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The golden sword slid through the mist flesh of the creature nearest to Mao Lu as easily as a knife through butter. As its arm fell off and vanished, the Creature paused, and all the other nearby approaching Creatures also stopped in their tracks. 

The Creature stared at its now bleeding stump and watched as pink bubbling fluid fell from its wound, with a puzzled expression. It looked at its wound and then to the Golden sword and then back again. To an almost comical effect, a slow realisation came to the Creature as it finally understood that it had been injured. 

It’s smouldering red eyes looked into Mao Lu’s the same way a bad puppy that had never been punished before would look at its owner. Mao Lu smirked when he saw its expression. Seeing his smile the Creature immediately turned hostile again and pounced at Mao Lu, this set off a chain reaction and all the Creatures began galloping towards him at the same time. 

Mao Lu didn’t hesitate and jumped into the air, his sword hacked away at the Creatures around him. The moment his golden sword seemed to strike their core they imploded and vanished. Their smoke textured skin becoming translucent and pixelated like a glitching computer programme before they disappeared entirely.

The more he killed the more that would appear, it was as if they were doubling like the heads of a hydra, once one was cut down another two would appear. Mao Lu switched to his Soul weapon, Reality Control. He brought out the huge Time Essence, and with a swish of its tail, many of the hundreds of approaching Creatures were thrown to the side. As the flew backwards Mao Lu climbed on Reality Control’s back. He rode on it and slashed at the Creatures tirelessly. 

He took out his bow and arrows and shot at the creatures, restricting their movements before he slashed them to death. He hacked at them and hacked at them like weeds, and as he controlled the tempo of time their movements became so ridiculously slow, that he began to feel like he was really whacking weeds. It reminded Mao Lu of this one job he’d had when he had a gig as a Gardener. He’d been cleaning at this Golf club, and one time the Gardening team was short one member so he’d volunteered to help them out for some overtime pay. Long story short, he had spent several hours bent at the knees, plucking out overgrown shrubs and chopping up weeds. 

Mao Lu was surprised by his own train of thought, here he was, surrounded by an insurmountable amount of bloodthirsty monsters, destroying them, and all he could think about was a past gardening job like some nostalgic old man. 

“I have gotten far too used to all this craziness,” he mumbled as he used the air essences and threw the golden sword. It turned into a streak of light as it moved at high speed and weaved through the monsters, zig-zagging and cutting through them casually. It was like he was playing a video game, and as each Creature imploded and vanished Mao Lu felt like he was reaching a new high score. He smiled in slight childish excitement. He suddenly understood Chàng Bo’s fever for combat. When it was this easy it was almost fun, it was almost artistic. When Mao Lu jumped off Reality Control and plucked the golden sword from the air, he was like a performer on a grand stage. He struck and it was as if he was dancing, his movements were fluid, formidable and deadly. 

But, most of all, it was fun. It was entertaining. Mao Lu had never enjoyed combat before, he wasn’t fond of fighting or conflict, but when it became as artistic and easy as this, he could understand the addiction. 

As he unfroze time and watched as hundreds of the Creatures he’d cut down at once imploded and vanished. He couldn’t help but become aware of how he was changing yet again. He couldn’t stop these changes, it was far too late for that. He could only hope that the person he became at the end of all of this was a person he liked, a person of mercy, a person of justice, a powerful person. 

…..

[GRAND HALL] 

Zither sipped from a diamond wine glass, the wine she drank was blue and when she exhaled after it slid down her throat, white ice particles sparkled in her breath. She smiled at Argenti that was staring at her hatefully and gave an even wider grin to the Gatekeepers who were sitting in the hall that all had grim and fearful expressions. 

“Did I touch a nerve?” She asked in an innocent tone, faking ignorance. She tauntingly glanced at Argenti, “It’s a plausible theory, perhaps it is time for us to be replaced, we are but brush strokes in this big picture, something like this happening is simply inevitable.”

She drank from her wine again and smiled, “Come on, tell me I’m wrong!”

Obsidian opened his mouth but closed it again when Argenti shot him a warning glance. 

“You’re being quite bold right now Zither, are you not worried about the consequences for saying such things?” Argenti asked, her words had a slight hiss at the end of them and rang out to everyone like metallic nails scraping against a chalkboard. 

“I’m aware that Gatekeepers who bring up such matters die an untimely death, but that is only when the Gates are there to listen to our words. All our Gates have gone elsewhere, who knows what they’re doing or where they are. You can’t be punished when the punisher isn’t here.”

“You may be bold now Zither but when the Gates come back you will be punished for your statements.” Argenti hissed. 

Zither shrugged, “I probably will be, but that assumes that we won’t all be killed soon.” She smirked, “There are an unknown amount of those creatures out there and the material that makes these walls are billions of years old. I wonder how long these Monsters will be held back.”

“No need to be negative, there is nothing that we can’t control in the 400 realms. These Creatures may seem undefeatable now but I’m sure there is a way to get rid of them” Dragon shouted out arrogantly. 

Zither raised a perfect eyebrow, “Oh, do you have any ideas or are those just empty words.”

