My great-uncle used to tell me stories of a man before bedtime. They seemed so far-fetched, for children. He told me that this great man saved the world more times than anyone could count. He made evil be good and he made dark be light. He brought Yin to yang and good to Evil. He made everything fair.

After I found out about the Objects and the Holders, I came to the conclusion that there must have been some truth to what my great-uncle D told me.

However he came about knowing these stories, I'll never know, I haven't seen him in years.

It's a story about a man with a purpose.

They called him The Balance, and he must be maintained.

The Balance

I stared at the man on the other side of the table.

He was old and bent. His long, silvery beard protruded from the blackness under his hood. His cloak seemed to flow without wind, and his cane somehow radiated feeling. What feeling? I'm not quite sure, but I know I felt something. Something strong, too; in fact, it's the only thing I remember feeling.

I'd met him online. He called himself "Factions" and had apparently been looking for me for quite some time.

As in 10,000 years.

Now that I think of it, it sure fits the age he looked, even though I never quite saw his face.

I offered him wine and he took it rather enthusiastically. He showed no hostility toward me, so I had no reason to feel afraid. Then again, that makes sense, considering that... something... that permeated the air. I could still function. I could still think straight. In fact, if anything, it seemed to keep me alert and aware.

Eventually, he finished his wine and leaned forward. The light from the candles glowing on the table revealed small, subtle glimpses of what the man's face looked like under his hood. Pale. Wrinkled. Typical, considering he was a ten-thousand-year-old man.

We continued to chat idly. We talked about all sorts of things. About loves. About losses. About ambitions and dreams. He obviously had more to say than I did. After all, he had ten millennia on me. But he held his tongue and allowed me to speak as much as he. Perfect balance, you might say.

After much dancing around it, we finally arrived at the Objects. I told him about the two I'd already gotten: Object 375, the Toga of the Gods, and Object 137, the Ankle Brace of Submission. I told him about how I got them both. It was quite a lengthy story, but he seemed intrigued and kept urging me to continue. I told him about how I attempted to retrieve The End, but left empty-handed and emotionally scarred. The memory was almost enough to make him feel sad, but no sooner had the thought crossed his mind than he dismissed it. Sorrow was impossible; the feeling continued to settle and calm him, forcing itself upon him.

After I finished my story, the man stood up and removed his hood. He wore a large pair of cracked circular glasses which seemed to reflect light in all directions, ever shielding his eyes from my view. He gazed upon me and smiled at me with a mouthful of false teeth.

"I'd bet you're wondering why I have been searching for you," he said in a raspy, wise voice.

"I have indeed, Mr. Factions."

"I came to give you a message. What you're feeling right now... well, I call it awareness, but it's much more powerful than that, isn't it?"

I nodded; "awareness" as a good description, in the same sense that "cold" is a good description of the North Pole.

"You have faced The End and lived. You possess the powers of Unyielding Will and all the immaculate powers of the Gods. Though the Objects will inevitably come together, though without the Objects you are a mere mortal, you are different from most Seekers... from all Seekers, now that I think on it. Legion should fear you. The End allowed you to leave because he knew any attempt to kill you would be futile."

I sat back, soaking it all in. I'd never heard of such a thing, but I understood it all the same. More importantly, I knew that not a single word was false. This man would never lie to me. I couldn't explain how I knew, but I did. I had questions, though, and all the time in the world to ask. My first question was the most obvious:

"Why?"

The man shoot his head. "It's unexplainable, yet all will become clear eventually. Just know that death isn't in the cards for you at the moment, if ever."

"When you're a Seeker, dying is the least of your worries. The Holders can do things to you that make death seem like bliss," I retorted.

The hooded man gave a short, loud laugh and slowly poured himself another glass of wine, filling his glass halfway. He stirred it by moving his hand in a circular motion, and then took a small sip. I could tell he enjoyed the taste, and the sensation of the liquid passing over his tongue. He swallowed, thinking that the wine could have been aged a bit longer.

I had no idea how I knew what he was thinking, but I did know that I liked it. My newfound omniscience would have been even more enjoyable, if only I could have felt joy at the moment. I remained clam and focused on our conversation.

"Alright," I said. "If I'm as powerful as you say, I can't be human. What am I?"

The man laughed. It was genuine enough, frail and raspy, but full of soul. "You are still Dallas. You are, and will forever be, you. You just haven't discovered your purpose yet. It's a divine purpose."

"Divine? As in holy?"

"There's another question on your mind; ask it first."

I did. "What purpose?"

The man smiled again. "Since the beginning of time, the Universe, along with everything within it, has always been about balance. Good was always equal to evil. Devastation was in perfect harmony with creation. Death and birth. Yin and Yang, black and white.

"However, as more and more Seekers continue to abuse the Objects, using their power for greed and selfish desire, and in doing so becoming more like the Foulest of Beings, along with the Holders themselves becoming more and more agitated, their rage against the Seekers every swelling, that balance is now off. In which direction, I cannot say, but suffice it to say that a skew in one direction is just as dangerous as one in the other."

I knew exactly who he meant when he spoke of "The Foulest of Beings" with a hint of disgust in his voice. Jack Empty. If the rumors were true, he would bring about the universe's ultimate destruction. Some say that chaos follows in his wake. He was immortal, yet he was not human, nor demon, nor angel, nor Holder. I also realized that the "pocket universes" the Objects were said to create were more complicated than I knew. I cursed my ignorance, which by this point I realized all of humanity was blissfully basking in.

I thought for a moment about my next few questions, but after a few minutes, I realized that I really only had one.

"What is it you need of me?"

The old man's cloak waved from head to toe, as if a strong gust of wind blew it from behind. The torn ends kissed the table between us. He shifted, licked his cracked, dry lips, and brushed the rim of his glasses with his knuckle.

"Dallas, I am not a Holder, but rather a Keeper. The Keeper of Equality, to be precise. My sole purpose is to restore balance by any means necessary. However, I cannot magically restore the balance in the universe. It must be forced back into equality. This is where you come in. There are many Forces in this war. There are the Seekers, the Holders, and the Objects themselves. That last one may sound strange, but you see, they are mere components to a much larger entity. Because of this, they have a common mind - a collective soul, if you will. There are the Heavens. There are the Hells. There are others too: the ones who created the Objects, Legion, Edo Edi Essum, the Keepers of Religion, and countless others. They all fight each other, desperately trying to tip the balance in their favor, and humanity is blissfully unaware of the tempest ever churning around them. In many ways, mankind is the only faction keeping the balance, so that even in pandemonium there is harmony."

The man paused to inhale; it was sharp and sounded painful.

"Factions, Equality, Balance. They are all off. Evil and Darkness are beginning to rule over all the realms. I cannot balance this with my power alone. But I can imbue my power unto others."

As I listened, I began to understand where he was going, what he was trying to say. It began to dawn on me the sacrifice he was thinking of making. Yet his explanation hadn't answered my question. I asked again.

"What is it you need of me?"

The man chuckled. It was a different laugh than the one he had before, riddled with nervousness and fake glee. Feeling only tense apprehension, I noticed this and leaned over to put my hand on his shoulder. The cloak felt warm, and slide under my hand, almost as if the garment itself was embracing me.

"Look at things through my eyes," he said. "That's all I ask of you. But before you do, you have one more question for me. Ask it, for it will be the last question I shall answer."

I nodded and forced an unemotional smile. "What will I become?"

"You will become The Balance, the equal and opposite to all that is unbalanced. For the Evil and Hate spilling into the worlds, you will become the Divinity and the Love. For Death, you will become Resurrection. And when the end of all things is nigh, and the Objects come together - make no mistake, Dallas, they will come together - you will balance the horrible and indescribable torment that will come to pass."

I nodded, and the overwhelming feeling of awareness faded, suddenly and completely, subsiding to my normal human emotions. I knew how Mr. Factions was going to change me, and to do so, he needed to use both my Objects. The toga and the ankle brace were both on my person, and I set them on the table.

Since the day I became a Seeker, I have always known three things: first and foremost, they must never come together. Second, in these games, it was all or nothing. Finally, the Objects could never be destroyed or created.

On that last thing, I was about to be proven wrong.

Faction took the Objects in his hands and, with more power than I thought the frail man could possibly possess, he smashed them together. The toga was engulfed in a white flame and the ankle brace shattered into pieces. At that moment, those two Objects seemed to lose the power they once possessed, the power that was supposed to be invincible. The old, frail man said a few short words in a language I did not understand, then vanished, as did the ashes of the toga and the pieces of the ankle brace. The man's hood sank to the chair. I got up and ran to his seat. On top of his robe lay a note, I picked it up and removed the wax seal. The design on the seal had a large B on it. I opened the note and read the three words in the middle of the page.

Put them on.

I looked at the cloak; its brown color had turned to a dim white. Sitting on the floor almost directly beneath the chair were the glasses, which had, by some strange power, been fixed. I took the hood in my hands and spun it around my shoulders, sliding the glasses overtop my face. At that moment, I ceased being Dallas the Seeker, I became something more.

I am The Balance.

And I must be maintained.

Balancing Emptiness.

"I have been searching for you, Yochanan."

"Please, call me Jack. Why are you looking for little old me?"

"You corrupted Legion, who now wishes to bring them together."

"It's been done before, they say. It will be nice to see what happens after all this. Besides, that was years ago, much before you were born."

"I cannot let that happen; they must never come together."

"Have we met before? Yes... that cloak rings a bell. I wonder where... wait. You're his boy! The one he was looking for! You're not worth me wasting my voice; talk to Legion if you need to talk."

"In due time, Yochanan."


Although Balance's powers were supposedly limitless, he couldn't stop remembering their encounter. He was the Yin to the entire Yang, and he was Good to all Evil, He is the Balance. Which is why he should be able to equalize this realm. He is able to invoke good deeds and to prevent further chaos. Yet he couldn't bring an end to Yochanan. He tried. He couldn't, there was nothing to balance. The man was hollow through and through, and Dallas couldn't balance emptiness. He has no soul to tear out, no body to maim. All Balance succeeded in doing was sending him back to Hell, which wasn't all that bad, considering the other things Yochanan had been through. And for how long? A few years? Days? How long before one of the Gods of the Underworld release him? Yochanan doesn't even take orders from Satan, nor from Hades, Diablo, Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, or Set. In fact, it seems quite the opposite. They keep a suite open for him, just in case he decides to stop by. Almost as if the Gods are... threatened, by him.

Some Gods they are.


"You're the Balance, aren't you?" "That is true, Yochanan, I am the Balance."

"Then I assume you think that I am setting that off? Isn't that why you are here?"

"Correct."

"Interesting. You know... once upon a time I had morals and a goal like you. But that all changed...

A man came to me. He said I wasn't who he was waiting for. Yet the world was too bright then; the good outweighed the wrong... In a way, we're a lot alike, wouldn't you say?"


