The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
Thursday January 26, 1995
Two souls contorted around one another, one trying to squirm away, the other grasping and clenching. They blasted through each layer of reality, their velocity tearing wounds into the psychic landscape. The chaos allowed ghosts to escape into the realm of Dream and nightmares to intrude upon the realm of Matter.
When they breached the barrier between the Realm of Magic and the Husk Worlds they created a shockwave that sent a dozen incomplete realities tumbling into one another. Tristam felt the last of the Soul Fire sputter and dwindle, and with it the strength of Phil and a dozen or so nameless ghosts.
"How could you survive?” Victor Kovach said, “How could you be so strong?”
Maybe you’re not so tough.
"Foolish boy! We could share your body and the Monarchs’ reward. We could be Lords of Creation.”
The Husk Worlds streaked past them; their impossible beauty tugged at the corners of Tristam's peripheral senses. There was a primal seductiveness to them but Tristam knew they were as unreal as any dream and to lose yourself in one was a kind of damnation. Victor grasped hold of a Husk World and tried to lose his consciousness inside. For a moment they were both lost to a world of dust and impossible architecture but then Tristam sent them both careening into the teeming pandemonium of the Maelstrom.
Fucker. I know what you did. My mother- my family-
"You might have done the same thing yourself one day. You could have done anything you wanted- you have to know that. People like us, we’re beyond simple morality.”
I’m not like that
"Your only blunder was getting between Philip Adorskil and my vengeance. I can tell that you have a taste for revenge as well.”
I’ll atone for it. I’ll atone for it all.
"Atone? Even after all this you still cling to such infantile fantasies? You’re no hero Tristam Bloom.”
Clusters of light and energy penetrated them like bullets, twisting spirit and memory out of true. Roaring waves of madness washed over them in splintered images and babbling nonsense. When it passed Tristam wondered if could he ever again be the person he has a few days ago? Or had his sins and scars already marked him forever?
"You've always been marked boy. You were marked from the day you were born for this moment, for my purpose. You're only too stupid to realize it.”
"You are a monster Tristam, a selfish boy with the might of a godling. You might have changed the world but like Marlowe’s Faust you squandered it all.”
I’m not –
"And foolish too. You really thought that you could still use Phil’s plan? You foolishly believe that I might be unmade by the savage power of this place?”
I’m not a monster.
"Arrogant misguided novice. The Maelstrom holds no terrors or mysteries for me. If anything I seem to be gaining strength, while you on the other hand…"
Tristam felt his grip on his adversary loosening. Every time some shard of chaos tore through him or some blast of energy struck him he felt that much more diminished. There was so much that he suddenly couldn’t remember clearly- Phil’s lessons, the names of his friends, his mother’s smile. He could feel them just out of reach, tantalizing him.
"All your struggling and all for nothing.”
I’m not done with you!
There was still momentum left; the Maelstrom spilled past them, a jetsam of failed realities and broken minds. The Husk Worlds might only have been shadows but at least there was a certainty to them, the places here were like empty fishbowls, lifeless and purposeless.
"I’ve toyed with you long enough.”
The Maelstrom boiled; shapes large as moons wafted into their path, knots of illumination were carried along in their wake. Victor struck at Tristam again, tearing at his wounds and opening fresh ones. Tristam found he was barely able to think. All but he knew was what he had to do, and that he was being depended on; that someone had faith in him despite everything.
But who? He wasn’t sure, all he had now were rough images of different faces- was one of them his?
"Pathetic. No better than a ghost.”
Slowly the Heart of the Maelstrom resolved itself, a seething havoc of the half-formed and half-consumed. Whole worlds- or perhaps it was just the dream of those worlds- crashed against its surface, other impossible shapes were spat free to blunder and float through the chaos. There was a gravity here, drawing them ever closer, ever deeper.
"Let go of me. You are nothing. Let go of me!”
It was impossible to be this close to the Heart of the Maelstrom and not be changed by it. Tristam could feel parts of himself melding with his adversary; he could feel his thoughts seeping from his mind. All around him the Maelstrom was erupting into a self-consuming madness of matter and shadow. Tristam could remember someone warning him not to get too close to the Heart, to throw his enemy inside and flee. But how could he do such a thing when he could no longer remember where he ended and Victor Kovach began?
Kovach? Where do I know that name from?
"Let go! I am the chosen of the Monarchs, this cannot be!”
Two souls, locked together and fraying apart, plunged into the heart of the Maelstrom.