Edwin Cloudstar woke up and was immediately surprised to find himself falling out of his chair, since he didn’t remember coming to work that morning and, indeed, had never had a job that involved an office chair being in his possession. As he worked his way off the ground, the events of the previous night came back to him. It all began with a heart-break that was a long time coming, but was no less damaging because of its gestation period. After the heart-break, some well-meaning friends bought him well-meant drinks, which resulted in Edwin being well-drunk. Whatever had happened beyond that was outside his current realm of knowledge, but last night was of secondary concern at the moment. Right now, he had to figure out whose chair he had fallen out of and why. A quick scan of his surroundings revealed a number of motivational posters, a shelf full of self-help books and study guides, and most importantly, a desk with a small nameplate that read, “Frank Mathers” and, in slightly smaller type, “Guidance Counselor”.
He took out his cell phone and checked the time, and found that he had twelve missed calls and nearly a hundred text messages from various people. One call was from his cousin, who had once been named Henry Davis. Recently, Henry had since taken to calling himself Hiro Darkbeam for reasons unknown to Edwin, who thought it made his cousin sound like a jerk. Edwin dialed his voice-mail and started listening.
“I told you time and again that the Tolark girl was going to do this to you,” said Hiro’s message as Edwin peeked out the door. There was no one in the hallway, and so he opened the door as quietly as he could and started making his way through the school. Hiro’s message continued, “You should have listened to me. Have fun with your other whore and Tolark’s brother. See if he doesn’t stab you in the back, you bastard.”
Edwin pressed the button to delete the message, and the next message was from Kent Tolark, and was vaguely supportive drunk-rambling. It went on for three minutes, during which time Edwin heard the bell ring to signal the end of class which forced him into the nearest men’s room until the next bell went off. Once he was sure the coast was clear, he exited the bathroom. On the phone, Kent continued to ramble until the phone cut him off. Edwin deleted the message, and the next one was from the girl Hiro had labeled Edwin’s other whore. Like Hiro, she once had a fairly normal name: Jennifer Winters. Also like Hiro, she had started going by Xen Windcast for reasons known only to her.
Xen’s message was direct: “Please call me. I’m worried about you.”
Edwin frowned. The next message was from a lawyer, which Edwin skipped, and the next one was from Becca, the girl who had broken Edwin’s heart. Edwin could feel the harshness of the message through he phone. “You need to come get your stuff out of my house, and you need to do it today, because I’m tired of looking at it.” There was another call from the same lawyer, which Edwin once again skipped, and then a message from his uncle expressing concern over the lawyer’s unsuccessful attempts to contact Edwin. The text messages were almost all from Kent, each and every one a new little wonderment borne of alcohol and severely diminished inhibitions. Some were pictures of the night before, showing Edwin, Kent, and Xen engaging in all sorts of drunken chicanery, or in Xen’s case, being present for drunken chicanery. There were three messages from Hiro, elaborating on his voice mail message, a few from Xen, and another from Becca telling him to come get his things.
As he deleted his message and pondered erasing Becca from his phone, it began to ring. It took a second to recognize the number as the lawyer’s, and another second for Edwin to decide to pick it up. “Hello?”
“Oh, thank God,” said the lawyer. “I’ve been trying to reach you all morning, Mister Cloudstar.”
“My phone died,” lied Edwin. “Listen, I don’t know what company you’re with, but I don’t have the money to pay off any debts right now. I’m in between jobs and I just got kicked out of my girlfriend’s place, but if you just give me a couple of months to get back on my feet, I’ll do my best to send you some money every month. Okay?”
There was silence, broken when the lawyer asked, “Excuse me?”
“I have no money. I’m basically homeless. So get off my case,” said Edwin, and he was about to shut off the phone when he heard the lawyer say, “I’m calling about your father!”
“I don’t have the money to pay his debts, either,” said Edwin, putting the phone back on his ear.
“I’m not here to collect any debts,” said the lawyer. “I’m here because we received a letter from your father telling us to contact you on your twenty-fifth birthday.”
“I’m listening,” said Edwin.
“That’s all I can tell you. Come by my office at some point today and we can discuss this further.”

