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Sacred Quest
by Gray Brangwin

Swallowing apprehensively, the chosen one stepped forward.

"So you are the one."

The chosen one looked up at the androgynous figure standing on the dais before him. He felt honoured that he/she/it would even look at him-- and felt compelled to gaze upon his/her/it's glory. He/she/it was clad simply, in what appeared to be a rough, grey cloak-- he knew, however, that the cloak did not really exist, and was but a part of how he/she/it chose to appear. The laconia diadem atop his/her/it's head was the only item of apparel he/she/it wore that reflected his/her/it's true status-- but no items were needed. Anyone could have guessed who he/she/it was at a glance--- his/her/it's beauty and presence made it unmistakable. His/her/it's presence radiated out from him/her/it in tangible waves, and his/her/it's beauty was both wonderful and terrible to gaze upon, for it was perfection--- wonderful to look upon, but painful to know that such perfection would never be the watcher's lot.

And the look of sadness upon his/her/it's face was like a sword run through the chosen one's heart.

"As you have called me, lord and master, so I have come." As the chosen one spoke the ritual words, the androgynous figure sighed.

"I grow weary of this. You may speak freely in my presence--- it is but the least recompense for what I now ask you to do."

The chosen one's eyes widened at this statement, and he wondered what task would be daunting enough for his lord and master to be so agitated. No matter, he resolved silently, I will complete it.

"Yes, my lord." the chosen one replied. He did not drop the formal tone-- his awe would allow him nothing less. The androgynous figure seemed aware of this, and sighed once more.

"Rest, and hear what I have to say." The androgynous figure turned slightly to the side, seemingly struggling with him/her/itself. At last, the figure sighed again, and turned back to face the chosen one. "Today, I must tell you of a secret."

"A secret, lord?" A secret?, the chosen one wondered. What secret could there be?

"Yes." The androgynous figure turned aside again. "You have lived your entire life here--- here among the myriad species of intelligentsia that thrive and multiply. This is a paradise, and you can imagine no other place." This was true; the chosen one, try as he might, could not imagine anything less than the perfection he had been brought up in. The chosen one could only marvel at his lord's perceptiveness, and wonder why he/she/it still looked so sad.

Perhaps the androgynous figure knew what the chosen one was thinking, or perhaps not, but he/she/it hesitated slightly before continuing. "But there *is* another world, and it is far from this one. Look." And with a gesture, a small patch of air shimmered and seemed to fold into itself--

--and suddenly there was another world there.

A combination of bemusement and fascination kept the chosen one frozen as the sight unfolded before him. Misshapen creatures on two spindly limbs crawled across the surface of this world. Chaos seemed to govern the world, with no order or continuity in its design--- things just seemed to be there for no reason at all. Jagged, discordant sounds and images assaulted his senses from a million sources, until he began to scream. Before his horrified eyes, the creatures that seemed to dominate this world killed. They killed the creatures he was familiar with, they killed the unfamiliar beasts, they even killed each other--- all *for no reason*. Killing had to have a reason, and he could not perceive the horror of those who killed without reason.

The chosen one was screaming and screaming, but he couldn't stop. No matter how hard he tried, he could not pull away from the horrifying vista before him, and all he could do was scream and scream and scream...

After an hour that seemed like an eternity, he finally managed to force his eyes closed, and immediately collapsed to the floor, dry whimpers coming from his hoarse throat. "Please, lord... make it stop..."

With a cutting gesture, the androgynous figure dispelled the enchantment, and immediately rushed off the dais and gathered the chosen one up in his/her/it's arms. For a long time, they remained there, the chosen one weeping into his master's shoulder.

After some time, the chosen one came back to his senses, and immediately realized the proximity of his lord. "L..lord!..."

The androgynous figure did not immediately release him. Instead, he/she/it looked him in the eye and asked softly, "Are you well, now?"

