Emcee and the Proving Grounds

Emcee waits, at the yawning maw of the labyrinth, for the Heroes to appear. Those few ordained by destiny to duel for the treasures within. He smiles, revealing a mouth of endless teeth. All incisors, the jagged blades run down the length of his throat to his gut. Perhaps they even line his intestines. Emcee is always smiling, a sharp, white grin carved on his black face, brushing dust from his cloak with long thin fingers as he waits. The velvet garment runs down to beneath his knees. Below them long black socks are stuffed into wooden shoes painted to match a starless sky. He does a little dance at his station, a jig to keep up the energy of a silent existence, and delights at the clattering echo the clogs make on the stone. Small pleasures, but one takes what one can.

Humming a happy song, Emcee checks and checks again that the registration forms are in order, and that each of the eight to come has their place. The eponymous master of ceremonies pushes the microphone this way and that, adjusts the table millimeter by millimeter. How long he has stood there he cannot recall—perhaps since before a world grew around him—but Emcee senses the purpose of his life comes nigh. To observe the battles, announce the deaths and the victor of those fated few favored by Fortune. This is why he was born. And so he grins. And so time passes. Night turns to day and back again hundreds, nay thousands, of times over. Sustained by the magic of fate, Emcee waits.

There is another beside him, one with no name, a figure of light. Emcee knows it is by this creature’s will that these pieces are aligned. He the witness, they the fated, the paradoxical war to come. Not for the first time, he turns to the blinding one and asks to understand.

“So, you take a group of heroes…”

Yes. The creature of brilliance has no mouth, and so speaks from the air. This place is its creation, nature its plaything to bend and perform as it wishes.

“Each born under a fated star-”

Mmm hmm.

“And then pit them against each other? …Why?”

Why do any of us do anything? To see what will happen next. I am the instigator, the adversary. You are the neutral force, the observer, who holds this tale together. They, the heroes, will fight here at the proving grounds to see who…

“Who…?”

Who will be the one to-

“To what?”

Instead of answering, the being of light flares up into the sky, disappearing as a beam that stretches off across the horizon. Off to some other world where it stirs its glowing fingers in some other plot, perhaps.

“Always a damn mystery,” Mutters Emcee.

To see what will happen next, this mysterious talk of roles, like this is some play and the sunny beast its director was always the creature’s reply. Emcee knows not to ask wherefrom this creature hailed, or how he had connived to bring him thus into the world. It only answers the questions it cares to answer.

Reaching into his memories from before this place is like casting a line through fog into a dead sea. Nothing nibbles, but perhaps the corpses of rotting fish drift just below the surface, his past life, bloated and forgotten and out of reach.

From the mountaintop where Emcee stands, he can see little past the fog that settles just below the peak. Only the outline of rocks, the hint of a thinning tree line, a stream trickling down towards the estuary of the river whose faint rumble reaches his ears. There is no life on this planet but that which lives in the water and that of the trees—and his life, Emcee supposes. But the birds, were there any, would remain ever silent as there is no dawn for them to herald. The only light on this world departed with the Instigator.

Emcee stares into the always starless, always benighted sky, and sighs.

“Let this begin soon… or let me die.”

And yet, even as his says those words, he is smiling.