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The Duel of the Ages

Chapter 9

By David J. Parker

"Turn up the heat, will you?" Darius said moments after materializing in Death's domain. "It's freezing in here." He was whole once again and unharmed.

"Do you know what the bill is to heat an infinite amount of non-space a month?" the Grim Reaper asked Darius quizzically.

"'Infinite amount of non-space' -- isn't that an oxymoron?" Darius asked as he closed his eyes. It took a bit of concentration to configure Death's non-space realm to look like what he wanted it to look like.

"No, I believe it's a muleymoron," Death replied. Darius missed the poor attempt at humor completely; he was concentrating too hard.

When Darius opened his eyes again moments later, the environment around him had changed drastically. Gone was the dark, ominous forest he faced most every time he came here (I'm going to have to change my default screen sometime, he though to himself), to be replaced with a sheer expanse of white. It was as if he and Death had been transposed to line drawings on a white piece of paper. This would do much better.

"Call Scotty and have him beam Jacqui up here," Darius said quickly. "I've got work to do, and I'll need her help. And while you're at it, have him beam me up a Big Mac and fries, too. I'm kinda hungry."

Darius turned around in a circle, verifying that the world had gone completely white; it had. That would make the coming task all the easier. Blood Drops had taken the bait and run with it. Darius marvelled at how easy it had been to shake the knight's faith. Of course, it isn't every day that you find out that your former mentor is actually your worst enemy. Only about once a month, at most.

Darius took off the armor he had been wearing since the beginning of this little battle. It chafed when he wore it in Sage form; besides that, the Sage looked ridiculous in it. When he was out of his armor, he shifted slowly into the form of his alter-ego.

He could feel his bones shrinking. He had seen leather tanned in the sun before, seen how it shrinks and pulls taut over its bindings. That was what this felt like, except that it was the bones inside him that were shrinking. He heard the familiar sucking sounds of bodily fluids racing into gaps created in his body as his bones shrunk inwards. The transformation from Sage to Darius was sometimes painful, what with the forceful redistribution of those same fluids back into other regions of the body.

His skin shrunk slightly to cover the diminished body, but it did so a little less perfectly; his skin in Sage form was baggy and wrinkled, which mimicked perfectly the looks of an old man.

In less than a minute, the six-foot-two Darius had physically changed to the five-foot-six Sage (minus a little more for the stooped posture he always assumed when in Sage form). In ten more seconds, his hair color had changed from the brown of Darius to the white of the old Sage. Soon the rest of the physical modifications were made, completing the metamorphosis.

"Much better," the Sage muttered to himself. Sage/Darius thought better in Sage form and worked magic better as well. Thus the change for the job at hand.

The Sage heard the sounds of the transporter working behind him. In the second in which it took him to turn around, Jacqui (and his lunch) had been completely re-materialized in Death's domain. He doddered over as fast as he could to get his lunch from the woman. He would need all the fuel he could handle for this series of spells.

Jacqui handed over the brown paper bag to the Sage without comment; she was more interested in what she saw around her.

"This is disgusting; what are all these dead cows doing lying around?"

The Sage reached up and passed his hand quickly over the woman's bandanna-covered forehead; she blinked once and then remarked, "Now everything has gone white. What's up with this place, anyway?"

The Sage didn't respond. He didn't know what Jacqui's default screen looked like, and after her first comment, he wasn't sure he wanted to find out. Safer just to network her view in with his own and much more efficient, in terms of what he had in mind....

He'd get to all that later. First, it was lunch time. He sat down and hungrily dug into the small feast the woman had brought with her.

Jacqui, in the meantime, looked for something to amuse her; not finding anything too particularly amusing about the expanse of white nothingness, she instead focused her attentions on the Grim Reaper, who was still standing dutifully not far away, waiting for someone to die.

"Hi, how are you?" Jacqui asked sunnily, walking over to stand next to the dark specter. She received no response.

"My name's Jacqui...but I guess you knew that already, didn't you?" she continued. There was a slight shift in the fabric of the specter's black cowl, but other than that, nothing.

"So what do you do for fun around here?" Jacqui pressed on, unfazed by the unresponsiveness of her companion. "I bet with all of your powers, you could do just about anything you wanted, right?" she asked.

"Uh, Jacqui?" The Sage looked up from his half-eaten burger to try and interject himself into the conversation. The woman waved him off with an annoyed gesture.

"I bet..."


"...a guy like you..."


" things..."


Finally the woman stopped talking to the black wraith and turned haughtily towards the Sage.

"What do you want?" she asked, irate.

