of my heart.

            I slouched down on the bench, my unruly hair governed only by a ribbon soggy from sweat, the bottoms of my jeans dotted with mud and syrup stains.  The world had preempted me and returned its clear response … .


XIV: A Death Worth Waiting For

Justin Lo 7321


In my palms, I hold two crystal marbles,

Perfect spheres, perfect cold;

Like beads of tears, they are

My heart and mind; Touch me

and You will feel the wistful days

I spent hoping in vain.


Even though love is infinite,

My swelling heart is beginning to cave

Under its own pressure; my feelings are biting

One another like feral dogs,

And the pleasures of frivolous dreams

Are the rancid seeds of illicit desires;


I am swollen with my feelings

That I wish you could hear;

I am swollen with my once-tender love

That I wish I could share;

And beneath this swelling heart,

Lies my vulnerable self,

A girl who only wishes

She were needed.



            I sighed as I trudged towards the library.  I supposed that I would choose a new shelf today – perhaps the fish section or something – then settle down there for the evening.  The routine made planning a cinch, and for the rest of the way to the building, I would have to find other ways to occupy my mind.  The task came naturally, as the threat of boredom conjured to life my ever-jabbering characters. 

            “You know, Julia, you didn’t really have to kill me off,” said Narben the Mystic.

            “Yah, wut he says,” grunted Kisha.  “If ya just had ‘im tell me earlier, I woulda finished that slobbering fool much more quickly without that silly final-move.”

            “But … but … writer’s license!” I cried, raising my arms in defense.  “No one ever has to die in stories, but then again, nothing bad ever has to happen in stories.  That’s why they’re just stories.”

            But Kisha and Narben were hardly listening – they had settled down next a fountain to my right and were gently cuddling each other.  It was amazing to see Kisha, who was always such a rough, impulsive figure, so tenderly holding Narben with a remarkable patience.

            I looked up at the sky, observing the sunset clouds that blushed deep orange and crimson.  They seemed almost drunk, flushed from an array of liquor shots, and that was why they were floating around just so with their bright tangerine and crimson-raspberry blushes. 

From behind, I thought I saw a boy passed by and smiled at me, waving.  “Those clouds look smashed, don’t they!” he said with a laugh.

            It couldn’t have been real, could it?        

Narben cried in response, “Julia, do you realize how ridiculous it would be for someone to say that kind of thing out loud?!”  He stood beside me, giving me a chiding glare, “It’s just so unrealistic.”

            “Yah,” agreed Kisha.

            A boy passed by, smiling at me with a brilliant radiance.

            “Miss, are you going to the library again?”

            “Eheh,” I said, blushing slightly, looking down.  “Yeah, I practically live there now, don’t I?”

            The boy nudged his glasses up a notch, as if to indicate that he was fully supportive of his fellow bookworms.  I thought he had rushed ahead without me, but when I arrived at the front steps of the Neoclassical library complex, I saw him waiting there at the top, holding the door.

            “Oh, thanks!” I cried out to him, finding the energy to run up the steps with my backpack in tow.  As I entered the library, I felt an enormous gust of wind.  The interior was the same as always – although the patrons were all dead silent, there was a certain excitement that poured out of the books and enlivened all the solitary people inside.  The chandelier in the center shone, but today its illumination scared me away.

            It wasn’t frightening in the usual sense of the term.  Rather, it presented only a truth - a fact, more precisely – and the singular truth in this case was that I had somewhere else to go today, a library that wove its stories into cryptic melodies that made the very elements of the Earth vibrate.  I needed to find a song today.

            I frequently fell prey to this autonomous driving force of urgent necessity.  It was a powerful will that announced a certain mission or task that I felt compelled, no, bound to complete, as if it were my final destiny.  Just as a tree desires to bear its fruit; or as a fan cannot hold back its wind once it begins to twirl; so I could not help but follow these whims that brought in pacific calm, if only for the few moments before I had to embark on another journey.

            I could only live for these brief moments of repose now.  It didn’t use to be this way – once upon a time, life was rather normal, and I would live for my romantic dates and school trips and shopping sprees.  But I can still remember so vividly that agonizing moment when I realized how abandoned I had become and how pitiful I was for being the only one hoping that others would not leave me.