“Is that all he said?”
Kent was dressed in the same khaki shorts and blue shirt he had been wearing the night before. He scratched himself with his good arm, the other one being a function-less prosthetic, and let out a long yawn. At the yawn’s apex, he grimaced and pinched the bridge of his nose, knocking off his glasses in the process. he managed to catch them and put them back on in one smooth motion. This was spoiled by his next motion, which involved him turning and ramming himself into his apartment’s door. The glasses fell, hitting the ground with a soft thud. Kent picked them up and beckoned for Edwin to follow.
“He told me where his office was, obviously,” said Edwin as he followed Kent, dodging half-completed robotics experiments that were strewn across the floor. “I’m not sure what to do. I haven’t seen my dad in twenty years. I’ve only heard from him six times since then, and he’s always so freaking cryptic about everything. Do you remember what he said in the letter for my eighteenth birthday?”
Kent sat down heavily on his futon. The metal groaned, but held, and Kent celebrated by taking a sip of his hangover cure. “Didn’t he say something about being wary of crocodiles?”
“Yeah,” said Edwin. “He always uses different lawyers for these things, too, and they always get so excited. It’s always so sad when I open the letter and read it to them.”
“Your dad must have really hated lawyers,” said Kent.
“I figure I’ll head over there and then I’ll go to your sister’s house,” said Edwin.
“Oh yeah. I guess you can’t really stay there anymore. Do you know where you’re going to go?”
“Let’s see,” said Edwin, and he held up three fingers. “The Davises are okay, but if I go back there, Hiro’s going to go back to making my life a living hell.” A finger went down. “I can’t move in with Xen, because she still lives with her parents and they’ve never really liked me.” Another finger went down.
“There’s me, too,” said Kent.
“You live in a one-bedroom studio apartment with a chair, a table, and a futon,” said Edwin, and the third finger went down.
“I just didn’t want to be left out. Hey, maybe your dad left you a house or something.”
“Maybe I’ll be homeless for a little while,” said Edwin. “It’s not like it gets too cold out there.”
“You know you’ll get in trouble if you’re homeless.” Kent stood up. “When you’re done at, well, I guess it’s my sister’s place now, come back here. I have an experiment in the bedroom I want you to see, but it’s not exactly ready yet.”
“Sure thing,” said Edwin, and he saluted Kent as he left.

It was a short walk from Kent’s apartment to the lawyer’s office, but everywhere Edwin looked, things reminded him of better times. Children played, young lovers walked hand in hand through the park, and people were being generally pleasant to one another. Edwin felt that he knew better; felt that the children were cursing, the lovers were looking for a place to screw, and the pleasant people were thinking how much better they were than everyone else. The city, and perhaps, the entire human race, held nothing alluring for Edwin anymore. He reached the lawyer’s office far more sullen than he had been at Kent’s, but before he could knock, a young paralegal opened the door excitedly.
He looked Edwin up and down. “Are you him? Are you Edwin Cloudstar?”
“Yes,” said Edwin, uncertain. He still wasn’t sure if he wanted to go through with whatever this was, but then he remembered the next task he had set for himself. Anything that happened at this law office would, in the end, be far more pleasant than going back to where he had lived with a woman he loved for three years and erasing his presence from that place. “I am certainly Edwin Cloudstar.”
“Come in, we’ve all been waiting for you,” said the paralegal, grabbing Edwin’s arm and forcefully pulling him through the door and up the stairs. “I’m Greg, by the way.”
“Why? I have to warn you, my dad has a habit of making a really big deal out of nothing.” As they went down the hallway, lawyers and paralegals alike stopped what they were doing and ran to their doorways, making Edwin feel as if he was on his way to an execution.
Greg the paralegal was not dissuaded. “We think this is going to be really big for you. You have no idea how long a lot of us have been waiting for something like this to happen. I think a lot of them brought their anticipation with them from the Old World, really!”
“Those are some old lawyers,” remarked Edwin. No one had come from the Old World in nearly sixty years.
“Oh, positively ancient,” agreed the paralegal. They finally reached the most ornate door in the building, proudly emblazoned with the names Myrna, Myrna, and Henson. The paralegal opened the door and revealed two ancient men who looked as if they were twins, and a relatively younger woman. They saw Edwin enter and started clapping, and the woman grabbed Edwin by the hand.
She introduced herself, “Georgette Myrna. We’ve been waiting for you. The gentlemen behind me are my father, George Myrna, and his partner, Evan Henson.” She did not bother to signify which old man was which, and so Edwin gave them a pleasant wave and the two old men beamed, their mouths surprisingly full of teeth. Georgette continued, “We’ve actually had this letter in our possession since I was still trying to pass the bar, but there was a strictly worded note telling us not to open it until today. I believe something was mentioned about crocodiles, but we’ve no need to worry about that now. Come, we have one final test to perform.”
Edwin was pulled along by Georgette and the uninvited paralegal, with the two old lawyers taking up the rear, followed by the entire contents of their firm. Edwin put up some token resistance, but quickly gave up and simply sought answers. “What test?”
“We don’t quite understand it, either,” said Georgette. She opened the door to the stairs and led Edwin to the roof. “All we know is that the note said to take you to the roof and push you off.”
At this, Edwin fought, but he couldn’t bring himself to fight very hard against a woman and two old men. Besides that, there was no way he could get past the mass of humanity clogging the stairwell. He opted to lash out at the paralegal, kicking him in the side of the leg. The paralegal simply grinned. “Don’t worry, the letter said you’d be fine.”
All of the harmless insanity that his father has been visiting upon his life in the form of letters and the occasional package suddenly made sense. Not only was the man unable to raise a son by himself, but he was simply unable to operate in any sort of normal way, and all those little bits of insanity were obviously meant to prime Edwin for whatever was happening here. Georgette opened the door to the roof and led Edwin to the edge. It wasn’t a very far drop, as far as being pushed off a building was concerned. Many people had survived a three-story drop with minimal injury. One of the old men broke from the crowd, grinning and toddling forward.
“We pulled straws to see who had to push you off,” explained Georgette.
Edwin was trying very hard not to focus on the drop. “He lost?”
“No, Mister Henson won,” said Georgette, and Edwin felt two bony old hands push him with surprising strength, followed by the feeling of air rushing around him and then, all-encompassing pain.
“I think he’s dead,” said Greg the paralegal.
“No matter,” said Henson. “I’m old and I’ve got the best lawyers in the city on my side! I’m untouchable!” He then removed most of his clothing and did a victory lap around the roof, hooting and hollering the entire time.

