I should be happy. By any scale, really, I should be. But I’m not. It’s weird, you know. I have everything I could have ever wanted - a house to call my own, my dog, power over humanity…but there’s something lacking. Maybe it’s the sense of challenge. After all, the GITS had come after me multiple times, but with the entire mortal world as your army, it’s pretty easy to crush your enemies. They were probably holed up in their little cubicles now, thinking of a new attack strategy. I’m not worried.
I guess, when everything is at your fingertips, you begin to get bored. I mean, sure I can do all the things I like to do: kill people, torture people, generally terrorize people, destroy nations, build giant monuments to my greatness, watch Netflix, read… you know. But all those activities kind of lose their fun when everyone just complies with what I ask them to do.
“Kill yourself.” They slit their throats.
“Tear that building down.” Out comes the wrecking ball.
“Renew Firefly.” Nathan Fillion’s already on a plane to the set.
It’s boring getting what you want. And so I might have neglected my kingdom for a while. I might have locked myself up for weeks or months at a time, not speaking to anyone, not eating. The world leaders were all instructed not to do anything other than trivial maintenance procedures without clearing it with me first, and I had underestimated how huge of a task that would be. It didn’t take long before I stopped answering their calls and their countries descended into chaos.
I didn’t care. I found it difficult to care much about anything these days.
One day, there was a knock on my door. I didn’t reply. The knock sounded again. And again. I sighed.
“What?” I demanded.
The human outside came in timidly. “I-I have news for you, sir.”
“I don’t care.”
“But, um… Half of China just attacked Germany.”
“What’d they do that for?” I asked idly.
The servant shifted on his feet. I imagined I was quite a sight to be seen, lounging around in a bathrobe and nothing else. I hadn’t showered in a few days, and lately I hadn’t even bothered to snap my fingers and have the shadows shave off my beard. It was growing nicely, I supposed, a dark layer of scruff around my chin. I thought I could pull it off.
“Um, I think it was something to do with the fact that you gave half of China to the Germans to build beer factories.”
“Oh, right, that. Why would they be mad about that? They’re now next door to the world’s largest supplier of beer.”
The servant was sweating.It was gross. “Um, I think they’re less mad about the beer and more mad about the fact that their people got kicked out of their country.”
I shrugged. “I don’t care. You can go now.”
“But, sir, what about the famine in thirty one count-“
“I said you can go,” I snapped. “Leave.” I added, feeling the ring’s power take effect. Even if he’d wanted to, he couldn’t stay. The servant gave a quick bow then shuffled out.
I sighed and looked out the window. I know I probably should’ve cared a little more about China and the worldwide famine, but honestly, I didn’t. If this was what the humans were going to do under their own power, then so be it. I didn’t care if the world drove itself into the ground; at least it would be entertaining to watch.
I hadn’t always been like this. In the beginning of my reign as Overlord, I cared - I cared a lot. Sure, I wanted to wreak some havoc and, sure, I did, but, at heart, I treated the world like my own personal project. I wanted to make it the best it could be by my standards. So the first thing I did upon taking control of all the major governments across the world was to remove all those pussy policies that gave things like money or houses to poor people for free. Charity didn’t fit my philosophy. It was a dog-eat-dog world, and only the strong should survive. The rest, well, sucks to be them.
Needless to say, this caused some outrage. Therefore the next thing I did was disable all major media. No TV, no news, no internet, no nothing. If people couldn’t see what was happening in other parts of the world, then they couldn’t be mad about it, could they? The only exception was when I needed to make an announcement to my people. Of course, even the ring had its limits; I couldn’t control everyone in the world simply by showing up on their TV screen, but I could still make impassioned speeches as to why my word was law now. And that, for a while, was fun.
I liked it, ruling the world. In the beginning, anyway. Making the decisions that major world leaders had to make, only doing so without having to face any consequences was really fun. It was like playing a video game and the the world was my landscape. Nothing I did mattered, but everything I did mattered. It was entertaining, playing with the lives of people and seeing what happened. That was, until I got tired.
Now, few things interested me. Usually, stringing out the window was my chosen pastime. That is, when I wasn’t being interrupted by knocks on the door.
“What do you want?” I asked in exasperation, yanking the door open myself this time.
A different servant stood there, looking just as nervous as the first. “I, um, I-“
“You what?” I demanded.
“I have a message from someone in our outpost in China-“
“I don’t care.”
“I don’t care,” I said again, firmer this time. “I don’t care if the Chinese murder the world; it doesn’t matter.”
The servant wrung his hands nervously. “Sir, this isn’t about the Chinese.”
I sighed. “Chances are, I still won’t care.”
“That’s fair, sir, it’s just, you told us to inform you if anyone ever mentioned the name Sirio.”
I looked up at him. I cared. “What?”
“Someone at the Chinese outpost said that there was someone sniffing around, asking about a white man named Sirio.”
“What was this person’s name?”
“Sam,” the servant replied, then pulled out a small memo from his pocket to reference. “Sam Yaza.”