            I deserved my loneliness, but the end of friendships ushered in a new reality for me, one where my soul and body were stirred together in a pot and handed to the blacksmith of the shadows to mold as he wished.  Life was a task, and it was only along the way between the assignment and its completion that I could wander about and let myself get caught up in some diversion, trying to escape it all.

            “You look kind of down,” remarked a shadow.

            I frowned, slipping my hands into my pockets.  “Yeah, I know.  I feel like a ghost, someone who no one sees anymore.  It’s like I’ve died and people just pay their respects to me the same way they do to a gravestone.  And like a body in a coffin … I mean – as if they were talking to a body in a coffin, they pay me a visit to tell me they’ll do this or that.

            “But where are they now?  Where are all the people who promised to talk to me and to catch me?”

            I sighed, opening the creaky door to the music library, which jutted out of a small concrete building scarcely two blocks from the main library complex.  A lone desk worker sat in her chair, reclined back as far as the cushion would allow, her sneakers crossed on the desk and her head carelessly tossed back in slumber.  Above her, a fluorescent light fixture flickered, producing strange buzzing noises that disrupted the organization of the lobby – its neatly squished furnitures, the repeating carpet pattern, the evenly spaced doors.

            I bypassed the search computers and the card catalog, not having any songs in mind.  Instead, I slipped into the basement room that housed the score stacks.  The hum of the lights was abruptly replaced by the clacking of my shoes against the unpolished concrete floors.

            “There’s no rushhh, there’s no rushhh,” I sang to myself in a descending scale.  “There’s no rush,” I added quickly.  “La la, little songie, where are you?”

            I swerved to the right into a random shelf and ran my fingers along the raggedy spines that protected the flimsy music beneath.  Clothes and armor that served their purpose often made one look like a pauper – looking down at myself was enough evidence for me.  But I wasn’t pretty enough to begin with, which, I figured, was to my advantage.  If there had to be ugly people in this world, it was good to be one of them since the one person you never had to look at (except by choice) was yourself.

            Deciding to search after my kind, I picked up the brownest, most stained and mildewed score from the shelves.  I was almost hesistant to touch it, it looked so filthy; although it had a thick outer cover, it was apparent that the piece would be no more than six pages in length without even peeking over the top to see its vertical cross-section.

            “Do you think maybe this score is magical?  Maybe it’s better not open it just yet; if you wait longer, the reward may be greater.”

            I held the score to my breasts as I exited the nearly pitch black corridor between the towering shelves.  Recognizing the way back, I skipped down the concrete path to the large wooden door with peeling orange paint.  I reached for the doorknob, only to find that it wouldn’t turn.  Puzzled, I figured it was just a pull-push door in disguise.  But the door was as immovable as an unconscious apatosaurus.

            I panicked for a moment, but then relished the sense of adventure.  I snuck around, searching for various doors; I easily passed into a stairwell and scaled the steps to the floor above, but its door was also locked.

            “Man, they’re really making it tough, huh.  I guess I’ll try my luck continuing upstairs,” I said to myself, knowing that the chance of an open connection decreased with every step I climbed.  The upper floors were most likely reserved for private use, so only the first and second floors seemed viable.

            Nevertheless, each floor brought a new style of ornamentation, and the prospect of exploration filled my virgin heart with excitement.  I climbed up and up with abandon, forgetting that my legs were hardly in shape to scale more than five or six stories.  On the tenth floor – or at least, what I thought had to be the tenth floor; my better judgment had let me know that the building was only three stories tall, so I refused to imagine my current position – I finally found an unlocked door.

            And just like any warm-blooded human (with a virgin heart, I must reiterate), I freaked out.  It’s like how a man who’s been looking for a girlfriend for ages finally meets a girl who doesn’t reject him and he chickens out of the first date because it’s so far out of his adapted element.  Rather, it would be like that, but a higher calling bid me to turn the knob.

            Because just like any warm-blooded human, I had to pee.

