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A God in Fillmore

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A God in Fillmore

The old man wheezed as he made his way up the sloping earth. The forest around him was oppressive. Trees, many as ancient as the Old Civilization, towered overhead blotting out the sun and leaving the world mired in shadow. Sweat ran in beads down the old man's wrinkled face as he pressed onward. The shaded woodland was deceptively hot. It was summer, and the humidity was suffocating.

In the distance a dull buzz droned. The old man paused to listen then hurried on his way. The noise came from the bee like creatures that could be found in the deep woods. Large as a man's forearm, a single sting from one the creatures could kill even a large man. Running into a swarm would almost certainly mean death, but the noise was far enough away that he was comfortable not adjusting his course. The route he was taking was the most direct, and he didn't want to be in the woods any longer than he needed to. He would not have come at all if not for the dream...

"Grandfather," a younger man said from behind, his voice quiet and nervous. "We should turn back. This is beyond foolish. No one ever goes this deep into the woods. I've heard that hellish buzzing twice now for certain, and not only that, but we both know there are worse things in these woods than those bees."

The old man snorted. "We'll be fine. The forests of Fillmore are huge. It's unlikely we'll run into any demons, and those bees won't hurt us as long as we keep an ear out and make sure to stay clear."

"But Grandfather..." The young man protested.

"Hush," said the old man. "It's pointless to turn back now, we're almost there. You didn't have to come anyway."

The young man bristled but fell silent. The old man had insisted on going into the forest today. Upon waking he'd claimed to have had some kind of dream and said he needed to visit a place he'd once seen as a boy. Apparently there was supposed to be a statue of the Old God there. It was rubbish and would likely get them both killed, but after failing to get the old man to see reason, the young man had decided he couldn't let him go this deep into the forest alone, so he'd foolishly come along.

The forest floor leveled out, and the brush grew gradually less dense. The two men traveled on in silence for another quarter hour, underneath a canopy of trees that was now receding, sunlight began breaking through to the shadowed land below. The young man mourned the loss of shade as he began sweating even more profusely underneath the direct summer sun, even still, the forest felt less threatening when it wasn't strangling them in shadow.

Then the trees surrendered completely to the sky, and the forest opened into a wide circular clearing, covered in nothing but grass and flowers. The young man let out a low whistle. The place before him was more than peaceful, it was beautiful. There was nothing grand, or overwhelming, or majestic about the relatively small clearing, but it had a simple beauty, a calmness and gentleness, about it that could not be ignored. The stark contrast between the clearing and the surrounding forest took the young man by surprise, making him momentarily oblivious to the clearing's most significant feature.

In the absolute center stood a statue.

The object's placement suddenly made the perfect symmetry of the clearing stand out. The clearing wasn't vaguely circular, or mostly circular, it was perfectly circular, containing none of the randomness of the natural world. The forest simply stopped in all directions, leaving a perfect circle of serenity within the vast oppressiveness that stretched out for leagues in all directions, and in the very center of that circle was the most beautiful work of art the young man had ever seen.

To be perfectly honest, it was the only true work of art he'd ever seen. He had heard stories about how people used to create objects of beauty, for the simple sake of beauty, but that had been in the Old Civilization, an age that now only existed in children's tales.

The statue was of a man, a warrior of old, standing tall and proud with his sword held to the open sky; his head adorned with a winged helm. The entirety of the statue had been carved from a deep gray stone, all a single color, but what was most amazing was the level of detail the statue contained. Every muscle, every line of the face, every detail that would be instantly and subconsciously recognized in an actual human was captured with perfect clarity. The young man had never seen anything worthy of comparison.

"Is this it?" He asked the old man. "The statue?"

The old man smiled. "Yes, this is it. The statue of the Old God, the Master, who created us and ruled us with love and strength before the fall of the Old Civilization."

"It is amazing," the young man admitted. "I understand why you'd want to see this again, but we shouldn't stay here. Grandfather, it's just too dangerous this far into the woods. Let us leave before our luck wanes."

"We'll not stay long," the old man said. "but before we go I would like to pray, besides, it would do us good to take a rest before making the long walk home."