Dallas even, for a short time, had to come face-to-face with his corruption - the offspring of his offspring, if you could have called him that. More like Bastard child of a tortured and raped woman. Jon. Balance had to stop him, he had to undo what had been done to him. Try as he did, though, in the end Balance was only able to prevent him from doing what he had planned, he was able to stop him from killing those innocent people, one time. There were so many who would have been affected. Balance stopped him; he kept the evil at bay. But that was merely Yochanan's handiwork. The payoff of years of Yochanan's experimenting and toying with mortal lives. He'd spoke to many, many Holders, and the ones who an talk all say the same thing; the world was a better place before Yochanan was in it.

Which was enough motivation to rid the world of him.


"Who're you going for after me? Legion? Will you go after the Objects?"

"No, the Objects, Holders, and Seekers all equalize each other, like three equal legs to a stool. You, however, have stolen something that was once dear to a good friend of mine..."

"Ahh... Him."


Yochanan has corrupted Holders, and in doing so making their Objects just as corrupt. Balance feared he will soon be forced to destroy some of them, the Objects. In doing so, however, he would cause the Seekers to hate him, the Holders to fear and resent him, and the Objects themselves to reject him. He would have to maintain the balance alone, which he simply cannot do. So, instead, he tried to vanquish Yochanan, striking him with some of his power, like showing a card trick to a magician; sending him back to the pits of Hell. You want to know what he said while Tartarus swallowed him up?

He told Dallas he liked his style.

Narcissistic bastard.


"You know, you aren't all goodness. There will be good times in your life to offset with bad, right to cancel with wrong. Just ignore me, let me be the darkness. It will make my job easier."

"You know nothing of my purpose, Yochanan. Ready for Death."

"Again?"

"Toomin, Alltronah, Chumunt-ra, Spectrum!"

"Nice nursery rhyme, what does it mean?"

"'Open the gates, you have a visitor, now!'"

"What gates?"

"The ones beneath your feet, about to engulf you, Yochanan."

"...haha! I like your style, Balance."

Legion of Balance.

"Finding me must have taken quite some time."

"It wasn't as hard as one would think."

"I'm sure."


Dallas couldn't have found him on his own, so he got some help from one of his old friends. Michael, his name was. A Seeker, or at least he had been, until Legion took all his objects. Now he was just a man. A man with a grudge.

Which was precisely why he decided to help Balance.

At first, he thought Balance was a Seeker, but then he told him. He told him about his task, his purpose. Dallas told him about the yin and yang, the evil and good. He said he was the Balance, Michael didn't believe him at first, but Dallas convinced him eventually.

He convinced him with a bribe.

Michael wanted the apple.

And if he led Balance to Legion, He would get it for him.


"What do you want?"

"I want you to reconsider your objectives, Legion."

"What goal? ...Oh, bringing them together? No, thanks."

"You're aware your quest will bring an end to everything."

"That's the plan."


Michael had grown a beard by the age of 15, and it seemed as though he had never shaved it. Dallas knew that he grew it to cover the scars on his face. Michael was a violent child. For most of his young adult life, he had fought someone daily, and although murder was not yet in his list of sins, he had come close all too often. His actions helped tip the scale for the worse. Hopefully, once Dallas got him the apple, he'd use it for good. Balance doubted it, but his hope equalized the doubt.

Michael led Dallas to the subway station, where three homeless men sat around a small fire made in a burning barrel. Michael walked up to one and asked very politely if he could talk to Legion. The homeless men stood up, produced weapons, and began beating him. Michael took a few blows he put all three down with some unknown style of martial arts. They were all dead within moments, necks snapped in half. Michael could finally add murder to his list.


"I cannot allow you to bring them together, Legion."

"You think you have the power to stop me?"

"I have more power than you presume of me."

"We shall see."


Amazingly (or, rather, very cliché), the men stood up again, bowed to Michael, and allowed him to pass through a gate that had opened up on the wall behind him. He called back to Dallas that he was to do the same. So he did. Calmly did he take down each hobo in turn, only to have them stand back up, bow, and open the gate for him as well. Balance walked through; Michael was waiting on the other side.

Before them was a massive cavern. Unholy decals weaved their way into the blue rock, which seemed to glow slightly with an unearthly hue. The bridge seemed to stretch an impossible eight or nine kilometers toward the huge front doors of a fortress. Its walls were carved with giant gothic faces, all of which had giant crystals emitting a yellow light from their eyes. The huge stronghold itself was made from the same eerie blue stone in the cavern... in fact, now that he thought about it, it seemed the fortress itself was built into the massive cave wall. It was truly extraordinary. Michael pointed to the door, and asked me, "Can you get us there any faster than walking?" Dallas nodded, grabbed Michael's hand -

- and they were there.

Michael flung the doors open, creating a thunderous echo when they collided with the walls on either side. Michael was definitely stronger than he looked. He hid behind a pillar and whispered to Dallas, "Well, go on. Call for him."

"Legion!"

Balance heard swift footsteps from somewhere inside the mansion; they kept getting louder and louder.


"So, what? You're just going to kill me, Balance?"

"You're equally as arrogant as Jack."

"Don't you dare compare me to him!"

"Offend you, did I?"

"That man ruined my life!"

"He has a tendency to do that. Yet your own words are naught by hypocrisy."

"Enough! You think you're so powerful? Fight me!"

"With pleasure."


Legion came toward Dallas. He wore a sort of leather armor and a golden cape. His facial features were straight-cut. He was easily seven feet tall, and his body looked rock-solid (though it might have been the armor). He had white-blond hair, his fists were the size of watermelons, and somehow in his godlike features, he had a satanic darkness about him. The whites of his eyes, although still white, seemed to radiate pure darkness. His mouth looked like it was the maw of hate itself.

The two trash-talked each other for a moment before the impurity inside Legion took control and he began to grow extremely violent. He began yelling, began taunting Dallas; it was only a matter of time before Legion struck him. His blow alone sent Dallas reeling backward; Legion was easily the strongest man Balance had ever encountered. Dallas didn't know if it was from ages spent focusing his physical strength, or if his Object's power had strengthened over the eons. Either way, this man needed to be balanced.


"You're not so tough, Balance."

"I have no need to flaunt my power in such an infantile test of will."

"Then show me!"

"Tach-Falsh Tonah!"

"What the Hell is that in your hands?"

"It's called a Tach-Falsh Tonah, a spirit bomb."

"What does it do?"

"Well, Mighty Legion, that depends."

"On what?"

"Whether or not you have any soul left."


Balance gathered a Tach-Falsh Tonah in his hands. It was a glowing blue orb, about the size of a cantaloupe. It's a gift from the Gods, either destroying evil or converting it to good. Either way, when Balance threw it at Legion, the ball struck him in the chest. When it did, Dallas swore he saw some of the darkness leave his foe, but it could have just been the shadows. Legion buckled over, clutching his chest, and began cursing. When he looked up, the stern and unbreakable expression that had dominated his face moments ago had softened up a bit.

Yet Balance could still feel potent evil inside of him; he could still feel his impurity and his lust for the Objects' power. But there was less. Significantly so. Maybe all Balance did was remove the evil at this moment, temporarily suppressing the darkness within him. Still, he had done what he set out to accomplish. The Balance had found the Legion, and now he could keep tabs on him, and balance any unbalance he caused. Michael hurried Dallas out the door, ecstatic about what he had just done. They left, but not before Balance swiped an apple out of Legion's sash, who made a grab for it (it was nothing short of amazing that he still had the energy), but missed and fell flat on his face.

As Dallas passed through the gate where the homeless men were, he heard a sound that made Michael shake with fear, one that would have made Balance's old self cower in a ball.

He heard Legion's hate-filled roar.


"Come on! Let's go!"

"Michael, I must implore you to calm down. He isn't following us anywhere."

"You don't know him like that! Look! He's getting up! Let's go!"

"But your Object - there we go."

"To Hell with it! I don't want it anymore! Let's go!"


"That was close, Balance."

"I disagree; now then, here's your apple."

"Thanks. You do realize you just pissed off the most powerful human being on the planet, right?"

"That's quite a contradiction."

"Whatever you say, man. Listen, do me a favor, and never ever look for me again, alright?"

"Agreed... Oh, and Michael, one more thing."

"Hmm?"

"Doom will want it back."

The Balance in Doom.

"He's in there, I haven't seen him since... well... since he left."

"He didn't leave, Michael, he was taken."

"Alright, then I haven't seen him since he was taken."

"You'd better let me do it, he isn't the man you once knew."

"No kidding."


It had been exactly four days, three hours, and forty-two minutes before Michael had tried to use the apple. He didn't exactly use it, but he did bring it back to its rightful owner. They had history, and it meant a lot that this Holder got his Object back. Michael had known him before he was who he is now, before he was a Holder.

The Holder of Doom.

Despite his current name, Doom used to be a pretty good guy. He had a normal life, cracked jokes, and two of the best friends anyone could ask for. But that was a long time ago. A very long time ago.


"Legion stole this from you, didn't he, Doom?"

"Y-y-yeesss..."

"Do you want it back?"

"Y-yeeesss... aannd m-mmy a-aah-armm..."

"I don't have your arm, however I have something better. I have a choice; a chance for revenge. Do you want revenge?"

"Yeesss! K-kiill Legion!"

"That's what I thought."


Dallas knew all about Michael, Doom, and Legion. Everything that those three had done had somehow offset the human realm's equilibrium. He knew how the one Michael called Jack Empty had tortured them, and caused Legion to become mad, and Doom to become the rotting Holder he is now. It happened a long, long time ago. They didn't call him Legion back then, but they didn't call Michael or Doom by their present names either.

No, back then they were referred to by different names; their archaic, forgotten names. They lived happily in that time. Legion and Doom traveled the world, while Michael was oblivious to what would befall him.


"I'm going to give you a choice, Doom."

"W-whhaatt?"

"You can either stay here, and continue being the Holder of Doom, being forever tormented in the cell of your own body. I can leave you."

"P-p-pllleeaassseee! Nnnnoooo..."

"The other choice is a simple one. I can release you from this prison. Clear you of all past wrongs, let your tortured soul finally rest in peace. Put simply, I can kill you."


The three boys were sixteen, eighteen, and nineteen. Although Legion and Doom traveled the lobe while they searched for their precious Objects, they and Michael still had a place to call home. The village has no name, none that can be remembered, and indeed not been recorded in history. All that's known is that Yochanan, back then usually called the Hollow Man, came back one day for a visit on the heels of Legion and Doom. Yochanan had twisted Legion into a sick and broken husk of his former self, but Legion's corruption was only beginning to show itself superficially.

Legion's corruption soon spread, the Hollow Man's twisted words blackening his soul and defacing his mind. Eventually a foe came before Legion; one he was not certain he could best. So he came to his master, Yochanan, and asked for one thing: life. Life eternal, that is.

But Yochanan, the strange and empty thing he is, took Legion's request and twisted it into a mad curse: Legbreaker bound Legion's life to that of Doom and Michael, a maddening and cruel process.