The chosen one could not immediately reply. No matter how many times one saw his master's eyes, he still could not help but stare into those endless starfields and wonder if he really mattered at all. His master's query, however, shook him from his introspective reverie and he quickly replied, "Yes, lord. Thank you for your assistance."

"Then let us continue." The androgynous figure helped the chosen one to his feet, before teleporting to the dais. Once there, however, he/she/it did not immediately continue. Instead, he/she/it stared at the chosen one for long minutes. The chosen one began to feel distinctly edgy, and wondered why he was suddenly the object of such close scrutiny. The thought crossed his mind that his lord might actually *desire* him, but he quickly quashed that thought and berated himself for thinking of it.

"No, I do not desire you." The chosen one blushed furiously and castigated himself furiously for even *thinking* it, causing the androgynous figure to smile faintly. "I only wish to remember you, so that you may be suitably honoured if you do not return."

"Do not return?" the chosen one asked, slightly alarmed. "What task is this that carries some peril?"

"You are wise to be affeared, my servant." the androgynous figure said with a sad smile. "Your task is to enter that world and destroy eight of its inhabitatants."

The chosen one was struck dumb by the statement. The prospect of entering that world of chaotic horrors he had just witnessed threatened to unbalance him, and his desire to follow his lord's instructions and his terror warred within him.

I.. I can't... I can't go in there... but.. my lord wishes me to... I.. I can't... but... I must... but I *can't*!!...

His own thoughts mingled with his remembered screams to create a cacophony that threatened to unbalance his sanity. He was just about to scream out loud again when he heard coherent words amid the discordance, and spoke them aloud without thinking.

"No matter the task, I will complete it."

His lord smiled sadly. "Then so be it."

For a moment, they stood there, each lost in his or his/her/its own thoughts. Then, the androgynous figure spoke in a low, mournful tone.

"I have sent chosen ones just like you, strong in their magic and unparalleled in their intelligence, on the very same mission. None have ever returned." The androgynous figure looked away, and when he/she/it spoke again, it was in a faraway voice, as if recounting a distant memory. "I knew that it was a bad idea from the start. It was his most outlandish idea yet--- a race that would have the intelligence and ability to outstrip even us. Insane as that was, he made it even worse--- he proposed to leave them without guidance, their world without shaping. I tried to persuade him, even went so far as to destroy his first few attempts. What I had not foreseen was that he would strike me in anger." He/she/it hesitated for a while, then continued. "Prideful I was then, and I returned the blow. That escalated into an all-out war, where we who were once closer than kin fought with the ferocity of murderous hatred. In that instant, we destroyed more worlds than could be counted, for in our mutual hatred we engendered the same hatred in our creations. Those whose worlds were unmade in our conflict were the most fortunate, for they never had to live with that poison."

Transfixed by the tale, the chosen one did not notice that his lord had stopped for some time. He was, on one hand, unable to imagine his kind lord attempting to destroy anything, but on the other hand, he understood the reason his task was so vital. Finally, he looked up.

"That world I saw... it is the world of that race, is it not?"

"Yes, as well as home to two others. And he has left all three without guidance for time immemorial. The results," his lord tilted his/her/it's head slightly, "You saw for yourself."

The chosen one shivered slightly, and was silent for a while, before lifting his head. "Who are my targets?"

Quickly, his lord showed him images of the eight targets. "You must leave quickly. Your best chance is to take them by surprise, and there is a chance to catch four of them weakened and unawares. Do not underestimate them, though; they are still mighty in magic, and they carry sorcerous implements carved from raw Chaos." The androgynous figure paused, then swept the chosen one into an embrace. "Good luck, my servant."

"For your glory, my master." Turning around, the chosen one stepped through the portal, pausing only to study the room one last time before vanishing.

And the being that the evil ones foolishly named the Profound Darkness watched sadly as the noble Dakfaus emerged through the portal through the box on the other side, hoping for his/her/it's servant's victory, but knowing somehow that he/she/it had sent yet another one of his beloved minions to his death.

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