“WHAT DO YOU MEAN ‘NOPE!’”
Kevin’s heart leapt. He spun, searching for the source of the shout. None of his neighbors were out on the patio, nor was there any sign of a cat, dog, or bird. Nothing alive was outside, only the little Crystal, which no longer held its warming glow.
“Who basks in the radiance of one as majestic as I and responds with the most pedestrian and vulgar of replies ‘Nope’”
Kevin stared in fascination. The Crystal didn’t speak, at least, not with sounds. Instead, it brightened and dimmed with a series of flashes. With each flash, Kevin could make out a vivid word as if being shouted at directly to his face. It was similar to morse code, only he could understand it as clear as English. He could even make out when the Crystal annunciated vows or laid heavy on an accent, allowing him to imagine it speaking in the tone of a self-important princess.
“The audacity, the sacrilege. If I—”
The Crystal went dark, silencing its ranting flashes. Without its golden light, the Crystal had a dull, orange coloring to it, practically black. Kevin’s earlier attraction to it faded. Not only did the Crystal use its light to communicate with him, but it seemed to be able to alter his emotions—making him calm when he should be worried and awestruck when he should be suspicious.
It flickered three times as if clearing its voice, then began to glow in soft steady beats. “Yay, look upon me and know me, Child of Adam, for I am the Divine Lady. Goddess of Diamound.”
The Crystal emitted out glorifying rays, casting the entire patio in its divine light.
Kevin slammed the apartment door on it.
“What is the matter with you?” The Crystal blared through the curtains, “Is this the way thy parents taught thee to show hospitality when a heavenly host comes to thy door?”
Kevin rolled his eyes. Eventually one of his neighbors would take notice of the overbearing light show and report him to the landlord. With a sigh, he pushed his door open, and stared down at The Crystal.
“Look, Goddess…” Kevin replied, “I had a pretty terrible day. I lost my job, I’m probably going to get arrested for assault, and I ripped my phone cord. Whatever it is you have to say, I’m simply not interested.”
“Not interested?” The Crystal asked, “Not interested in the words of a Benevolent Goddess, descended from on high?”
“I was raised evangelical… so I either believe in one God or none-at-all. If you wanna pitch your hokey religion, you might have better shot with my neighbors three doors down. They’re into all that New Age stuff.”
“I’m not here to make converts!” She exclaimed with a sheen of indignation. “I came for you, Kevin Ventura. I have chosen you to become my—”
“Do not interrupt me!” She proclaimed.
“I already know what you’re going to say. And my answer’s no.”
The Crystal let out a flash of laughter, “You, know the will of a goddess? How can one with as feeble a mind as you possibly—”
“You are the goddess of some parallel world to our own, probably one with knights, sorcerer, and terrifying monsters. You’re here because that world is under threat from some evil force, like a Demon King, and you need me to come to your world to defeat him. If I misunderstood your ‘will’ in anyway, please, go ahead and correct me.”
The Crystal blackened in silence.
“Won’t lie, it’s almost tempting,” He said, “Adventure through an unknown world, becoming overpowered with magic, and learning to wield a sword against all kinds of evil forces. But what people who wish for that kind of thing to happen to them don’t realize just how much work goes into living there. Food isn’t readily accessible, no microwave or hot pockets on call. You have to spend years studying how to use magic—so yeah, more school. And on top of it all, nearly everyone wants to kill you because, God forbid, the evil dark forces don’t like that you came there to stop them.”
“And after all that, what do you get out of it? Nothing! You get shunted back to this world, all that wealth you learned left behind, all the hours studying magic useless as it won’t work on this side. You leave with a good deed to your name nobody you know would believe happened and good old fashion character building.”
He grabbed hold on the knob on his door, “Thanks, but if I wanted to pursue a career with no real payout, I might as well work in Fast Food.”
“Wait!” The Crystal flared in panic, stunning Kevin midway through shutting his door.
“Please,” she said. She no longer gave off the tone of an aristocratic lady, but a scared child. “Five minutes. Five Minutes is all that I ask. If my words are still unable to reach you by then, then you may take your leave of me.”
Kevin frowned. He felt pity for the Crystal that contradicted his thoughts on the matter. And yet, he couldn’t help being curious. How often did one have the chance to talk to a being from another world—or have living proof in front of you that other worlds existed!
I’m going to regret this…
The Crystal held a timid glow, giving an impression of a little child eagerly giving puppy dog eyes to her parents.
He stepped out, closed the door behind him, and knelt in front of the Crystal, slightly embarrassed of what the neighbors might think if they saw him like this.
“Five minutes, Go.”