Their thoughts began to break and buckle against the pain of the experience and against the dark thoughts that invaded Legion's psyche. For a moment, perhaps two, they went mad.

And in that moment they did something unspeakable.

This dark deed must be Balanced.


"So, Doom, what will it be?"

"M-maake s-s-shhurree Le-Legion p-p-pays... T-ell M-M-Michael I w-wiill m-m-misss hhiimm."

"I'm going to assume that that qualifies as option number two, then."


Dallas knew that when the boys reawoke from their delusions they saw only horror. They saw their village destroyed and it's citizens murdered, the blood on their hands.

They found Yochanan basking in the shade of an untouched apple tree. Dallas knew that Yochanan described to them, much to Legion's twisted glee, what events had occurred; the things that Legion had forced them to do.

No doubt Legion and he shared a fine laugh at their suffering.

Soon after, Legion had disappeared, and all records of him ceased to exist. Some say he met up with Edo Edi Essum, others say he simply lost his humanity on his own. What Balance did know, however, is that he cast off the last vestiges of the young man he once was. Now he had become the Holder of Legion, the most powerful being on the planet. Until Dallas found him, that is. Doom continued his quest for the Objects. Whether he continued in an attempt to forget the destruction of his home, or to collect them, or simply as an innate lust, Dallas didn't know his exact motives. Eventually, he made a mistake and became the Holder of Doom, decayed and rotting; a putrid and vile shadow of his former self. Yochanan claims that he in fact set in motion the chain of events that led to Doom's perversion into a Holder. Dallas believed him; Yochanan's personality, the egotistical bastard, would be eager to admit to something like that.

Eventually, the Balance met up with Michael. Yochanan's mark upon him was as obvious as the nose on one's face. It was obvious that Yochanan twisted young Michael as well, leaving him a bitter, self-pitying and self-loathing young man. He had become immortal by Yochanan's actions, and clearly he despised it. Michael said that he became a Seeker as well, although he had never told Dallas of his reasons for doing so. Given his mental state, it could easily be assumed that Michael himself didn't even know, and did it simply because it has become instinct. Later he said that Legion took his Objects from him, leaving him bitter and desolate.

The bond between Legion, Michael, and Doom was an oddity to Dallas. It seemed as if either the trauma they experienced in life or their entrances into un-life has created a peculiar link between the three. One a Holder, putrid and rotting, one a man, living forever in his own pity, and one the most powerful being in any realm, they are linked by a bond deeper than Balance could fathom.

He changed that. Dallas killed the Holder of Doom, and he hopefully broke the spell that kept the trio immortal.

Doom deserved some paradise after all the hell he'd been through.


"Alright, are you ready?"

"A-as I'll e-eh-everr bee..."

"Rennak Cho-Allam Beanye!"


"It is done, Michael."

"What, what did you do!?"

"You are free from your immortal curse."

"You - You killed him?"

"Yes, he is at peace."

"And the apple?"

"Will find a new Holder, like it always has."

"I feel so..."

"Mortal?"

"No, it's better than that. Since I've been cursed, since my village had been destroyed, I've had this cloud of horror and hatred and sorrow looming over top of my soul. For the first time in a long time... I feel..."

"Happy?"

"Yeah, happy. Thanks, Balance."

"It's my duty, Michael."

"Yeah, I guess. Thanks for balancing it all out."

Equal Ends.

"I sense... Death."

"Big fucking surprise, what is it with you, Balance? Do you have any sort of evil homing beacon attached to your back?"

"Not that I know of, Michael."

"That was sarcasm."

"I don't tend to use sarcasm anymore, Michael."

"Will you cut it out with the name!"


The mentally insane have a tendency to attract the Objects. Most Holders can be found in a mental institution or asylum. Dallas found that ironic, that the most powerful beings in the world were once condemned to small cells in which they can cause no harm to anyone. However that strategy failed whilst time went by, more and more Seekers cam seeking the Objects, and the Holder's domain got more and more unique and disturbing every time. Eventually, the rooms the Holders and Objects were in ceased being part of the physical mental institute, and more merely just used the halfway houses for entry into their own realms.

In Dallas's opinion, there are few Holders more infamous than The End. He was wise, not only was the first, but the last as well. Possibly even, if Dallas were daring enough to say, the most powerful of Holders. At any rate, the Balance sought a word with him. Michael merely wanted to come along. Balance did not have to take the usual, tedious and long steps to visit the Holder. He simply willed himself into his chamber.

Dallas had been in that chamber once before, when he tried to get The End's Object as a Seeker. He survived with his sanity intact but the images he had seen, the trail of talking to The End had all but destroyed him. Drove him mad with lust for the Objects. Pushed people away.

And now he was going back.


"Remember, Michael, this is a Holder, this is The End. He will not appreciate our company for very long. Do not speak; do not touch anything in his chamber. Do you understand?"

"Balance, I'm bloody tired of you treating me like I'm a newcomer at this."

"My apologies, Michael. Take my hand, and from now on, no words. Oh, and do not, under any circumstances, look at his Object."


The End was more civilized than he appeared, his frail, skinny, unearthly body hunched over his Object was only a product of decades of famine and torture. All his energy was spent quivering and chanting. Most couldn't understand his words, Dallas can, he spoke old Magi. Long forgotten, the chant itself had no English translation; closest one can come to it was "never together". Dallas was sure he could guess what he was talking about.

Dallas and Michael entered his chamber, and almost immediately, the chanting stopped. Dallas could have stopped The End from harming him, easily, and Michael too. But out of respect the Balance followed the protocol; Dallas said to him, rather loudly: "I'm just passing through, I wish to talk."

The chanting didn't resume, nor did I expect it to.


Let us converse, [The End] I mean no harm. I spoke to him, not in words, but in thoughts, the way the eldest of us used to speak. The figure looked up for a moment, made eye contact with me. His soul had long since been drained away, I could tell, as it showed in his eyes. Black, through and through. The chanting resumed.

"Let us converse, The End, I mean no harm."

"You speak Garganhal? Only Holders speak Garganhal"

"Garganhal? The language of the mind; it's how the magic users used to speak. However nobody refers to it as Garganhal anymore. However I suppose nobody speaks it anymore either. Allow me to introduce myself. I am formally known as Dallas Scottsboro. However to most, I am now known as the Balance."

"Balance? You're Faction's boy! The one he'd been looking for!"

"Indeed."

"What is it you need, Balance?"


The End and the Balance talked. Dallas asked him about his encounter with Yochanan, he cursed at the mere mention of his name. He found it amusing that a Holder such as The End could still hold grudges like that. He told Dallas that before The End met Yochanan, one didn't hear chanting in the hallway. One heard laughter. And not the good kind.

The most important question came last.

Dallas had been feeling disturbances lately. It seemed the equilibrium had had a sudden jar. Not for the good side either. The scale had been tipping and tipping. More and more each day. So it brought him to his final question.


"There is an anomaly, something I haven't sensed before. It has to do with one of the Holders, which one is uncertain. You must feel it too. It is omnipresent. Now that I think about it, there's something else I've never felt before. An Evil, maybe."

"The Mirror of the Forever had disappeared. I fear that the Object has been destroyed."

"Impossible, very few can destroy Objects and I would... have... felt... it..."

"The new presence."

"No. An old one."


The Mirror of Forever was a "good" Object. It wasn't as bloodthirsty and cold-hearted as most of the others. There were prices to pay for failure, like your sanity but none so as extreme. A majority even left alive, and intact. So any reason someone with power would want to raze it is ludicrous. Yochanan was, as far as Dallas knew, still enjoying hell where he banished him, nobody else who hated the Objects was powerful enough to destroy one, or its Holder. It was at that point where Dallas's mind snapped.

The something that was giving him that feeling, the feeling of unease and pity, it had been coming from Forever's realm. Or what was left of it, but now... now it was coming from the Void. It was moving; therefore it was capable of doing so, meaning it was a being. The being's mere presence offset the balance so significantly that Dallas felt his power wave a level higher. Confirming that he was to need more if he was to balance out the bad with the good.

Dallas felt another presence too, one seldom seen by the mortal realm.

Balance thought The End would know, so he asked him his question. The End's very specific question. And for the second time in Dallas's life, he heard the story in great, horrifying detail.


"The End... What happens when they all come together?"

"I told you once, already, remember? You passed the test before. No mortal has survived to hear and see it twice."

"Do I look like any regular mortal to you?"

"...Alright."


Images shown to Dallas were more disturbing than the first time he had seen them; although fear was a feeling he had no use for anymore that's genuinely what Dallas felt. Fear and sorrow, human emotions he hadn't felt since what seemed like an eternity ago. In reality, Dallas had only been fulfilling his purpose for about two months. The horrific stories and images flashed through his mind for both centuries and for mere moments.

The End finished, and fell silent, his chanting had stopped while he told Balance the story. Dallas stared blankly at The End, processing what he had witnessed for the second time. The chanting started again, very, very quietly. Dallas took a moment to think, while all the images were different, each told an independent fable, they all seemed to stem from one idea. A constant, if you will.

They all have something to do with a cloaked man, maybe not a man. More like a man-shaped being.

Edo Edi Essum.


"That is all, The End. I thank you for your time. Is there anything else you wish to say?"

"Yes. About Yochanan."

"I have dealt with him, have no -"

"You haven't dealt with him, and by the time Essum comes, Yochanan and you will know much more about each other than you'd like. Perhaps he isn't as terrible as you would like to make him out to be. Perhaps indeed he can help."

"The End, what do you -"

"Let's just say... Before I met the Hollow Man, my chants never echoed down the hallways. I never used to chant; I used to laugh."


After The End and Balance talked, Michael took his wrist and the two departed. He bombarded Dallas with questions. None of which Dallas could answer, the Balance just stared at the ground, deep in thought. Edo Edi Essum had emerged from the great primordial Lock that kept at bay the Created Uncreation, perfect nothing given thought. He was not a man at all, but a shard of absolute, perfect oblivion. Nothingness incarnate. At least, that's what the legends said.

As far as Dallas knew, all the Objects that weren't already in possession by the Seekers were perfectly safe. Hell, there had been rumors about a new Object coming into existence. However, Dallas hadn't thought much of it. Now, however, he sensed the beginning of a turning point. Edo Edi Essum was an entity so outside the very concept of balance, so alien to the ideas of "good" or "evil", that he threatened to bring the entirety of all cosmic order crashing down around him. Balance knew this had to be stopped.

There was a fight ahead of him.

Ahead of everyone.


"Something the matter? Balance?"

"Yes, Michael."

"What?"

"It just occurred to me that I shouldn't have made Legion mortal."

Coming Undone.

"You have some nerve, coming here, Balance."

"None more than you, Yochanan."

"Valid, I suppose."

"I brought a friend. They call him Michael now, I think you two have met."

"Michael? Yes, Legion's toy. How is he?"

"I'm fine, asshole."

"Hah. And mortal, I feel."