            I raced down the hallway, promising the beautiful wallpaper that I would come back to admire it after I relieved myself.  It was the only way I could appease my conscience that absolutely hated to waste a single opportunity to expand my horizons.  Unfortunately, the wallpaper was far less forgiving than most two-dimensional objects oriented in the x-z and y-z planes, and I twisted my ankle just as I saw a ray of light from a pair of swinging doors ahead.

            I collapsed in heap, breathing heavily.

            “Awjeez,” I muttered, grasping my ankle and stroking it in circles.

            “Julia, you can take a rest now,” said Self-pity, but he was quickly shoved out of the way by Kisha, who looked at me with a crooked smile and furrowed brows.

            “And just wut do ye think  y’are?!” she shouted.  “Y’era girl, not a pile o’ steamypoo, so start actin’ like un.”

            I smiled.  I knew I was stronger than this – sure, I had almost no physical abilities, but I was always proud of my tenacity, and this was the time to prove that I was more than just talk.  With my arms, I pushed off back onto my feet and limped forward with the wall’s help until I came to the twin doors, which had circular glass panes that were so dirty from years of dust and yellowing that they only permitted light, not images.

            I pushed the doors apart and found myself on a porch.  A strong wind darted through the porch, causing the wood to creak and the metal to shriek.  My first thought was that I was thankful that I wasn’t wearing a skirt that day (à la Marilyn Monroe).  My second thought was that I never wore skirts anyway.  My third thought was that such a strong wind could only arise if I were really high up – out in the open on the tenth floor?!

            I felt my palms perspiring as my phobia set in, and in a state of vertigo, I panned my surroundings until I realized that I was in fact on the ground floor.  The word ground could be taken literally, for outside of the porch was pure dirt and grass.  Straight ahead, at a distance of maybe twenty meters, a figure rested on its knees, wearing what appeared to be a traditional garb of sorts.

            I slowly approached the person, letting all my suspicions of the strange environment drop.  The person seemed so absorbed in her activity that I could arrive where the tip of my shadow would be cast over the figure and still remain unnoticed.

            The figure turned out to be a girl, probably around the same age as me.  Her skin was very dark, although her features seemed neither African nor indigenous Islander, but somewhere in between, with a few details completely foreign to my eyes.  Her voluminous, wavy black hair was cut at the level of the nape of her neck, excepting two long braids that cascaded down in front of her ears.  Matching her hair in fluidity were her garments, a matching top and skirt that seemed to be made of the cloth of gods.

            She suddenly stood up, brushing off her knees and realizing that two new knees had entered her field of view.

            “Iiiiiiyah!” she cried, stumbling back in shock.  She shouted something in a language I could not understand before calming down, holding her hand over her chest and bouncing up and down like a four-square ball.

            I waved my hands frantically, not knowing how to calm the girl before me.  “I’m sorry, I only speak English,” I apologized.

            “Not a word of Miaoya?” she asked in perfect English, startling me and causing me to bounce (just once) in return.

            “I’m afraid not,” I said.

            She looked at me quizzically, then tilted her head from side to side a half-dozen times, as if I had a code written in a rainbow-shape on my forehead.  Her head moved slowly when it changed directions, but very rapidly along the arcs.

            “Um, is there something on my head?”

            The girl continued to rock her head back and forth while replying, “Oh no, not at all.  You just don’t seem like you’re from around here.”

            “I’m honestly not sure where I am.  I thought I had found an exit from the music library building,” I admitted.

            “Music … library?  What music library?  You do realize that we’re in the middle of the woods, in the middle of my tribe’s holy prayer grounds, right?”

            “Oh!  I’m very sorry if I’m trespassing!”

            The girl shook her head.  “Oh no, that’s not what I meant.  We don’t mind visitors.  It’s just that it’d be an odd place to put a music library.  Can you imagine having to walk forty kilometers just to return a score?  You’d have to set out a week before you checked a piece out in order to return it on time!”  She laughed amiably, and I appreciated her attempt to relieve my stress.

            I imagined what sort of world I had landed in – prayers and tribes and secret places forty kilometers from civilization!  I completed the view with a village of huts and bonfires and warriors with swords and spears.  Only one thing seemed off – why was this girl speaking clearly modern English with me?