"Can I give you some advice?" the Sage asked.

"Ok, fine. Go for it," the woman replied, still displeased at the old man's interruption.

"Don't flirt with Death,"1 the Sage said, before returning to his meal.

Death's domain was a special part of the Omniverse that transcended all of the infinite number of universes it bordered on. While the universes were composed of matter and energy contained within the fabric of space-time, Death's domain was composed of non-matter and non-energy contained within a fabric of non-space-time. It permeated all of the rest of the Omniverse but never interacted with it, except through the use of Scotty's transporter/converter.

1 Besides being a play on a common expression, this is also a reference to a "Far Side" cartoon which also plays on it in a similar manner.
By far the strangest of all facts about this special place, however, was this: every point in Death's realm could be considered to be adjacent to every other point in the Omniverse. It was a strange concept to grasp, but it was true. It was the same as if you had a point on a piece of paper, and a point hovering a billionth of a micro-meter above that first point. The two points, from a three-dimensional point of view, were almost immeasurably close to one another. But from the two dimensional point of view of the point that existed in the plane of the paper, the other point didn't even exist; it was completely inaccessible. Such was the way with Death's domain, existing as it did in an infinite number of dimensions. Or at least, what was assumed was an infinite number. Death himself claimed to have counted a nice even quintillion before becoming bored and quitting.

Anyway, the Sage was here to take advantage of that little quirk of Death's realm that made it so quirky. After he finished his meal from McDonald's, he got to work.

Tracking someone through the fourth spatial dimension while existing in the first three was a project that took enormous strength and sapped the energy of the person attempting the trick. Tracking someone through the fourth spatial dimension while existing in an infinite number of dimensions was quite simple, really. Since everywhere was quite literally right here, you could track just about anybody anywhere with ease. There was, however, one slight problem. Since Death's realm consisted of non-space and the rest of the Omniverse consisted of space, one needed to spend much of one's tracking time in the process of converting information into non-information, and vice versa, in order receive data on the person you were tracking. That was where Scotty's transporter came in handy. Configured as it was to transport the souls of the recently departed into Death's realm, it necessarily had to also be a converter, converting the souls into non-souls.

The Sage had linked his mind with the transporter only once before; it was an experience that he really wouldn't be repeating, except for the necessity of the situation.

"Call Scotty. Tell him to begin linking procedures," the Sage said to Death, who obediently retrieved his communicator from his pocket and did as the Sage asked. "Come here, Jacqui," the Sage added as he shifted his old body into the lotus position. He needed to be perfectly relaxed for the link to be established.

"What do you want?" Jacqui asked, still peeved at the old man for ruining her fun.

"Put on that armor," the Sage said, motioning to the metal breastplate and limb protectors that he himself had shed earlier.

"That stuff is way too big for me," Jacqui protested. "Besides, I never wear armor that isn't built for a woman, if you know what I mean." The Sage pondered Jacqui's well proportioned female form before replying.

"Put it on. But leave the straps loose."

"No way, I already told you I refuse to flatten what's round to get into that stuff."

2 A slightly warped reference to the Princess Bride.
"Very well, I can fix that problem. Death, tear her breasts off."2

"Well, if you put it that way...."

It was several minutes before she was ready. By that time, the linking process had already begun.

It began as a slight tingling at the base of his skull. Soon, the tingle heightened until it felt like a host of needles; in seconds, it felt like nails. The pain was deliciously excruciating thirty seconds into the link. He could feel the machinery of the transporter throbbing now, as their two entities mixed. The struggle to maintain individuality soon melted as he realized the futility of it. His clumsy brain was invaded by the near perfection of machine logic and coding, but at the same time, his human quirks were flashing along the transporter's digital pathways.

The two became one with a sudden snap that instantly ended the pain and replaced it with quiet contentment. No one was truly all-powerful; not the Sage, not Blood Drops, not Wyrgna, not even Death. But at that moment, the Sage took a leap beyond all of the aforementioned people, into a realm of near godlike proportions.

He could feel the electrons pulsing through the silicon pathways of the machine half of him. The soft buzz they made when they traveled was the most soothing sound he had ever heard. He opened his human eyes, seeing for the first time, and felt totally at peace.

"Come here, Jacqui," he said slowly, forming the words with his tongue carefully, marvelling at how incredibly ludicrous a form of communication speech was. So much better to simply move thoughts from mind to mind. Alas, that was humanly impossible; only machines could perform such actions.

