Cheating death always comes with a price.
Amon knew this from experience. Though he didn’t consider himself stupid by any means – admittedly, the jury might be still out on that – he’d still taken a huge risk when he brought himself back from the dead.
Okay, so maybe he had only been dead for a few seconds. But that still counted – dead was dead.
The first change he noticed upon returning to the living world was that sleeping was now especially difficult for him. His dreams were always… loud. Amon really needed to look for a better word to describe them. Jarring? Haunting? Nerve wracking?
His dreams were also almost always a repetition of the same memory from his previous lifetime.
This memory played out in an endless loop, jittery like a broken stop-motion film. Each time, the same things happened. Each time, Amon was helpless to change the events, even though he knew exactly how it always ended.
In his dreams, Amon was still the the lead Technologist of the Allagan Empire. He was once a celebrated scientist and mage of his people, where his area of study had been bio-aetheric-chemistry and vivimancy.
He knew those were just fancy titles he gave to his work. All they really meant was that he was once a mad scientist who shut himself up in his lab most of his life trying to unlock the secrets of immortality.
Ironically, Amon’s greatest mistake came when he actually succeeded in figuring it out.
Unfortunately, it hadn’t helped him all that much. He still ended up dead, after all.
Immortality wasn’t the same as invulnerability. It had only lasted until someone stuck a sword through his chest. Then it was the final curtains for him, the same as anyone else.
Ah, but that dream. It came upon him, yet again…
Amon strode frantically into the throne room where Emperor Xande sat brooding in darkness. A massive beast of a man, the Emperor was built like the war hero he once was. His sickly sallow skin was in sharp contrast to the shock of white hair and his lifeless white eyes. His face was lined with immeasurable suffering.
Traced across Xande’s skin were aether etchings that empowered him and kept his soul locked within his cloned physical form. The real body of the Emperor had long ago turned to dust, and the soul always longed for escape from its unnatural prison.
This…creation… was Amon’s first success in bringing the dead back to life. Yet, from this, Amon learned very quickly that being alive and actually living were two different things.
“Your Majesty!” Amon’s voice wavered as he approached. “Is… what I’ve heard the truth?”
When Xande’s fevered eyes turned to fix him, Amon immediately regretted the question. However, instead of condemning his technologist’s outburst, Xande did something worse. He answered Amon’s question.
“‘Tis the truth.” The Emperor’s voice was low and rumbling, causing the stones of the Tower to tremble with gravity. “I have seen what waits beyond the veil of death, Amon. There is nothing. Life means nothing. Death means nothing. ‘Tis a kindness to end this world’s cycle of suffering.”
Amon didn’t know how to respond. He could only observe Xande silently, a feeling of sickness welling within his chest at what he heard.
There had been whispers within the halls of the Tower. Through those whispers, Amon had discovered Xande’s intentions. He’d learned that the Emperor meant to sell their people out to the darkness of the Voidsent – creatures born of a shadow that sought to consume any life they could find.
Instead of finding something intelligent to say, the him-of-the-past tried to change the subject. Perhaps an attempt to please the Emperor could lighten the mood. Perhaps, somehow, in earning his favor, Amon could change his mind. He was, after all, Xande’s chief advisor.
“Forgive me, Your Majesty. You must have immeasurable things weighing down your mind.” Amon cracked a showman’s smile and gestured grandly with his hands. He produced a Bard’s harp from a pouch at his side. “Let me take your woes away with a song… a story… a spot of mummery?”
He was grasping at straws, he knew.
Xande wasn’t swayed. He just sat on his cold throne, his body motionless, like something chiseled from rock. His dead, gravelly voice repeated, “There is nothing.”
Amon let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. At that moment, he could see that his life’s work was fragmenting away into madness before his own eyes.
How had it ever come to this?
Things had seemed fine when Xande was first revived. The procedure had worked flawlessly. The soul that had been locked in stasis for so long had perfectly transferred into the cloned body that Amon had created.
Even better, the revived Emperor had immediately got to work in picking the stumbling Allagan Empire up out of the dust. He shook the people out of their stupor and inspired armies to rise again.
The Allagans gloriously marched over the continents and claimed the world for their own once more. The Crystal Tower shimmered brilliantly at the heart of the land, a symbol of the majesty born of science and magic fused into one.
Amon had never felt more fulfilled than when seeing his Xande make all his hopes a reality. Finally, after struggling for a lifetime to find an answer to their decaying society, their savior had come!
But then, something unforeseeable began to happen. It started small.
The darkening of Xande’s gaze. Sleepless nights. Mood swings. Sharp, reckless orders. Angry outbursts.
Then, the worst… long sessions of brooding and silence.
Amon tried to lift his Emperor’s spirits. After all, he wasn’t just a mage and scientist. He fancied himself a whimsy of a performer, and had studied acting as much as machines and aethermancy.
But this was beyond mortal hands to fix. Something was broken within the Emperor. Death had left its mark, and Xande had not returned to the world of the living as he’d left it.
The Emperor’s fevered ambition and deepening madness only grew. But Amon had never expected it to drive Xande to make a bargain with the Void.
Amon now watched helplessly as the very thing he created to save their people transformed into something that would undo them all.
“Sire, please,” Amon tried to reason, “You’ve accomplished so much. No other man has ever–”
“It is nothing!” Xande’s face contorted, a huge fist slamming on the arm of his throne. Had it been made of anything less than crystal, it would have crumbled under the force. “All of it! Let the Void take it!”
Amon fell silent. He knew anything he said would only enrage the Emperor further. He may have been the one who had given Xande another life, but even he wasn’t immune.
This was usually where the dream ended, leaving a residue of awkward stiffness in Amon’s mind. But this time, something was different.
The dream continued. But it no longer followed the path of the memory. It became something aware. Something else.
Xande collected himself, his gaze growing strangely coherent. He looked at Amon… staring into his soul… as if reaching beyond the memory and into reality.
“The madness has already begun to take you, Amon.” His voice almost sounded sad. Tired. A once-shining hero fallen to darkness due to influences far beyond his control.
“What?” Amon found himself able to speak. There was so much that he wanted to ask, and all he could manage was one pathetic word.
“You will join me in darkness soon.” Xande’s lips folded grimly.