Edwin felt both extremely naked and shameless. He looked down to see a pale vision of his broken body, with bones and blood where they should not have been. He shifted his gaze to what was currently his body, which was without imperfection or, indeed, any genitalia to speak of.
“You’re dead,” said a voice, melancholic and echoing slightly. A skeleton in a hooded sweatshirt stepped forth from nothingness. He had a scythe on his back and a general air of unwillingness about him. He turned his empty sockets towards Edwin’s body. “I guess you won’t be trying to challenge me to get some more life, huh? Please say you’re not. I’ve already played chess sixteen times today and I’m getting sick of it.”
“I don’t think I could come back from this,” said Edwin, noticing for the first time that his arm had been twisted in a completely unnatural way.
“Unfortunately, you are,” said a third voice, this one prim and female. An orange woman dressed in purple manifested in front of Edwin and the skeleton. “Or fortunately, as the case may be. Hello, my name is Camilla. I’m a lesser agent of Order, assigned to keeping the wheels and whims of prophecies, geases, holy missions, and all that nonsense on track. Barry.”
This, she said to the skeleton, who responded. “This is just going to mean a lot more paperwork for me, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Camilla, not without some pity. “A lot of paperwork with this one, but your boss is working on a form for continual resurrections.”
“It’s not like you guys ever even pick up the stupid forms,” said Barry. “My boss just shreds them.”
“Paperwork makes the universe work,” replied Camilla, in a very stilted and scripted way. She handed a clipboard to Edwin. “I just need your signature right here, and we can get started.”
Edwin signed the paper. “Get started with what?”
Camilla reached over and pushed Edwin back into his body. “This is when you find out.”
There was a brief pause, and then Barry said, “You know he couldn’t hear you. You just said that for no reason.”
Camilla shrugged. “Sue me for being theatrical.”