The woman clanked over to stand before the lotus-positioned Sage. She looked lost in the big warrior's armor. She had done as the Sage had requested and had left all the straps of the armor loose. As a result, the breastplate flapped as she moved, and the leggings and arm plates revolved freely around her limbs.

"Give me your hands," the Sage requested. Jacqui did so.

Closing his eyes once again, the Sage conjured up a picture of his alter-ego in his mind; it took him a billionth of a second. Murmuring the words to a spell, he focused his mental and spiritual and technological energies through his hands and into the woman standing in front of him. He heard her gasp with surprise as the transformation began.

When finally he opened his eyes again, the change was complete. Where before him had formerly stood a woman in ill-fitting armor, there now stood a man in well-fitting armor.

"AAAHH!" Darius cried as he pulled his hands away from the Sage's quickly. "I'm a man!" Darius ran his hands over the exposed areas of his anatomy, feeling for changes, pausing shortly when he reached the junction of his legs and found the biggest change of all.

"So you are. Fear not, I'll change you back when I'm done running that shmuck Blood Drops ragged chasing you through the Omniverse," the Sage said as Darius continued to touch himself in strange places.

"But I don't know how to do any magical travelling stuff. I don't know how to do any magic," Darius/Jacqui said, with ever-roaming hands, "I only agreed to be a part of this because you said you could change my eyes back to normal!"

"I'll handle all the magic, and I'll dictate to you exactly what to say as you go along. All you need to do is run around pretending to be me for a little while."

With that, the Sage spoke a single magic word and Darius disappeared.

Blood Drops was just finishing his second drink in the tavern when Wyrgna came rushing back in, out of breath.

"Blood Drops! Hey Blood Drops, come quick!" he shouted as he burst through the door. "That guy is back again, and he's looking for you!"

Blood Drops shook his head. He wondered again, for the seventy-fifth time that day, why Darius kept coming back for more. Slamming the empty mug down on the table, he rose and exited the tavern.

The illusion of the invading Vampire army had vanished directly after he had killed Darius in the Plaza. He could only assume that it had been his nemesis who had created it. For what purpose, he could not fathom.3

3 I put the invading Vampire army into the picture just to add a little spice to the story, but I intentionally did nothing with them. I hadn't thought about how they'd actually be used -- I just figured I'd throw them out and let Dave work with them. Apparently he chose not to; thus, the apparition of a Vampire army is an irrelevant and, outside of this note, unexplained oddity.
Pushing through the throngs of people again, Blood Drops followed Wyrgna back into the Plaza to where the mage had claimed to see the warrior Darius. It didn't take long to get to their destination.

Standing in the exact center of the Plaza, arms folded patiently over his chest, Darius stood unmolested by passing merchants. As Blood Drops watched, he saw that no one came within ten feet of the warrior, or seemed to notice their reluctance to do so. The Llagimyn knight saw one man, head down, push his way to the very edge of the circle, obviously intent on getting to some point on the other side. But, without seeming to think twice about it, instead of crossing through the space that was devoid of obstructions, he simply turned and followed a path along its circumference, pushing through the people as he went. Blood Drops was awed.

Whatever it was that kept the people of the Plaza out of the circle did not hinder Blood Drops and Wyrgna from entering. Soon enough, Blood Drops was once again staring down at his old nemesis.

The two warriors eyed each other quietly for a moment; Darius spoke first after a full minute of silence had passed.

"We meet again, Blood Drops," Darius said finally, uncrossing his arms. "But I prefer to meet alone. Goodbye, Wyrgna; have fun falling for the rest of eternity." With that, Darius raised his hand and pointed one finger at Wyrgna, who instantly disappeared. "Much better," Darius commented, after the deed was done.

"So," Blood Drops said after the disappearance of his friend, "it is down to you, and it is down to me."4

Darius nodded.

"So...what happens now?" Blood Drops asked haltingly, after another few moments of silence had passed.

"We face each other as God intended--sportsmanlike. No tricks, no weapons. Skill against skill alone,"5 Darius replied.

4 A Princess Bride reference.

5 Another Princess Bride reference, from a different part of the movie.

6 Yet a third Princess Bride reference, from still another part of the movie.

Blood Drops wrinkled his brow. He was obviously confused.

"Um...I don't quite see what you mean...6 I'm sorry to admit."

"It's actually quite easy to explain," Darius said abruptly, advancing towards the knight slowly as he spoke. "We shall have a contest to settle things once and for all. I grow tired of this incessant death and destruction; I want a true challenge." Darius reached into a pocket of the cloak he wore then and drew out two small objects.

