Even Gods

"He's hunting me, Moha. I didn't tell you the truth earlier... I'm sorry. He... I'm his opposite, and he wants to... extinguish me... I'd thought that I could fight him off from my own ground, but the nightmares keep coming back. Since Innocent let the Skeleton King in the first time, I can't keep him out. And he gains more power every time - he's taking power from ME. He... he almost killed me, narrator. Some of those scars you saw are fresh. I had to run. He wants to turn Kooza into a nightmare world, and to be honest with you... I'm not strong enough to stop him. I withdrew all my creations from Kooza, so they're safe for now, but I can't go back now. You understand?"

-Mystere du le Kooza Guardians roleplay

It was late afternoon and the Trickster had shut Kooza down for repairs.

He was the only one around in the weakly lit tent, all his creations withdrawn into his warn for the conservation of space and concentration, and he sat on the edge of the stage trying to figure out what he could do to make sure that Kooza stayed bright and his.

The problem was... the problem was the Innocent. That damn little kid. He'd thought that it was going to be fine, a game, and how dark the kid's subconscious was had taken him by surprise. He'd thought that he'd banished the shadows neatly, but since then they kept creeping back under the edges of the world.

What did you do when your universe kept trying to turn into someone else's nightmare?

He twirled his wand between his fingers and readied it for a spell... and suddenly found, as he went to turn toward the tower, that someone else's fingers were holding it as well.

"Hello, Trickster," a voice purred in his ear. "Glad to see me again?"

"No," Trickster said wearily. "Go away. I thought I told you to stay out, Crooner."

"You did," the Crooner admitted, sitting down next to Trickster with his legs dangling over the edge and grinning - not that he had much of a choice, given what his face was. "You didn't back it up."

"Didn't I?" Trickster spat at the Crooner's skull-mask face. "I am the ruler of this world, and you are nothing but some fucked-up kid's idea of a Día de los Muertos doll.* I tell you to get out, you stay out."

"Mm-mm-mm." The Crooner threw his head back and laughed. "Is that really what you think I am? Look, Trickster. Watch." The mask shimmered, and in it a reflection appeared of the Trickster's own face. No, not a reflection - this Trickster was wearing his red-and-yellow outfit, not the real Trickster's current blue-and-orange one, and his face, instead of expressing shock and anger, was set in the smirk which Trickster saw in the mirror most days.

"I'm you," the Crooner said, and the lips of the Trickster in the reflection moved to the words. "You're not really you. You just think you are. This is my world, and I want it back. No, I demand it back. Now."

The spell broke at that. Trickster, who had been gaping in shock, jumped to his feet, pulling his wand out of the Crooner's grasp. "Over. My. Dead. Body. Kooza is mine and you are not going to turn it into some nightmare world of your own and most of all you are not me."

"Oh, but I am," said the Skeleton King, standing up.

He was as tall as the Trickster, but is headdress and round mask of a face made him appear bulkier. Trickster almost found himself backing away, but got a grip on himself. Of course he was master here in his own world. He wasn't going to let himself be intimidated by anyone on his own ground.

The Skeleton King started to circle him, walking around him in a slow orbit. Trickster recognized the action as the one he himself used to intimidate newcomers to his kingdom, and this made him immensely angry. No one was going to use his own intimidation tactics on him. But he had to keep turning to watch the Skeleton King. He wasn't going to let the thing get behind him. The effect was rather dizzying, and the fact that the mask was watching him with his own face didn't help matters any.

"You don't believe me, do you?" the Trickster in the reflection asked, his red lips smirking. "You think I'm just trying to intimidate you. But I'm telling you the truth. I am you. I am your dark subconscious. And you know, don't you, that darkness and death always win in the end. This is the end for you, Trickster. The bit about your dead body can be arranged, believe me."

Trickster gritted his teeth. "You dare to threaten me? Here? What do you think you are? Get out."