The young man nodded in agreement. A short rest would be welcome, and it was unlikely that he'd get the old man to budge a moment sooner than he was ready to. The old man knelt down on a single knee and bowed his head before the statue, then looked up at the young man. "Will you not join me?"

The young man sighed. "Grandfather, even if the Master actually did exist at one point, He's been gone for centuries. Killed by Tanzra." The young man knew that the old man found that particular theological argument distasteful. Still, the majority of people alive believed that if the Master ever was real, then He had been long since dead at the hands of his greatest enemy; the Lord of Demons, Satan, Tanzra.

"No," the old man said, his voice did not take on any of the anger or bitterness the young man had expected, instead he spoke plainly, explaining the world as he believed it without growing angry at the young man's doubt. "The Master cannot die. He is eternal, and even Tanzra with all his dark power and his legions of evil cannot kill him. He is only sleeping, and someday he will return to us and deliver us from the darkness that Tanzra has wrought."

The young man nodded without any conviction but knelt down beside the old man all the same. There was nothing to be gained from arguing further. Maybe the old man was right and one day God would simply wake up and humanity could be more than the scattered collection of isolated villages that it had become. Maybe someday people would no longer have to live with the constant fear of being brutally murdered by demons. Then again, maybe God would sleep forever, or was dead, or had never truly existed, and humanity would simply continue its slow death, until nothing remained except Tanzra and his demons.

It was in the midst of these dark thoughts when the young man heard a noise, the sharp crack of a branch off in the woods ahead. He raised his head searching for the cause. At first there was nothing but shadows and trees. Then the shadows began to move. A chill ran down his spine and he stood, staring off in the direction of the movement. A moment passed and nothing happened.

A deer, he thought, or perhaps some other woodland animal. As the moment wore on the young man's heart began beating slower once more. Probably just a deer after all. Then the shadows moved again, and out into the unobstructed view of the clearing stepped a creature vaguely human in shape, thick with corded muscle, but only half the height of an adult man. The creature's skin was an unnatural grey blue, and it wore the skin of some dead animal around its otherwise naked waist, not tanned or otherwise prepared like a human might make clothing from a wild beast, just torn flesh and fur, with pieces of now rotting meat still clinging from the makeshift garment. The young man knew the name for this creature. Men called them goblins. Mothers would tell their children stories about goblins eating bad children who went outside after dark. The stories were sometimes true.

"Grandfather," the young man said. "Get up. Demons." As he said the word more of the goblin kin emerged from the shadowy depths and into the false serenity of the circular clearing. Some of the creatures held crude weapons, dangling loosely from thick brutal fists. Thick wooden branches, fist sized stones, a few even carried knives. Plain looking hunting tools, likely stolen from former human owners who'd met a terrible and violent end while searching too deep into the woods in search of game.

Goblins were said to normally hunt in small packs, two or possibly three at the most. The young man had spoken to hunters who had stumbled across such groups and had been fortunate, and skilled enough, to have survived the encounter. This was not a normal hunting pack. Within seconds a dozen or more of the demons emerged from the tree line. Behind them the shadows continued to move, promising even more to come.

Then an entirely new beast walked forward, tossing one of the smaller goblins to the side with an unthinking and violent shove. This creature wore no facsimile of clothing and carried no weapons. Its body was covered in matted orange fur, though the naked skin of its hands, feet, and face was the same unnatural blue of its goblin cousins'. It was a troll. They were rarer still, and almost entirely solitary. Few men ever saw one and survived to talk about it. Solitary or not, the first troll was followed by two more, each nearly identical to the first.

The first troll lumbered ahead of the growing mass, using not only its hind feet but also its large knuckled fists to walk. The thing saw the two men who had so foolishly come into its territory and made a loud, violent, and purely wild howling noise unlike anything the young man had ever heard. Dear Master, the young man thought, we are dead men! We should never have come here; our bones will mar this singular place of beauty for all of eternity.

