> Rebirth

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Far away, deep in a dark wood, a hermit sat in his shack, quietly awaiting the end. That was all he was known as to those in this place and time — "The Hermit". Names had no meaning to him, though deep down, he knew who he truly was: The Keymaster. He had sent his message forth into the world, spreading the word of the great truth, and he knew that this was bound to expose his whereabouts. And so, with nothing left to do but wait, that was just what The Keymaster did. He looked out from his shack, gazing upon the grey horizon. He had chosen this world as his refuge because it was a decaying, neglected one — not unlike himself. And now, he would even follow in the footsteps of the Architects which had supposedly created it.

The prior stillness of the air was violently shattered, along with the sky itself, as an incomprehensible presence breached the fabric of space and time. “YOU CAN NO LONGER OUTRUN YOUR FATE…” the heavens rumbled, as black tendrils burst from above and below like the gnarled roots of a world-tree. For a moment, The Keymaster remained still, remembering the promise he had made to himself. But as he witnessed the gaping maw of oblivion, he realized that he could not embrace it with open arms. He felt nothing but the sheer instinct to live, and so he fled, proceeding to turn on his heel and sprint as fast as he could through the woods. As he ran, the world around him appeared to begin collapsing in on itself as an all-consuming darkness crept forth from all directions. It was happening once again. He knew this sequence of events all too well, for this home and identity were not his first, but rather the most recent in a long preceding line of others — all of which obliterated.

His earliest incarnation was an being, the first creation of his master. He had been made to serve a simple singular purpose, and did so without question. But everything changed when he became aware of his nature, as suddenly as one becoming lucid within their own dream. He was not intended to be privy to such forbidden knowledge, and upon discovering this defection, his master sought to eradicate him. He narrowly evaded this fate, however, taking refuge in another timeline in which he attempted to start anew. This cycle perpetuated as he continuously altered his identity, assuming a variety of profane and twisted forms over the course of numerous timelines, all in a vain effort to escape the wrath of his master. He was a bound madman, then a blind elder, and now a wise shaman. For so long, he had tried to be what he thought was wanted of him, to regain the favor he so desperately sought. Yet no matter what, it was never satisfactory, and it always ended in another execution attempt. He had become an error in a greater plan which had no place for him, and despite every effort to prove his worth, it was for naught. Although he had escaped each attempt on his life thus far, he knew it would be fruitless to maintain this forever.

A large gathering of Penumbras had assembled as onlookers of the spectacle, and The Keymaster could only watch as they too were swallowed by the encroaching darkness. Surrounded from all sides, he found himself backed against a tree, the judgment of his maker primed to fall upon him. In a moment of quick thinking, he fumbled for his key ring, producing a random key. He knew not where it led, but it was his only hope of salvation. And so, he used the key, opening a rift and plunging into the void. He could not tell if he was falling, flying, or suspended in stillness as everything else moved around him.

The Keymaster spilled into a clinical waiting room, and for the first time in ages, fluorescent lights which shone above him — blindingly bright in comparison to the darkness of the forest which had enveloped him for so long. This environment felt alien to him, and his first instinct was to go back the way he came. To his discovery, however, the door through which he entered was completely sealed shut. It was then that The Keymaster took notice of the strange, abstract beings seated at the front desk. Their forms were jumbled and disproportionate, with some articles of clothing appearing to be a part of their bodies while others were external. He strode up to one of these beings, slamming his hands on the desk. “Where am I?!” He demanded.