The skeleton King ignored this, continuing to circle. "You are so deliciously naive. You lock yourself in this little world with your bright colors and music and believe that you are invincible because it's your world. That's not how it works. Have I not said that I am a part of you? Once you invite, yes, invite darkness in, you can never get it out. I have taken power from you before, you know that I can do it, and yet you still believe that you would win if we fought it out, because this is your world?"

"Yes. I do. You are nothing that I cannot banish from here." The Trickster adjusted his grip on his wand. "Either you leave Kooza forever of your own accord, or I will force you out." His hands couldn't be shaking, could they? He willed them to stop.

The Skeleton King laughed again, the Trickster in the reflection throwing his head back and showing white teeth. It was Trickster's laugh, no doubt about that. "Would. You. Stop. That." Trickster hissed.

The reflection vanished, leaving high, round cheekbones covered in swirling purple and white markings, and a skeletal grin. The Skeleton King lunged.

He gave no warning whatsoever. Trickster was not expecting him to move so fast, and the thing caught him full in the chest. He went over backwards, catching himself on his elbows as the nightmares screamed back and his vision filled with the skeletal mask.

The Skeleton King was heavier than a skeleton should be, and he pinned Trickster to the ground effectively, his hips making solid contact with the Trickster's midriff as the gloved hands reached for his throat. Trickster managed to keep ahold of his wand, and yanked it up to aim at the mask. The Skeleton King was blown backwards off him as the wand went off in his face, and Trickster got to his fet, his heart beating hard. He held his wand in front of him protectively, backing away toward the bataclan, but the Skeleton King moved around to cut him off. Trickster threw his power at the thing again, but it dodged to one side and ducked under and in, grabbing Trickster's wrist and forcing the end of the wand down. "It ends here, Trickster."

Trickster hissed at him, having no better reply, and punched the thing in the jaw, or at least approximately in the jaw. Most of what this accomplished, unfortunately, was to hurt his hand. Hitting the mask was like punching wood.

The Skeleton King grabbed Trickster's other wrist in the same hand, yanking both of the man's hands behind his back and forcing him facefirst toward the floor. Trickster hit the ground hard, chin-first, an electric shock of pain shooting through his jaw, and lost his grip on the wand, which went flying somewhere unspecified. "Damn you," he hissed, his cheek scraping the floor as he turned his head to the side, toward the Skeleton King, who kneeled on him, holding him down. "Damn you, damn you, damn you."

"Thank you, but you don't need to wish it on me. I am already." The Skeleton King leaned forward to whisper into Trickster's ear. "You are a fool, Trickster. Defeat me now, hm?" He chuckled slightly. "Tell me, will you be able to keep from screaming? I will think more of you if you can."

He wrenched Trickster's arm back so far Trickster could swear he heard the joint pop, peeling his jacket off. Trickster's mind went blank. He writhed, trying to get the thing off his back, but had to stop to keep from breaking his own arm. His shirt was ripped off and thrown away, and the Skeleton's claws dug into his bare back.

Raging fire ripped through every artery, vein, and blood vessel in the Trickster's body. It felt as if his veins had steel hooks inside them, ripping hi apart from the inside out. His vision went blue. He could hear screaming, and couldn't tell whether it was coming from him or his ears were just generating it by themselves.

He managed to roll on his side, and the Skeleton King's grasp loosened on his back. He scrabbled away, gasping for breath, looking around desperately for his wand - idiot, idiot, I am an idiot - but the Skeleton King was faster than him, reached him and held him down again, and the pain flooded back again, drowning him in flames for the second time.

He couldn't breathe. He was going to die. His vision was fading to black, and the hooks were pulling his insides out. He was weakening too muc to fight, to think, to move. He jerked convulsively, his back arching, the scream definitely inside his head now - his lungs had no air to do it physically with. Oh gods, make it stop, make it stop, please gods...

"There are no gods for you or me, Trickster." The Skeleton King's voice sliced through his ead. Trickster managed to get one knee underneath himself, and pushed himself to the side, pulling again, pushing the Skeleton King away, and feling, oh gods, thank you, his wand under his right arm. His fingers closed around it as he rolled over onto his back and pulled himself out from under the Skeleton King, his vision clearing, gasping in huge lungfuls of air. The tower was closer - he dragged himself backwards toward it as the Skeleton King stood up, walking toward him. "I've won, Trickster. The more power I take from you, the more I have. The scales have tipped. This place is mine now."

