Who was I?
I had been Jerek, the cowherd. I had lived and I had loved and I had died as Jerek. My resurrection had altered me, but I had still come from Jerek, reborn from him like a phoenix. Would a phoenix change when it was reborn? Would it suffer a crisis of identity?
I had nearly died a second time, when the fire goblin rescued me. And now that same goblin planned to kill me. I needed to change the game.
That's when I heard the first whisper.
"This is a harsh world, youngling. Would you rather not be killed after all?"
From deep in my chest I felt a sudden screaming panic - a terror unlike any I had ever felt. And then, an instant later, it was gone. Not dulled - gone. A part of myself peeled off and left me. I felt a clarity that had been missing since my fall in the river.
"What did you do?" I whispered.
"I killed," the voice whispered back. "That river spirit was needless baggage. He thought to use you for his own short-sighted ends."
"And what do you seek to use me for?" I asked.
"I am older than the river and its petty games. I don't want to adjust the balance of power. I want to overturn it. I want to remake the world."
"And with my help you can do it?"
"On the contrary," the voice whispered. "With my help, you will do it. And the new world will be born in your image. All you must do is accept my power. Become my proxy, and wreak my vengeance upon the world."
"I would have to kill?" I said. For the first time, Belinda seemed to notice my whispering to myself. She flew to the goblin's ear and began conversing with him, urgently, in hushed tones.
"Of course you would kill," the voice said. "You will kill a whole world. An entire existence will wither under your touch. Men will amass themselves to fight you, and women will scream and hide their children at your approach. That is the price."
I considered. The fire goblin was waving Belinda away as he would a mosquito. Try as he would, she could not attract his attention.
I thought of Amanda. What would she say if I turned into a killer? Could I have saved her from the butcher, with this kind of power?
"Of course you could," the voice whispered. "This is your world. You can destroy what you like, and save the rest. You may find little enough worth saving, however."
I looked at the trees, dark and laden with snow. I looked at the goblin, face full of hate, swatting at his most faithful companion. I thought of my parents.
"I accept," I whispered.