The troll began to charge, and the young man numbly, futilely, notched an arrow into his hunting bow. He was a good aim, but the distance was too great, and the target was moving if only straight at them. The first arrow flew wide by several feet. As he notched the second arrow the other trolls, and with them the countless goblins all began their howling chaotic charge. The second arrow took a goblin in the chest. It stumbled and by time the third arrow flew, it fell bleeding to the ground only to be trampled by the horde behind it. The third arrow struck one of the trolls in its shoulder. It howled in what might have been either anger or pain, but its charge was not slowed. The fourth arrow missed. By the time the young man was on his sixth he no longer cared whether or not they found a mark. He was a dead man. Both men, young and old, were. Even if every arrow flew true and every mark fell dead, he simply did not have the arrows or time to stop the entire force of demons. Within a span of seconds all that would be left to prove that either man had ever existed would be torn flesh, wet blood, and broken bones.

"Heavenly Master, our Lord and God, please deliver us from this evil," the old man prayed out loud, still on his knee with his head bowed. His voice lacking in panic or urgency.

The sixth arrow flew. Praying to a dead god will not help us, the young man thought.

The seventh arrow flew. What I'm doing is just as useless, the young man thought. The eighth arrow flew. The ninth arrow. The tenth.

There would be an eleventh. Probably a twelfth. Maybe a thirteenth. Fourteen? No. By then he'd be dead or dying.

As the twelfth arrow flew a shadow spread across the clearing. The charging demons slowed and then stopped, completely ignoring the goblin that had just fallen dead. Arrow number twelve lodged firmly in its throat.

The beasts looked up to the sky. The young man stopped as well. Arrow thirteen never flew, was not even notched, as his eyes too turned skyward.

Above them among the clouds floated…something. Something big. Something the young man had never seen. It was an island, a perfectly circular disc of floating land that had appeared from nowhere to cast its shadow over the ongoing bloodshed. "What is it?" the young man asked, awe replacing fear.

"It's His home." The old man stood to look skyward with the rest of them. "The Sky Palace, where the Master lives. Just like in my dream. It is where God has slept these past dark centuries."

"God?" The young man said dumbly, stumbling over the word as though hearing it for the first time.

"Yes," the old man said. "God has woken up.

"And He is coming."

At these words a spot in the floating disc's, the Sky Palace's, center lit up. The young man watched as the bright spot grew even brighter. Then he realized that it wasn't growing brighter at all. It was falling. The young man, the old man, the trolls, and the goblins, watched in rapt silence as a singular speck of golden light fell from the heavens. Its light burnt away the shadows, illuminating the clearing with an intensity brighter than the natural sun ever had or would.

Then it landed. Striking the tip of the statue's raised sword, flooding the stone art with a light so intense that the onlookers were momentarily struck blind. The intensity ended and the Sky Palace's shadow returned, but the light hadn't faded, instead the statue seemed to draw it in. For a moment even the ambient natural light was absorbed, leaving the world dark save for the glowing statue, now a monument of pure white light set in a field of black.

The light of day returned, bringing with it the natural shadows and colors of the world. The young man fell to his knees. The lifeless grey statue had transformed. The armor it wore was now made of metal the exact color of the sky. The sword it wielded was no longer dull stone but a blade so finely polished that it had taken on the pristine reflective appearance of a mirror.

But it was the man inside the sky hued armor, the man wielding the mirror like sword, that was truly astonishing. Standing more than a full head taller than anyone the young man had ever seen, with skin like molten gold and eyes that were every color at once, the man, the warrior, was at the same time the most beautiful, terrifying, and awesome being the young man had ever seen, could ever imagine. The man was in a word: overwhelming.

Then it struck, a realization so incredible that the young man burst into tears. His mind empty of any thoughts other than the purest emotions of fear and joy. The young man spoke a single word. The only word his mind could form from within the storm of emotions. "God."

"Yes," the old man said. "He is the Master, the Lord, the Eternal Light, the Actraiser. He is God."

The Warrior's every-color eyes fell upon the horde of demons. "This land belongs to Tanzra no longer," He said in a voice that defied the young man's ability to describe. It wasn't so much loud as it was solid. The words spoken didn't merely move through the air, but through the earth, the trees, even their bodies. He not only heard the words with his ears, but he could feel them. Feel them within every inch of his being.

