Despair.

I can't remember when I heard this, but it's important. Or maybe it isn't, I don't know anymore. My brother told me that one has to pay dearly for immortality, that one has to die several times while one is still alive. It's such a bad joke that I never wanted to be immortal, but I ended up paying for it anyway.

Rage.

The worse joke is I can't remember if he really said that, or if it's just one more fake memory I made to console myself.

Hate.

If I try hard enough, I remember how he looked. Sometimes. I see him at his genuine wood desk, books neatly piled to the ceiling of that mahogany surface and crammed into every nook and cranny, his dark blue bangs in his face as the pen in his hand wrote down ideas and his eyes read antiques. Books, actual paper books, on a spaceship, in an era when all data was digitized! But no matter how often I reminded my brother that all the scribbling could be done more efficiently on a computer, he'd say, "An idea on paper is more likely to be found than an encyclopedia locked away on an inaccessible machine."

Despair.

Some ideas deserve to be forgotten. Or maybe they should never be forgotten? I can't say. The difference doesn't seem like much now.

Rage.

It's annoying. I can't think of my brother without that witch popping into my head too. It's because of the memory, I guess. She was there when he said that then, her tiny self comfortably ensconced in that big, battered recliner my brother kept in one corner of his office, a thick book in her lap and a smaller notebook at her side as that red ruby in the middle of her forehead glittered with every shift she made to find a more comfortable position. She wore reading glasses, her face something I can never forget, no matter how hard I try. It wasn't the beauty, though she was that, with her perfect cheekbones and nose, her strange, icy eyes and long golden hair. My brother's wife called her the most beautiful woman in the fleet, though her sister bid fair to outshine her. It wasn't the intelligence, either, though she was a complete prodigy, reaching power and authority when most people her age were still trying to learn how to get over hangovers. No, what makes it impossible to forget is what she cost me. It's her fault I lost everything.

Hate.

My wife was picked out for me, a Meria of the Levinias, well-connected, rich, with dozens of other wealthy relatives that traced back their family trees all the way before Mother Brain, just like we did, and I suppose she was perfectly suitable for someone like me. My brother married for love, though, the unrecognized bastard daughter of a noble family. Mother had been furious, but it didn't matter, then or now. My brother did as he wanted and defied anyone to stop him.

Despair.

I learned to love my wife, especially after she gave birth to my one perfect little pearl. It doesn't matter how much time passes, I will never forget a single thing about that moment. The first time I held that little mite, her eyes closed, her breath so gentle I feared her stillborn, her skin as pale as snow, her hair with no more color than ice, a tiny life so insubstantial, so utterly helpless. Something so innocent that had somehow come from me.

Rage.

My daughter enslaved me. More than wife, more than brother or father or mother, my daughter was the center of my life, the sun my world revolved around. We'd given her the most common name amongst the Levinia girls, but her nature, her spirit, was all her own, sweet, loving, and a strong streak of affectionate mischief, with none of the shadow that seemed to haunt my family or the cupidity of her mother's. She was my hope, my inspiration, the meaning to my life.

Hate.

It was hard for me to share her. From the time I first carried her, we were inseparable. She would stop crying the instant I picked her up. From the moment she learned to crawl, she would chase after me, her mouth spread wide in that adorable, toothless baby grin. The instant she learned to walk, she was firmly attached to my leg. Seeing others carry her, or kiss her, or show her any affection made me jealous, something I had to try very hard to suppress. But I tried, because I held first place in her little heart.

Despair.

That cold-hearted witch loved my daughter too. It always surprised me that such a frigid woman could have any warmth in her at all, though I only saw her warm to my brother, my daughter, my nephew, and her own little sister. She brought her little sister to play with my daughter and my brother's boy whenever she visited my brother, which was often; those two loved nothing more than a good debate or to bury their noses in moldy books.

Rage.

They were the same age, those three children, all of them born the year our homeworld died. It was strange how they ended up so close. My ladylike little girl, the witch's shy little sister, and my brother's boisterous little son...they didn't have anything in common at all. Who can say what attracts children to each other?

Hate.

I disliked the witch from the day I met her. Too beautiful, too smart, too cold. I wanted nothing to do with her, and told my brother so. But he had been impressed by how she'd managed to save so many people in one of the disasters of those early days; her coolheaded charisma made people turn to her despite her youth.

Despair.

Two scholars, two natural leaders, two born to rule. They should never have gotten along, but they did. I see now there was never anything romantic in it, which was why my sister-in-law never worried about it. They were two of a kind, working toward the same goal, the same vision. I wasn't a match for either of them. I just wasn't in their league.

Rage.

I loved my brother. Really I did. From birth, the pattern of our lives was set, when he came out into the world first, ten minutes before me. He was always there for me, always the first to take my side, always the first to raise his sword in my defense, always the first to avenge me against those who wronged me.

Hate.