"I hold in my hand two homing beacons," he said, rolling the two pins over in his hands, showing their two sides to the knight. One side bore a safety pin to affix the object to one's clothes; the other side was a perfect hemisphere of silver. "These beacons are each attuned to our two particular minds." Darius pinned one of the beacons onto Blood Drops' sleeve as he spoke and then did the same for himself with the other object.

"With these affixed to each other, we shall each be able to sense the other's presence whenever we are together on one particular planet, or, more faintly, together in one particular universe. Do you feel it, Blood Drops?"

The knight looked blankly at the silver thing pinned to his sleeve. It looked like an ordinary object, and he couldn't feel any magical emanations coming from it. He didn't understand how it could possibly work...except that when he concentrated, he could sense the presence of Darius directly in front of him. It was uncanny. It was unbelieveable. It was--

"We shall begin at once," Darius said, cutting off the knight's silent revelry. "I shall be the first to hunt; you shall be the hunted. You may go anywhere in the Omniverse that your magic will take you and anyplace that you can get by any other means. I will follow, tracking you as I go. When I find you, I shall smite you with the flat of my sword, like this." Darius drew his sword and smacked Blood Drops smartly across the face with the flat of the weapon. "Then it shall be your turn to hunt me. You may begin whenever you are ready. I will wait for ten seconds after your departure before I begin the hunt."

Blood Drops eyed the warrior silently, rubbing his aching jaw as he did so. Now this was a strange turn of events, he thought to himself. Strange, but not entirely unwelcome. Playing Omniverse tag had its advantages over simply killing each other over and over again.

"Very well, I accept your challenge," Blood Drops said, "Let the hunt begin!" he shouted, and instantly a void opened between the two men. When it closed again, the knight was gone.

In another instant, so was Darius.

The Sage watched patiently, opening up windows of viewing space in his mind's eye, projecting them against the backdrop of the white expanse of non-space in front of him. When he saw Blood Drops take the bait, he instantly pulled Darius/Jacqui back to Death's realm to wait. It was an easy task; he need only pull her a fraction of a micro-meter, and she was back with him. Push her again, and he could make her reappear anywhere else in the Omniverse he wished; such was the advantage of dwelling in Death's realm. While Blood Drops had to spend minutes traversing the physical distance between worlds and universes as he moved through the fourth spatial dimension, the Sage had merely to push and pull his subject mentally this way or that, and she could be anywhere in the Omniverse almost instantaneously.

The Sage waited and watched as Blood Drops scrambled through the fourth spatial dimension on his path towards another destination. The Sage could tell exactly where the knight was headed already. He did not send Darius/Jacqui to that destination just yet, however. He wished to toy with the knight first--make him think he was doing well. So he merely watched as Blood Drops made the first of many transits between universes. Watched and waited, smiling every once in a while at the absurdity of the knight's behavior.

Blood Drops had a plan, and his plan was simple. He was going to jump from place to place at random, as quickly as he could, until his strength gave out; then he would stop and rest, assured that the warrior could not follow his haphazard path through the Omniverse quickly enough to catch up with him before he could regain his strength.

He held faithful to that plan. Each jump through the fourth dimension brought him into some new and strange location. On one of his first jumps, he came out in the middle of a busy street during rush hour, and only another quick jump saved him from being run down by a speeding garbage truck. A few jumps down the line, he came out into a village street at night and nearly stepped on a sunken-eyed cat eating a fresh trout.7 He jumped again and again and again, faster and faster, until his strength failed him after what was the longest and most grueling jump of his life.

7 Dave mentioned that my bringing some of his short stories into the parody wasn't "fair" on the grounds that he didn't know any other stories of mine. So I showed him a couple of my early ones, and here's a reference to one.
He landed in a heap on a stone floor in a darkened tunnel. A few minutes passed before he could even find the strength to sit up. When he did, he realized that the tunnel he was in sloped sharply upwards; from somewhere farther up the tunnel came a dull reddish glow. After a few moments, Blood Drops found the strength to stand and made his way slowly up the tunnel.

He was surprised at what he saw. The tunnel suddenly ended at a precipice in a much larger cavity. Above him the darkness gathered in ominous silence, while below him he saw the source of the red glow; he was standing on a ledge over a river of lava that bubbled and boiled along the cavern floor a hundred feet below.

The knight was marvelling at the view when suddenly something caused him to prick up his ears. He whirled around to face back down the tunnel, his heart leaping into his throat. Someone was there. He had heard a noise.

Scrambling to the side, away from the mouth of the tunnel, Blood Drops was able to conceal himself behind an outcropping of rock that jutted out onto the small ledge. He crouched down and waited silently, his heart pounding hard and his hands sweating.