"No," Trickster gasped, and hit the Skeleton King with a fireball in the chest. He stood up shakily, willing his legs not to collapse under him, and threw himself backwards into the tower. He flicked his wand in a circle at the walls, and the last thing he heard in Kooza before the tower shunted itself away into the Otherworld was the laugher - laughter which sounded like his - from outside. "You screamed, Trickster!"

At which point, the Trickster's body gave out on him completely and he collapsed on the floor of the bataclan, out cold.

He couldn't have been out for too long, he thought when he woke up again. For one thing, he still felt very close to dead, which he was pretty sure he was, and for another thing, he and the bataclan were still there. The nothingness of the Otherworld tended to eat things up if they stayed in it for too long.

He got up from the floor and went upstairs, holding his wand with one hand and the handrail of the stairs with the other. He didn't hurt anymore, at least - he just felt horribly weak. But he was alive, at least, and safe for now. He'd survive.

He sat down on one of the benches and conjured up a mirror, noting that it took some effort. Better survey the damage. He stood up again and inspected his back.

Black and white swirling scars covered his torso, extending down until they were concealed by his pants and up the tops of his arms. They were marbled, as if someone had dipped his back into a tray of black and white ink. He'd had a few of them before, from the brief times the Skeleton King had caught him off guard previously, but now there was none of his natural skin color visible for the swirling monochrome on his back.

The Skeleton King had been pulling his, Trickster's, magic, his power, his life blood, out through the man's back and into himself. He'd taken nearly all of it.

There was not, surprisingly, a lot of blood. He wiped what there was of the silvery stuff off with his tie, which had somehow managed to stay attached to his neck, and changed his clothes.

He needed to go somewhere. Just to stay for a little bit, until he recovered. He ran through the Cirque realms in his head, and settled on Mystere. It was big, and not too organized. Yes.

Losing magic was like losing blood. Moving the tower to Mystere made him dizzy and lightheaded, and he had to sit down again to avoid falling. From what it felt like blood-wise, he'd lost several gallons on the stuff.

Sleep. He needed to sleep. Sleep would help. He'd be find in the morning. At least he still had his wand - it would help heal him, and his creations were safe. He just needed rest. Just stay here for one night, and move forward in the morning.

The Trickster conjured up a bed with quite a bit of effort, and was asleep before he hit the mattress.

A/N: My stories, and especially fanfics, usually reflect my mood when writing them. I wrote this one while going through a bit of a tough spot, when I was emotionally unbalanced and depressed to the point of almost-but-not-quite cutting and/or suicide, but repressing it all to the point where it pretty much just came out in my writing and art. I apologize to all the characters I have tortured to make myself feel better. (In case you haven't noticed yet, I can be really sadistic to characters I'm fond of. Does this make me a sadist?)

BUT. Violence aside, I think that this story is actually quite interesting. The original reason I wrote it was because I was fascinated by some of Trickster's pre-Mystere backstory in one of the MdlK roleplays Zikka-chan and I were working on back then, and I felt like writing "The Real Reason Trickster Came to Mystere." I picture Moha finding him and the bataclan the next morning while Trickster's still asleep, and Trickster scrambling awake and trying to put himself back together and introduce himself to the realm of Mystere... XD

*Yes, Día de los Muertos is what the whole skeleton ensemble, and especially the Crooner, is modeled after. Google Images search 'dia de los muertos mask'. See the Crooner masks everywhere?

Just for the record. I do not actually subscribe to the 'Trickster-and-Crooner-are-separate-characters' theory. I believe that the Trickster has three costumes: the blue-and-orange striped suit, the red-and-yellow striped suit, and the skeleton outfit. The Crooner might be Innocent's nightmare vision of the Trickster, but he's not actually a character with a separate life. Howevvvver, he is a separate character in Zikka's and my roleplay, so I had to end up... compromising. Mmhmm.