The troll that had been struck in the shoulder with the young man's arrow responded first. With a howling shriek of unbridled hatred the demon lunged forward and leaped through the air, hot saliva streaming from a mouth of fully bared razor sharp fangs. The Warrior did not retreat, did not dodge to one side or the other. He simply let the howling monster come to Him, then He swung His sword downward with a shout that dwarfed thunder.

Before the troll's corpse finished its decent, the remaining demons let out a unified howl, a sound that only moments before would have chilled the young man's very soul, but compared to the voice of God, not even his battle cry, just his spoken voice, the howls of any number of demons, no matter how savage, how primal, would always sound hollow. As the horde swarmed forward the Warrior moved to meet them. His sword flashed, sunlight glittered off its mirror edge. With the first swing three goblins stained the earth red, now nothing more than a collection of dismembered pieces. The second swing took five more, including the remaining trolls. The third swing was coupled with another great shout that seemed to shake the very earth to its core. The goblins, the surviving ones, broke and fled.

The Warrior did not slow, did not give any quarter, did not relent. He moved like a river or a mountain or a storm. Flowing and massive and everyplace at once. The demons dropped around him in droves. It mattered not whether they fled, or turned to fight, the minions of Tanzra had been dead from the moment He appeared.

The entire battle, the massacre that the demons had meant for the two men, only to be turned against them, lasted only seconds. The young man stood, alive when life had seemed an impossibility only a brief moment before, in shocked disbelief, in utter awe at the devastation he'd just witnessed.

The Warrior turned to the two men. "Come."

They followed Him in silence as He walked toward the wood line from which the demons had emerged. The Warrior stopped before the trees and spoke, "I feel you Tanzra. Deliver your message unto me, so that I may deliver mine unto you."

For a moment there was no answer. The forest's silence was absolute. No birds nor beasts. Not demons or men. Not even the eternal, invisible wind, made a noise. Then the silence broke. A tree, one of the many that had encircled the statue's holy resting place for untold centuries, groaned. The noise was loud and wooden, a vulgar abomination to the natural world, as the tree's living wood twisted and changed. Its branches warped in on themselves, entangling to the point that they began to resemble twisted facsimiles of human hands. The wood groaned to the point of breaking. It should have broken, living green wood or not. Then came the face. It grew out of the trunk, as being pushed from the inside out, until an entire hideous head, almost human in appearance, though twice as large, had formed.

The newly grown face smiled and looked around with eyes of glowing red ember. Its numerous nightmare limbs twisting in the air before it, as though being blown by a wind that wasn't there. Both men, young and old, stepped away. It wasn't only the nightmarish appearance of the tree that repulsed them. There was something more. Something worse. A nightmare, a primal fear, something evil. Evil in its purest form, untainted by anything good or justifiable. Tanzra, the great lord of the demons, had taken form before them.

"Do not fear this creature," the Warrior said. "Tanzra's true body is far from this place. It holds no true power here."

The gnarled wooden face laughed and Tanzra spoke, "Foolish words, for I am to be feared. I am Fear. You asked for a message and I shall give you one. You lost this world to me long ago, Actraiser. I am the only god now. Leave and I shall spare you the suffering of a second defeat, one in which you shall watch every last one of your children perish, before I subject you to an eternity of torment, from which there will be no escape. Retreat to your Sky Palace and leave the earth to me. Flee forever this lost rock and build yourself a replacement if that is your desire. You cannot oppose me. Not as weak as you are now. Not even at your strongest could you best me."

"You speak of weakness, though you know nothing of strength, demon. I lost our last encounter because of my own mistake. I showed you mercy when you had given none. I tried to imprison you, reform you, but I failed. I failed because you are not a broken thing to be fixed. You are not corrupt. Not distorted. You are perfect in your nature and cannot be made to change."

"You speak truth, Actraiser. Corruption exists within your children you call man, within my demons, and within your angels, but not within me. I have delivered my message. Deliver yours or take my advice and return to your Sky Palace. The choice is yours."