They were there already. Dallas could feel them, in the country. He felt them and he knew more about them than he wanted to. There were three, one was, indeed, Edo Edi Essum, the other two Balance was not so sure. They were not spawned from the hells, nor were they members of Them. All Dallas knew was that they had horrible intentions. He felt their desires, maniac, unruly, serpentine Longings. Moreover, Balance knew one was after Legion, he could feel the unfiltered loathing radiating from the being for the man. Even with Legion's unmatching power... well, maybe "unmatchable" might not be the right word to use anymore.

Not now that he's mortal.

Which is why Dallas was where he was. In Hell, the underworld, Tartarus, whatever one calls it. It was every bit as unimaginable as one would imagine, and worse. Michael was forced to cling to Dallas, he could feel his fear; he reeked of it. Dallas was amazed he hadn't broken down and sobbed yet, mortals weren't intended to witness such things until after their demise. Dallas supposed his decades of life were enough to keep him sane. It was best that Michael kept close to Dallas anyhow; for the Balance could see the look in the beasts' eyes as they passed. Hunger.


"Yochanan, I fear the worst has come to pass. Edo Edi Essum has once again entered our realm."

"Our realm? You banished me to hell, remember? It's your ream now."

"Maybe I was... a bit too quick to judge you, Yochanan."

"No, you were right. I'm everything you say and think I am."

"Damn right you are. Bastard."

"Hah hah. Why are you here, Balance?"


He was the Balance, for all the hate he made love, for all the dark he made light, for all the fear he was hope, and for all the death he was life. Which was why Dallas was there, to undo what he had done. He thought giving Doom peace would bode well for everyone. Not only does he personally get rest, but also the curse would be lifted and Legion mortal. It would've helped things balance well. It did, until Legion needed to be immortal again. For that, Dallas would need the curse put back on him; and for that, Dallas would need Yochanan.

And the worst part was, Dallas knew he was giving in to him. He knew Yochanan saw it coming.


"I'm here to bring you back, Yochanan."

"Please, Balance, call me Jack."

"Alright, Jack; I assume you have felt the presence, it's not just Edo Edi Essum in the mortal realm, there's someone else. Something else. Two entities, and they're after Legion. I fear if they kill him, or worse, convert him, I may not be able to maintain the Balance."

"Ah, so you're asking me to help you make Legion immortal again. I hear you tried to make him good; tried taking out some of the evil in him. Shame, he might not fight back as well now."

"Will you assist us, Yocha- Jack?"

"What do I get out of it?"

"What do you want?"


As much as Dallas hated to admit it, He needed Yochanan. Only he could reinstate the curse. Furthermore, Dallas might need him to help eliminate the new threat. Dallas also knew he would never do it out of the goodness of his heart, assuming you could still say he had goodness in him, or a heart for that matter.

No, Yochanan and the Balance had to strike a deal, and because it was who Yochanan was, it was one Dallas reviled to accept, and in the same way, incredibly simple. Yochanan wasn't a complicated man to understand. He was hollow inside, Neutral Evil. He could, if he wanted, destroy towns single-handedly. He could, given the right mood, murder entire families. However, that's not how he is; he'd rather drive the father mad, make him murder his wife and children, then laugh his unspeakable laugh as he drove himself mad with grief and the horrible truth of what he had done.

His request was simple. Dallas had to leave him alone, never attempt to destroy or damn or banish him personally.

The second was...


"I want you to avoid causing harm, perceivable or imperceivable, to myself or my doings and close allies. In other words, let's try to stay out of each other's hair."

"I find that acceptable, although a fabrication. You will never be 'out of my hair'".

"And secondly, I want you to admit how much you hate asking for my help."

"I -"

"Mean it, Balance. I can tell when you are lying. I want you to say it, I want to hear it; you despise coming down here, asking me to make Legion immortal, undoing your work. I want to see the sorrow on your face."

"... Yes. I detest it."

"I knew it."


Yochanan, Jack Empty, the Hollow Man, or just plain Bastard or Asshole. Whatever you called him, you noticed things about him. The way he moved; perfectly still, no sway, no fidgeting, no rising or falling one would see if someone were breathing. No movement, then, like light (or shadow), he'd move, faster than any man with a normal pace should. He almost glided from place to place, leaving behind a sort of afterimage that one cold glimpse if one looked hard enough.

Secondly, there was his laugh. Some say it was stolen from the laugh of Satan himself, but that would be a lie; even Satan found Jack's laugh challenging to listen to. It wasn't scary, or terrifying, more heartless. He mocked you when he laughed, made you feel like you were nothing. An empty cackle, devoid of anything that even came close to resembling a soul.

Lastly, and maybe most horribly, were his eyes. They were black, but not just black, pitch black. You could stare and stare, and never find anything there. They shined when light was shined on them, reflecting it all, as if the eyes prevented any light from getting inside. Then, he could blink, and they could be normal, deceivingly so. Soothing and comforting, which was merely a ruse to lure you into false security. Many young men and women lost their sanity due to those eyes. They looked through you, knew you inside and out. They judged you and dismissed you, utterly and completely. Even Dallas hated those eyes.

If anyone could match the new evil in our world, it was Jack Empty.

Fighting evil with emptiness.


"So, Balance, how is this going to work?"

"We need to resurrect Doom, Michael. And for that, we need to visit the Heavens."

"The heavens? Do we have to, Balance? Last time, I went to heaven I got kicked out. Besides, it's warmer here."

Heaven in Balance.

"You're really disliked up here, Jack."

"Indeed I am, Michael. I'm seeing many familiar faces, too."

"You mean people you've killed!"

"I don't believe I said that. Did you hear me say that, Balance?"

"No, Yochanan, I did not. However, Michael isn't wrong."

"No, that he's not."


Popular belief states there is one heaven. That one religion is right and the rest are tall tales, or just legends from crazy priests in civilizations that were burned and forgotten long ago. However, that in and of itself is not only narrow-minded, but that is contrary to the actual situation. Most religions have at least some truth to them. For example, parallel to Allah and Jehovah there is Osiris. On the other hand, on the thrones there are Zeus, Jesus, Odin, and Ra... Many religions and gods rule over the heavens. It creates a sort of divine harmony, a collaboration of all beliefs.

What one could expect in death is any man's guess. Depending on their beliefs, they could visit any one of the gods. Some just get sent back, reincarnated; some are denied and sent to the Hells. Whatever the situation, every soul will eventually see heaven, until he or she wishes to return to the mortal plane, and do it all over again. Well, that's what some believe, anyway.

Personally, Dallas couldn't care less what happens when people die.


"Radament, is it? The doorman?"

"Correct, mortal, and may I inquire as how one such as yourself has come to arrive to such a place as this?"

"I am no mortal, I am the Balance, and I am looking for someone."

"Whom, may I ask?"

"His name used to be Victor, but you may know him as the Holder of Doom."


You know who really ran the show? It wasn't the Gods, Dallas could tell you that. It's the Keepers of Religion, a band of monks, who were entrusted with keeping all religion in balance. In many ways, they were like me, but so very different. The Keepers of Religion never spoke, and not by choice either, they had their tongues and vocal cords cut out before they earn the "right to knowledge". Which is their schooling about the religions, their speech incapacitated so they cannot tell anyone of what they know. They don't keep it "balanced" per se, they keep it more in order. They make sure there were no civil wars in heaven.

The Gods could overpower them easily, but out of respect, and by a pact they swore to forever ago, they obey the Keepers of Religion, or at the very least respect, their opinions.

The man that lurked behind Radament in a light-brown robe was one of them.

He had dimly glowing, hollow eyes, and pointed teeth.

And he was glaring at Balance.


"My liege, the Balance and his followers have requested a word with you."

"Have they now? Let them in, Radament. I don't wish to keep them waiting."

"At once, lord Christ."

"Lord Christ?"

"That's right, Michael. Doom was Christian, therefore it is up to lord Christ if we see him or not."


Lord Jesus Christ: an understanding god to say the least. He knew Dallas's intentions with what he requested were good, even if some members in his party were of a... malicious nature. It was because of His understanding that He allowed them a word with Him. Not that He had much of a choice; Balance had the power of the Toga of the Gods. If he wanted, he could have forced his way in, and taken Doom back by force. However, Dallas thought that an unnecessary and violent use of his powers. Not to mention hateful, which, at the moment, would go against his purpose.

He and Balance talked, he told Him of the situation they were in. Dallas told him about himself, Legion, and how Dallas needed to speak with Doom. The God nodded and took it all in, most of which wasn't news to him. He was a God, after all. It didn't bode well for the Gods or for the mortal plane for Him to refuse their request, and eventually, after a moment of scratching his beard, he took Dallas and the others to the man they were looking for.

He also told Dallas he didn't go by "Doom" anymore.


"Victor? Is that you?"

"M-Michael?"

"Yes! Victor! It's me!"

"Michael! I don't understand, are you dead? Did Balance kill you?"

"No, Vic, actually, we're here to take you back."

"Ha ha! I'm in Heaven, Michael. What in the name of the Objects do you think I'd go back down there for? What can be better than eternal paradise?"

"How about Revenge?"


They had the God's permission; and had the means to do so. However, bringing back the dead wasn't as easy as one would think. Not complete resurrection. One can bring back a body, but the body is mindless, and more importantly, soulless. People who are revived like that are usually referred to as "Zombies" or "Ghouls". But in order to fully resurrect someone, you need to locate their soul, and place it in a body. They had the soul, but Doom's - Victor's - body was destroyed. Almost immediately after the Balance vanquished him, Victor's body rotted away; years of slow decomposition finally caught up to it.

Which is why Dallas brought along Michael.


"Well, Balance, go ahead. Resurrect him."

"It's not that simple, Michael."

"Never is."

"His soul is intact, but his body is... well, not."

"So what the hell are we going to do?"

"Ha! That's why he brought you along, Michael. Isn't it, Balance?"

"Who- the... Hollow one?

"It is I, Victor. Pleased to see you again."

"There will be time for salutations and words exchanged after we complete our task here, Yochanan. Meanwhile, I'm sure I owe Michael and Victor an explanation."

"Indeed you do."


Dallas explained the situation to the both of them. Eyes both gazed upon him with interest as he explained to them how reincarnation worked. Dallas explained how this situation was unique and the reasons behind it. He could tell they were beginning to understand, but before he could continue, Dallas felt a surge of thought rush over him.

Somewhere in the mortal realm, two immensely powerful forces were clashing. At first it felt like two Holders fighting, but then Dallas realized it was much worse than that. Legion was fighting one of the unknown Evils. He brandished the White King's Sword, and the other wielded a vastly superior, yet similar Object. Whatever it was, the two Objects seemed to hate each other almost as their wielders. It then occurred to Balance that Legion and the other man - whose name was almost upon him - were doing battle for the second time.

But this time, Legion was losing.

They had to hurry.


"Michael, Victor, there is not a lot of time, there is one thing I must tell you before we go through with this."

"Hurry up, Balance!"