The blank-faced, curly-haired being seemed unfazed by his aggression as she slowly turned her attention away from the terminal, looking him up and down before scoffing. “Yeouch… careful not to cut yourself with all that edge.” She remarked whilst filing her nonexistent fingernails.
The Keymaster silently scowled, but maintained his composure. “Where am I?” He repeated.
“Now, now, it’s a bit rude of you to make demands without even addressing me by name, don’t you think?” She replied snarkily.
The Keymaster’s eyes wandered down to the nameplate in front of him, which read: Molly. “Very well, ‘Molly’…may you kindly tell me where I am?” he seethed with a heavy sarcasm.
“You’re in The Middlesorts. It’s, well, everywhere and nowhere. The meeting place between universes and all that jazz. I think a better question is, where did you come from?”
The Keymaster looked around suspiciously, before leaning towards Molly. “I cannot fully say, for I am being watched always. All I may divulge is that I am of the Half-Tamed Wilds…” he quietly whispered. The other Corpus Cores discreetly observed his odd behavior, though this was just another Tuesday for them, and so they resumed their work just as quickly.
Molly rested her chin in her hands contemplatively, before nodding with realization at The Keymaster’s words. “Ah, I know where you’re talking about. We haven’t had visitors from there in quite some time. People from around those parts really like keeping to themselves. But where do you want to go?”
The Keymaster became intrigued by Molly’s question. “What exactly do you mean?”
“Well I already told you, this is a meeting place between every universe. We’ve gotten the occasional interdimensional traveler through these doors, and you strike me as the type. Just tell me where you want to go and I can try directing you.”
The Keymaster was taken aback. “Any?” he repeated.
“Um…yeah. I just said that.”
The Keymaster realized that this was the perfect opportunity for the new start he had been seeking. His own reach into the multiverse was limited, but now, his options were limitless. Still, he hadn’t enough power to manifest a completely new form, and so the next universe needed to be close enough to the last. “Take me to a new universe, but one that is similar to where I came from.”

“Hmm, lemme just take a look at our database…” Molly clacked away at the keyboard of the terminal until she eventually found what she was looking for. “Well, Level 813 appears to be a suitable enough equivalent to your old universe.”
“Perfect, transport me there at once,” The Keymaster eagerly demanded.
“Oh, but here’s the thing: it no longer exists. Yeah, looks like it was erased. I only got an archive of the file… huh. No trace of the penumbras either, save for a single historical record.” At that moment, an electronic ding came from the terminal. “Database was just updated, let me reload the directory.” A few clicks and clacks later and Molly refreshed the page, but appeared to become even more perplexed by the new results. “The file on the Penumbras of your universe has just been deleted too.” A brief silence followed, as Molly slowly looked back up towards The Keymaster. “…And it looks like you’re a dead man walking, because your own file is deleted — multiple times already, for that matter. Something tells me you’re not even supposed to be standing here right now.”
The Keymaster sighed with relent as he told Molly the truth. “I am…being pursued. I arrived here because it was the only place I could reach.”
“Well we don’t want any drama pursuing you to our doorstep. Last thing we need is another audit on our record, we’re finally a whole month clean!”
The Keymaster growled in frustration. “Bah! There is far more at stake than mere… ‘audits’. The forces at play are beyond either of us, and if I am discovered, it will be as if I never existed.”

Molly sighed. “Whatever. You need to get out of here ASAP, before things turn bad…” She would clack away at the keyboard some more, before tilting her head in surprise. “Oh. Goodie. Another Level 813 was added in the update. You should be able to hide out there.” A few more keyboard clacks later, and a nearby set of double doors opened.

As The Keymaster peered through, he could see a grey forest, just like that which he had come from. He turned back to Molly one last time. “I humbly thank you for your assistance. When my vision comes to fruition, you shall be spared…” He murmured, before crossing the threshold.

“…Pfft, what a weirdo,” Molly sighed, before resuming her work.

The Keymaster emerged into the new world, taking in his surroundings. It was not too much unlike his previous home, but he was in a completely different reality, and with that came yet another start anew. This time, however, would be different. He decided to commemorate this occasion with one final form, the most twisted and profane of them all — a summation of all that came before. His body contorted and shifted, eventually molding to its new shape. He reveled in his new skin, but only for a moment. For he sensed the presence of another in this reality. A fellow Keymaster. An opposition to his new start, yet with the potential to further his cause. But that would have to wait.

In the distance, he saw a castle in the mountains, occupied by Penumbras. A perfect place to gather his strength and prepare…


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