Author's notes: This is a one-shot section from a larger, on-going project of mine. I will most likely not be posting more of this particular story on 'Charms because it's not even close to being refined/finished/etc. This segment however has always stood fine on its own - possibly because it's directly based on a dream that inspired the rest of the story. It was originally written well over three years ago. (I'm feeling frelling terrified sharing this, but posting it anyways. I hope you guys find some enjoyment in it.) Psychopomp Things had gone horribly wrong. What had started out as a calming retreat for the group of heroes had turned into an unforgettable nightmare. Far from civilization, up in the rolling green hillside, the unthinkable was unfolding. “It is done,” said a twisted feminine voice. Her laughter was utterly demented, laced with a sickening malice. Fresh blood dripped from her mouth, staining her outfit and the lush grass. Nobody had paid her any mind as she had fulfilled the dark ritual upon the stone altar. The thought that she of all people could be tempted by such power was inconceivable. “Kimiko! Are you there? What‘s going on?” A confused voice came from over the hillside. Katherine emerged from beyond only to stop dead in her tracks upon the crest. The horrific scene left her dumbfounded, her voice wavering. “Kimiko… What… What did you do?” The wind cease to blow as an eerie stillness befell the land. Even the smallest of nature’s children were silenced. Through the quiet it was easy to hear the approach of rushing foot steps crunching through the grass, Katherine’s mother and father rushing past her to separate the woman and child. “By the gods! Kimiko. The vessels! What have you done?” yelled the middle aged man. “Have you ever tasted the blood of infants? Very smooth going down,” Kimiko replied, her eyes gleaming with pleasure. “You… You killed them? Why, Kimiko? You were trusted. We were trusted to protect them! How could you do such a thing?” The man's composure began to crumble, tears streaming down his cheeks. His green eyes were ablaze with fury. “Take hold of the power the rest of you were too afraid to grasp? It was easy, Cedric," said Kimiko. "They called to me. Everyday, beckoning me closer until the conditions were perfect. The cries became agonizing. And now, I have the powers of a god.” “No. It’s not too late. Don’t do anything you’ll regret! Stop this madness before it consumes you!” pleaded Katherine‘s mother. The woman's typically soft and radiate golden eyes were now swollen from crying. Her cupped hands trembled against her chest, clutched so tightly that her fists were turning white. “No, Mary. It is far too late.” Kimiko sneered at her sister. “To think, I considered you both my idols. My role models. Now I see you for the pathetic weaklings you are. You two deserve each other. You can share the pain of your deaths when I tear you apart!” “Stop it!” Katherine cried, taking a defiant step forward and balling her fists. “Don’t you dare threaten my parents!” Kimiko eyed her with contempt. “Parents? These two were never good enough for you. Hiding behind their false truths. They should die for stifling your true potential.” “What’s that supposed to mean!” Katherine retorted. She looked to her parents for answers but their grave expressions only unnerved her further. Her mother mouthed pleas of forgiveness but did not speak, burying her eyes in her hands. Tears began to roll down the Katherine's cheeks, but she continued to stare at her father’s face with disbelief. “Yes… It makes sense, doesn’t it?" Kimiko smiled smugly. "The last missing piece of the puzzle. To think they kept it from you all this time.” “Shut your mouth!” Cedric yelled at Kimiko, quickly turning back to his daughter. “Katherine, don’t listen to her lies! You know we’re your parents no matter what!” “No matter the lies? Typical Cedric. How could I have ever followed you?” The dark haired woman roared and it was as if the sky itself submitted to her rage. It had rapidly darkened, the clouds twisting into unholy shapes; the booming of thunder echoing around them. Yet there was no lightning to be seen - just the howling of the sky. “I’ll make you pay! I’ll make you all pay! Every last one of you on this damned world will submit to my will or die!” It was then that a call came from beyond the hillside, “Hey, Cedric! What the heck’s going on over there?” The voice belonged to Allston, one of the many who was still down in the camp. Men, women, children… It made Kimiko laugh. “Isn’t this just fitting? Everyone together in one place. I’ll eradicate this lie once and for all. Soon not even ancient scriptures will speak of this filth of a civilization.” In the blink of an eye Cedric had unsheathed his golden hilted sword and dashed towards the alter. “I‘LL KILL YOU FIRST!” “Too late.” Kimiko smiled softly and snapped her fingers. As Cedric closed the distance, mere inches between him and the woman, the world shuddered and groaned; a bright, burning flash exploding outwards to envelop him whole. He didn’t even have the chance to scream. “Ced-!” was all Mary could utter