He was always better than me. Even though I was better in mathematics, in engineering, he was the intellectual, the thinker, the fighter. I couldn't keep up with him, no matter how I tried, so I avoided competing with him. I guess I followed his lead, even when I didn't want to, because he was always right.

Despair.

Then he failed me.

Rage.

On that fatal day, he failed me.

Hate.

The attack came. The witch betrayed him. Her giant minion attacked with hordes of monsters at an important event. The goal had been my brother's death. The beasts were out of control, no one was prepared. Hundreds of thousands of innocents died. My brother's wife died. My wife died.

Despair.

My daughter died.

Rage.

My perfect little pearl. My sweet, innocent, happy child. The joy of my life. The sun my world revolved around. The meaning to my existence. Dead.

Hate.

Dead.

Despair.

DEAD.

Rage.

My brother's counterstroke killed the giant's wife and razed their capital, but the witch and the giant survived. He failed. My wife. My daughter. Neither protected nor avenged. He failed.

Hate.

Ifailed.

Despair.

Why couldn't it have been me?

Rage.

Why couldn't it have been me?

Hate.

WHY COULDN'T IT HAVE BEEN YOUR SON INSTEAD OF MY DAUGHTER?

Despair.

They came for me, one day, when the maelstrom of emotions was at its strongest, my will at its lowest. I couldn't move from the bed. My screaming had left me too weak to do more than wait for death.

Rage.

They wore tattered brown robes that seemed fit for a medieval play, the hoods pulled up as heavy gas masks concealed their faces and their eyes. They told me they were priests from a new religion, one of the many that had been formed after the escape from Palm. They told me that the name of their god was Falz, and that He was great beyond imagining. I could sense something about them that made my skin crawl; it never occurred to me ask how they had gotten onto the floating city.

Hate.

Their words caught me. They offered me revenge on all those who had wronged me. They offered me revenge for my lost daughter. All I had to do was swear allegiance to their god, and He would give me my heart's darkest wish. It was too much.

Despair.

I swore.

Rage.

Needles dug into my soul. Pincers ripped at my mind. Lava washed across my senses. Wicked knives slashed at my spirit. Virulence gorged itself on my heart.

Hate.

I became the slave of Dark Force.

Despair.

I remember now my brother was overjoyed when I got up again. He hugged me and swore to avenge our loved ones. Strange that I only remember that now.

Rage.

I became the greatest enemy of my brother and the witch. Everything they did to end the war failed. I created their godhoods, I manipulated their followers into that religious frenzy of hate, everything that came about was shaped by myhands. They were my puppets, my master their master as well. Slowly, as melancholy possessed the souls of the people, Dark Force gained more servants. Soon, it would all end. The world that lacked my daughter would end.

Hate.

But I failed. The witch thwarted me, suborned my brother. We fought. Even with the blackest magic at my control, my brother was too much for me. Even without the witch's sorcery helping him, he would have beaten me. As I waited for death at my brother's hands, that black sword I had found and given him in happier days at my throat, he hesitated. He turned away.

Despair.

Even though I was his enemy, I was his brother first.

Rage.

They sealed me in that war-blighted world, the place where almost all of the worshippers of Dark Force had gathered. The witch's power was greater than mine, her spells immensely more skillful. Her prodigy had extended even to her magic.

Hate.

I sensed it when Dark Force was sealed away. I felt the black sword pierce the demon, bind him, throw him somewhere no one could ever reach. His power flowed into me, into every crevice and cavity of my soul. Every day, that evil energy grew greater within me.

Despair.

My mind shattered as the death of my brother battered my unprepared soul.

Rage.

I felt his demise. I felt every part of it.

Hate.

I lingered. Within decades, all of my original minions had died, their roles assumed by their children and grandchildren. I had not aged a day. My master needed me alive, so his dark power did exactly that.

Despair.

Time blurred. One day became much like another, over in the blink of an eye. My direct servants grew in power as I ignored them. When one or another of them tried to depose me, I would unleash my might. It only took them a century to learn they could never overthrow me. So they worshipped the Undying King as much as they worshipped the evil god Falz, and focused their energies on oppressing each other.

Rage.

I devoted my energies to trying to break through the witch's barriers, but her magic was too strong, too intricate. Brute force was of no avail. I filled book after book with my research, appalled at each failure that kept me from my revenge.

Hate.

It took four centuries for me to learn the truth. Even after so long, there were those who rebelled against Falz. They swore fealty to me, but not to Dark Force. One of the dark priests went out and turned two rebel forces against each other. He did it by tricking one of the rebel leaders into attacking the other, convinced his counterpart was a servant of Falz and he was being lulled into an alliance that meant the deaths of all he held dear.

Despair.

I had been tricked.

Rage.

The witch had been his tool.

Hate.

Dark Force had killed my family.

Despair.

I had given my soul to the same devil that killed my family.

Rage.

I sat on my throne. I have left it rarely since. When one of Dark Force's servants would enter to rebuke me, I would drain his power and destroy the husk left behind so it could not be revived. They too learned they were no match for me.

Hate.

