art by Seth Alan Bareiss
The Chosen One Can't Lose
by Sean Vivier
Your Uncle Abraxas stands at the door. His eyes are wide and his hair tangled. He lifts his chin and sniffs at you.
"Come, boy," he says. "The time is upon us. You must fulfill your destiny as the Champion of Light!"
If you abandon everything for adventure with your Uncle Abraxas, go to two.
If you insist that you would rather stay in the comfort of your own home, go to three.
Abraxas gives you just enough time to gather some food and changes of clothes. He gestures magnanimously at the wagon that will take you.
Go to four.
The last thing you see is Uncle Abraxas's staff on its way to meet your forehead. You awake to find yourself on the road in the seat of a wagon. Uncle Abraxas grimaces down at you.
"So sorry, my boy," he says. "This is much too important a matter. You'll thank me later. Oh, and I've taken the liberty of packing some of your food and clothing."
Go to four.
The ride is spent with history lessons arcane and strange. Some of it takes the form of song, in Abraxas's raspy voice. You learn that you are the Champion of Light, that you and only you can stop the Abyss. It is both being and place at once, a genius loci that longs only for destruction. Abraxas also gives you the Sword of Will, which only exists when you put effort into making it exist.
At a crossroads, a roadside camp awaits. Three men in boiled leather armor stand outside polishing longbows and short swords. They inform you that their brotherhood has adopted the road and there is a toll to continue.
If you hand over your money, go to five.
If you will your new sword into being and leap into their midsts, go to six.
As you search your luggage for your purse, Uncle Abraxas announces that you are the Champion of Light, and you will not be stayed or kept by any mortal power.
You feel his hand on the neck of your tunic. You feel him haul your body over the wagon. You're falling. You barely land on your feet, and before you even realize it, you've called the Sword of Will to hand.
Go to six.
You've skewered the first man even as your feet hit the ground. The longbowman fires an arrow. Before you know it, you've batted it aside in midair so that it kills the other shortswordsman. It's what you wanted to happen, so that's what the Sword of Will did.. And as the longbowman readies another arrow, you know you have no choice but to close the distance and run him through.
By nightfall, you reach a field filled with pavilions. It's the combined might of seven nations, come to fight under your banner.
You sleep in fits.
If you run away in the night, go to seven.
If you decide to stay with the army, go to eight.
You wait until most everyone is asleep and the watch fires have died to embers. Then you tell the guards on duty that you need to slip by them to pee. They obey their Chosen One. Only then do you run.
You've run out of breath before you've made it a mile. Yours was never an active life. When you finally come to a panting stop to lean against a tree, Uncle Abraxas is there, shaking his head.
"Don't you understand yet? You're the one we've chosen. We aren't going to let you go."
Go to eight.
The army of all nations marches ever toward the Abyss. You can begin to see it in the distance. Sulfur rises from it, and the occasional burst of molten rock.
Seven kings serve as your honor guard wherever you go. You never have a moment away from at least five of them. In theory, you command this army. In practice, Abraxas gives the orders.
You don't really have any choices, you come to realize. If you're destined to defeat the Abyss, then how does any choice you make have any meaning?
Earthquakes grow in intensity as, in the distance, the land around the Abyss begins to rise. Demons from the Abyss attack in numbers great and small. They have bodies like men, but with traits borrowed from unclean animals such as locusts and boars and serpents. You never come close enough to see many details. An army stands between you and them, to make sure you reach the Abyss whole and hardy.
At last, the army and the honor guard of kings parts to make way for the Champion of Light. You rise on a basalt mound before the Abyss, trying not to gag on sulfur fumes. Below, lava flows and burns. You will your sword to hand.
You can't help but think: no matter what choices you had made before, this is where you would have found yourself.
You raise your sword hand high....
If you plunge the Sword of Will into the Abyss, go to nine.
If you hesitate, go to nine.
Abraxas takes hold of your wrist with a superhuman grip you never knew such a fragile old man could have. He forces your hand down until the Sword of Will buries itself in molten rock to the hilt. Your hand sears on the sword. The magma shudders for the briefest moment and there is a sound like a scream. Then the rock stills. The Abyss is now but lifeless stone.
You will away the sword, but it has already left a brand on the web of your hand. It will mark you forever as a hero.
Strange, but you don't feel like your actions made any difference.
This story was first published on Wednesday, April 17th, 2013