before she too vanished within the light, leaving Katherine to stand alone on the blinding hillside. “Mom? Dad!” she cried, but was forced to shield her eyes. Suddenly an excruciating pain drove deep into her chest, a sickening wave causing the girl to lurch forward and vomit blood. Her mind couldn’t comprehend the sight of the bloodied arm sticking out of her body, yet she revolved her eyes to find its source. “Katherine,” Kimiko said, staring back at the girl solemnly before jerking her arm sharply to deliver the final blow. The pain was indescribable. Katherine could feel her mind going as her sight blurred, her legs buckling and losing their footing, but through it all she heard the woman add quietly, “That’s not where your heart is.” *** Katherine awoke with a groan. Her head was pounding but she no longer seemed to be in any other pain. Cautiously Katherine ran her hand over her chest and searched for any trace of the wound Kimiko had inflicted. Sure enough, the wound was gone. She took a deep breath and opened her eyes, blinking several times to adjust them to the unnaturally bright light. What she finally saw was beyond belief. Surrounding her were rows upon rows of televisions, stacked up one atop another so high that they seemed to reach to the heavens. The sky was gone, replaced by nothing more than an empty white space. It didn’t take Katherine long to realize that this wasn’t the real world anymore. Slowly the teen pushed herself to her feet, gazing disbelievingly at the televisions. Some of them were turned off, but the rest were nothing more than crackling gray, broken signals. There didn’t seem to be any sort of power source. They were just there. “What the heck is this…?” said Katherine. It was comforting to hear the sound of a voice, even if it were simply her own. She gazed down the long hallway of televisions, then glanced behind herself. A dead end. She had nowhere to go but forward. After the initial shock finally wore off the teen began a slow walk down the path, her senses perked for anything and anyone. But as she walked on she sensed nothing, not a soul good or evil. Finally she came to the end of the path and hesitated before rounding the corner, unsure just what she would find. At last she took a step, and what she saw made her heart drop. It was a large, open squared space surrounded by mountains of televisions like before. What’s more, the area was completely sealed off. She was trapped. “How is this possible? Did Kimiko do it?” She continued to walk around the open area and look for some sort of way out but, to her dismay, her original assumption was true. All that existed beyond the walls upon walls of televisions was a long table placed in the center of the clearing. Upon it sat several computer units, each with a different game displayed on the screen. The games were like nothing Katherine had ever seen before, but her instincts told her to stay away from them. She couldn’t explain it, but a nagging feeling in the back of her mind told her that if she started playing any of them it’d be the last thing she did. Instead she chose to ignore the computers and move on. “There must be some way out! If not on the ground, then…” She stopped dead in her tracks. She couldn’t believe it hadn’t occurred to her yet. Fly over the walls! Yes! That had to work, right? Closing her eyes, the girl concentrated hard on forming wings. It was a power she’d discovered ages before. The ability to transform her very being through visualizations in her mind; a unique ability held only by her. Her parents said she’d been blessed with these abilities because she was special. Chosen. Now she wondered just how much of what they’d told her was true. No. She couldn't allow her mind to think like that. Her parents were her parents, and their love wasn't a lie. It made her angry at herself for ever doubting them. In an instant two white, feathered wings materialized from Katherine's back. She gave a strong, downwards pump and shot upwards, flapping rapidly to rise quickly into the air. Higher and higher she went, a feeling of hope in her heart, until she noticed what was happening around her. The walls seemed to be alive. The higher she flew, the higher they too seemed to stretch upwards. She snarled in frustration, beating her wings harder and flying as fast as she could muster. But still the walls continued to rise. Finally Katherine halted in mid air and stared upwards at the rows of televisions. She was no closer to reaching the top now than when she'd started. It was futile. As Katherine's feet touched back down her wings vanished into nothingness. She glared at the nearest television and made a fist, punching the screen with all her strength. To her surprise she was sent reeling backwards upon impact by a powerful force. It felt like she'd punched herself and, worst of all, the TV appeared to be completely unscathed. It seemed as though there truly was no way out. Katherine fell to her knees and began pummeling the floor in rage, fresh tears streaming down her cheeks. Was this really it? Would she be trapped alone in this godforsaken dream until she starved