It couldn't be the warrior, he decided finally, because he couldn't sense anything. He remembered what the feeling had been like in the Plaza, and he couldn't feel anything now. It must be someon--

A small figure, standing about half the height of the Llagimyn knight, stepped out onto the ledge from the darkness of the tunnel. Blood Drops held his breath, lest he give himself away.

He had never seen such a creature before. It looked like a man but stood only half as tall. And unlike a human midget, the creature was proportioned properly for his size.

Blood Drops watched on in fascination as the scene played itself out before him. The small creature fingered a ring that it wore around its neck and spoke a few things that were too soft for the knight to hear. Then the creature took the ring and placed it on its finger.

Blood Drops wasn't exactly sure what happened next. He had to plug his ears to protect from the deafening bellow that the creature let out. It was shouting something, but what it was Blood Drops couldn't tell; he couldn't understand the language. The creature seemed triumphant, however, and ready to leave the area soon, much to the knight's relief.

Unfortunately, out of the darkness of the tunnel behind the first creature bounded a second creature, this one a cruel, twisted parody of the first. Hairless and bug-eyed, the creature bounded towards the other. The two tussled for a moment, and then there came a horrendous scream from the first creature; the ugly one had bitten off the finger on which the first creature wore his ring. The battle ended then, with the first creature slumping to the floor in pain, and the second one, much to Blood Drops' horror, losing his footing and plummeting off the edge of the ledge towards the boiling lava below.8

Blood Drops had decided he had seen enough. He had regained enough strength for one more jump; he didn't feel like staying in this universe another second. Concentrating fiercely, he opened up another portal and sprang into it, just before the earthquakes began.

8 A reference to Lord of the Rings.

9 Another reference to one of my short stories -- my first real short story, in fact.

He came out in the middle of a forest. About ten meters in front of him a group of men crowded around a hole in the ground. They had a pitcher of water that they were emptying into the hole.9 Blood Drops shook his head and hid behind a nearby tree, not wanting to attract the men's attention. He slumped down and tried to rest.

He was not to find any rest, however. Just as he was starting to relax, Darius appeared before him in a flash of light.

"You're much too easy to track," the big warrior said pleasantly. "I thought this would be challenging; you disappoint me, Blood Drops."

Blood Drops didn't answer. Instead he sprang to his feet and jumped to his left, into the void he had just created.

He re-emerged on a mountainside and shivered in the cold air of the high elevation. His body was weak from the continued stress he put it under with the powerful magics he was using. He fell to his knees, groaning as they hit the sharp rocks below.

"You surprise me with your strength," came the voice from behind him. "I didn't honestly think you had another jump in you."

Blood Drops gurgled in surprise and rolled over just in time to see the big warrior standing behind him start to swing the flat of his sword towards his face. He gurgled again and, with the absolute last of his strength, fell back into the ground through the portal he had just opened.

He arrived at his newest destination lying flat on his back, looking up at the stars from the top of a high-rise building. And Darius was standing directly over him.

The big warrior slapped him on the side of the head with his sword.

"I have to admit, you put up a good fight at the end. But you still didn't provide me with any sort of challenge," Darius said as he sheathed his sword.

"Well, you're it now," he said, before stepping backwards into the gaping hole in space that had just opened there.

Blood Drops lay panting on the rooftop, unable to even move. It would be many hours before he could begin the chase.

How did he do it? he thought angrily. How did he track me through so many jumps? And perhaps most disturbing of all, how did he get to this last destination before I did?!?

The knight lay there for many hours but could find no answer to his questions.

"You can get out of that armor now," the Sage said to Jacqui, whom he had just transformed back from Darius' shape. "You did your job admirably."

"Will you change my eyes back to normal now?" the woman asked eagerly.

"When I am done toying with this knight, I will see to your eyes," the Sage murmured. Jacqui looked sullen. She turned to leave but then realized she had no place to go. So instead she plunked her butt down next to the Sage.

"Give me that beacon, will you?" the Sage asked her abruptly. Jacqui dutifully unpinned the metal half sphere from her shirt and handed it over to the old man.

"Now the real fun begins," the Sage said. He pushed the beacon to the right a smidge, just enough to push it into the universe in which Blood Drops now lay on his rooftop. He hoped the knight would recover soon and take the bait. Then he could have his real fun, pushing and pulling the beacon in and out of the universes, always one step ahead of the sorry knight.

The Sage giggled like a schoolgirl as he waited for the real fun to begin.

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