“Samyaza,” I breathed. He wasn’t supposed to be on earth. This was bad. This was really bad. “Leave,” I muttered. “But get me all the information you can on Samyaza.”
“Yes, sir,” the servant said, bowing and hurrying out the door. I strode to the window. It seemed like it was time I leave my castle.
Halfway across the country, Taryn Cross, too, was looking out her window. It was a considerably grimier window, for the GITS had long since run out of money to hire people to clean. It normally didn’t matter much; there were so few people left working there to begin with that no one really complained. After all, at least they were alive.
It was lonely, sometimes, walking down the long halls of empty cubicles. The training rooms still held equipment, but it was dusty and uncleaned. Most of their business was done in a single wing of offices and conference rooms, ; the rest of the compound going unused.
It was sad. Sad for Taryn especially, since she had grown up there. The headquarters were more to her than just a training grounds; they were home.
How Taryn missed home, and everything that went with it. She missed her little room on the far side of the compound, in the quarters with all the other trainees. She missed being able to train without any real threat to train for, and she missed going to sleep at a normal hour rather than passing out from exhaustion when she couldn’t stay awake any longer. Most of all, Taryn missed Damian.
It had been a year since she’d last seen him. Taryn would be lying if she said she wasn’t worried, but she had long since given up trying to find him. In the beginning, after Baxel walked out, Taryn thought everything would go back to normal. She thought they’d return to the GITS together, resume their training, and pretend like Damian was the normal, Light-booded protégée he’d always been. But, apparently, Damian had other plans.
“I’m leaving,” Damian had announced the day after Baxel left.
“What?” Taryn had asked in alarm. “Where are you going?”
Damian had shrugged. “I don’t know. I just need to leave for a while.”
“But what about the GITS? What about your training?”
Damian had just shaken his head. “I can’t go back to them. Not knowing what I am. I’ve got enough training. I was almost done anyway.”
Taryn had panicked. “No one has to know. Damian, please,” she had pleaded. “Let’s just go back to normal.”
There had been a sad look in Damian’s eyes when he turned to her then. “I don’t know what normal is anymore. I’m sorry, Taryn. I love you. Take care of yourself. Be careful.”
And then he had been gone. Slipped away into the darkness without even a hug. After all he had gone through for her, Taryn found that the strangest of all. She supposed that just went to show how upset he was, and maybe he did just need his space. She gave him the benefit of the doubt for a long time, but as the weeks stretched into months, Taryn’s concern soured into bitter anger.
Damian had essentially abandoned her. He was so concerned about his own situation that he hadn’t stopped to think of hers - about the fact that she had to go back to the GITS and come up with some explanation as to where she had disappeared to for several months, and where Damian was then. In the end, they bought her lie about she and her brother having heard of some dying long lost relative that they went to track down immediately, but that didn’t spare her from being harshly reprimanded and demoted a level in training. Damian, who had supposedly stayed with the critically ill relative, would face the same when he came back.
If he came back. Taryn was no longer so optimistic.
With a sigh, Taryn gathered the papers she had come for and left her office, heading back to the conference room. A year ago, she would’ve felt honored to be given an office and an actual position within the GITS, but now the victory was bittersweet. Taryn was fully aware that the only reason she was being given so much responsibility was because so many of the sorcerers who used to occupy these offices were now either dead or hiding away until the world sorted itself out. Taryn wasn’t optimistic about that either.
“What are the latest reports?” Venti asked tiredly as Taryn returned to the conference room.
“Four hundred dead in Germany, another three hundred wounded, and at least three city blocks rendered inhabitable,” Taryn recited professionally and with no emotion. Her emotion had gone long ago. “The Chinese are headed for all out war. If we don’t stop it, they’ll blow each other right off the map.”
Venti rubbed his forehead, pinching the bridge of his nose. “And how do you propose we stop it? We have thirty sorcerers left. We lost fifteen in the last attempt to get the ring from Baxel; we’re running out of resources.”
“If we could just send a few peacekeepers to China-“ Taryn began.
“A few? Taryn, your optimism is refreshing, but all those trained in peacekeeping magic have already been dispatched. Besides, what good would only a few sorcerers do? It’s not as if they can just go to the Chinese government. The government isn’t doing a thing anymore. This is a war led by the people. That’s far more complicated.”
Taryn frowned. “Then what do you propose we do?”
One of the other women in the room looked up wearily from a file detailing the famine conditions in Eastern Europe. “Give up. The world’s shot to hell; anything we try to do is just prolonging its already slow and painful death.”
“Thanks for the pep talk, Heather,” Riley muttered. Taryn’s lip twitched. Riley was the only other person of her age remaining in the GITS; the parents of those in training had pulled them out the moment things started getting dangerous, something Taryn didn’t agree with at all. They were being trained to deal with danger, so why not let them put their training to good use? But it wasn’t like her opinion mattered to them. Riley’s parents wanted him out too, but he was eighteen, unlike most others in training, and he pulled the “legal adult” card. Taryn was glad he did. It was hard enough without Damian, but to be the only young person in a group of all older people would be rough indeed.