            “You seem lost in thought,” the girl said.

            I didn’t respond immediately, instead turning around to look for the door where I had entered.  But for whatever reason, it was completely gone.  No trace of the city remained, except my belongings and the tattered musical score.

            “The door’s gone,” I remarked.  “However I got here, I can’t go back.”

            The girl frowned for a moment, then slapped me on the back.  “Methinks you had a rough time and sippy-sippied too much cocktail,” she said, laughing heartily.  “Do you need any pointers getting oriented?”

            “I-it’s okay,” I said.  “I-I’m not drunk, honest.”

            “Well then, I’ll take you back to my home for now, okay?  Just follow me.”  She tilted her head from side to side once, which I took as a beckoning gesture.

            I was rather excited at the prospect of adventuring with this girl – it felt straight out of a fantasy game, minus random monsters that would appear in the darkness.  I followed her uphill and downhill, across creeks and around boulders.  After an hour, we rested on a mossy bank – my backpack was severely hindering my progress.

            “So, what’s it for?” I asked.

            “Huh?” she replied appropriately.

            “Well, I was just curious if this is a pilgrimage of sorts for you.  It’s a long journey – are you some sort of priestess that makes this trip regularly?”
            The girl blinked at me, somewhat dumbfounded.  “Uhh … priestess?”

            “Well, how else do you know your way around these holy grounds so well?”

            “Um, I hate to burst your fantasy-world bubble here … I’m starting to think that you somehow assumed that you’ve suddenly stepped into a world of the past.  I can definitely assure you that we’re still in the present!”

            She pulled out a pair of cylinders and a marble from a hidden pocket in her skirt.  The cylinders pulled apart from one another, axes parallel, suddenly forming a partially transparent blue screen between them.  The marble unfolded into a bizarre keyboard apparatus with a bulb at its apex.

            “A c-computer?!  Like this?”  I was practically drooling with interest, my fingers trembling.  I feasted my eyes on the beauty of the unit as the girl calmly anchored the monitor to prevent it from floating away.

            “Well yes, you’ve at least heard of GPS, right?”

            I nodded in the affirmative, and she brought up a satellite image of our location, which looked roughly normal, except she then zoomed in until you could see two figures, pixelated for privacy.  She typed a command and the screen began to shift its view, moving across terrain.

            “It’s showing us the easiest way back.  Unfortunately, it only has one of the forest’s trails programmed in.”


[Warning: major skip ahead – do not read unless you want (some) of the ending spoiled]


Final Chapter.


            I was alone in the rotunda, my bare feet stinging from the thermal gluttony of the black marble tiles that were arranged in a spiral out from the center of the chamber floor.  My right hand pressed against one of the tall crystals, its edges cutting into my skin like the upper rim of an opened can.

            “So, little Princess, do you like it here?  I like to call it the Oasis.  Surely you must know why.”

            The voice was startling, but it did not disturb me.  Between the sneering and the hubris, I could hear his fear, and I cracked a dark smile.

            “ ‘The weary traveler, basked in loneliness, stops to rest in the cold waters that forever understand his pain, knowing that here, there are no mirages,’ ” I recited.

            “And aren’t you quite the traveler, little Princess?  Why don’t you come over here and have a seat.  Any seat is fine.”

            I walked towards the voice, seeing a row of chairs draped in black velvet.  Swiftly, I dropped to the ground in front of one of the chairs.

            “I’ll have this one, then, if it would please you,” I said sharply.

            “Very well.  Do not worry, I shall let you rest.  It must be difficult, right?”  A tall man stepped out from behind a crystal, the distorted, wavering image materializing into the solid figure.  Once fully formed, the man approached me, knelt down, and lifted my chin with a powerful left hand.  I could feel the strength in those fingers just from the way he trembled, the way he shook just trying to restrain his grasp so that my jaw would not shatter before we finished our quality bonding time.

            The man frowned.  “I’m really sorry.”  He stood up, walking away a few paces with his back turned to me.  “They all abandoned you in the end, didn’t they.  And don’t be the goody-goody Princess now and shout, ‘No, just you wait!  They’re coming back for me.’  Please do spare me that.”

