The dust stung his eyes, but he knew it could not be dust. The blazing sun, the cracked clay earth, it wasn’t real exactly. The minotaur bent down and touched the ground, rubbing the soil bbetween his fingers. It certainly felt real. If there were seams in the disguise, holes in the tapestry, Dulan couldn’t see them. He was walking inside the mind of a stranger and planning to face off against an enemy more ancient and powerful than anything he’d ever understand.
Six images floated nearby, spirit servants summoned as companions and guardians. Each in turn spoke its name and pledged its service. There was:
-Brother Snake the hypnotist, the charlatan, the liar. Poisonous smile, poisonous eyes, poisonous mind. He can trick even himself, bending backwards to attack his own tail.
-Brother Bear, sullen protector, great guardian. Overbearing, Overpowering, Overprotective.
-Brother Vulture, blood drunk. Bloated war-glutton, herald of death, he is the first to bring new life to the killing fields.
-Brother Tiger the brilliant. He carefully calculates and hunts with single minded purpose. He likes to toy with his dinners.
-Brother Beetle in his blackened shell. He is cautious, guarded, paranoid, but attacks with blinding speed and strength.
-Brother Broken the no-mind, the identity of no identity. His is the name of the void, a swirl of darkness around a white mask.
And before them spun a great cyclone, a vortex of sand and dust at the center of the wasteland. Phantoms images gathered before the wind’s fury to enact some old tribal minotaur rite of passage. They gathered children to throw into the cyclone. Hulking beast-men painted in sky-blue chalk hurled their children into the storm. They were taken at once, their skin stripped away, vanishing into the tornado.
Dulan rushed to save the children, but his hands passed straight through them. This was a memory, an old routine playing out in the mind of Abra, the strange shaman who has promised to help Dulan sever his connection to Baphomet, demonic father of all minotaurs. And yet, there was something hiding behind the memory, a vision of chains and bone. A poisonous claw lashed out from the illusions to strike the spirits. The spirits rallied and struck back.
Brother Bear threw himself forward first to protect the children, despite their illusory nature. Brother Vulture threw himself screaming to the winds, to speed by and dive in a blood-curdling attack. Brother Snake wove around the distant fields, casting his nefarious magicks. Brother Beetle lumbered to the center to snap at the chains connecting all the hidden claws. Brother Tiger directed the battle, rallying his friends while Brother Broken, ignoring him, lunged directly into the heart of the storm.
The soul of the storm emerged, a construct like a dragon made of twisted chains and cattle bones, dripping with poison, covered in obsidian shards like scales of black glass. It screamed and charged, attempting to drive away the interlopers. Dulan called upon his ancestors who rose like a thousand mouths from the ground to snap at the beast. So distracted, Brother Vulture could fall from the sky to drive his hammer into the dragon’s face.
Howling, the creature split into a thousand prehensile strands of chain, fleeing back into the cyclone. Dulan gave chase, fighting against the brutal, blinding winds to the center.
The dragon slipped into a cave at the eye of the storm. As they approached the cave, the spirits noticed the rocks becoming a giant skull, and the cave, an eye socket. They were standing inside a vast hourglass with the sand running out beneath their feet. They hurried inside.
They chased the dragon into the twisting halls beyond. The cave was now a pathway of glass suspended in some kind of astral vacuum. They were no longer in Abra’s mind, but traveling along a pathway linking him to that great demon, the progenitor Baphomet.
They could see the whole of the network, the psychic pipes binding every minotaur to Baphomet’s heart. They could see deaths like flashes of light; energy pulsing down the length of the construct, feeding the demon. As they neared, they could see the reality of the creature and his very nature. Baphomet, the monster, blood-hungry war-bringer, was no more than a machine, like a calculator. His labyrinths of madness were no more than circuit paths, his vast design and every function powered by violence, fear, and death. He was a computer, built at the dawn of time to perform a single task, to answer a single question, and he has labored with single-minded determination ever since.
There, finally, at his heart did they find that missing piece of Abra, the connection to Baphomet, arcane perfection, the astral computer. Bound in silk and hovering over a pit of cracking energy, a shadow of a young boy minotaur hung. Over him crawled the dragon, licking its wounds. Milky grey flesh plumped over the broken links of his chain-body as it slithered forward to devour the spirits.
Ready for battle, the spirits threw themselves at the monster. Hidden in the wyrm’s tongue was a dripping fang loaded with a terrible poison. Brother Vulture, taken with a sting, fought to hild his very midn together as the venom worked its way. It was Brother Broken, smiling, who took the beast unawares. Moving like a whisper, he cleanly swapped his mind for that of the beast.
Screaming in hatred, the beast now controlling the Broken spirit attacked Dulan. Brother Broken steered the dragon into the pit, bracing the beasts horrid face into the burning light. Held there, the party rained pain and fury down, pressing the creature further and further towards death.
But it was Dulan who made his peace with the universe. Seeing time and space, and his place in it; he connected to the vastness, calling out. He realized his place in the puzzle, and yet, a piece that carried the whole of the puzzle with him. He shattered his spirit-self into a thousand pieces, each burning like a star, forming into swirling constellations. The whole of creation, filled plump like a womb opening into the birth of time itself. The light and heat burned forward, searing the beast, driving the flesh from bone, breaking the chains, burning the sticky silk. And from the supernova he stepped, reborn.
The spirit of Abra, now freed from Baphomet, floated forward. Teered flooded his ghostly face as he thanked Dulan. A moment of horror then, and confusion. Dulan asked the matter, but Abra replied cryptically with, “When it comes your time to be free, you will be given a choice. You must not hesitate. Promise me that! You must not hesitate!”
And when he awoke from his trance, the shaman was gone…