Time meant nothing. The priests schemed in my place. Their power would never approach mine, but they could say they acted in my name. As I rarely spoke, it was perfect for them. Every day, more of Dark Force's power entered my body, but it didn't matter. I had only one wish: to kill the evil god.

Despair.

I can't, of course. He owns my soul. I can't do anything.

Rage.

So I left him there. Left him to rot where my brother and the witch had sealed him. It meant I could never die, but it also meant he could never succeed. It was adequate.

Hate.

Centuries passed. The priests figured out how to slip through the witch's barriers. It would take them time to break through completely, but they could now sow the seeds of doom for the survivors of the war. My servants begged me to command them. I told them they could do as they liked. I didn't care. No one could unseal their evil god, so they could do as they wished. I dreamed for a time.

Despair.

Then I felt them.

Rage.

Two minds that seemed to spring from nowhere, with so much raw magical power at their disposal that even I stirred. I felt them on the other side of the ship.

Hate.

I felt Dark Force, sealed though he was, reach out his hand and attempt to consume them.

Despair.

I didn't let him.

Rage.

I stood in his way, every time. One of the minds learned very quickly to block him. The other was more vulnerable to Dark Force's touch and took far longer to learn how to keep the beast out. But it didn't matter. Every time he came close to devouring that mind, I stopped him.

Hate.

I had spent too many centuries absorbing Dark Force's power. The demon was too weak to face me. If he were unsealed, he could control me. But as he was now, it was like an infant fighting a wolf.

Despair.

Eventually, that mind learned how to keep the evil god away and no longer appeared. I went back to sleep. I did not think I would stir again.

Rage.

Then that young female voice had screamed out the word "uncle."

Hate.

I stirred a little. I hadn't heard that word in centuries. It was bothersome. I didn't care what was going on, but couldn't they do it elsewhere? But then she screamed out something else. She said, "He belongs to us! He's our family! He's ours!"

Despair.

I couldn't help it. I opened my eyes. It took a while for them to focus. Slowly, what seemed like random colors became lines, shapes, figures, people. Then she turned toward me. The gold hair, the strange blue eyes, the glittering red ruby, they were all familiar. But the face was not. The face...

Rage.

The face could have been my own daughter.

Hate.

A genetic accident. A bad joke paid by centuries of genes mingling and matching. But the face could have belonged to my daughter. It took me a little longer to recognize her.

...

She was the young mind I had thwarted Dark Force from taking for so long. She descended from my brother's son. She had no reason to claim me as kin, but she did it anyway. I don't know how, but she knew. She knew I had been the one to keep Dark Force away from her.

...

Her eyes hurt me. I didn't do anything to deserve what was in those eyes. I don't deserve to be loved. I don't deserve family. I deserve to die.

...

I looked away. I saw a young man about her age, the color of his hair and eyes obvious proof they were related. A young woman with lime-green hair was standing behind him, afraid. Perhaps descended from the witch's giant minion?

...

Mieu and Wren. My nephew's nanny, my brother's bodyguard. Mieu's antics had always amused me. My daughter had liked the android too. They had survived the centuries?

...

I looked upon my throne room for the first time in decades. Much the same. Mostly undecorated. My eyes stopped on a statue I had had made when I discovered the truth. My brother and the witch engaged in battle as allies. Somehow, it didn't hurt to see them this time. Was that why she was here? My brother's sword?

...

I realized I didn't know her name. She told me. I liked it. It was a nice name. I asked her if she was looking for my brother's sword and she told me she was. I stared at her. Should I tell her where it is? But if they recover the sword, the demon will be freed.

...

The youth joined her. Her brother. They were twins, companions since the womb. I marveled at that even as I felt their powerful bond. It reminded me of the empty place inside me. What would my brother have made of these two? Something about them made me think he'd have been pleased with them. Pleased enough to tell them where to secure his legacy. If anyone had the duty to finish what was begun, it was them.

...

I told them where it was. A little bit of selfishness made me tell her never to come back. If she did, I knew I'd have to fight her. Dark Force would be freed once they recovered the black sword. For the first time in over a thousand years, I had no wish to harm someone.

Rage.

I don't know why I told her where it was. My brother would have wanted them to have it, true. He would also have wanted them to finish his work, kill Dark Force. I wanted that too, even if it's just a fantasy. What chance do they have when even my brother and the witch were no match for the demon?

Hate.

It happened as I expected. Dark Force was freed. My defiance was at an end. The demon was still weak from centuries of imprisonment, but that didn't matter. He had his strings in me. I could no more resist than any other puppet. The beast would make use of my accumulated power. I was just a battery for him to drain at his leisure.

Despair.

I was a slave. I should know my place. Why did I tell her where it was?

Rage.

It was useless.

Hate.

Soon, all of them will be dead.

Despair.

Dark Force has won.

Rage.

All is lost.

Hate.

"Uncle!"

...

She came back.

...

Even though I told her not to return, even though the demon will force me to fight her...

...

I'm happy she's here.