When Oberon opened his eyes, after the darkness took him, he found himself sitting at his throne. He could feel a cold sweat on his forehead. He touched his brow and was relieved that it was his own. He had no horn, no scars, no tough skin; his body was all his own. He looked around, seeing it was dark and he could see nothing, not a flicker of candlelight or ray of sun in sight. He sighed. He must have simply fallen asleep. It must have been some fever dream. This tournament was certainly taking its toll. He almost laughed, more relieved than he had ever felt in a long time. The nightmare had felt so real. Even now, he still thought he could feel the thing called Kekremont tearing him open, while all he could do was flail like a terrified child in a body that was not his own. But that's all it was, he told himself. Just a dream…
Then Oberon looked down. His face went pale.
His throne seemed to be floating in darkness and he could look down. He saw, thousands and thousands of miles below, the entire World laid out before him. He could see the forests of Titania to the city of Gawain to the Black Spire, all of it.
"Enjoying the view?"
He looked over towards the voice. Standing in the blackness, as firmly as if he was on solid ground and smiling with rows of teeth like a razor's edge, was Asmodeus.
"You?" said Oberon. "But, what are you-"
Asmodeus laughed. "Oh, Oby…" Asmodeus walked and put his arm around Oberon, as if he was a close friend. "Oby, Oby, Oby," he said as he shook his head. "How much of a shock this must be to you…"
"What are you talking about?"
Asmodeus looked him in the eye. There was a glint of genuine amusement in Asmodeus's eye. As rigid and cold as Oberon had made himself over the years, that dark joy still managed to make him shiver ever so slightly.
"You're dead, Oberon," said Asmodeus. "Haven't you realized?"
Oberon said nothing. He knew as soon as Asmodeus said it that he was not lying. It all came flashing back, as vivid as any memory he had ever had. Every attack, every snapped bone, every moment of his life slowly draining from him as Kekremont left him to die.
All he could manage to say finally was a whispered "No…"
Asmodeus patted him on the shoulder and stepped away from the throne, looking down at the World.
"Yes yes…you have my deepest condolences," said Asmodeus cheerfully without anything resembling sympathy in his voice. "I mean, it's just all so tragic. After all, the ruler of the Elves, after all those plans, ends up dying alone like a coward at the hands of some rhino thing." Oberon glared over at him. Asmodeus ignored him and continued.
"And the really terrible part is it could have been avoided, if only Puck hadn't turned you into a creature like that Kekremont." He tisked and shook his head. "I can't even imagine where Puck would have gotten the idea to do such a thing."
Oberon's eyes widened in realization. Asmodeus just smirked.
"You…this was your doing?!" shouted Oberon. He began to stand up on his throne before he realized there was no solid ground to stand on.
"No, no, you've got it all wrong, Oberon. I would never dream of doing such a thing." He walked back over to the throne. "You see, you and I are a lot alike."
"I am nothing like you." But even to Oberon that statement felt hollow.
"Oh? Trying to make the nations dance on puppet strings, deceiving the World on massive scale, sacrificing anyone and everyone necessary to your own ends…" His eyes began to glow a sinister yellow. "Well, I certainly notice a few similarities."
"How dare you judge me?!" Oberon, for the first time it what could have been a century, shook with anger, his calm exterior shattered like glass. "I only wanted the World to be at peace!" He gritted his teeth. "I have lived for almost seven hundred years. I have seen my friends go to war and die, there one moment and gone the next like leaves torn by the wind. I have seen the Elves ally with the humans, go to war, and go back again so many times it would almost be comical if it did not end in countless deaths every time. I saw the Dark Lord's ambition turn towards total conquest, stopped only by a fluke by an idiot wizard. I saw the dwarves do nothing while the other nations worked to scorch one another!"
Asmodeus stood with his arms folded and, for a moment, Oberon saw Asmodeus's everlasting grin drop.
"Don't you see?" said Oberon. "This World would have destroyed itself in the end. I had to do something. I was the only one who could! I had to do this!"
Asmodeus stared at him for a moment. "Are you quite finished?" he said.
In a fit of rage, Oberon lunged from the throne at Asmodeus. Before, Oberon would never have shown such overt anger, never would have lunged at someone if there was even the slightest chance they could best him. But Oberon didn't care. He reached his arms for Asmodeus, hoping to strangle him. It might not kill him; he wasn't even sure the kind of creature Asmodeus was could even be killed, but he would try.
However, he fell short, just inches from Asmodeus, he felt himself drop and looked down, the World thousand and thousands of feet below…
Asmodeus caught Oberon by the neck of his cloak. He looked down at Oberon and started laughing.
