Dead Prophecies (Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Issue #19)

“You can’t give people too much free will,” says the Chosen One, his long, gray hair hanging down over his ruined face, the split ends soaking up the foam in his mug of beer.  “I’m living proof of that.”
He looks outside blearily through the cracked windows of his bar, pointedly not making eye contact with the kid standing in the doorway; the sky is blood-red, as it always is, but now a hail of gouged eyeballs tumbles from the tumor-clouds above, bursting open on the clay soil like popped cherries.  Black lightning booms.
“Oh, that’s gonna be hell to clean up,” the Chosen One grumbles.  The kid cranes his head in, desperate to make eye contact.
The bar is a ramshackle shack that lies between the Strangle-Caves and the shadow of the Night-Soaked Emperor, which ought to be enough to dissuade most visitors.  But it never does.  It’s lit by guttering lights powered by an emergency generator, but the bottles on the sagging shelves are filled high.
The Chosen One tries to ignore the silent pleas of the kid, who asked him for a room just before he realized who he was talking to and his words died in his throat.  The kid’s thickly-muscled, clad in a clanking depleted uranium jacket stolen from a dead tank elemental, bandoliers of bullets placed for ready access; the Chosen One pretends not to notice the way the kid’s staring at the gleam of the legendary Godkiller knives mounted behind the counter.
“You want a beer?” he asks.
The kid nods eagerly.  He’s never had a beer; he’s never seen a living stalk of wheat.  The Chosen One draws a sludgy stream from the tap, pushing the beer towards the kid, who looks at him with that sickeningly familiar fanboyish air.
He tips the mug towards the kid affably, who couldn’t have been out of diapers when the shit went down.
“Anyway, I had this great prophecy – told me when I’d be born, when my mother would die spiriting me away from the Chancellor, when I’d meet the love of my life.  You could set your watch by it.  In retrospect, it was fuckin’ awesome.
“But no, I had to start extemporizing.  ‘I want to live my own life,’ I told Ardena.  ‘I feel like I’m just reciting lines in someone else’s script.’  So when the time came to defeat Grixis, the Night-Soaked Emperor of All Worlds, I didn’t sneak off, empty-handed, to meet him in his courtyard at the stroke of midnight – ‘That’s crazy,’ said I.  ‘That shit will get me killed.’  Instead, I raised a mighty army to face him down on the battlefield.”
He nods his head towards the imposing horizon, hoping the kid will get the hint.  The horizon is miles away, across the wriggling Desert of Salted Whips, but the squatting Emperor is as big as a mountain.  You can see the bat-shaped form of his synaptic wings blotting out the decayed husk of the sun.
“You can see how well that turned out,” he sighs.
The kid swallows the beer, grimacing at the taste.  “But it’s not too late,” he says.  “You can – “
The Chosen One cuts him off with a wave of a calloused hand.
“I’m not gonna lie,” he says.  “It was depressing, having my true love’s veins knotted into the Weeping Tapestry.  Nobody wants his wife to be a shrieking rug.  But I wandered around for a while, trudging through the ash of the cities that rebelled, seeing the knife-toothed ghosts of my dead friends…
“…And you know?  Really, it’s for the best.”
The kid flinches.  The Chosen One shrugs.
“Listen, kid.  Nobody likes to hear it, but it’s true.  The Night-Soaked Emperor’s goal was to bring humanity to heel, amiright?  And frankly, if humanity – at least in the form of me – had been smart enough to not be so goddamned willful when it came to carrying out the prophecies, we’d be sitting in clover right now.  What’d free will get us?   The eradication of all hope.  So maybe we need someone to keep us in line.  We’re not such a much.”
The kid’s boyish eyes narrow, his lips pursing in sullen anger.  The Chosen One holds up his hands, hoping to avoid a fight.
“I’m not trying to offend, kid – it’s just that I’ve been where you are.  You’re all ‘Oh, humanity is the shining star of the universe, we should be free from the stabbing bone yokes and the colon plagues.’  I dig that.  Nobody likes having their lower intestine turn into a black, carnivorous snake.  But… you get philosophical about these things.  It’ll pass, see?
“The revised prophecy foretells that the reign of the Night-Soaked Emperor’s going to last another ten thousand years.  That’s not even an ice age, really.  It’ll pass, and we’ll dig out, and it’ll be our turn again.  Another hundred thousand years, and Grix’ll be just another footnote in some dusty tome.  You just gotta take the long-term view.”
The kid’s looking into his beer suspiciously now, searching for signs of poison, and the Chosen One groans.  If he wanted the kid dead, he’d do it in a straight-up duel.
Then the kid’s eyes flicker to the long row of graves out flanking the dirt road, each with a crude slate headstone jammed into the mounds of soil, the names of the dead (when given) written on them in chalk.
The kid takes a step towards him.  “Why didn’t the Emperor destroy you when he slaughtered your allies?”
“Well, it’s not like I could do anything to him now,” the Chosen One says, stepping away from the bar to interpose himself between the kid and the Godkiller knives.  “No one can.  Not even you.”
And what the Chosen One doesn’t add, because no one but Grixis and him could ever understand, is that at the end of the day, the two of them were just punching in for their shift at the factory.  Their whole lives had been arranged for them to fight each other.  Once the Earth had been drained of essence, the Emperor had felt that weird pang of empathy; it could have just as easily been him.  And so he’d let the Chosen One free.
“Easy to say,” the kid mutters.  His fingers twitch, dipping unconsciously towards the holster on his hip.
“I’m not working for him,” the Chosen One says, naked and honest.
“You speak in his defense,” the kid roars, and the Chosen One hears the echo of all his old arrogance booming back to him in the kid’s cracking, adolescent voice.  “You were supposed to defeat him, and yet all you do is talk about how grand his victory is.  Do you know why I think you put your ‘bar’ on the only road between the last of civilization and the Night-Soaked Emperor?”
“Because I wanted to stop you idiots!” the Chosen One cries.  “He’s the size of a fucking continent, for God’s sake!  The last chance to stop him was a decade ago!  You go there, he’s just going to turn you into another rape zombie.”
“I think,” says the kid, removing his gun from the holster, “That you are his thrall.  A final test.”
The Chosen One squeezes his eyes shut, tiny tears trickling down his weathered, wrinkled cheeks.
“Don’t,” he whispers.  “Please don’t.”
The kid, keeping the gun on him, goes for the Godkiller knives.  But the Chosen One was chosen for a reason.  There’s a blur of motion, and a small crunching noise; the kid never even gets to pull the trigger before he falls, skull shattered like a vase, to the floor.  His blood pools up in the piles of sawdust.
The Chosen One starts to cry, low and long.
“I told you,” he weeps.  “I told you.”
He hauls the kid’s broken body out through the glop, freshly-rained eyeballs popping underfoot, and digs yet another grave.  He wishes he’d gotten the kid’s name.  He wishes he could die.  He wishes one of these stupid kids, just one, would understand what he was trying to say and go back home to live as good a life as they could expect under the cancerous reign of the Night-Soaked Emperor.
Above all, he wishes he could just hand his old Godkiller knives to one of his challengers, saying, here, take ‘em, I’m done, but the tatters of the prophecy are clear; the boy who will take the knives from him won’t show up for at least another ten thousand years.  The wrong kid could make the Emperor’s reign last for all eternity.
He finishes the kid’s drink and returns to his alcoholic haze, thinking of the script the prophecy wrote for him, once.  It was a good script.
He should have just read his lines.