"Yes, Yochanan, just give me a second. Okay, listen the both of you. For this to work I'm going to need a body, and since I cannot use another's body I need your body, Michael. Two souls, one mind. And yes, it is permanent."

"Balance, I can't ask Michael to do that."

"... You don't have to, Vic. Hit us, Balance."

"As you wish. Join hands and repeat after me: Rathma."

"Rathma."

"Isaacs."

"Isaacs."

"Toomin-Shire."

"Toomin-Shire."

"Amina."

"Amina."


The joining was spectacular to watch. Light rose up from Victor's soul and streamed into Michael's nose and mouth, Michael breathed it in. His chest expanding, and then depleting. Dallas could see Michael's form begin to change, into that of a combination of he and Victor's physical features. Michael's face, but rounded more, like Victor's. Victor's muscular body was imposed into Michael's already semi-built body. His skin went from white to darker, like Victor's.

When the transformation was finished, both Victor and Michael were recognizable within the man that stood before him. However, there was one thing still left to do.

"You are no longer Michael nor Victor. What do you want me to call you?" Balance asked him.

"You can call me... Devaide, maybe James Devaide."

"May I ask why?"

"Yes," he shot Yochanan a glance, a glance of hate. Dallas thought it might have even made Yochanan uncomfortable, unlikely, but a possibility.

"It was the name of our Village."

Balancing the Score.

The first thing Dallas noticed when they exited the Heavens and found himself at Legion's gate was the carnage and the crowd. The homeless men were being gathered in body bags. The homeless men that guarded Legion's Gate. The police had quarantined the area as a crime scene. A crowd of at least a hundred people were congregated in a small area of the subway station. The trio shoved their way through to the yellow tape; the last of the hobos were being zipped up in a black bag.

"Balance, we can't get into Legion's realm without those men."

"I got this one," said Yochanan, stepping under the tape. Almost immediately, the police walled in front of him, demanding he not pass the yellow tape. Yochanan smiled at them, the men stepped back, looks of horror across their faces. Yochanan approached the cops carrying the body in the bag. He whispered something in one's ear. The man dropped to a fetal position, cowering. By now the other officers noticed Yochanan's actions, and they attempted to arrest him.

"Hello," he said before they could get to him. "My name is Jack Empty. You may go now."

The officers, bystanders, and even the man on the ground dropped anything they were carrying and ran as fast as possible, avoiding us by a meter at least, screaming with shear terror. The body bag dropped to the subway floor with a thunk. Devaide and Balance stepped under the tape and walked over to Yochanan, whose lips were curled at the ends to form a mocking smile.

"That was unnecessary," Dallas told him.

"But it was fun."


What be the means that you achieve your tasks, Dallas. Are you really prepared to allow the Hollow Man to walk among the mortals? He will destroy and continue to spread his emptiness through humanity. You know this, is stopping me really worth it? Tell me, is the reality I want accomplished as bad as the one he will unleash upon the world?

"Who said that?"

"Who said what, Balance?"

"... Nothing, Devaide. Never mind."


Yochanan stood over the body bag, then knelt down and unzipped it. The hobo they had left was not the one they saw before them. His skull was destroyed, mashed to pulp; his blood was coagulated to the point where it looked like black sludge. More to the point, he showed no signs of coming back to life like he had before. Dallas reached down and touched his blood, it seemed to have a life of its own, it moved about his fingers like it was trying to get away. He wiped it off on the bag.

"Well, go on Balance, we need him alive for the moment."

"Indeed we do, Yochanan."

Dallas reached down and touched what was left of his face.

"Himrogoth."

Heal.

The man's skull reformed before him, bones and flesh reconstructed in a gruesome display of reverse-smashing. When it was done a few seconds later, Dallas touched his forehead again.

"Ooh-la."

Breathe.

The man's eyes opened suddenly.


"Ooh-la."

"You did it! He's alive."

"Where am I?"

Do you really believe you can save humanity? The Objects are closer together than you know, Dallas. They have always been, my companions and I will reunite them, and I promise, nothing will stop us. Not you, not Legion, not Yochanan, nobody. Let's see you try and Balance the end of all things; for when it comes, there will only be you. You and Me.

"Please, Sir. I need to speak to Legion."

"Yeah, I don't even want to fight you, Balance, just get through the damned gate."


The gate appeared, although destroyed, it had been torn from its hinges. What looked like massive handprints bent the metal. Dallas looked at it, and heard the subtle clash of metal in the background. He looked at the massive door at the end of the bridge, it was opened a crack.

"Take my hand, you two."

Devaide offered it freely, Yochatan's Dallas had to forcefully grab. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them, they were at the door. Dallas looked around. The stones that used to be a bluish color shone out with a black light now. The holy artwork seemed to leak the black sludge that resembled the hobo's coagulated blood. Devaide threw open the doors, just in time to see a man in a cloak stand over a bludgeoned Legion.

"It's over, Legion," he said the name in a mocking tone, like it was a joke. He then plunged his sword into Legion's ribs.

Legion screamed, but not the hateful roar Dallas had heard before; no, this was a very human, very mortal scream of agony.

"Legion!" shouted Devaide, stretching out his hand.

That's when Dallas noticed two more figures, to the left of Legion and the man who had gutted him, and both had their heads turned in his direction.


"Legion!"

"Devaide! You Fool! Keep your mouth closed!"

"Too late, Yochanan, they see us. Reinstate the curse, quickly, there isn't much time."

"The curse was in effect all along, Balance. Legion and Devaide just need to make contact with each other."

"That could be a problem. How long can you hold those two off?"

"Hah! Edo Edi Essum and his cloaked freak friend? About thirty seconds."

"That'll have to do."


Yochanan rushed the two figures, his intense speed left an afterimage in his wake. Dallas did not waste time watching him, he grabbed Devaide's hand and will them over to a dying Legion. The man who slew him removed the blade to meet the new threat. He readied his sword, facing the closer of the two, Devaide. He raised the black sword to his shoulder, preparing to make a horizontal cut and decapitate his new target. Devaide was maybe a mere three meters away from Legion.

"Devaide!" Dallas shouted. He wasn't going to make it.

The man swung the sword.

Dallas stepped in front of it.


You fool; you and you alone might have bested me. But instead, you sacrifice yourself for a mortal? By stepping in front of his swipe you merely managed to delay the inevitable. Your race will fall, the universe, all of it, will bow to me. These men think I'm working for them, helping them, but they're mistaken. I'm using them to get my job done. And now you die with a final thought. You have accomplished nothing, and all the realms, and all the races, will be obliterated.

"N-n-never."


Before the sword could reach Dallas's cloak, Dallas felt something warm and soft in his hands. A garment of clothing, he'd felt it before, it was warm, seemed to radiate divinity. The shining black sword clashed against Balance's cloak - and bounced off.

"What the?!" raged the man, but Dallas knew, he knew what it was before he even looked down at it.

"The Toga of the Gods."

Dallas took it and held it as tight to his chest as he could. His faded cloak turned brilliantly white. Dallas absorbed the toga into the cloak with a mumbling of a few magic words. Before the hooded man could raise his sword again, Balance pushed him with all the might he had. He sailed backward, into one of his companions. Yochanan jumped backward; the unexpected assistance was all he needed to recover from the fight he was in a moment earlier. Dallas turned back to Devaide.

He was at Legion's side.


"Legion."

"Mi-Michael? V-V-Viiicc?"

"It is we, brother."

"I-I-I-I'mm s-s-s-ssorry."

"Be still, Legion, take my hand."

"Ohh-k-kay."


Devaide and Legion's hands touched, and Legion's body convulsed, rapidly healing any wounds that he had suffered. He flexed his hands into fists, and rolled onto his side. It was then when Dallas felt Yochanan at his side. Balance looked over and saw that the cloaked companion of Legion's adversary was on the ground, while Edo Edi Essum was completely unharmed.

Legion rolled onto his stomach, and forced himself up, grabbing his sword in the process. Dallas could hear his spine crack and pop as he stood. He threw his head to either side as he cracked his neck, then turned around, the diamond on his chest glowing with a new intensity. He looked past Dallas, past everyone, and caught eyes with the one who had beat him.

Then came his roar. The man who had defeated Legion saw him. His horrific eyes widened, and he seemed to become unhinged.

Legion thundered past them, sheathing his sword whilst he ran. He tackled the adversary and began beating him with his massive ungloved fists as his adversary was still screaming in rage.

The other figure knocked Legion off; it was amazing the amount of strength the creature must have possessed to accomplish such a task. It was then, while Legion took his moment to recover, that everything began to go wrong. As Legion rose, Edo Edi Essum turned toward him. Legion screamed, falling to his knees. As Edo Edi Essum began to drain away Legion's life, he spoke to Dallas.


It matters not what you do. Your power matters not. You cannot defeat me. I do not care what allies you bring with you; it is irrelevant. We are as different as night and day, and there is nothing you can do to stop me.


Dallas was shaken from his reverie as the man who had defeated Legion charged at him. Dallas quickly conjured up a shield of energy in front of him. The man's sword impacted it. Dallas thought it would hold him, but he saw the sword grating through the shield, and suddenly Balance realized there wasn't much time. He tried to stall him by taunting him. "Is that it? All of this hard work, and Edo Edi Essum is going to get your revenge for you? Pathetic!"

The man laughed.

He jumped back.

He nodded to Edo Edi Essum.

What happened next, Balance will never be able to describe. A blinding flash of light and darkness enveloped the entire chamber, and sounds not meant for this earth pervaded his hearing. When it was over, Dallas looked around. Devaide's ears were bleeding. Even Yochanan appeared to be shaken by the sound. When he was able to focus again, Edo Edi Essum and the other man were gone.


Do you see now, Balance? How long will it take before you realize the futility of trying to stop me? I will destroy everything and burn all to ash, for I am the Destroyer of Spirit, Infector of Souls, the Objects' own version of Damnation. I am Edo Edi Essum. I am all that is dark, and no matter whom you have with you, or how powerful you are, you cannot "balance" me.


Legion recovered, and joined them in checking the remaining creature. Yochanan pulled back its hood.

It was quite possibly the most tortured and disgusting looking creature Dallas had ever seen. It had once been human, obviously, but that was long ago. Too long ago. Its skin looked like a bug's, or a turtle's, like a carapace. In some places the bony skin faltered to expose bare muscle, its teeth were deformed and pointed, its nose crooked, its eyes red and burned with hate. The creature was unconscious, and didn't react when Devaide kicked it. In fact, it just lay there, pathetic and helpless. Dallas completely dismissed it, if its companions had forsaken it, and if they showed no interest in protecting it, why should Balance bother with it at all?

Yochanan didn't feel that way. He knelt down to it, touching its face gently, chuckling quietly to himself. The creature's eyes fluttered open, and it began to panic, being surrounded like it was must have been horrifying. They all stared down at it, unknowing what to do. All but Yochanan, who looked at him gently, like an apprehensive, caring brother.

"What is your name, creature?"

