Object 14

The Holder of the Adversary

In any city, in any country, venture across the highways and lonely roads until you reach the city's bottom rung. Walk among the ones society has cast away, beggars and poor picked raw by the demands of those better off. Should you come across a scruffy man under a large oak tree holding a bottle of liquor in a paper bag, his shirt sweat-stained and his pants muddled, do not be afraid to ask him if he knows of the one who calls itself "The Holder of the Adversary."

More than likely, he will smile knowingly at you, like an old friend with whom you've just shared an inside joke. Do not be alarmed; the man knows of the one you search for. The less fortunate of us often know things we will never dream of. He will guide you to a manhole and casually slide the metal lid off with one grimy boot. Tossing you a small flashlight which flickers precariously, he will urge you down into the darkness.

Once inside the putrid womb of the sewage system, you will come to realize that it bears no unpleasant scent - no scent whatsoever, in fact. But, in turning on the flashlight and gazing at your surroundings, you will notice you are in a round room. On all the walls will hang partially decomposed bodies, their owners forever suspended in a state of half-awareness, feeling the pain and horror of a body withering and rotting around them. Corpses litter the floors, and you may notice that one nearby touches you. Do not shrink back. To show cowardice would invite no creature or entity that you would do well to know.

Once you have observed your surroundings, the smell will arrive. It will be the most awful thing you could imagine: human and animal excrement, sulfur, rotting bodies, burning flesh. You will want to claw your nose from your face, and the watering of your eyes will nearly blind you.

But do not cower, do not run, and resist the urge to vomit. You will find a thought in your head, unbidden: "We are the remains of the ones who could not face the Adversary." There is no source of this whisper, though it may curl around you as if carried by the stench itself. Suddenly, the bodies will rupture and burst, one by one, releasing more of the horrible stench and bathing you in rotted bodily fluids and slimy chunks of human refuse.

The corpses then will sink to the floor, and what rises from the slurry is a creature of pure beauty. Man, woman, or something else entirely - it depends on you yourself. It will not be possible to shake your gaze from this gorgeous, naked human until you realize the creature is an idealized caricature of you. Confident, heart-achingly gorgeous, smiling a gentle, patient smile, It will be everything you yourself could ever desire to become.

You will be overcome by a sudden jealousy, a total anger, a need to annihilate this perfect you. Do not give in, no matter how strong the temptation. If you do, you are doomed to the Adversary's wrath - the eternal torment of the Damned you have witnessed prior. There is only one question you must ask the exquisite creature: "What could they destroy?"

The Holder of the Adversary will laugh at you melodically, condescendingly, and will explain to you as though you are a small, stupid child exactly the answer to your question. It will spare you no details, even the most horrific. Though horrifying, the story will be interesting and calming to listen to, and you will find yourself absorbed in a childlike fascination with the Holder. You may liken its story to one told to you by a loved one or a guide when you were a child, and you will know that you now have the key to defeating the Adversary - that which the Damned could not acquire.

At the end of the story, the Holder will ask, smiling pleasantly, "What will you do now, my child?" If it asks you anything else, or tells you something different, your fate is sealed, and when you eventually emerge from the sewer, the ragged people you have encountered will descend upon you like ravenous animals, and tear you apart with tooth and nail, feeding on your body. There is no escape, only the knowledge that it will happen.

Regardless of your fate, the Holder will place an Object in your palm and close your hand around it. "You mustn't open your hand until you are free of this place," it will say, as a fitting goodbye.

Now you must turn and leave, and do not look back. Once you escape the sewer, and if you are lucky, you may open your fingers. What you will find there is a green plastic army man toy.

That toy is Object 14 of 2538. It understands how to defeat your greatest foe, and must never be allowed to join the rest.