"Never have I run from you or your kin, and never shall I. My message is thus: No mercy. I will see you dead, Tanzra. This world was never yours, and no longer shall it be made to suffer your existence."

"A regrettable decision, Actraiser. Still as the 'Master' I suppose it is yours to make. Very well, you have chosen your fate. Do you wish to know it? As we speak my forces are now launching an attack upon your home. You will watch as it crumbles to dust and memory, as it topples from the sky for which it is named. Your power here is still quasi formed from your long slumber, and this avatar you so love to take whenever you grace our lowly plane of existence will be utterly destroyed by one of the many followers I have with the requisite power to do so. Without your palace to return to you shall be trapped, a prisoner on the very earth you created, but without the means to interact with it. I'm sure you'll return, but how long will it take? A millennium? Two? When you do return, there will nothing left of this world but a barren husk, a lifeless rock alone in the vast emptiness of space. I will have moved on. Yet I wonder…can you? Your personal connection to your coveted earth has already grown foolishly strong, and after being imprisoned within its walls for millennia? I look forward to seeing whether or not this dead rock becomes your eternal tomb.

"Even now my lieutenant approaches. Truly he is blessed with the good fortune of being the closest to you. From this day onward every man he slays, every woman he rapes, every child he crushes underneath his hooves, will hear the victorious song of how he was the one who killed their precious God!"

A wave of dizziness washed over the young man, who thrust the end of his unstrung bow into the earth to support his waning balance. Even without meaning, listening to the conversation between the two greatest forces in existence was a mind numbing ordeal. The voices! The solid uncompromising boom of the Master, and its opposite in every way, the acidic, almost ephemeral voice of Tanzra. But when he thought about what they spoke of, that was when it became almost too heavy a burden to bear. This was far greater than the simple fate of two men who had gone too deep into the woods. This was the end of days. If Tanzra did defeat the Master again, as he had once, all those centuries ago, then that would be it. True despair. No sleeping God to pray to. No hope for a future. Not for your children and not for those a hundred generations down. No. By then humanity might not even exist. Life may no longer exist.

The young man stumbled and fell almost down to his knees. His arms trembled to support his weight as his bow bent almost to the point of snapping. In the sky above it was beginning, just as Tanzra had promised. Even from their viewpoint from the ground far below the Sky Palace, the Demon Lord's minions could be seen swarming around the floating fortress in numbers that had began to blot out the sun. Waves of flying demons, some black as the darkest night, others crimson, or even the color of the sky that played as their backdrop. The endless nightmare had begun.

The old man placed a calm hand onto the young man's trembling shoulder. "Don't be afraid. God isn't."

The young man looked at the Warrior, who still stood staring at the tree Tanzra had possessed. An emotion had appeared on His molten gold face, the first the young man had seen on it. The Warrior smiled.

"You attack my palace in full force? Good. My angels have grown restless during my slumber. They will be glad for this battle. I thank you on their behalf."

Looking back to the sky the young man saw it emerge from the Sky Palace. Hope flowed outward to meet the coming darkness. Hope that from his vantage point consisted of countless, immeasurable, thousands, tens of thousands of white and golden sparks, pouring from within the Sky Palace. God's angels had gone to war.

"And I thank you for your other gift as well."

"Other gift? What foolishness do you speak of now, Actraiser?"

"Your pet centaur that you've sent to 'kill' me. That creature shall be a fitting start. Know this demon. Once I have rid the earth of all your vaunted lieutenants, I shall come for you. Fair warning has been given. Goodbye, Tanzra."

In the span of less than an eye blink, the Warrior lunged at the deformed tree, driving His blade clean through the thing's face. It made no noise, no shriek of protest, no howl of agony, but at once its twisted limbs ceased their unnatural motion. The glowing crimson faded from the wooden eye sockets, and the surrounding air felt cleaner. The spirit of Tanzra had departed.

The Warrior turned to the two men and said, "Stay here my children. There is one final battle for me to win this day, and then I shall see you home."

