My father blasted into the ground near the retreating magician. The world tumbled and separated as dirt and stone barely resisted his will. A familiar and monstrous laughter exploded from my throat, rattling my teeth. I could still see the flagging killer through the debris, and I found myself charging forward, my forbear’s will filling me with the need to kill. Smoke burst around the Prince of Smoke as he attempted escape, but my father’s rage proved greater. I felt the axe cleave the plume of otherworldly power in twain, stranding the triplet out in the open.
The Prince proved a spry creature, sliding inside my father’s killing arc and slicing open my belly. Yet the rage that had become me had no time for bleeding, much less dying. My knee rose to greet the Prince’s chin, shattering bone. As he reeled from the impact, the butt of the axe found the spellcaster’s nose. Wet fireworks of teeth and blood pinwheeled from my enemy’s face, coaxing a storm of renewed laughter from my aching jaws.
Finally, my father collided with the body of the killer, sundering it in an explosion of wooden shrapnel. A decoy of the Prince lay in pieces all around me as his laughter echoed from all directions. The cavern suddenly disappeared as I fell, the solid earth beneath me transforming into a dark pit. Pain rivaled rage as a floor of sharpened stakes skewered me like a wild beast. I had brooked my last insult from the Prince.
The Red Dream seared the air around me as I leaped from the pit, landing upon solid shadow and plunging into my servitor silence. I watched the Prince from the hollows of the world, waiting for my next opportunity.
As the revived fires continued to burn, the Prince climbed the snaking smoke like a staircase, into the night. Lifted beyond the ceiling of the forest, the magician traversed the smoke as it curled in upon itself and raced sideways across the treetops. I kept pace, following from within a brook of shadow that fell thick and quiet from an ancient stand of oak trees. The magician circled around the glowing wreckage of my ancestral home, riding the smoke like a steed.
He called out to me through broken teeth and a stream of blood that poured from his left eye. “You know why I turned my talent to the stage, both in front and beyond the eyes of the world, Family Man? Because I wanted to flaunt the power that had been derided and shamed into magic hats and storybooks and myths. I wanted to show my audience the world, the better one, they themselves had destroyed—the world they mocked when they told their snot-nosed kids that nothing but hollow imagination lurked the spaces beneath beds and behind closet doors. I wanted to see their faces when they realized too late it was not all a clever illusion. That is why I’ve let you live this long—because you know what I know. I can see it in your eyes.”
Of course, he was right. I have an intimate awareness of the powers of which he spoke, and a nearly boundless wonder for what that awareness could never hope to comprehend. What little I might understand only suggests an infinity of mysteries that lie beyond me, never to be resolved into solidity, and I am glad for that ignorance.
Yet I still desired to plunge deeper into the darkness of that wonder—by winning a game set by a god. And now, as so many times before, I would be forced to kill a kindred spirit. But unlike the majority of previous killings, this one I would enjoy.
“I’ve dedicated my life to that spectral world, Family Man. I’ve become its vengeance, I suppose you might say. And like any good avenger, I must show my victims the error of their ways before I dispatch them. Yet that justification can hardly contain my actions tonight, can it? Tonight, I kill to invite the lost world back into our midst, to broaden the scope of my lethal ability. On that count, you and I might be brothers, I feel. It is with this in mind that I offer my thanks—and my apologies for the dirty tricks that must take place this night.”
I had accepted his apology and was about to strike when yet another surprise rose from beneath the burning debris. Two surprises, in fact.
My sisters broke through the remains of my old home, riding the art-forms of my first family, inside of which they had buried their glittering smiles. First came the wondrous piece my father had created from my mother and brother and sister—titled, My Family, Divided. It was a beautiful sight, my sister with my forgotten family, joined in death and vengeance. Then, hands—my father had sculpted their original shape well beyond the design nature had reserved for them—reached up through the smoke that bore the Prince and tore him from the sky.
Then came my other sister, piloting the masterwork I had made from my own father—The Red Ouroboros. They rose as a single creature, terrible and new, like the black dawn that breaks upon the newborn monsters fresh from nightmare. They might as well have been father and daughter. The Red Ouroboros fell upon the struggling shape of mine enemy. My sister’s smile cut through the darkness, glowing with the darkened crimson of deep sunset.
I watched my beautiful sisters, now joined with my first family, throw the plump organs of The Prince of Smoke at the yawning black sky. Smiles like sickle moons played above the Prince’s screams, bobbing in the shrieks like burning paper boats set upon rough red waters.
I walked to where my family, all of them, had gathered around the still dying magician of murder. His bleeding eyes met mine. I wrestled with my father’s mounting laughter, trying to produce coherent speech. “My dear, dying prince. You should never have crossed us so coarsely. To coin a crude but appropriate phrase—you fucked with the wrong family.”
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