The Last Hero
By Ricardo Victoria
The entire universe was dying.
A black void enveloped the ruins of the temple, crawling and devouring that which was in its path. Only the sound heavy of breathing echoed off the remaining walls. The temple was all that remained. All that stood between the light and the darkness.
The Creator had died. Gone before the universe could sustain itself. And without him, the whole existence was disappearing into nothingness. Only the deity of death and her temple remained. And two unlikely champions. They were fortunate that the time for gods ran at a different pace than for mortals. Its pace had been slow enough for them, the last survivors of that universe, to concoct a plan.
All hope hinged on a book.
The mission seemed simple, to pick up a book from the lost temple of the deity of Life and bring it to the other side of the world, to the temple of Death, for a spell that could save them all.
But on the way, Diago, who had for all intents and purposes retired from the business of saving the world, had lost everything he treasured to the encroaching oblivion. For a while, he had help from unlikely sources, including a villain the likes of his world had never seen. Survival of reality, something they could both fight together. But even his unexpected ally had fallen when they were close to the goal, leaving him injured and alone.
His entire left side hurt, the stab wound bleeding him of life and energy, robbing him of the certainty that he could complete his Herculean task.
Akiu. The bastard. He’d stabbed him just as the goal was in sight, just as they were about to conquer the void. He could still recall in his head the last conversation he had with the warlock.
“It’s a shame really,” Aiku said. “Aeons of progress, culture, art, civilization, landscapes, and myth wiped out in a single stroke.”
“I didn’t know you cared about that. With all your plans to conquer the world and reshape it to your will.”
“Oh. I cared. My plans didn’t stop me from appreciating most of it. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t even be helping you of all people right now.”
“It’s not like you have another option. Let’s hurry, the last goddess said that time is running short.”
“It’s funny to think how this works. I assume that the Creator’s death was instantaneous and yet we didn’t disappear outright. Which means…” Aiku mused aloud.
“That there is no ontological inertia and time is slower for us than the for the gods,” Diago said.
“And here I thought you were just a dumb warrior,” Aiku said with veiled sarcasm
“You don’t get to survive all that has happened in the past decades by being stupid.”
“Touché.” They continued sprinting towards the inner sanctum of the temple. “Surviving is what you are good for. The gods know I have tried to kill you more than once. That’s why she kept me alive until now. I see that. And I know what I have to do.” Aiku smiled at him and then flashed a dagger, stabbing Diago in his left side. He put pressure on his wound, to keep it from bleeding out, but Aiku forced his hands open and put the book on them.
“That stab wound won’t kill you… just yet. You will have time to reach the center. Now take the book there.”
“Why did you do that?” He asked pained and surprised.
“She didn’t tell you,? For what you have to do next, you need to be dying or the spell won’t work. And like it or not I know you will do the right thing for all. I don’t have much time left so I will keep the tendrils away from you as much as I can.”
“You are a hero now?”
“Please don’t insult me that way. Now go Diago. Go!”
The last Diago saw and heard of Aiku was a barrage of spells coming from his scepter, hitting the tendrils, and the cackling of his maniac laughter.
He reached the center of the temple, while the floor and the walls disappeared behind him. At the center of all, the deity of Death was there, waiting for him. For a deity, she seemed feeble, tired, and even fragile. She was kneeling from the effort of simultaneously keeping a portal of light open and protecting it from oblivion.
“You made it. Although I see that only you survived.” Death gaze was full of sadness. “Do you have the book from the temple of Life with you?”
“Yes, but what’s a book good for saving our universe.”
“It is the Book of Names. In it, the names of every living being, every creature, deity, plant, region, and star that has ever existed was registered with ineffable ink within. Anything which is written in it by this quill will be recorded there forever,” The deity continued, giving him a quill. He grabbed it, his bloodied hands turning the white feather red. “Your spilled blood is the ink. Only by giving away your life you can record life. That’s something I cannot do for you.”
The hero felt confused. The deity of Death must have picked his confusion up.
“Look,” she sighed. “The book is an ark of sorts that can protect the essence of everything. For our world to survive, that book must reach the other side of the portal.”
“I thought your plan was to use whatever was inside to reverse what’s happening.” He yelled at her. “You are the deity of death! You have allowed resurrections before!”
“Even I don’t have the power to resurrect the creator that made me. But this,” She pointed at the thick volume in his hands. “This book gives us a chance. Every time a creator makes a universe, they create a book like this, recording everything. Thus when the time comes for their passing, if the book is strong enough the universe will endure. We were unfortunate that our creator passed away before achieving that milestone. Your blood, like that of any other living being, carries a spark of the Creator. By giving your life away you can record the last things you saw, you experienced, you loved, so they survive.”
“There is another Creator, which has heard our plight across the vast ether. And has agreed to incorporate as much as he can of our world in the one he is creating right now.”
“But we wouldn’t be us anymore.”
“It’s better than total oblivion. Now, write the names that are still missing and cross the portal to that universe before this whole temple collapses unto us. Hurry, I can’t keep it open any longer.”
“What about you? You will be destroyed too.”
“I’m Death, closing the doors was my original purpose. Now go.”
He gave a good look at the deity of Death. Instead of the severe, bony face that had stared at him many times in previous adventures, he saw benevolence, filled with hope. Biting his lip, he wrote something in the last pages of the book and crossed the portal. The light inside was blinding him. He could barely see the stretched hand of the deity, biding him farewell, while oblivion erased the rest of her body. He then felt like falling. The light forced him to close his eyes.
When he finally opened them, he found himself in a quiet meadow, under the shadow of a tree. Aside from that tree, and the green on the mountains in the distant horizon, there was nothing else. With a loud thud, the book dropped to the ground, slowly turning into dust carried by the wind. He looked at his left hand, but it was disappearing. In other times he would have found the experience distressful; now he found himself full of peace.
“What would become of me?” He asked to the air, not knowing if he would receive an answer. “Of all us? Of Aiku?”
“Your spirits will join this world. But in which form it’s up to you. The last boon I can grant you. I can tell you though, that I could use your help with something down the road,” A voice replied to him. He didn’t recognize it, but odds are that they came from the creator of this new world. “If you want.”
“I want. Thank you.” He replied. A smile appeared on his face. He picked one of the last pages of the book, and using his blood, he scribbled something on the fading page. His body became almost transparent, intangible. “I have an idea though.”
The written words shone with a red glow and then the page vanished. Out of nothing, the air echoed with a maniac laughter. But unlike the previous occasions where he had heard it; during times of danger and hate, happiness filled the laughter this time.
“Bastard. I applaud you.” The disembodied voice of Aiku echoed through the air one last time.
Diago, the last surviving hero of a dying universe smiled before fading. He was uncertain of the future. But he was happy as well. Because he knew that somehow, his family, friends and even his enemies now had a second chance to exist. And that was all the reward he needed before disappearing for good into this new world.