“Very well,” The Crystal said, her pompous sheen returning, “For you see, long ago—”
“No, you only have four minutes and fifty seconds left. Cut the mysticism and get to the point.”
“Fine,” She continued, “My world, Diamound, is under threat. Over a thousand years ago, the Dark Lord—”
“How exactly do you expect me to expound upon my world’s plight within a short timeframe when you insist on interrupting my every other word?”
“So, you need me to come and kill this Dark Lord, right? Awesome. I want the my ultimate sword upfront, and oh my love interest better dress in something skimpy.
“No to the sword or the skimpy outfit? Neither are negotiable.”
“No as in I’m not calling upon you to vanquish the Dark Lord. He’s already been sealed.”
Kevin stared, “…Come again?”
“You are not the First Hero I’ve called to my world in her hour of need. In actuality, you are the Fifth. Your four predecessors have already arrived and defeated the Dark Lord at my behest.”
“So… someone else already killed this Dark Lord?”
“As killed as he can be, I’m afraid. Like myself, the Dark Lord is a being of spirit, and so he cannot truly perish. His powers though have been stripped, his influence over my people’s minds has been severed, and his consciousness has been sealed within the world’s heart—trapped for all eternity.”
“Then why are you here? If your other heroes have already beaten the guy, what do you even need me for?”
“I need you,” She began, “to act as my champion against the Four Heroes.”
“For you see. In order to seal away the Dark Lord, I had to bequeath—”
“Don’t say bequeath”
“—a fraction of my power upon the Four Heroes. Each hero was bestowed onto them an authority over one of the Divine Pillars: Power, Creation, Dimensions, and Time. As you suggested prior, they embarked on a journey, learning to master their authorities, and when the time came used them to overpower the Dark Lord and restore peace to Diamound after a hundred years of strife.”
“Clearly not for long.” Kevin said.
“Alas…” she said, “Once the Dark Lord was defeated, the Four Heroes were supposed to return to this world, where upon I called them. But when the deed was done, they refused, and instead retained full power and authority over my Pillars and used them to conquer my world.
“They treat my world as their personal playground. They topple mountains, cause avalanches that trample over towns, for fun! They birth horrifying monsters and unleash them upon the world, ravaging the delicate ecosystem I painstakingly put into place. And worst of all, they manipulate my people’s minds, invoking them to battle one another in their twisted war games. Thousands are sent to their deaths daily, all to satiate their sick, twisted desires.”
Kevin had an image of a group of teenagers flying above the skies, throwing meteors down at villages, making loud, nasally laughs, and shouting at the scrambling villagers to “get good!”
His fist tightened at the thought.
“If they’re causing this much trouble,” Kevin asked, “Then why not just evict them. You’re the goddess aren’t you? You summoned them there, surely you can kick their butts to the curb as well.”
“Only when I held authority over the Pillars could I do that,” She said, “Its by the Pillars power they are allowed to remain in my world. I bound each one’s spirit to it when I brought them here. But now that they hold the authority over the Pillars, they are the ones who may decide whether to sever that bond or retain it. So long as they hold tight to the authorities, there is nothing I can do.”
“Wait, wait wait wait, Hold up.” Kevin said, raising a hand, “You’re telling me that you let, in your own words, four reckless children take the keys to all the unlimited, cosmic power in your world—Time even—and you didn’t bother to put in any kind of failsafe to take it back if they decided to betray you?”
The Crystal dimmed.
“Seems pretty simple to me. And stupid.”
“It isn’t.” She flared angrily, “A mortal like you couldn’t possibly understand the processes of a god. Regardless, the point remains that the Four now hold complete authority over the Pillars, and thus, my world. And as it stands, I am unable to stop them on my own. That is why I need you, Kevin Ventura, to become my Fifth Hero. To come to Diamound and defeat the Four Heroes.”
“How exactly do you intend to do that though. Didn’t you say the Four control all the Pillars that bind outsiders to your world?”
“My own spirit, in the form of this Crystal, serves also as a Pillar,” She said, “But we don’t have much time. If the Heroes are not dealt with soon, then all I have worked for to protect my world will be for naught and the Dark Lord will rise once again.”
“I thought you said he was bound for all eternity?”
“Yes, but only when he’s able to feed off my people’s negativity. The Four Heroes inspired hope when they rallied together against him. But now, all they inspire now is fear, dread, and bitterness. Now, people believe they would be better off worshipping him, praying for him to save them instead of me!”
“I see how that can be a problem for you…” Kevin said.
“Thank you,” She said, missing his sarcasm.
“So, if I have this right.” Kevin began, “You summoned four ordinary people, gave them god-like powers so they can overcome this Dark Lord guy. After they succeeded, they decided to take the world for themselves and treat it like their own private server. And now that the people are blaming you because you summoned them in the first place, and now they’re choosing to worship this Dark Lord instead. Correct?”