"P-Pessum. Pessum Ire."

"Hello, Pessum Ire," said Yochanan, touching his cheek. "Do you wish to die?"

"N-no, s-s-sir."

"A wise choice," Yochanan said sadly. "It is the most horrible thing in life, dying."

"How does one know?" it asked sadly, reminiscing in its old memories.

"I died once."

The creature looked into Yochanan's eyes.

Yochanan tore its head from its shoulders.

Balancing Thought.

The world will be mine. I will consume it in slow steady gulps. Everything; Legion, Devaide, your friends and family, I'll even scrape out the last little bits of Yochanan. Then I will devour you. Slowly.

It is my duty to make sure that does not happen.

Duty?


Dallas hadn't told anyone about the thoughts, the intrusions into his mind. He had become weary and needed rest, although sleep was a human trait, one that he had no benefit from, Dallas did value his time alone. Although today he wasn't alone, Devaide was with him, and Dallas allowed the feeling of awareness to pass over them. His friend appreciated the feeling, but Dallas needed to use it. Find out where he was to next do his duty. However, every time he let himself slip into it, Dallas felt pulled back by Essum and his consistent taunting.

Dallas questioned telling Devaide; if there was anyone he could trust it was him.


Yes, it is. I will not allow the realms to become so unbalanced.

Unbalanced? No. Life is unbalance. If everyone dies there will be no more evil, no more good. Zero on either side. Then there will be balance, and I will get to eat.

Nothing you can say will turn me, Essum.

Who said anything about turning you?


Dallas sat on a piece of stone from Legion's fortress, it protruded about seven feet from the face of the cavern, made of blue rock, it was just big enough that Dallas could sit and not have to try and steady himself. He let his legs dangle off the edge; thousands of feet separated him from a rocky, and jagged, cavern floor. Devaide sat beside him, knowing Legion would not let him die.

That was Doom's revenge; Legion needed him now, and Balance knew somewhere in Devaide's mind, Doom was taking it all in and laughing at the irony.

It was a shame Dallas had to do what he did. Devaide's mind will eventually turn on itself; he will clutch his head and begin shrieking as he goes mad with multiple influences and different opinions in his own mentality. He will bang his head into walls, claw at his eyes, and tear at his ears... anything to make the confusion and the pandemic in his mind stop. It never will, and maybe Doom will once again wind up in an institution, in a straightjacket, in a room with padded walls.

That won't be for a while, however, a long while, and while his sanity was still intact, Dallas wanted him to be as blissful and content as possible.


Then why are you doing this?

Because I know you'll try and stop my feeding. Try and stop the brief chaos that will erupt as everything is extinguished.

The end will not come, Edo Edi Essum. The Heavens and the Hells will remain at war, but they will not shape humanity. The Holders and Seekers will continue their struggle, but one man will never possess them all. I promise, I will not allow the realms to slip into pandemonium.

The end will not come? Then what am I?


Everyone who could stop them was there, in Legion's realm. One way in, nobody could do anything without Dallas's knowing. Not only that, but he had a clear space, he could pinpoint events and people who were significantly affecting the balance and deal with them accordingly, without all the superficial noise of the minor malicious acts committed by humans in their everyday lives.

Everyone was there, Legion, the lord of the missing and forgotten objects, once serpentine and twisted was now more of his old self, gentle and whole-hearted. However, the less time Yochanan spent around him the better. Already Dallas could feel Legion's soul becoming slightly fouler every time the Hollow One neared too close, his emptiness seemed to rub off on people. Yochanan still made Dallas uneasy, but he informed him, he "had no evil intent", and wanted to help. Of course, his words were mere lies and blasphemy, Yochanan always had a secret agenda; however, he had aided them in the past as as much as Dallas loathed admitting it, he trusted him.

The left Devaide, and after Yochanan had his revolting feed on Pessum Ire's corpse (an undertaking which seemed unnecessary, as he could survive on no sustenance and preferred human food), Balance and Devaide talked up on the ledge for what seemed like hours.

All of them were here for one reason: Stopping the end from coming.


I will stop you.

You might, Balance, you might. But what would happen if you did? Surely, then, there would be unbalance. Darkness would be vanquished, but then light would rule. And you know what you must do then, don't you, Balance? You will have to take my place. Can you do it? All the lives you've saved, can you extinguish them? All the darkness and hatred and evil you've banished, can you bring it back? Can you watch innocents writhe in agony as the world around you burns by your own hands? I will be watching, Balance. I will be laughing.

Featherweight Equal

"Tell me, Balance, do you still go by the notion that you can prevent the inevitable truth? Do you still think you can save humanity by continuing this insignificant spree for the light? How many corrupted Holders are there? How many Seekers driven insane? How many angels slaughtered in the name of their lord whilst throwing themselves against the unrelenting hordes of Hell? Do you think you can balance that out?"

"As such is my duty, Yochanan."

"I suppose. But what happens when you finally win, Balance? What happens when you balance out all the bad in the world with good? When Seekers, Holders, Heaven, Hell, the right and the wrong are in equilibrium, what will you do? How will you keep on going? You'd have no purpose."

"If such a day were to come, Yochanan, I will have fulfilled my destiny. And I shall resume my mortal life."

"Mortal life. I think I remember having one of those."

"You know nothing of mortality, Yochanan."


Dallas still hadn't found them, after a week of looking in every pocket universe, in every realm, in every halfway house, insane asylum, city, country, and void. Dallas couldn't find them anywhere. Edo Edi Essum and his Pet had simply seemed to vanish. However, the Balance knew better. He could still feel them, waiting... Lurking...

Dallas felt the darkness spread over the realms with every passing moment they existed. Edo Edi Essum had returned to consume what he had left. As it was, not knowing their location, Balance was powerless to stop them and bring even ends to this endeavor (if one could all the potential end of the universe an endeavor). It made him begin to miss his old life. Not as the Balance, but as Dallas. Not as the Seeker, either, but just as Dallas Scottsburrow, with the ones he had loved.

His own greed took that away from him. His greed for the Objects.

"I think I get why you despise them so, Yochanan."


"I know nothing of mortality? I was human once! Don't think I was born this way."

"Born of what, Yochanan? You are nothing, through and through. Yet you exist. You are the embodiment of all that isn't. You represent all that is hollow, empty, and soulless. Yet in this forsaken, unjust, unbalanced multiverse, even you find room for hate. You shouldn't exist; therefore, by all that is unbalanced, you should be destroyed."

"Good thing I conned you into making that bet, then, isn't it, ma'boy?"

"Do not call me 'boy', Yochanan. You have enough of those."


When it happened, Dallas was meditating. He was in Legion's realm like they had been. Without a way to stop them or find Edo Edi Essum and his peers, it was all Dallas had. A place so twisted and dark, untouched by any sway other than Legion himself... Balance hated every moment of it. However, like it or not, he was the Holder of Legion, and therefore the Objects obeyed him and did as he commanded. All his power and might he draws from Them. Edo was a being from another world altogether, not of any of the planes, nor the realms, he had no origin. Shame really. That meant Balance would need to find a new way to defeat him. Who can begin to equalize something, if you don't know what that something is?

Maybe his purpose wasn't all it was cracked up to be.


"You said 'boy' with a bit of reluctance. Come to think of it, I don't eve know your story. Care to enlighten me, Balance?"

"No."

"Are you sure? I like to hear about people's problems."

"Correction, Yochanan: you like to laugh at people's problems. I will not give you the twisted satisfaction you would get by telling you about my past, nor will I allow myself to be manipulated into divulging such information. You may leave, Yochanan, I will not falter in my position.

"No need to get defensive, Dallas. I was just asking."


Her name was Shelby. That's all Dallas has ever told anyone, even Factions. He lost her because of his greed. He was a Seeker, and that life consumed him. It's all he ever talked about, all he ever thought about. Even when he and her stopped making love, Dallas didn't notice. Like all Seekers, his lust for the Objects was far too potent for him to pay attention to anything else. In his quest, Dallas had become consumed. No matter how he tried to justify it, he was just another Seeker.

She began to hate him. She couldn't stand the sight of him, and when Dallas finally decided that he'd had enough of her taunting, he left her. He remembered her crying. He remembered her taking a feather from her pocket and handing it to him as she said goodbye. He had given it to her on the first day he'd met her. A stranger had given it to him, told Dallas that it would help him in the years to come. Dallas ignored him, and gave it to Shelby as a gift. Dallas wanted to show her that no matter what happened, the feather would always make the things he did worthwhile, if only she were to be with him. It was a cheesy pickup line, admittedly, but it worked all the same. She was with Dallas for three years. About a month after she gave it back to him, Dallas met Factions...

Now that he thought about it, he hadn't seen that feather since Shelby gave it to him. He was sure it wasn't important.


"Yochanan, if you really want me to enlighten you about my past; I want something from yours as well."

"I'm not ashamed of anything I've done. I'll tell you anything."

"I assumed that would be your response, but I also must have your word that what you say will be truth."

"Do I ever lie, Balance?"

"Very well. When I was human, when I was Dallas, I made a promise to a woman that I would love her forever. The Objects took that away from me. Perhaps my zeal for my current purpose is a result of me trying to balance what I had done to her, among other things."

"That's pretty benign, Balance, albeit a bit selfish."

"It is your turn, Yochanan."

"What would you like to know?"

"Have you ever been in love?"


Factions told Dallas that he had been looking for him for quite some time. Why Factions chose him, Dallas would never understand. There was nothing special about him when they met. Dallas was a simple, ordinary Seeker (as simple and ordinary as Seekers come, anyway). There was not anything unique or extraordinary about him, although Factions did say in their conversations that he was, in fact, special. Every time he said that, Dallas's intuition would tell him that he was referring to her. Come to think of it, Dallas thought he might've been referring to many things. The old man also mentioned the fact that Dallas was already in "Perfect Balance" as a result of being exposed to it for so long. At the time, he hadn't the slightest idea what Factions meant.

Balance remembered the long conversation with him. Everything about it was crystal clear, almost as if he was supposed to remember something, but he didn't know what. Dallas pondered for what seemed like hours about the man - Factions - himself. He had slowly walked in, crippled and aged, his brown robe flowing freely even in the lack of wind. His thick-rimmed glasses prevented Dallas from looking into his eyes. His beard flowed from his face, silvery-white, looking soft to the touch. Just by the way it flowed with the windless breeze...

... Like a feather.

Balance in Mind

It was hard for Devaide to continue his mental state without outbursts. After five years of having two entities in his mind he was already beginning to feel the affects. Occasionally Devaide would get violent toward Legion, or toward anyone he could get his hands on. Other times he'd simply weep uncontrollably. Legion often used the Objects' power to keep Devaide sane, but he knew in time that would also drive him mad. The man was at a horrible state of mind. The thought of having two separate entities with two personalities mashed hastily into one mind and soul already made Dallas sad. The fact that it had to happen to two innocent boys was something entirely... Unbalanced.