            “You don’t have to patronize me,” I said with a cute pout.  “I’ve spent enough of my life alone to know when I can count on people and when I cannot.  I’ll swallow my pride and admit that I’ve been ditched.”

            “I suppose you see the truth now, then.  There is no reason to place your trust in people who will only betray you.  Don’t bare your heart just for people to abuse it, to trample it like a home they no longer want, or to smother it like a cigarette that they’ve finished stealing drags of pleasure out of it.  Only a fool is kind to those who wouldn’t return the favor – you’re many things, dear Princess, but you’re not a fool.  You know that you deserve much better than what you’ve been getting, don’t you?  Deep within you, there must be this groping arm that is trying to get hold of you – the arm of common sense.  The arm that wants to change your perverse love for that disloyal fool into the hatred that he has coming in the downp-”

            “Excuse my interruption,” I said evenly.  “I said I’ve been ditched.  I don’t remember saying that I gave a damn about it.  If you want to get on my good side, hand me an ice cream cone, not a speech on what I do and do not deserve.”

            The man laughed.  “You never cease to surprise me, Princess.  Here, I do hope your tastes haven’t changed recently.”

            A bowl rose out of the floor, and he kicked it over to me.  Along the way, it spun about, the flower motif along its rim animating into a short sequence of blooming followed by withering, then blooming all over again.

            The bowl stopped at my feet, and I lifted it up to pull out the cherry ice cream cone that laid inside.  The point where the ice cream had come into contact with the bowl had a small outline, and a smidgen of the food had stuck to the ceramic.

            “Oh, I am feeling greatly appeased, thank you,” I said, chomping into the delicious ice cream.  “To be honest,” I began, pausing to slurp up a chunk of cherry that had mistakenly ended up on my chin.  The task turned out harder than I had predicted, as the cherry slid down while drawing heat out of my body.  Frustrated, I poked it back up into my mouth with my index finger.

            “As I was saying,” I continued.  “To be honest, I thought I would – wait, what’re you laughing about all of a sudden?!”

            The man laughed raucously for a few lingering moments, then fell silent with an astute ahem.

            “As I was saying, to be honest, I thought I’d care a lot.  Having my friends lie to me and leave just like that, I mean.  I expected that it’d hurt, and that I would be angry, that I would lash out with all I had, maybe even join you.

            “I don’t mean join you just to exact revenge, nay nay, not that.  I would join you in thought, believing that I had earned their loyalty and I had to enforce it.  I would give up on personal happiness and pleasures, knowing that only the public happiness could ever amount to something more than an ephemeral smile.”

            “An ephemeral smile,” the man said poignantly.  “I like that phrase.  It really captures the essence of the human existence as it stands today.  But do continue, Princess.  Forgive my rudeness.”

            I giggled, standing up, straightening out my shirt, then sliding my hands into my back pockets – I had gulped down the last of the cone during the most recent interruption.  I tilted my head kind of in the way that Lainoiwe did, letting my long hair dangle down like the leaves of a willow off a crooked branch.

            When I didn’t say anything for a period, he remarked, “You look quite fetching in that pose, if I may say so myself.”

            “Now now, sir, remember that lust has no place in serving the nation,” I chided, readjusting my body so that I looked more like the tomboy I was.  The time for joshing around was over.

            “So we’re finally getting down to the dirty business now, I see?” the man observed.  “Then, Julia, what have you decided?”

            “I’ve decided that stones are more likely to keep promises than a friend; that having a relationship with vodka is probably better for the health than having a relationship with a boy; that living for yourself makes people worship you more highly than living for others,” I declared.

            The man smiled, holding out his hand to shake the deal like gentlemen.  I deftly slapped it away.

            “So, I’ll let you build your new empire, on one condition.”

            “And that would be?” he asked, his eagerness popping out like a sore thumb despite his attempts to remain eternally cool.

            “Make me the one ruler, and relegate yourself to the masses.  Maybe a subway driver, or a kindergarten teacher, or … ah!  I know the perfect Role!  Why don’t you be the Grand Janitor!  Ah, I don’t care what you become, actually.  Yeah, just make me Queen.” 