“That is, a vulgar interpretation of my problems, yes.”
“And I suppose you didn’t try explaining all this to those guys? You know, say something like ‘Hey, knock it off, or that big bloke you took down last time will come back, probably stronger now that people all hate your guts and want him to rule instead.”
“The heart of those from this world are easily corrupted,” she said, “Give them a taste of power and it consumes them. They now see themselves as the gods and goddesses of this world and believe they know best. They’ve deafened themselves to anything I have to say to them.”
“Kind of dumb giving four, easily corruptible humans, all that kind of power then.”
“As I said…” She continued, “it is complicated.”
“Right…” Kevin said, “So, what do you expect me to do? They have godlike powers and I’m a simple retail worker. What, do you want me to bag their groceries poorly to piss them off?”
“I have retained one power from them,” She said, “One ability to overcome those of the other Four Pillars. It will be your ultimate weapon in the fight against them.”
“If you have that kind of power already then why don’t you just use it yourself?”
The Crystal dimmed again.
“It… is complicated.”
“Is there anything that’s not complicated with you?”
“Yes,” She said, “It’s that I, the Divine Lady of Diamound, need a hero to use my power on my behalf to defeat the Four Heroes and save my world once and for all.”
“Gotcha,” Kevin said, “Well, your five minutes are up. I’m sorry, your worship, while your quest is noble and just and all that other bull you want me to say, I’m afraid I am not the right person for this job. You can still try the New Age couple if you’d like.”
“No!” She said, “It must be you. It cannot be anyone else.”
“Why me?” Kevin asked, “Wouldn’t you have better luck finding a military general to help you out? Or maybe a ninja… or a terrorist?”
“It’s because…” She flickered, “Because, it is because you are from humble origins it must be you! Why, history as shown time and again that those who had previously been unknown to society have risen up, and gone on to do fantastical things! You are like a rare gem, eagerly waiting to be refined!”
Kevin eyed the Crystal, contemplating her words. He shook his head and turned.
“My answer is still no.” And he turned back into his apartment.
“You can’t!” She shined bright. “My people are dying. They suffer at the hands of the Four. Don’t you care!”
“Kids die in school shootings. Women get trafficked. News anchors lie. Politicians wage war with other countries for natural resources, killing untold numbers of people to get what they want. Just because I know it happening doesn’t make it my responsibility to fix it.”
“If you truly believed that, then why did you stand up to that man today.”
Kevin hand froze around the doorknob.
“It wasn’t the first time. That store received fifteen different complains today alone. So then, when you heard that man’s screams, you elected to involve yourself, even though the man’s grievance wasn’t with you at all. Why?”
Kevin glared at the Crystal.
“I see through you, Kevin Ventura,” Her light became steady and more confident. “You have lost several jobs these past three years, ever since being expelled from college, all because you picked a fight with one customer over another when you believed they were acting out of line. Each time you wanted to make a statement, that people couldn’t mistreat others like that without consequence, and if the store or management wouldn’t do anything to shame them, you would.”
“You better get to the point.” Kevin said, letting his anger slip.
“You aren’t someone who can sit by when others are doing wrong. You’re a fighter, Ventura. A man who resists, who refuses to be idle. In your heart beats the soul of a hero—one willing to risk his own life and reputation for the sake of others. It’s a shame that… this rotten world has rejected you because of that. They have decided instead to celebrate the wicked ones—those who lie and cheat to gain power, with no regard for the people they hurt along the way.”
Kevin stared down at his wrist, where the customer’s tight grip had left a noticeable bruise.
“I do see your potential though. I see your fire. Your strong sense of justice. That is why I need you. I know that if I give you my power, it will not corrupt you. You will use it, not for fame or to glorify yourself, but purely for the cause of justice. All in the name of setting things right.”
Kevin felt the Crystal amplify his emotions, exciting his anger and pride. But, this time he couldn’t risk the logic. He was born to fight villains. He knew that at the core of his beings. So long as he remained here, he’d never be able to live out his potential.
He had a choice. Remain here, wallow away in his couch until this wicked world finally crushed him. Or go there, bare the burden of Diamound’s problems, and maybe—by the slimmest chance, make a difference.
To become a real hero.
“What must I do,” Kevin said.
“You already know.” She said, glowing softly. “Take this Crystal in thy hand. And I shall show you many wondrous things.”
Kevin hesitated one last time, reaching down with his hand over the crystal. Then, resolve affirmed, purging the doubt with a swift stroke, he ripped the crystal from the ground and grasped it in his right hand.
And then, in that moment, he was taken to another world.