Nevertheless, Devaide was who he is now because the Holder of Legion cannot be left mortal. Legion may be both a Holder and an Object, but he was also human, a Seeker who had to witness his friend slowly slip into dementia.


"I told you so, Balance. We both knew this was going to happen before it did, you condemned him to this fate, Balance, not I. Don't come pouting to me with your anger, when you're the one to blame."

"All I ask of you, Yochanan, is for you to make it right. Devaide doesn't deserve the fate you inflicted upon him. Michael and Victor are good friends, they will need help becoming the same person if Devaide is to keep existing."

"I fail to understand where this is my problem."

"Do you want me to make it your problem, Yochanan?"

"And how would you go about doing that; even if you could kill me, what would it do? Nothing. And as of now you've signed away your power over me. Don't think deals with me are easy things to back out of."

"Then what do you want this time?"

"The aforementioned deal, in writing. I find things hold stronger in writing, makes my acquisitions easier."


The process was irreversible, Devaide couldn't be separated into Michael and Victor and placed back in a more fashionable sense and the devastation to the body's physical brain would be catastrophic. When they got back in the body it would be unlikely they would be capable of even basic motor functions. However, there was another option, far better than slipping into a chaotic mind. There was a downside; it required Yochanan to directly access Devaide's. The Devil's Grin was brutal and cruel to the mind on the physical plane but on a mental level... But as Dallas watched him from afar as he walked calmly into a fast food place and brutally assaulted the cook, then fled by foot back to Legion's hideout, he knew what had to be done.

Dallas sighed and closed the liquid-like apparition he used as his looking glass. Devaide needed structure, regardless of its source.


"Yohanan is coming in, Legion. I ask that you show restraint. He is here to assist Devaide."

"Legion, I remember when I was the one who's ever word you'd kneel to, when I was the force you daren't reckon with."

"Silence, you insolate worm! If Balance wasn't here, I'd rend your puny arms from that empty husk you call a body!"

"You've had your pet, what, five years now? I'd think you'd have it better trained."


As Yohanan laid his hands on either side of Devaide's head, his face lit up with dark glee. Dallas looked at him in disgust, but there were necessary evils, things which had to be done to maintain the Balance.

"Yochanan has his... powers and many are of the mind. He is capable of working dark acts across the psychoscape; maintaining control over other minds as well as his own. We're going to use this ability to keep one of your minds dormant inside Devaide while the other one takes over. This will hopefully prevent you going mad, Devaide. Every fifty years, Yochanan will assert himself over you again to alternate your personalities. It's important you two share Devaide, understand?"

Devaide nodded, twice. Good.

Yochanan's eyes snapped shut suddenly and he began to mutter strange things under his breath: dark, confused, and muddled phrases. It took Dallas a second to realize that he was sorting out Victor from Michael, disentangling their thoughts.

Suddenly Devaide seized up and a shrill laugh escaped Yochanan's lips. Devaide flung himself away from Yochanan to huddle in a corner, breathing heavily. His back moved up and down, in time with his inhaling and exhaling. He turned to face them. Dallas could see in his eyes that it had worked. Those eyes were bloodshot, and the iris was a deep gray. Almost rotten and glassed over.

He knew whose eyes those belonged to, they were Doom's eyes.

Weakness

There he was, where it all began; where the Objects themselves were created and separated, where the war raged between forces indefinable. Good and evil played no part in this battle. No, this battle was between chaos and order, between the Objects and the things that wanted them. This wasn't heaven and hell, there was no struggle for a certain prize. This time the Objects were on trial, the Objects were the ones defending themselves. By all accounts, at that spot nearly infinity ago, is when and where the realms became unbalanced. Fitting that he would find sanctuary here, as Essum would never go there willingly, never would he come to his true place of creation, for this is where the 2538 were born, and he himself born of them. Perhaps he doesn't know how easily he can be undone in a place of birth. Balance knew his weaknesses.


"I can't help you, Balance."

"Why not, Legion, together we will be unbeatable."

"Okay, but I can't put Devaide in that kind of danger."

"I understand but -"

"But nothing! Don't question me, mortal Balance."

"Legion, I do not wish to fight you. In case you forgot, without my help you would not be immortal. Furthermore, The Legion, if Essum succeeds in his quest, he will consume everything. Starting with the Objects; all the Objects. Including the white diamond on your chest."


There were so many catacombs at the tower, one could get lost if one were to not pay attention. Although the tower seemed small from the outside, one learned long ago when dealing with the Objects, nothing was what it seemed. The tower inside stretched on for kilometers in all directions, outside it simply looked like a big stone tower. Balance also noticed the huge amounts of books and novels within the library located on the 521st floor (guess how many there were in total). During his spare time, Dallas read about Edo Edi Essum; his origin, his goals, the stories, documents, and fables about him... It occurred to Balance that he couldn't simply destroy Essum, that would offset the balance far too dramatically. No, he'd have to contain him. For eternity. Once and for all, he'd make sure the Objects would never come together.


"Again thy brings yourself into my room and again thy be ignorant of all my rules. If you were mortal, I would end you."

"Hello again, The End, I have something to ask of you."

"Every time you bring yourself into my realm you ask of me something, Dallas. Do not take me for ignorant."

"Because you are the eldest and wisest of all Holders, The End. You are the first Holder; you and only you have the answer I seek. I implore you to answer to the best of your ability."

"Indeed I will, as I always have, Dallas."

"Is the coming together nigh?"

"No."

"This was not the answer I was hoping for; as it is much more confusing."


"Grinmirin, Tramal," Dallas said, clasping his hands together. He drew them apart slowly and in between his hands the crispy, dry air shimmered like heat off a concrete highway. Dallas made a swirling motion with his hands and the shimmering air took the shape of a circle; almost like a mirror. "Otanalahm," Dallas finished the incantation by flexing his palms. The shimmering air turned into a silver liquid, like mercury being held up by a powerful fan on the ground. Then it hardened into a shiny, smooth surface, the portal showed his reflection like a mirror but was so much more. This was the Grinmirin Tramal, the Looking Glass. It is used when things need to be seen. Or want to be seen.

"Kimmo Shelby."

Find Shelby.


"You're the last person I expected to show up, Dallas."

"Yochanan, I expect you thought you rid yourself of me."

"Never. So long as there is a single out of place grain of sand, you'll be somewhere trying to fix that. What do you want, Dallas?"

"My name is Balance, Yochanan. My name is what it is, yours is nothing but a label. A label to nothing. Which is what you are, Yochanan; nothing. You will help me with what I need done. Or so help me -"

"And I quote: 'The party known as Dallas shall cease and desist all attempts of Harm (as defined in article 12 of This Contract) against the personage of the party known as Yochanan. Attempted harm against Yochanan shall result in reprimands against the parsonage of Dallas in excess of the intended harm against Yochanan -' Need I go on, Dallas?"

"Yochanan, Essum will destroy all you -"

"My Brother will do what he will, I've no right to stop the order of things. You are a creature of order, why do you heartily fight the end?"

"If you cannot help me, then I cannot help you."

"Gravely, you misunderstand me, Balance. You seem to think I'll rue the day I am devoured."


Dallas saw her gardening, her long brown hair flowed freely in the breeze from her head past her shoulders. Her nephew, Sheldon, was bouncing a ball in the parking lot nearby, shooting hoops. She lived with her sister now, and Dallas had a clear view from the back of her body from the top down. He hadn't seen her since he had become that what he was; and he almost forgot how beautiful she was. Dallas wished, for a moment, that the view got to see her big green eyes. Her perfectly pale skin seemed to glow in the sunlight. In that moment, Dallas realized that he would do anything to protect her. Why he still loved her was a complete mystery to him, but he did. He guessed that's what kept him going, the thought of her eventually coming back to him. Balance felt like a stalker hiding in the trees; from his omnipotent view he could see everything around her, including a dark shadow when it swept across the view. Balance stood up quickly, his fists clenched.

Sheldon was gone.

The sky went dark, and Balance saw Shelby look to the right and give a horrible, bloodcurdling scream.

Another shadow and she, too, was gone. A figure crept into view, in a dark black cloak, almost like someone took the darkness and made it darker, like another shadow from the freak solar shadow that shrouded my view.

It looked directly at where Dallas's view was from.

It was Essum, and he was laughing.


"I guess he knows my weakness, too..."

Essum in Balance

Balance grabbed the blade; it was a last attempt to stop his impending death. He had been bested, and through all his power, the Balance couldn't stop Essum from outdoing him. Physically Essum was stronger, mentally he was more stable, and magic-wise he was Dallas's superior also. He probably had this planned for years. Balance thought himself arrogant, to think that he could walk in and destroy him. Whatever Edo Edi Essum did to Edo Infectus, it made him more powerful in an inclusive sense than Balance ever was. He was sure if he had more time to practice, train his new powers, he'd have been able to defeat Essum easily. But he'd only been who he was for a decade, Edo Edi Essum and Infectus are at least ten thousand years Balance's elder, experience served them all the well. And so, in a feeble attempt to stop his demise, Balance grabbed Essum's blade.

It stopped.

But not because of his hand.

Essum had used his other hand to lock onto his wrist. Immediately Balance sensed turmoil within his mind. He lifted the sword away from his face, standing as he did. Essum stumbled back, still gripping his wrist. Dallas saw confusion and anger in his eyes, not like there was much of anything to see. Balance forced his way deeper into Essum's mind.


Look at what has become of me. I am not this demon. I am not Essum. I will not allow you to control me any longer! Get out of my head! Get OUT NOW!

"Essum -"

Worry not for him, Balance, the Holder I sent visited you. Essum is not only made of Edo Edi and Infectus, there is another soul, much deeper within Infectus. One still human, and therefore, capable of compassion. That is what stopped him from slaying you, him and his compassion.


Essum began to tear himself apart, screaming as he did so. He began to rend his pale, bonelike almost plastic skin from his face. Balance wondered briefly if he even felt pain; apparently not, as he continued to rip himself to literal shreds. Each piece of skin-carapace-whatever slapped to the ground and quickly seemed to squirm like a worm into the cracks in the floor. And as Essum continued to rip his body into pieces, Balance felt something grow inside of him. Something he never thought he could feel in a being such as Essum. Love.

Something inside Essum, inside Infectus, was human enough to remember what love felt like, and Balance knew that that is what drove him. He then stopped briefly and looked at the flaming orb in his ribcage. He dove his hand into his chest and touched it, this time his scream was loud and not to be outdone. That was real pain. He saw Essum look at him for a moment, and tear into his chest again, this time firmly grabbing the orb and squeezing it.


Send him back to me, Dallas! Once the division is complete, you will have your chance at the true face of wrong. Essum is not going to be your problem for long, Balance, all you need to do is sit back and wait.

"Who are you?"

I am we, for we are one and the same. Tied through purpose, separated by time. Send Edo Edi Essum back to me, Balance. Send him back and I shall equal him.