Dragon’s forked tongue flicked out and his oval eyes twitched in their sockets, “I… I just think this is a test, I don’t think the Creator is getting rid of us. We’re the only defence against the Outsiders. Training new and better Gatekeepers will take a long time. Why would One do this? I’m sure there is a bigger idea behind all of this, a bigger picture that we all just can’t see.” he said this with a puffed-out chest. “This is a test where only the best of us can make it, their just narrowing us down to the cream of the crop, I’m certain that there is a way to defeat these monsters.”

Many other Gatekeepers who’d appeared downcast now perked up slightly at Dragon’s words. But Zither only smirked in disdain. 

“Do you see how throne number three is missing its Gatekeeper. Maxus isn’t here with us, are you saying that he didn’t qualify to be the Cream of the Crop? Can any of you claim to be as powerful as the top five seats, if one of them can’t fight this and can’t find a way to defeat our rogue Gates or these raving monsters than I doubt the rest of us have a chance.” Zither pointed at the empty throne. 

“Why are you being so negative Zither, your theories and points are useless. If you have nothing constructive to say then don’t say anything!” Bulbus yelled, it’s glass head that wasn’t dissimilar to a lightbulb, flickered in frustration.  

“Points are never useless, there are only useless people that can’t see the point.” Zither tutted back, “All I’m saying is that we’re toys. We’ve all been at the Wielding stage before, we have all made our own worlds. Creators tend to forget about their creations and shape their creations fate according to their own whims. We all know this because we have created life. We’re the arrogant ones to think that we’re important enough to be tested. Who knows if the 400 realms even matter to those people anymore. I just think foolish optimism is dumb at this point we should be thoughtful and realistic.”

“So you just want to quietly wait for death?” Dragon shouted in anger

Zither tutted, “If they can be defeated then, by all means, let’s preserve our lives. But if not, I see no reason to be in a frenzy before my demise. Panicking is for sheep.”

Zither smiled pleasantly and continued to drink her blue wine. 

[IN THE CORRIDORS] 

Mao Lu was battling the Creatures as he made his way toward the Grand Hall. As he walked he found moulted rotting corpses that had melted flesh clinging to the bones. All of these corpses were dressed in Gatekeeper robes. 

They must have been attacked. It was truly maddening that these Gatekeepers who were much older and experienced than Mao Lu were slaughtered like this. Even though Mao Lu was pretty advanced he was still only at the wielding stage. He’d only gotten lucky because he’d had the Golden sword. If he hadn’t had it he was certain he would have ended up just like them. 

Mao Lu tucked away his arrogance and began fighting these monsters more cautiously, one couldn’t be too careful. Arrogant people got recklessly killed. 

It was at this point that Mao Lu turned a corner, only to see thousands of the monsters crowded around the large doors of the Grand Hall. There were so many of them hanging on the gigantic doors that they looked like a long carpet of black moss. 

The moment Mao Lu noticed them, thousands of red smouldering eyes opened and swivelled towards Mao Lu. Immediately he used Reality Control to slow time and change the shapes around him. 

From the Creatures perspectives, Mao Lu had appeared in front of them and in the next, he had disappeared. Then hundreds of flame spears shot around them and formed a cage around them.

Some Creatures simply blinked and they found themselves floating in space enjoying the zero gravity, they snarled angrily and began swimming back to the fortress. Those that were in the cages weren’t so lucky. Their cores were swiped by Mao Lu and in mere seconds their time was quite literally cut short. 

Mao Lu breathed in relief as he saw the now empty space around him. He took one step towards the large doors of the Grand Hall, about to make an amazing entrance. But soon he heard growls around him. 

These Mist Creatures were like vermin, they really were like Hydra, once cut down several more would appear in their place. Now there were millions all around him. And several more were joining them from the connecting corridors. They were climbing on the ceilings and walls and blacked out the light and left only a dim grey. 

Mao Lu sighed, if he opened the doors he risked letting them inside and risked harming the other Gatekeepers. But Mao Lu was seriously beginning to feel tired. He wasn’t used to all this power, but the power came at a cost. Every time he slowed time, or changed the shape of reality he became much more exhausted. His movements were so much more sluggish than before. And the sheer number of these creatures gave him a headache, but he knew that resting was no option. 

He put on a fighting stance and taunted some of the creatures with his eyes. Just as he was about to start his killing spree… he felt a peculiar sensation.

It made his stomach turn, and all the blood suddenly rushed to his head, making him light-headed. 

What’s going on?! 

Many of the Creatures around him stopped growling, their smouldering red eyes turned a dull pink and they sat on their hind legs. 

Mao Lu was confused as he saw this and when he tried to use Reality Control nothing worked. It was as if all his powers had been stripped from him all at once.

It was then that Mao Lu saw a figure appear. It was as if the darkness had birthed this person, they were created from the shadows like a jigsaw, piece by piece. Mao Lu could only watch in grim fascination as he saw them form before his eyes. 

“So what makes you so special to be able to cut down my pets, hmmm?” A peculiar droning voice asked in irritation.

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Alexia Barrett

Journalism student at Cardiff University. Aspiring Broadcast Journalist, Foreign Correspondent, and Novelist.

November 2019
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