Elsewhere in the world, the young man once known as Henry Davis was preparing himself for a new life. He was technically an only child, the only fruit of his parents’ union, and so gifts and love were foisted upon him for the first six years of his life. He even had a sidekick in Edwin, and there was a point when the pair were inseparable. True, this was largely because Henry would scream and cry whenever Edwin’s parents tried to take him away, but the point remained that there was once a very strong bond there. All of this changed with the weird disappearance of Edwin’s mother, which initially resulted in a much happier Henry. Since he had no idea what was going on, he simply assumed that his uncle and cousin were staying with his family exclusively for Henry’s benefit. He didn’t realize that his uncle, once filled with happiness and a sort of manic energy, had hardly left the couch for several weeks. He didn’t realize that his cousin wasn’t really too interested in playing their usual sorts of games. All that mattered was that he had his favorite playmate available at all times, but it all changed when Edwin started school.
Henry, who had been going to school for a year at that point and thought that he was not only the most special boy in the world, but also the smartest person in the entire city, was positively elated that his cousin was now available at recess. On that very first day, Henry marched right up to his cousin and was confused and hurt that the little boy was playing with a chubby blond boy named Kent Tolark. Henry tried to hurt the boy, chase him away, anything to keep Edwin for himself. In the end, he failed, and he had to share Edwin, and this hurt Henry. He knew that once they got home, though, Edwin would once again be entirely his, and so the rest of the day was spent making elaborate scenarios involving him saving days and damsels while Edwin helped in little ways. This was not to be, for when Henry’s father picked them up, he had grave news.
“Your father has gone to search for your mother, Eddie,” said the elder Davis. “We don’t know when he’ll be back.”
Edwin was too young to truly know what loss was, but something broke within him, just the same. Henry did not realize what any of this meant, and punched Edwin in the shoulder and said, “Hey, that means we can play together all the time!”
“I don’t wanna play right now,” said Edwin.
Before Henry could badger Edwin, the elder Davis commanded, “Leave him alone, Henry. He needs time, I think.”
After a lifetime of no one telling him no, Henry experienced it twice in the same day, and with the same person. At first, he tried not to let it bother him. Sometimes he didn’t feel like playing, either. It wasn’t really that big of a deal. As the weeks passed and it became increasingly clear that Henry was no longer the top man on the totem pole, a seething resentment began to form and was vulcanized into a red-hot lingering resentment all focused on Henry’s parents, the Tolarks, Edwin’s parents, a young lady named Jennifer Withers, and most of all, Edwin himself. It is important to note at this point that, at no point, did the quality of Henry’s life change externally. The wound was entirely internal, and it festered, but to Henry’s credit, he wanted to use that anger to push himself towards heroics. While he had successfully become an assistant manager at a furniture store, he had been spending his nights and weekends taking classes in various martial arts and learning how to effectively use a pair of knives to non-fatally take down an enemy. The goal was to become a wandering hero, and for the past year, he had started going by the name Hiro Darkbeam. He even had a costume all planned out, a dashing black number with a cape. The cape was necessary, he felt, if only to hide his weapons.
Hiro was in the process of packing when he felt something strong hit the back of his mind and realized that his cousin was in terrible danger. He pondered finding his cousin, especially after the night Hiro knew Edwin had, and making sure he was all right. In the end, he opted to let Edwin sort things out for himself. Hiro would find out about it soon enough.

At the offices of Myrna, Myrna, and Henson, Edwin woke up and expected to be in a serious amount of pain. Instead, he was completely healed, though his clothes were caked with blood and there was a nasty hole in his pants where one of his bones had poked through. Greg the paralegal was dozing off at a nearby desk, but perked up when Edwin sat up and yawned.
“Oh! You’re not dead,” said the paralegal, as if this was perfectly normal. “Let me get the Myrnas. Mister Henson had to go lie down.”
Edwin watched the young man leave, and he tested all of his limbs. It all worked, probably better than it had before, and Edwin was terribly confused. He hoped that the arrival of the Myrnas would shed some light on the situation, and they arrived moments later, Georgette bearing a parcel and her father holding a letter. She said, “We’re glad you’re awake. Do you need anything? We have Greg picking up some pain-killers, but we can call him if you need anything else.”
“I think I’m good,” said Edwin. “Except for the part where an old man pushed me off a building. I’m confused about that.”
“To be honest, the letter said you’d be able to survive any injury. My father and I just wanted to stab you in the arm, but Henson has always been extreme,” explained Georgette. “We have two things from your father, with instructions that you open the letter first.”
The elder Myrna handed over the letter, and Edwin groaned as he opened it. “I swear, if it says anything about crocodiles, I’m going to ignore the whole thing.”
Instead, the letter read:

Dear Edwin,

You have been very patient with me these past twenty years, and though you may not realize it, I have been there for you when you have needed me most. There are many things you need to know, but I cannot tell you them. It is only my duty to guide you, and the items in the parcel will bring you some level of enlightenment. What you are about to do, I suggest you do alone, but I cannot control you. I love you, and I hope to see you again. Best of luck.