I wrapped my arms around my torso, acting as if I were relishing the fantasy of unlimited power over the entire human domain.  All the while, I stared straight down through his pupils, boring a hole through his mortal flesh.

            “I don’t think I can do that,” he said just as I reached the kidneys or thereabouts with my tunneling gaze.

            “Why not?” I wailed.  “Please don’t discriminate against me just because I’m a girl … I know your ideology like the back of my hand, and believe me I wouldn’t let up – I know the importance of discipline in maintaining the perfect society.  You think I’m soft and dependent on others?  Just look at exactly how many people are backing me up right now.  Zippo.  In short, I’m as good a candidate as any for this.  Now’s where we shake hands.”

            I extended my right arm towards the man, who now scrutinized me with his own version of a piercing glare.  He swatted my hand away defiantly.

            “Is that your final ‘offer’?” he asked.

            “Sure is, Buster,” I said.  “Whaddaya say?  No offense taken by that slap, by the way.”

            The man snorted, then cracked his knuckles one by one.

            “I say: then take it as a full acknowledgement of your powers when I choose to fight you with my own hands, you greedy bitch.”

            I could sense him gathering energy about his body.

            “You have that all wrong, you know,” I said, feeling my pairs of wings burst out of the back of my shirt.  “I only spouted the desires that are in your heart, not mine.  After all, you’re the one who would rather break your own beliefs regarding sacrifice for the homeland than let someone else have the power in your ‘vision.’  Hell no I don’t want to be Queen of your dumb country!  But I guess that truth would escape you.  After all, you’re the greedy SOB here – you just admitted it yourself.”

            “Shut up, bitch!  You know nothing about me.  You don’t know what I deserve.  I don’t need to be living amongst these lowlifes, and I sure as hell don’t need to have some crack philosophical sell-out like you pretending like you understand,” he roared, the tiles reflecting the piercing white of his aura.

            I leapt up towards the ceiling, scanning it in an attempt to preempt any tricks the Man had up his sleeve.  Trying to get in the first strike, I aimed my hand at the spotted obsidian, drawing out ice crystals from the snowy patches, combining and accelerating them towards the figure below.  I heard the shatter of the icicles on the ground, a few of the tiles crumbling and revealing a deep pit.

            “Where’d  he go?” I thought to myself furiously.  Assuming that he had likely snuck up behind me, I quickly darted in a somersault with a mad swipe of my wings, only to stare into yet another shadowy corner.  “Shoot, he’s toying with me.”

            “Missing me already?” the voice of the Man taunted.  “Come on, you’re supposed to be the Mistress of the Demis.  Make this a worthwhile fight.”

            “Only the weak feel a need to prove their strength to others,” I snarled, twirling my arms in a semicircle to manipulate the charges in the air.  The room illuminated as thunder echoed back and forth between the walls.  Beside a sickly-looking purple crystal that was emitting a strange gas, I saw the deranged image of the Man.  In a zig-zag path, I moved closer, trying to get an open look.

            In dead silence, I waited for the image to move left or right from behind the crystal.  I could hear the throbbing of my heart from within, fearing the crystal that seemed to slowly fill the room with that purple miasma.  After putting up a whirlwind shield around me, I resumed my watch, examining the gas around me that seemed to be forming something.  Here and there, faces starting appearing in the gases – horrific, demented faces that seemed to screech obscenely directly into my heart.  A giant smiling face appeared directly in front of me, and its eyes suddenly diverted to the right, which I followed, only to see a purple skull covered in outgrowths of worms and mold approaching me rapidly.

I backed up instinctively, right into a pair of vicious arms that seized me.

            I was piledriven into the marble floor, claws ripping out my feathers and back.  The shredding was clearly aimed at working towards my heart slowly and painfully.  I screamed as I felt my blood trickling onto the ground.

            When I could finally open my eyes again, adjusting to the constant agony, I saw a tentacle dangling a bottle of liquor in front of my face.

            “Here, perhaps a drink would soothe your pain?”