to death? Or worse… until something came looking for her? A feeling a dread had been lingering in the back of her mind ever since she’d woken up. Something terrible had already happened to the others. Deep down something told her they were already dead. “Hehehe… Hahaha! This is fun!” an oddly familiar voice suddenly caught her ears. The childish laughter floated through the air towards her. “Is that Becky?” said Katherine, wiping her tears and jumping to her feet. She raced towards the voice, the laughter growing ever stronger. This laugh, Katherine was sure of it now. “Becky! BECKY!” she called. But when she rounded the corner, Katherine halted in horror. There was Becky, a child of no more than five, in front of one of the computers. She was wearing a rather large set of headphones and hadn’t seemed to have heard Katherine’s voice at all, completely absorbed in her game - if it could even be called a “game“. The child was not actually playing the computer game. She appeared to be holding a knife, stabbing it time after time around her hand; seeing how close she could get it without cutting herself. Again and again she did this, Katherine finding herself at a loss for words. The feeling of dread she’d felt before was overwhelming now, telling her that it was too late to save Becky. The child was already lost to death. She knew it was a cowards way out, but the teen couldn’t help herself. Without another word she whirled around and plugged her ears to block any further sound, running down the hallway as far as she could go. There she hid in the corner, eyes shut tightly and ears plugged. The scream. She couldn’t bear to hear the inevitable screaming when Becky finally missed. Just the thought of it made her want to throw up. Katherine wasn’t sure how long it had been when she finally opened her eyes and removed her fingers from her ears. Slowly she pushed herself off the ground and listened. Nothing. Not a laugh or cry. The space appeared to be empty again. Once more she made her way down the hallway towards the larger space, stopping at the bend and taking a few deep breaths to calm her nauseated feeling. She had to be prepared for what she was about to see. A voice suddenly came from behind. “Don’t worry, she’s gone.” Katherine’s eyes went wide. She spun around, a rush of emotion overwhelming her like a shock to the system. Cry? Curse? Scream? Run? Fight? Her mind was a jumble of thoughts. All she could do was stare at the figure before her and whisper, “Kimiko.” The elegant woman smiled mockingly. “So happy to see you too, Katherine.” “But what… how…” Katherine could barely speak. This seemed to amuse the demonic woman even more. “I created this world out of your imagination. Your own personal hell. Every one of the heroes received a similar treatment, though some more painfully than others.” “Then Mom… Dad?” “What does your heart tell you?” That was all the answer Katherine needed to confirm her suspicions. Silent tears began to roll down her cheeks once more, and for several minutes she couldn't speak. She could barely breathe. It felt as though a knife had been plunged deep into her chest, each breath twisting and driving the blade deeper. The pain was excruciating. “How could you? How could you do all of this, Kimiko? I-I respected you, above all else. M-Mom and Dad, everyone. They were your family!” Her words stuttered between sobs, but Katherine still glared furiously at the traitor. Kimiko was the person Katherine had always felt closest to, both as a mentor and a friend. There was no one in all the world she would have sacrificed more for. How could this twisted woman who stood before her now be the same person? “You’d never understand. Not now. You’re still too young. What I’ve done today will change the course of history. Someday, you will thank me for doing the one thing nobody else could.” “Thank you? THANK YOU?” Katherine roared. “How can you even say that? There’s not even a word for what you’ve done!” “Yes, there is,” said Kimiko. “Liberation.” Katherine couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She felt so jaded right now her head could explode. How could Kimiko say such things without a hint of regret? How could her best friend have turned into this? “Stop it! Just stop it! I can’t handle anymore of this… this…” The girl couldn’t hold back the tears. She was tired of crying, but it was unavoidable. Her body trembled. “Why haven’t you killed me yet? You’ve already take everything else from me... Just do it already.” Kimiko merely shook her head with a sigh. “Asking for death. You’re far too young to be making such decisions. A teenager like you should live carefree, not bound by a fate unjustly forced upon you.” “What are you talking about?” “You yourself must have felt it? The invisible barrier that existed between you and the others. These unique abilities only you were gifted with. Not even the high elders, let alone your parents, could dream of doing the sorts of things you can. You were never meant for this destiny. You‘re not even of this world.” Another part of Katherine's mind shattered. The deepest fears of her heart had