Always your father,
Paul

Edwin stared at the letter, unsure of whether he should feel happy, sad, or angry. In the end, he opted for all three, and put the letter in his pocket and sat in silence until the elder Myrna prodded his daughter in the back until she put the parcel down next to Edwin. She shot her father an angry look, and they both waited for Edwin to open the package. He did so, carefully removing the paper so it would come off in one piece. It was something he had always done, and he remembered doing it back when he and his parents were an actual family instead of whatever they were now. Inside the package was a map, a key, and oddly enough, a brick with a keyhole in it. Edwin put the key in the keyhole, and it turned, but did absolutely nothing else.
“I think maybe you’re supposed to follow the map,” said Greg, who Edwin had decided was almost overbearingly eager to please.
“Good point,” said Edwin, since saying anything else would be like kicking a puppy. “I’ll get right on that.”
The walk out of the law firm was just like the walk into it, with the lawyers and paralegals crowding around their doors and whispering as Edwin exited. They had something more to whisper about now, he guessed, and soon he was following what turned out to be a severely outdated map of the city. Areas that had once been teeming forests and bucolic streams had been replaced with massive houses made from the cheapest materials available, and Edwin had to be careful to stay out of view of their occupants. Since most businesses were in session and school had yet to be let out, this was easily done, and soon Edwin had followed the map to a copse of trees that was very conspicuous. There was a fence around it with a rusty sign warning trespassers to stay out, on the authority of a long gone government cog. Edwin ignored it, and after pushing his way through the overgrown foliage, found a small clearing with a dirty white building in its center. Unlike the rest of the copse, this area had nothing growing in it. Instead, there was an almost perfect dirt circle around the building, with a ring of dead grass bordering it. Edwin passed the ring and felt a weird energy pass over him, but since he had been dead not even an hour ago, he ignored it and walked around the building. There was no door to speak of, but there was a brick-shaped hole, and so Edwin inserted the brick, and then the key. He turned the key and the wall opened, revealing a cobweb-infested tunnel leading straight down. It was a very small tunnel, but Edwin was thin, and by the time he got to the bottom the perfect darkness flowed over him. The only two sources of light came from far above, where he had entered, and a very faint line of light some ways down a corridor.
Bolstered by the courage that comes from the seeming immortality of youth, coupled with actual, probable immortality, Edwin charged forward and promptly broke his nose on a barrier. He could feel the cartilage heal itself underneath his skin, and it was almost unbearably itchy and painful. He stifled a scream and started looking for a way to open what he assumed was a door. It didn’t take long, as there was a rope handle right where a knob would be, and Edwin pulled the rope and revealed a room containing a glowing sword and a hanging tapestry that looked like all it needed was a poke to fall apart. He ignored the sword and looked at the tapestry, trying to figure out what the strange words meant, only for them to suddenly piece themselves together in his head. He didn’t know if he was reading the words, or simply absorbing their intent, but it didn’t matter because the story the tapestry told was that of Edwin’s family.
“Kind of wish I brought Kent or Xen with me,” muttered Edwin. “I feel like I should be reading this out loud but it’d be really stupid for me to tell it to myself.”
He pondered this for a moment, and wondered if he should get one of his friends, or even his cousin, and realized that he had a cell phone that would allow him to call anyone he wished to tell them what was on the tapestry. The signal was weak, but since he was mainly going to be narrating it for his own benefit, that didn’t really matter. He dialed Kent’s number, but Kent’s message said he had been called away to fix someone’s appliance or computer. Instead, he called his second oldest friend, the girl once known as Jennifer Withers.