They watched as the Warrior returned to the clearing's center, staring off to the west, awaiting his coming foe. How much time passed the young man couldn't say. Maybe an hour or as many as two, or perhaps it was only a matter a minutes. The sky remained darkened by the overhead battle, making it impossible to tell time by the sun. Streaks of lightning flickered without end in the cloudless battlefield high above. Then Tanzra's promised lieutenant arrived, emerging from the woods at an unhurried, almost leisurely pace. The demon had the body of a horse, but out of the thing's neck grew not an equine head but an entire human torso, or at least one that was human shaped. Whatever the demon's true appearance was, it was hidden behind ornate armor of ebony and gold. Its face was covered in entirety by a solid metal visor that would have left any man blind to wear.

But this was no man. It may have looked one part horse and one part man, but this thing, this centaur, was neither. It was something more, or perhaps, the young man thought, maybe it was something less.

"I'm surprised you actually waited for me," the centaur said in a voice that rang with surprising clarity. "It would have been easy to leave. Go back to your Sky Palace, maybe even save it, maybe even save yourself." The centaur laughed as it looked down upon the Warrior. Its laughter a terrible melody, promising nothing less than beautiful violence. "But Tanzra did assure me you'd stay. I'm looking forward to our coming 'battle', if that word even applies. Still, even if your power isn't fully recovered, I'm sure you'll be a trifle more entertaining than the swine I came across on my way here. Humans. Pathetic creatures. And made by a pathetic 'God' no doubt? Though I do enjoy the way they…scream and beg and cry, oh dear yes, you might have created a pathetic race, but an ever so amusing one. I wonder how amusing I'll find their maker?"

"My Sky Palace holds, and today Tanzra has sacrificed one of his twelve to me. Does this amuse you?"

The centaur's head arched upwards, slowly, lazily. "I suppose it does look like your angels have a fair hand at winning the day. Still, thinking of me as a mere sacrifice is a bit arrogant is it not?"

The young man expected the demon to laugh again. Its words ebbed and flowed into what felt like laughter, but at the very point the expected laughter should have come the demon instead launched his attack. Unexpected and unbelievably fast. The centaur's weapon, a lance tipped with a short sword's length of blade, plunged forward. The Warrior didn't dodge or even attempt to dodge it, instead His sword blurred upwards, knocking the centaur's lance arching upward until it came to rest, pointed vertically into the air.

The centaur's laughter, delayed by his attack for only an eye blink, finally came. "Good! What splendid reflexes! Of course there are forces in this world that cannot be so simply parried. Forces that I control!"

Lightning, drawn from the battlefield high above, crashed down onto the centaur's lance. Energy danced down the demonic weapon in long brilliant arcs as the lance absorbed the sky wrought power. The bladed tip began to glow white. An angry, burning, radiant white. Then the lightning poured out in a downward torrent onto the Warrior.

He didn't scream or cry out in any way, but He stumbled backwards, the pain on His face clear to the young man even at the distance. The Warrior fell to His knees as the lightning snaked around Him with screaming fury. "The mighty Master falls before me!" The centaur declared as his beautiful laugh joined the screaming lightning in terrible symphony. "How does one still so weak think to possibly stand against he who commands the very elements of nature!"

With the deadly lightning still screaming, the centaur still laughing, the lance was drawn back in preparation for the killing strike. As the last of the lightning left the tip, the lance plunged forward, its motion nearly as fast as the bolts of energy it followed.

The attack was so fast that the young man didn't have enough time to gasp, to fully feel the terror of watching his God die, of witnessing Tanzra's final victory come to pass. The gasp came. But not the terror. When the impossibly fast motion came to its inevitable still, the Warrior was not impaled upon the demon's lance. He held the weapon at bay, caught in His powerful grip, the blade only an inch away from His molten gold flesh. Only an inch, but it might as well have been leagues, or the entire span of the earth. The centaur did not have the strength to overcome the Warrior.