again been confirmed. “But why has no one ever said anything like this to me before? How can you know this?” “I’ve always known. While it was your parents who raised you, I was the one who found you.” The words echoed inside Katherine’s head. It felt like the world was spinning. How could any of this be happening? All of it - the alternate dimension, what Kimiko had just uttered - all of this was ludicrous! And through it all Kimiko just stared blankly. The silence merely drove the teen even madder. “How can you just stand there like that, telling me all of this now after everything you’ve done?” “I never meant to hurt you, Katherine. That life wasn’t yours, nor was it mine. No one has the right to toy with another's destiny: not your parents, the high elders, or even the gods themselves. Just look at the pain they’ve put you through. I never wanted any of this for you. Now, I can right the wrongs I’ve made all these years.” “By destroying everything I care about?” Katherine retorted. “Fate. Destiny. I don’t care about any of that! Nothing you say can justify what you’ve done!” Whatever will had been holding her back finally fell away as Katherine rushed at Kimiko, thrusting her balled fist with all her might towards the woman’s face. Only inches away from impact Kimiko’s own hand shot up to block the blow, clutching down tightly around the teen’s fist. Katherine quickly threw another punch but the results were the same. She jerked back in attempt to break free, but it was useless. Kimiko was simply too powerful. “Dammit! Dammit all!” the teenager cried, struggling futilely and cursing her own weakness. Kimiko remained silent as she held on and watched the girl, finally stepping forward to wrap her arms around Katherine and pull her into a tight embrace. “Let go! Don‘t touch me!” the girl cried furiously, but no amount of struggling could help. “Just let me go…” No matter how much Katherine hated Kimiko now, how much she wanted for the woman to suffer, the warmth and comfort of Kimiko's embrace rocked her spirit. It was same embrace that had shielded the girl from harm all these years. Feeling it now was unbearable. “What’s done is done. There’s no longer any reason to fight.” Kimiko whispered softly, the way she always did when Katherine was hurting. “I can’t… Please… Stop doing this, Kimiko…” Katherine's voice was barely more than a whisper. She felt as if her body could crumble under its own weight. “I can make this all stop. All the hurt; the pain you feel now. I can take it away. You just have to let me.” “Never.” After all of this, how could she possibility believe a word the woman said? How could she want to believe it? “It was never meant to be this way, so let me help you… I love you, Katherine.” The words were like poison, coursing through every fiber of the girl's being and polluting what little was left. She’d never felt so completely lost and alone as she did now. Each second that ticked by made her want to die that much more. It was just too much. Her parents, family, and friends, all dead. Her entire world ripped apart forevermore. And the only thing left tying her to this existence was the one who’d destroyed it all. The person who, deep down in the depths of her soul, she still loved dearly. It was just too much. “I just want it all to end,” Katherine found herself saying. An overwhelming weariness had fallen over her. “Then let me end it,” Kimiko replied gently. “Let me grant you the peace you desire, then you can finally have the rest you deserve.” “How?” “By allowing me to show you the life you were meant to lead.” To start over. She didn’t want to start over. She wanted to cease to exist altogether. Was this truly the only option left? Kimiko released her embrace then and stepped away from Katherine, pointing across the room towards the computer units. “All you have to do is accept the game.” Katherine stared from the woman to the computers and back again. Defeat echoed through her blank expression. Slowly she turned and stared at the empty chair. Finally she heaved a sigh and began her long, daunting walk. Deep down she knew what this all meant. The computer meant death, her own spiritual suicide. And yet at this time when nothing seemed to hold value or worth anymore, that was exactly what she wanted. At last she stopped before the farthest computer and gazed gravely down at it. A pair of unused headphones sat by the keyboard, a blue screen displayed on the monitor. Katherine turned to look at Kimiko, who was now standing next to her. The woman simply nodded. Katherine sat down in the chair and hung her head, closing her eyes and waiting. For all that mattered, she was already dead inside. The dark-haired woman proceeded to pick up the headphones, placing them firmly over the Katherine’s ears. At first there was nothing, but then a most hauntingly beautiful tune began to play that chilled her to the core. She suddenly felt a jolt run through her body, her mind going blank. Her heart and breathing slowed. And so this was it. This was her death. But even as the world fell away, she felt a warm presence beside her and heaved one final, relaxed sigh.