Xen Windcast looked at the outfit she had prepared for her new life as an arch-nemesis, comprised of a short green shirt and matching top, with a dark green leather jacket with matching boots. She planned to make Hiro Darkbeam’s life a living hell the moment he stepped foot outside of the city because she knew what a bastard he was and refused to let twenty years of jackassery go unpunished. All she could remember of her first five years of life were people screaming, and some sort of fire, followed by a man she didn’t know carrying her to safety. Shortly after, she was introduced to Edwin Cloudstar and Henry Davis and the people who were taking care of her seemed to expect her to be grateful. She was nice to them, and felt that she and Edwin did share some sort of connection. She also felt, almost instantly, that Henry was not a very nice young man. The worst part was that Henry seemed to have a crush on her, which she did not reciprocate in the slightest. This did not deter Henry, especially once he started going by Hiro, and not a week went by when he didn’t profess his desire for her to come with him as his sidekick on his ridiculous journey to try to be a hero. She refused, and instead made plans to follow Henry to undermine him whenever possible. At the very least, it would keep him away from Edwin and Kent. While he had passively made Xen’s life hard, he had actively made theirs worse, and that sin alone deserved a lengthy penance.
The only thing stopping Xen from changing out of her pajamas and into the ensemble lying on her bed was the fact that Becca Tolark was crying in Xen’s bathroom. She had turned up that morning, eyes already puffy from extended crying, and at no point had the weeping stopped. Xen considered her to be a very silly girl, though she was indeed beautiful, and she supposed that’s what had drawn Becca and Edwin together in the first place. The timer on Xen’s phone went off, and she knocked on the bathroom door and asked, “Are you doing all right, Becca?” Three seconds later, a nose was blown, and Xen continued, “Well, I’m here if you need anything.”
As she reset her phone timer for another twenty minutes, it began to vibrate and showed a picture of Xen and Edwin at some get-together at one of Edwin’s many jobs. It had been a fun night, and it hurt Xen’s heart a little bit that she may only ever see him once or twice in her life if she went through with her plan. It was for what she considered to be the greater good, though, and so she summoned up every bit of inner strength she had and answered the call, quietly leaving the room so that Becca wouldn’t hear.
“Hey Edwin,” said Xen. “How are you holding up? I’ve got Becca here crying her eyes out. I’m not sure how a human being can create so much water from their eyes. I kind of expect to open the door and see that she’s withered away, you know?”
“I’m doing okay,” said Edwin, though he sounded faint. “I mean, I had some issues earlier, but I’m doing better now. How are you?”
Xen looked at the door and the outfit beyond it, and weighed the choice she was making for the umpteenth time. Hiro had to pay, and she was the only one who could make it happen. She shut her eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to sound okay. “I’m doing all right. So what’s up? You usually don’t call. I feel special.” She immediately regretted saying that.
“I’ll explain things to you and Kent later, but I need to read you a tapestry. Apparently, my family made a deal with a demon centuries ago. He was terrorizing some country I’ve never heard of, and my ancestor told him that if he left them alone and waited until the grandson of his descendant took to the stars, then he could have a lot more than just a country. The demon accepted and went back to wherever demons go, Hell or whatever, and my ancestor was hailed as a hero.”
Xen was confused and angry about this, “Why would he do that? Why not just make the demon leave them alone forever?”
“I’m guessing he tried that first, but when it didn’t work my ancestor decided to make it somebody else’s problem. Anyway, I guess I’m that descendant’s grandson, but there’s more. My ancestor’s son was worried about all of this, and he went to go see a wizard or something stupid like that. The wizard made some prophecies and granted some gifts, but they overlap some. I can only die if my name has been entered into the annals of history while defending my true love and my home. If I get killed before that, I just come back. If I even get hurt, I heal. Also, okay, that explains it. I have some sort of intrinsic knowledge of any language, which is how I’m reading this tapestry. I kind of wish I got these powers sooner.”
“You can’t seriously think you’re immortal,” said Xen, who had a sudden image of Edwin trying to jump off a building and falling to his death. She shivered. “Please don’t test it.”
“I kind of already did,” said Edwin. “Oh, I also get a sword. There’s a sword here, that’s probably it. I just have to…”
The line went silent, and Xen said, “Edwin? Edwin!”
“Uh, I have to stop the demon from taking over the world, apparently. Listen, I’ll call you back. The sword is glowing and I have no idea what’s going on.”
Xen heard the phone click, and she immediately tried to call Edwin back. It went directly to his voice mail, and Xen ran into her room. She changed into her outfit and knocked on the door. She could hear something that could have been a “what” from the other side, but she had no time for Becca’s hysterics. Xen kicked in the door, dragged a surprised Becca out of the closet and to Xen’s car. Becca, too shocked to question any of it, handed Xen the keys and soon they were off. Neither one of them realized that they had no idea where they were going.

Edwin looked at the dark figure standing before him. It was a very crude image of a human, with glowing yellow eyes and what could have been arms or wings jutting out from its torso. The sword was still glowing, and it vibrated violently. Edwin tried to ignore it, opting instead to maintain eye contact with the demon. This was, of course, very foolish since the demon’s eyes contained the tortured essences of millions of damned souls. Edwin persevered, and they each waited for the other to break. Edwin lost, since the demon was an ageless creature who had the patience to watch a star implode over millenia.
“Go away,” said Edwin, which was not a very clever thing to say to a demon.
“Make me,” said the demon, proving that, perhaps, Edwin was more of a match for him than previously thought. “You may call me Xayelid, and we may do this the easy way or the hard way. Either way, I will become the victor.”
“I doubt that,” said Edwin. “What’s the easy way?”
“You allow me to kill you and I get on with my business,” said Xayelid. There was no anger or malice in his voice, just a calm certainty that was somehow enraging. “The hard way is much the same, except you put up an effort. I’d much prefer the easy way.”
“You get no way, and you’ll like it,” said Edwin, and he grabbed the sword. He felt a power course through him, and he knew that the sword would never truly leave his side again. He also realized that, even though the sword was almost as big as he was, it was surprisingly easy to lift. The only real problem was that Edwin had no idea how to use a sword, and so he attempted to stick the demon with the pointy end. Xayelid grabbed Edwin by the shoulders, coalesced into a solid inhuman form, and called forth a maelstrom of infernal energy to shoot Edwin high up into the sky.

Hiro looked out his window and saw the shaft of infernal energy and knew, somehow, that Edwin was at its center. For a moment, he wasn’t going to investigate it. It wasn’t his problem, after all, but he felt something near to the maelstrom call to him. Reluctantly, he put on his cape and left to investigate.

Kent had just gotten home and listened to Edwin’s message. He was about to call Edwin back when he saw the maelstrom through his window. Kent didn’t know what it was, only that it looked dangerous and interesting, and so he stood up to leave his apartment. As he reached for his door, he stopped, and went into the room he dubbed his workshop to retrieve a special project he had been working on for years. With his good arm, Kent removed his useless prosthetic and strapped the robotic arm he had designed to where his orignal arm had been. It connected with his bio-electricity and Kent grinned as the fingers flexed at his mental command. Once he was satisfied, he left.