“What do you suggest we do?” Taryn asked, directing her question at Venti. He was supposed to be their leader, after all.
Venti stared at his hands resting on the table for a long time. “I don’t know. Unless Baxel has a sudden change of heart and either starts caring about the world again, or at least surrenders control back to those who had it before, I think we might all be screwed.” The silence that fell was tense. “Let’s take a break. Meet back in here in an hour.”
The room emptied quickly, but Taryn didn’t move. Her hands flat on the table, she stood with her head hung, her brown hair falling in a cascade around her face. Venti was probably right. They were screwed.
“Hey,” Riley said, touching her shoulder gently. “You ok?”
Taryn straightened, shaking the hair from her face. “I’m fine.”
Riley didn’t push. Instead, he crossed his arms and leaned back against the conference table casually. “Those guys are real motivational speakers, huh? And they said the younger generation was supposed to be the cynical one.”
“They’re right, though,” Taryn said. “We’re fucked.”
Riley smirked. He looked so aloof, standing there. His skin still had a youthful glow about it and his light brown hair was freshly washed and standing in little spikes. With his considerable muscles pressing at the fabric of a fresh, fitted t-shirt, Riley looked far more like a teenage model than one of the only humans left fighting for the survival of the human race and the second best young sorcerer the GITS had seen in years. Only Damian surpassed him, and now that he was MIA, Riley seemed to have stepped up.
By the slight smile playing at his lips and the fire still in his eyes, Taryn never would’ve guessed that he even had any exposure to the world outside their complex. Somehow, despite it all, Riley had managed to escape the tired pallor and dead, defeated demeanor of the others.
“Kinda feels like we’re the only ones left, doesn’t it?” he commented, looking at Taryn. “Like the world fell into an apocalypse or something, and it’s just you and me and a bunch of old people trying to survive.”
Taryn gave him a narrow look. “If you’re trying to get in my pants, it’s not gonna happen.”
Riley smirked again. “Well, can’t blame a guy for trying.”
This wasn’t the first time Riley had crudely played at flirting with her, and Taryn was certain it wouldn’t be the last. She rolled her eyes. “Can’t you take this seriously for once? This could mean the end of the human race, if things continue on the trajectory they’re on. Doesn’t that bother you?”
Riley pressed a hand to his heart and looked at her with an exaggerated earnestness. “I make it a point never to let trajectories get me down.”
As much as Taryn complained about him, she secretly really appreciated and admired how unaffected he appeared. Sometimes talking to Riley was all that kept her from giving up. He was a good distraction, but nothing more. And right now, she didn’t have a lot of time for distractions.
“As admirable as that is, without any real solutions, this trajectory is going to become your problem very soon.”
Riley looked at her, his eyes intense. “Well then you’d better come up with a solution.”
“Me?” Taryn asked. “Why me?”
“Who else is about to? You’ve seen Venti. You’ve seen Heather. The others barely even talk anymore, that’s how much they’ve given up. All Heather does is make dismal comments, and Venti… well. You and I are the only ones left,” Riley said, seeming far more sincere than he had a minute ago, as if he was on the verge of some revelation. “If we’re going to fix this, it’s going to have to be us who figures out how. And I trust your ideas far more than I trust mine.” Taryn frowned. “So, Taryn,” he continued, “how do we save the world?”
Taryn’s brow furrowed in thought. She hadn’t been trained for this. She was eighteen; she’d never even registered to vote, let alone be trusted with figuring out how best to save humanity. Even so, Riley was right on some counts; everyone else had given up. If they didn’t do something, who would?
Taryn remembered what Venti had said a minute ago. Unless Baxel has a sudden change of heart and either starts caring about the world again, or at least surrenders control back to those who had it before,I think we might all be screwed. If those were the only two options, she was going to have figure out how one or both of them might work. But how do you reason with a demon? Especially one who was ruthless, cruel, and could control anyone who went up against him. He’s not entirely ruthless, Taryn thought. She remembered how he’d looked silhouetted in moonlight as he gently lifted her onto her bed, careful not to jostle her broken ribs. He’s not all cruel. She recalled Damian saying that the doctor sent to examine her injuries did so at Baxel’s bidding. And he couldn’t control everyone. There was one person immune to his powers. One person who had already found the chink in his armor once and gotten as close to finding Baxel’s heart as anyone ever had.
Taryn’s eyes lit up as she turned to Riley. “I’ve got it. I know how we’re going to save the world.”
“How?” Riley asked, looking half surprised and half excited.
Taryn was already gathering her papers. “I have to go.”
“Wait, you’re not going to tell me?” Riley asked. Taryn’s mind was racing so fast that she barely heard him. “Taryn!” he exclaimed, grabbing her arm. She turned to him, eyes wild and intense. “What’s the plan?” he asked.
“There’s only one person who can stop Baxel,” she said breathlessly. “And I have to go find him.”
“Who?” Riley asked before letting her go.
“Damian,” Taryn answered. “I have to find Damian.”
Riley opened his mouth to say something, but Taryn was already dashing from the room. She smiled. The world might be falling apart, but Taryn was getting her brother back.