The last sparks of lightning flickered out of existence. The centaur's arm shook with effort as he tried to push the blade forward that last impassible inch. The Warrior's arm was motionless and unrelenting as He returned to his feet. "You think to lay me low with the very forces of nature that I forged? You who are the least of Tanzra's Twelve?"

With another world shaking battle cry the Warrior struck the centaur's lance with His sword. Mirror fine steel met ornate black and gold with a thunderous crack that was less than that of a snapping twig in the echo of the Warrior's shout. The lance shattered, and the Warrior dropped the end He held to the grass bellow. The centaur swung his end like a club, but the brutal and desperate attack only rebounded off the Warrior's sword as He effortlessly parried. The broken lance swung backwards with such force that it tore free from the centaur's grip.

The demon's equine body reared upward, its front legs kicking furiously at the Warrior, who had crossed the distance between them in a single bound. The Warrior's sword met hooven legs. The centaur screamed as its body crashed to the ground, next to the bloody, severed limbs. The human shaped portion of its body twisted around to face the Warrior, who loomed before it. "No! No don't! I yield! I yield, Actraiser! Show mercy! Mercy!" The hollow beauty of the centaur's voice had been replaced with something new, something real. The same raw fear that the young man knew countless of the demon's own victims had surely felt.

The Warrior looked down upon His fallen enemy as the pristine mirror fine sword rose smoothly into the air. "No."

Then it was over. The demon was dead. The Warrior was victorious.

He turned from the dead and walked back to the living. The young man wanted to speak, to thank the Warrior, to praise God who stood before him, but his voice could come up with no words, so instead he watched in silence as the Warrior placed a golden hand onto the dead tree that had been twisted by Tanzra's spirit. "Live. You shall never again be as you once were, as you were meant to be, but you will never be defiled by that shadow again. This I promise. Now live."

The multiple twisted limbs that Tanzra had crafted, entwined together, forming at last only two wooden arms. Twisted and wrong still, but now somehow that wrongness was diminished. The head that the Demon Lord had spoken through melted back into the tree's trunk. The face remained, as it would forever more, but the look of twisted pain it wore slowly turned peaceful.

The Warrior smiled at His creation. "Take my children back to their homes. You will be the guardian of these woods from this day forward. Keep my children safe and the shadow's spawn out. This is now your mission."

The tree lowered its arms to the ground, and the old man stepped onto one of its large wooden hands. He looked at the young man and motioned to the tree's other hand. The young man hesitated only a moment before following the old man's lead. The tree then took a step forward. Its roots groaning as they broke free from their home in the earth. The tree took another step, followed by another and another, testing the new alien form of movement that had been bestowed upon it. The tree smiled.

The young man sat, cradled in the tree's hand, the weight of the day's events too heavy for his mind to yet fully comprehend. He looked over at the walking tree, smiling and pleased at its new place in the world. He looked up at the Sky Palace, the battle in the heavens now visibly dominated by the Master's angels. The sky was clearer now, less cluttered, as more and more bodies fell like rain. He looked at the old man, the calm, unassuming old man who had woken earlier that day having had a dream. A dream about God. A God who had come down to earth and saved them both.

The old man rose up and looked back to where the Warrior still stood. "Master! What shall I tell them? The people of my village? My sons and daughters?"

The Warrior raised his sword to the sky. A shaft of sunlight broke free from the heavens and fell on Him, flashing brilliantly off His blade. "Tell your sons and your daughters, tell all of my children, that today one of Tanzra's Twelve is no more, and that the rest shall follow soon.

"Tell them that today the Master has returned."

A bright orb of golden light shot up and out of the raised sword, returning to the Sky Palace. The warrior was a statue of solid stone once again.

The young man watched as the Master left his earthly avatar to join the ebbing war high in the air. The old man knelt in the large hand that carried him and began to pray, and despite the exhaustion that the young man felt, more deeply than he ever had before, he followed the old man's lead, praying sincerely for the first time in his life. They knelt in prayer for hours, sheltered in the forest's shade, until the walking tree sat them down at the edge of the small village that was their home.

The sun set, its crimson glow bleeding over the land, on what would forever be recorded in the histories of man as the day that God returned to Fillmore.