Xen was driving aimlessly around the city when Becca asked, “What’s that?”
Xen didn’t have time for this. “What’s what?”
“That,” said Becca, pointing at the rear-view mirror where the shaft of infernal energy was even now dying down. Xen skidded into a u-turn and drove as fast as she could towards the maelstrom, hoping she wasn’t too late.

Edwin had never been in a plane, and so this was the highest he had ever been, hundreds of feet above the world with nothing between him and a second death but a shaft of infernal energy. If the shaft kept pushing him up, he’d likely wind up in space and die of asphyxiation or explosive decompression. If it let up now, he’d simply slam very hard into the ground. Neither one sounded like it would be very pleasant, but it’d be easier to come back from an impact. The maelstrom seemed to agree, and so it stopped pushing, allowing Edwin a few moments of upward momentum and some weightlessness before the free-fall. Xayelid appeared next to him.
“I can save you from this. Assist me in my endeavor, and you’ll live,” said the demon.
“I’ll live anyway,” said Edwin. The air was rushing around him, and he really hoped he would be able to survive this. Suddenly, an idea struck him, and he grabbed Xayelid.
The demon didn’t struggle. “Interesting gambit,” he said. “Futile, but interesting. The shock will still kill you.”
“We’ll see,” said Edwin. The world around him blurred, and he felt the ground rush up to meet him, the impact rushing through the demon and into Edwin’s arm and the rest of his body which was suddenly a bloody mess and, also, three feet away from Edwin. The world had gone pale in a way that Edwin was already recognizing as being a tell-tale sign that he was dead and the skeleton named Barry was filling out some more of Camilla’s paperwork.
“Can’t we just give him a punch card or something,” complained Barry. “I mean, he’s going to be in and out of here enough. It would save me so much time.”
“I already told you that you don’t have to show up for his lesser deaths, and I’ve got a separate form to fill out for those,” said Camilla. “Oh, he’s here. Hello, Mister Cloudstar. I need to ask you some questions.”
“Shoot,” said Edwin.
Camilla flipped to a page on her clipboard. “Has your name been entered into the annals of history?”
“I was in the yearbook and stuff,” said Edwin. “Does that count?”
“Technically no,” said Camilla. “Yearbooks are meaningless. I would suggest traveling under an assumed name, though. Next question: Did you die defending the woman you love?”
“Kind of between relationships right now,” said Edwin. “Unless you mean in a sort of cosmic sense, in which case I was defending any woman I’ve ever loved or ever will love.”
Camilla peered over a pair of half-moon spectacles. “Was your girlfriend or wife in any immediate danger?”
“Only cosmically,” said Edwin. “Also, what if I was gay?”
“Then we’d ask about your boyfriend or husband, but since the prophecy was put in place when homosexuals were burned at the stake, it says woman you love.” Camilla sighed heavily. “Also, do you want to stay dead? Why are you arguing with me about all of this?”
“I don’t know,” said Edwin. “Just making sure I get a good grip on what this is all about.”
“Final question. Did you die defending your home?” Before Edwin could say anything, Camilla held up her index finger and looked him square in the eye. “And no, I do not mean cosmically. I mean a geographic plot of land with a house on it that belongs to Edwin Cloudstar.”
“No,” said Edwin.
“Okay, then you’re back off to the land of the living. Good luck,” said Camilla, and as Edwin’s soul vanished, she frowned. “I swear, that kid is going to get so annoying.”
“Tell me about it,” said Barry. “So you said I don’t have to be here every time, right?”

Edwin rose from the wreckage, debris clinging to his skin and, mercifully, covering any pertinent bits. He heard the gasp of a crowd, and was amazed that there was a crowd. Why was there a crowd? What was it about humanity that made them cling to dangerous events, so long as it wasn’t happening to then? There was another gasp as Xayelid rose behind him, the demon’s infernal countenance now fully unfurled and looking almost draconian. He screamed and lowered his massive head to look at Edwin more clearly.
“You’re going to be a tricky one to kill,” hissed the demon. “Who are you, that you can stand against me so ably?”
“I’m Edwin Cloudstar, and the only way you’re getting this world is through me.” This was less a show of bravado and more knowledge of the prophecy that had been laid out in the now completely destroyed tapestry. Edwin grabbed his sword, briefly marveled at how light it was, and swung it very inexpertly towards the demon. It left just a scratch, but Xayelid howled in pain just the same.
“All right, Edwin!” Kent’s voice rose about the crowd. “Kill that demonic bastard!”
“Go for its throat.” Xen said, always practical and somehow possessing some knowledge of demon-slaying.
Edwin raised his sword again and went for the throat.