"I have to say, I wasn't expecting that. No need to be so dramatic, Oby."
"Don't…call me…that…" he said. He reached up to strike Asmodeus, but Asmodeus instead hurled him with surprising strength into his floating throne. He felt the throne tetter violent as he struck it and, for a moment, he was afraid whatever force was holding it up would give out; yet, somehow, it stayed afloat.
"Now…if I could please continue…" said Asmodeus gesturing to himself. "Really, I do understand. And despite what you may think, I do feel for you. It's tragic you won't see the result of it all."
"Well, you didn't think your plan would end just because you died, did you?" Asmodeus shook his head. "No no, the wheels are still in motion. Most of your contestants are still in the World, after all. You saw to that yourself. But unfortunately, being presently deceased, you're not in any position to see all that. Your soul being around would certainly complicate things, but luckily your…well, let's say morally questionable nature, allows me to exercise some control over your soul's fate. "
Oberon paled. He did not understand. He had worked on this plan for a long time, planning every possible outcome, and it ended like this. And he did it all to save the world. He was so utterly convinced that he was doing the right thing, that he was the only one who could ensure the World's salvation. Now, staring into the eyes of a demon who basically said his soul was his, he was unsure. He thought about all the things he had done, all the lives he had disrupted and destroyed over the course of the tournament. He had rationalized them as sacrifices. He thought he was serving the greater good.
But now, Oberon could not help but think… was there anything about him that ever served good?
Asmodeus smiled widened a bit, as if he could hear Oberon's thoughts (and for all Oberon knew about the creature, he could).
"But you see, this is good," said Asmodeus. "Like I said, I understand. And since you can't see the true World, I wanted to offer you something else. A parting gift of my own creation." He waved his hand down to the World stretching far and wide below them. "This may not be the real World, but its close enough. Consider it the World as it is soon to be." He leaned over to Oberon, seeming to take joy in the fear that was growing in his eyes. "I will show you the future of the World and you will be able to look down at it from above, like a savior, a king… a god. Just like you've always wanted."
Oberon stared up at Asmodeus then heard a faint noise coming from below. He looked down at the World. He nearly gasped. Suddenly the sky had become covered in smoke. When he looked to the source, he saw the World Tree in flames. He could hear the crackling of the fire even where he was and, when he was listening, he heard a high pitch scream so loud it felt as if it was right next to him.
Asmodeus whispered in his ear while Oberon stared down at the flames. Even while Asmodeus spoke, he could hear more screams coming louder and louder, the flames spreading throughout all of Titania and the Great Forest.
"All this time, so focused on becoming the savior, of saving the World…" whispered Asmodeus. "Oby… did it ever occur to you the World didn't want to be saved? That in the end, this was the only possible outcome?"
The screams were coming louder in louder. As he looked down, his vision flashed for a moment. He saw, clearly, an elf child surrounded by fallen trees covered in flames holding a stuffed bear. It was there one moment, then gone another. A few seconds later, he felt a stabbing pain in his head and saw men and elves running from a man with glowing red eyes and blue hair, whom the flames seemed to dance around, moving as if he was being pulled by strings. When his vision returned, he looked up to Asmodeus, who was looking down at the World as the flames spread and the screams of the dying filled the air. Of course, his smile never even faltered.
"Don't you think it's a little ironic, Oby, that for all your planning to bring world peace that all you managed to do was speed them to the end?" he said. "One way or another, a part of them desired something that would lead to this…"
Oberon saw another flash, this one showing the Dark Lord sending his armies against the human armies. He saw them clash and he saw the blood spill onto the grass as the smoke billowed above them. He could hear the screech of orc and the scream of humans as they died. Oberon felt a feeling in his chest that there was a bottomless cavern where his soul used to be. He felt oddly numb.
"In their own way, they will create this future, all the threads of fate leading her. Almost as if the World is wishing for this to happen. And, I'm not sure if I've mentioned this to you, Oby... but I so love granting wishes."
Oberon could not say anything. All he could do was look down and see the World, the only world he had ever known or loved, destroyed right below him.
"Look down, my friend," said Asmodeus in Oberon's ear. "Look down and see all the good you've wrought. Forever."
Oberon looked up towards Asmodeus, but he was gone when he looked up. He looked around, but could see the creature no where. He sunk in the chair. He did not need to ask where he went.
Asmodeus had gone back to the World, the real one. He would see that this is the future of the World, though he could not fathom why. He would lead the World to this.
He heard more screams in his ear, women and children, man and orc, all of them howling together like a dark chorus on the wind.
No, was all Oberon could think as he watch the smoke envelop the World. It was me. I led the World to this.
It was me…