            I didn’t respond, and the tentacle seemed to lower the bottle towards my mouth, when suddenly it lifted up and around, dumping the contents onto my open wounds.

            “FUCK!” I yelled, summoning my will together and raising my blood from the floor, weaving the liquid tendrils into a giant tongue that slithered along the Man’s body, barbs catching onto his skin and tugging it in most grotesque fashions.  As expected, the Man let up for a moment, and I turned around to plant a charged blow to his eyes, trying to blast them out with the combined force of drawn magic.

            Instead, the eyes bulged into comet-like outgrowths, wrapping around my neck and hoisting me into the air.

            “Isn’t this fun?” the Man asked, his black cloak shredded so badly that it looked like a chessboard, his glowing white skin showing from beneath.  He was certainly no human.  “It’s using the body as it was meant to be used!!  I feel so alive!”

            In spite of myself, I had to agree that this pounding aroused my body in a way nothing had ever done before.  The sheer exertion seemed to let my limbs finally break out of their shackles, which is precisely what I did at this point, trying to bust my way out of the fibers.  I salvaged the working parts of my wings to enhance my push-off, trying to overstretch the eye-rope that bound my neck and forced me to expend magic to absorb enough oxygen to stay afloat.

            “Leeeeet go!” I shouted, wringing myself free while flailing enough to get in random hits.  The eyes retracted, but the Man leapt up to engage me directly.  I blocked his first strike, counter-attacking from the side, ripping off the cloak.  The tearing sound was disgusting, evoking the image of a raw, uncivilized brawl between wolves, shearing each others’ fur.

             Suddenly, I was rapidly parrying a barrage of strikes from his many hands (they appeared very quickly, but I thought there were at least six of them).  His completely white, nearly featureless body now danced in the air.  I was waltzing with him, losing ground but spinning about to make up for it.

            Between breaths, the Man spat at me.  The saliva that landed on my shirt first sizzled, then began to dissolve the fibers.  Realizing the danger I was in, I switched out of defensive mode, leaving a spot open on purpose to lure him into a trap.

            As expected, he put his all into attacking that spot, rushing in, carrying a trail of the purple miasma with him, letting it coat his knuckles, out of which sharp bones suddenly jutted.  I twirled several times, nimbly, til I could send a powerful spell into him, adding to his enormous momentum.  He slammed into the far wall at full force, his knuckles wedging into the stones.  Bruises began to well up all over his body, the plush white flesh beginning to fester green and blue.

            The sickly regions bubbled over until they sputtered out in a myriad of straight ropes that affixed all over the room, pulling inwards.  The rumbling crescendoed, starting softly like the churning of distant gears, then phasing into a backhoe moving across asphalt.  Finally, in a great uproar, the building came to life in its final moments, the tendrils fusing with various of the stones until I was floating above a barren canyon; before me, a single wall fused with what was now a multicolored mass, its thousands of tendrils each having a unique motif, whether it be a head, a hand, an animal, or any and all combinations one could imagine.

            “You fool!” I shouted angrily.  “You FOOL!!  They betrayed you.  They left you sad, loveless, heartbroken.  Yeah, they did that.  But only a fool of a drunkard continues to frequent the bar.  Only a fool of a criminal commits a crime while in jail.  Only a fool of a lover turns away from all girls after being dumped by one.  Now look at you!

            “Locking yourself in that oasis that ‘understood’ your despair.  It was your undoing.  It understood despair because it was despair.  It was the very source of renewed despair, and you made it your master.  Even a child would mock you now, seeing that you’re nothing more than an outgrowth clinging to the last bricks of the building that made you its whore.”

            Although my words came out so harshly and sharply, I felt only pity as I rushed in, slashing the tendrils as they nipped me and tore at me.  I knew that my skin and clothes were getting shredded, but I cared not about the wounds or for the potential of looking indecent.  I stretched my arms as far as they could go, trying desperately to grasp the core, but the tendrils soon snagged my limbs and then my trunk, suspending me in the air.

            With a snappy flick, the organic ropes moved me over a deep chasm, where I could see a golden molten liquid flaring up and receding between every crack in the marble tiling.  Each outburst of the infernal liquid brought searing heat that