Elsewhere in the crowd, Hiro was watching events unfold with some dismay. He was supposed to be the hero, not Edwin. Edwin was supposed to be left behind to languish in mediocrity, while Hiro traveled the world and became beloved. That was supposed to be their destiny, not Edwin slaying demons and taking yet another thing from Hiro.
“I hate you,” whispered Hiro, and he turned and left, not wanting to see how things unfolded.

Becca Tolark had been introduced to Edwin at her brother’s sixth birthday party and immediately took a liking to the older boy. Edwin, for his part, told her that she was icky and avoided her like the plague until six years passed, when Becca began developing into a woman. This caused Edwin to look at his best friend’s sister in a completely different light, but it took him three years to muster up the courage to ask her on anything resembling a date, all the while navigating the pitfalls of his intended’s brother being his best friend and his other best friend being a girl. Becca urged him forward, though, and in the end, they started dating as soon as Becca became a freshman. Their relationship had been tumultuous. Edwin lacked ambition, while Becca felt she could guide him to become the man she always thought he could be. It was not a healthy relationship, but they persevered until last night. Edwin asked her out for a drink, and Becca had gone the whole nine yards, expecting a very different outcome for the night. Instead, she was dismayed to see not only her brother, but also Henry and Jennifer. She refused to call them by their new names, as Becca thought that doing such a thing was really stupid, and she had told them so on several occasions. In this instance, she tried to put on a happy face, a brave face, a face that told the world that no matter what, she knew what she wanted.
“Becca,” said Edwin, who looked like hell, “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but I don’t think we’re right for each other. You deserve better than me.”
“I love you, Edwin,” said Becca, refusing to believe what she had just heard.
“I love you, too,” said Edwin. He took a deep breath and Kent put his hand on Edwin’s shoulder. “That’s why we need to be over. This isn’t good for either of us. I’m sorry, but this is how things should be. You’ll be happier without me in your life.”
Those words had echoed through Becca’s head for the past day, and now, as she saw Edwin being the man she felt he always could be, she cried out, “I love you, Edwin!”

The sword rose and Edwin heard Becca proclaim her love for him from somewhere in the crowd. He turned and his sword missed its mark, but Xayelid was suddenly alert. The demon’s face transfigured itself into something that may have been a smile, and its body followed suit, becoming a fine black mist with two glowing eyes.
“You haven’t won,” said Xayelid. “This hasn’t even truly begun.”
With that, the demon shot into the air until it was out of sight. Edwin watched it leave while the people cheered, but the sound had a hollow quality to it. Everyone knew that whatever just happened, it was just the start of things, and whoever this young man was, he was at its center. The city didn’t welcome those who bred chaos and discontent, and besides, Edwin had a demon to hunt down. He had absolutely no idea where to start, and so he fought his way through the crowd and made his way to the city’s edge. He took a deep breath and was about to take the final step when a motorcycle honked at him and zoomed past. Edwin watched it go, shrugged, and was about to take the step when a car pulled up behind him and a pair of pants hit him in the back of the head.
Kent stepped out of the car and asked, “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I have to hunt that thing,” said Edwin, now with pants. “I don’t know if I can actually beat it, but if I can keep it from hurting anyone, that would enough, right?”
“We’re not going to let you do it alone,” said Xen, exiting the car. Becca got out of the car, too, and jumped into Edwin’s arms.
“Did you hear me back there?” Becca kissed him.
“Yeah,” said Edwin. “I have to do this by myself. I’m the only one capable of doing anything in this situation.
“Bullshit,” said Kent. He flexed his robotic arm. “Look at this! I’m a freaking genius! Don’t tell me I can’t do anything against whatever is out there!”
“I’m not without my skills, either,” said Xen.
“And I’m here to give you all moral support,” said Becca, and she did a little cheerleader pose. “Yay, team!”
“All right, if you guys insist,” conceded Edwin, “But I want to make it clear that if there’s ever a point where you guys want to go home, you should do it. I don’t want any of you to get hurt. Especially you, Becca. I really don’t think you should come,” said Edwin.
“I’ll be fine,” said Becca. “We’ll all be fine!”
Xen asked, “Should we take the car?”
“I don’t see why not,” said Edwin. “Let me drive, though.”
Xen tossed him the keys and sat in the back seat, next to Becca. Kent was riding shotgun, and Edwin maneuvered his sword around the car’s seat. He shifted into drive, and took them all past the borders of Earth’s final colony, the last stronghold of humanity in a dying universe. They entered the wastelands of Elos, the ultimate planet, and set out to stop a demon. Edwin reflected that it had already been an interesting birthday.