As fast as you can (in your severely weakened condition) you make your way to the room Harold referred to as “the heart” of this place. A short hallway links the heart chamber in front of you to the grand hall behind you. As you walk the length of the hallway, it isn’t until you notice your breath steaming from your mouth that you realize the temperature is falling rapidly.
By the time you reach the heart chamber, your teeth are chattering and you have to keep your arms huddled close to your chest for warmth. Ghostly apparitions flit through the air in your peripheral vision, though all dissipate into dry mist when you turn to face them dead on.
The heart room itself is the most evenly shaped room in this damnable place. Perfectly smooth cylindrical walls, marred only by patches of frost, surround a solitary massive square pillar in the center of the room. Every surface in this room is made of seamless metal, and every face emits a small amount of steam. You place a hand on a wall and are surprised to find that it is fairly warm, like the shell of an egg.
You slowly make your way to the center of the room and begin walking around the center pillar. The pillar is made of the same metal as the rest of the room, though a touch reveals the pillar to be freezing cold. The pillar is etched on all sides with crude pictures of men and beasts that seems to tell a story, though you can’t quite make out what it’s supposed to be saying. It’s as if you’re reading another language with a similar alphabet — the pictures make sense, and you can tell that they mean something… but you’re not quite sure what.
All of the pictures, however, center around an image clearly recognizable as a human hand print on the side opposite the entrance door. Having exhausted all other options, you place your hand firmly on the handprint and then remove it. A subtle glow spreads from the handprint and follows the etchings around the pillar, and as it does it seems to provide an order to the etched pictographs. As the glow proceeds from one picture to the next, it seems to be acting as a kind of instruction manual. After staring at the thing for a short while, you’re pretty sure you know what to do.
Placing your hand once again on the hand print, you turn it clockwise. The room seems to spin and shift and time seems to draw out like the edge of a knife. You feel great energies whirling and spinning about you, the floor seems to fall away and before long you are standing on what seems like a high mountain, looking down on all creation. And a shadow stands with you.
The shadow, although formless, reminds you somehow of Benziah, although you could not say exactly how. Without moving, it seems to speak directly to your mind:
You have robbed me of my right to choose, Vladimir, but I have the right to be present during this, and that no man can take from me. His voice evaporates, and for a few moments all is still.
You look out across the valley of creation and you see three images overlayed on one another — all aligned in space but not in time. Your impression of these three images is absolutely clear.
In one, you see mankind in perfect harmony with itself and it’s environment. There is no waste, no hate, no murder — only perfect order.
In another, you see mankind subjected to the rule of the few. Petty thieves and princes rule over courts of misery and behind them you see a shadowy figure — their secret ruler. The master of hate and destruction that drives them and sets them against each other.
And in the last, you see the world as it is now — and yet, it is slightly different. You are different. It is as if the world you lived in has been shuffled around or erased…. and replaced with a new one. Similar in all respects, but definitely not the world you know.
Benziah’s ghost sees the look in your eyes and its ‘voice’ is thick with revulsion.
I know your mind, Vladimir. You would seek the fool’s path. But that path has a price, as well. If you choose a world of order, if all men are to live free and equal… that price must be paid somehow. That is what your patron offers you, Vladimir… it offers you death. And for what? Your life is snuffed out, your very existence expunged from the pages of reality… all so that the little puppets can dance without strings. His disdain drips from every word.
My patron, Vladimir, offers you life, not death. Furthermore, he offers you power. Look at the world my patron would offer — that shadowy figure you see behind the scenes is you! The reins are yours, you can rule as you wish. Choose chaos and choose life, Vladimir. The puppets will all dance on strings, and you can be the puppetmaster!
And should you choose neither, what do you get? A world just as bad as it is now, except no stone will stand on another. The world will be erased and made anew, and this whole stupid story will play out again. You and I will be caught up in it all, woven back into the fabric of the world to dance our little dance again for the amusement of the gods. He cackles. Oh that I had killed you first, Vladimir… I could have chosen to end this all…
And then Benziah’s voice is silent.
You stand for what seems like an an age and ponder the horrible choices left before you.
Suddenly, the answer is crystal clear to you. In a voice ten times your size you cry out to the cosmos:
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