Essum began to combust, his flesh and skin looked like they simply smoldered away from his body as the ashes found their hiding places in the floor. He screamed in agony and rage a last time as he wrenched the orb from his chest. The orb's flame grew more exuberant, and hovered in place while Essum's tortured body collapsed to the ground. Balance walked over to him, raising his weapon and holding it adjacent to the fallen "man's" neck.

"Who are you?" Balance asked of him, more like an order than an actual question.

"I... am not your primary concern right now..."

He looked at something behind Balance, and from the ash and flesh and the fire from the orb a figure began to build. As the pieces rushed together, Balance whirled to face it.

Edo Edi Essum.

"The Consumer, so we meet at last."

"You are but my meal, my sustenance that is still breathing."

"Devour me then, Edo Edi Essum."

He tried, his smoky body and too-long skeletal arms slashed for Dallas. He was as fast as a shadow when the light shined upon an object. It was as though he moved none, and then struck with unseeable speed. Very much like somebody else Balance knew. His legless body ended in a black smoke, making it impossible for Dallas to attack his legs at all. Balance swung with the Black King's Sword he still had in his hands. Surprisingly, the blade went right through Edo Edi Essum's body, it was like trying to cut smoke from a fire. Or a shadow.

"You cannot kill what is but Hate. I am Intangible in this realm, nothing but the Evil from countless souls."

It then occurred to Dallas that he was in for the fight of his life.

Equal and Opposite

Balance couldn't see Shelby anymore; everything was more or less a blur as he ducked Essum's bony arms. Essum had landed a blow only once, it froze Dallas's skin where it touched, but worse than that; he felt what it did to his soul. His mere touch burned Dallas to the core, not just in a frostbite that chilled the bone, but he felt Essum take part of his very being with him. Almost as if he devoured it with his hands. Essum was fast, just as fast as Balance was, the only reason Balance continued to fight was due to the brace. Balance's cloak seemed to flow around Essum's hands, avoiding them completely even when he struck; in many cases Balance even felt the cloak pull him to the side or force him to duck, good old cloak.

"You could no more evade my wrath," said Edo Edi Essum, with his voice like a million monotone and pain-filled screams, "than you could your own shadow."

"You are not as daunting as you believe, Edo Edi Essum," Balance lied.


"Tell me then, Balance, why do you run from my hunger? Embrace me, become one with all the rest. With our combined power, we could consume everything, it all, forever. It can be glorious! This planet like the one before it, and then the rest for eternity we shall consume and rule and all shall fear the name Equal Essum."


"Is that what you would call yourself when you ate me? 'Equal Essum'? How long have you fantasized about that, Edo Edi Essum?"


"Why do you think I convinced Infectus to bring us here?"


Don't listen to his words, Dallas! They are nothing but ploy and blasphemies. He had said the same in the battle we raged.

You two have fought? And you survived? Who is this and how are you talking in my mind?

All questions will be answered in time, you need to focus on beating him before he lands anymore hits on you, for they indeed drain you of your soul, and each time he makes contact he draws from your soul and your power. Defeat him quickly. Send him back to me.

You have faced him before and you survived, you can tell me how to best him, can't you?

Balance, I didn't survive.


Balance ducked again, and tried swiping at his chest with both his original weapon made from the Objects and the Black King's Sword; he had picked up and dropped both weapons several times trying to dodge Essum's blows. The swing struck Essum, it made contact with something, but Edo Edi Essum did not falter. It was as if it wasn't him Balance had struck.


"You cannot kill what has no life, Balance."

"I wil k-AAAGGGHHHH."

Balance wasn't fast enough, Essum's hand clutched the Balance's shoulder, searing frost up his arm and making him feel like he was drained of will, mind, and soul. Essum's touch was like death itself, but worse; any death would be infinitely more desirable to being a part of that creature. Edo Edi Essum threw Balance across the tower roof. He rolled to try and absorb the contact with the ground. It didn't help, he just bounced along the stone until he slid to a stop. Edo Edi Essum drifted toward him, and behind him Dallas could see Shelby. She was unconscious, she must have passed out. Good, he wouldn't want her to witness what was about to happen to him.

In that moment he felt death creep upon him; however, Balance stood anyhow, the Brace of Submission was to thank for that, keeping him fighting. He remembered how he came to be here, staggering upright in front of the most horrible beast imaginable. The tests Dallas faced for the Objects, the meeting with Factions, asking The End about what happens when they come together, twice. Everything, including how much he loved Shelby, and how much he was letting the world down was sent into the unorganized pandemonium that was Balance's mind at the moment.

He was standing again, holding the Black King's Sword with two arms. The chain connecting the brace and the White King's Sword had long since shattered. The White King's Sword lay on the ground a mere few feet away, but Balance didn't dare take his eyes off Edo Edi Essum long enough to retrieve it.


Perhaps this is an opportunity to undo more than one wrong; the Black King's Sword is what the Holders call a Hedroth-Tulan, an Object like the others, that only exists as a byproduct of another Object; they banish them to the Void, however once in a while they do surface, and must be destroyed.

I'm more concerned about the bastard creature in front of me at the moment, but thank you, voice.

It's Taz.

What?

My name; it's Tazmaran.


Balance found enough energy to whirl around and swing the Black King's Sword around toward Edo Edi Essum's "face". Again, the blow did nothing but wisp the smoke around his body. Edo moved again, with Yochanan's speed, and grabbed Balance's shoulder. Balance fell to his knees, screaming. He felt his cloak squirm also, as if it too was in pain. Edo Edi Essum's bony arm was digging its fingers into Dallas's flesh. He looked at it, he felt it, and he hated it.

Felt it.

Balance raised his blade and brought it down at an awkward angle toward Essum's forearm, much longer than anything it should have been, it was an easy target. The blade bounced off the appendage, cracking the bones it collided with. Finally, a target Balance could physically attack had presented itself. Edo Edi Essum grunted and staggered back.

Balance picked up both blades in his hands, and, using all but the last of his strength, struck Edo Edi Essum's arm with both edges. The Black King's Sword rattled off the bone, it was never made to war with another entity of darkness, and like giving a lightbulb too much electricity, the Black King's Sword finally gave way to the amount of damage it took and it snapped in two. Edo Edi Essum's arm shattered also, bone splinters going all over the rock. This time the beast shrieked, it could feel pain, it had a weakness, it could be beaten. Balance found a new source of energy, in the slightest possibility of hope the human instinct in him kicked in.

That is, until the shriek turned into a cold, mocking laughter.


I tried that, too.

God damnit, Taz, you had to have come at least close to defeating him. How do I do it?

That is up to you, he must be balanced, not just beaten. Send him back to me.

Wait, your -

Yes, Dallas, I am you... I am your predecessor... I am the first Balance.


Edo Edi Essum's arm seemed to grow back in place, as if the bone on the ground wasn't his at all. He mocked Balance with his heartless laughter as, before his eyes, Edo's arm grew back. It seemed as if he took lessons from Yochanan on how to laugh; because it was just as cold and horrifying as the Hollow Man's and then some. At least Edo Edi Essum didn't have the eyes Jack Empty had.

"Alas, Balance, I grow bored of your endeavor, if you will not do your best, I will end this quickly."

"You keep saying that, Edo Edi Essum."

Edo moved toward Balance again, this time catching him completely off guard and wrapping his too-long fingers around his neck. Balance gasped as he felt the life leave him. Not just from lack of breath, but from the deprivation of spirit and soul. Dallas got weaker and weaker as the Consumer squeezed tighter and tighter. This was it, he was going to die here, Edo Edi Essum was going to take Balance's power and he was going to end all things. It was Dallas's fault that Edo would consume everything.

"I am but darkness, the unknowable which proceeds creation. How do you kill that which was not created, which has no life? How do you kill something that you cannot touch?"

"Tach... Fa... Falsh... Ton... Tonah."

Balance opened his palm and slammed the Tach Falsh Tonah into Essum's body. This time he roared, feeling real pain.

Dallas collapsed to the ground, wheezing and shaking; he couldn't breathe yet along think about standing and continuing to fight. He spat up blood, it warmed his throat a bit and made it easier to breathe. Balance looked up at his opponent, Edo Edi Essum smoking more than usual, his soul draining from him. Balance should have thought of the Tach Falsh Tonah the moment Essum mentioned the word "spirit" but he was glad he did now.

"I might not be able to harm you... But you have taken from this world of life and death. Of beginnings and ends. And that is what I shall end!"

The brace allowed Dallas to stand yet again. The Toga of the Gods shown luminously in the sinking light that was the dusk of this place. It was as though orange hue fell upon everything. However, the toga (absorbed by Balance's cloak) shined with a white light, countering that of Edo Edi Essum's dark aura. Balance looked upon him, he was standing once more. This time slowly; not like Yochanan at all, but more like a mortal. A wounded mortal.

"How is it possible?" he asked.

"It is possible, Edo Edi Essum, because I fight with something you don't understand. Something you will never even begin to comprehend. No matter how many souls you eat, no matter how many bodies you disembowel, you will never grasp the concept of the things I fight for. You are nothing but filth, Edo Edi Essum, purely unbalanced mess of hatred. You fight for hunger and for hatred; your hatred is equal to that of which I fight for, something that you will never experience.

That I know nothing of, Dallas? You barely know this thing you fight and you claim to hold something beyond my understanding? What thing do you speak of?"

"Love, Edo Edi Essum, I fight for love."


Good show, Dallas, now, rend his souls away and send him back to me. I will keep him at bay for eternity if I must, so he shall never harm another soul again.

You would do that?

It is our duty to uphold the balance, Dallas, you know that. I'd do anything to keep the realms equalized. Furthermore, I was in love once, too, and she is now nothing of what I came to adore... I know what it's like to lose the thing you love the most, and Edo Edi Essum will pay for his blasphemy to not only you, but to everything and everyone he's ever hurt.

"Tach Falsh Tonah," Balance muttered to himself, as the glowing orbs appeared in his hands yet again. Balance hurtled one at Edo's shoulder. It sent him spinning to the ground, the black smoke rising from his "body" as more and more souls escaped from his entity. Balance could feel Edo's power shrinking. He took the last spirit bomb he had in his hands and he tore it; making two smaller ones around his fists. Balance approached Edo Edi Essum and knelt over him, he struggled on the ground.

"I will return, Balance, I will return when they all come together. And I will pillage and eat and destroy all lands in all realms."

"When you do, Edo Edi Essum, I will be there to balance you."

He shoved his hands into Edo's chest, the Tach Falsh Tonah allowing Balance to grab not flesh but soul, and rend a majority of Edo Edi Essum's souls from his body.

Edo shook violently on the ground, unable to move.

"Sannanah, grator, ammunthah lithutal-chewnit."

Balance drew an imaginary circle around Edo Edi Essum's frail figure and muttered the incantation. He sat for a moment, and Balance caught a glimpse of his twisted face before he fell through the portal and it closed up around him.

Edo Edi Essum, the Consumer of all, was gone. Banished to the past to do battle with the first Balance forever. Shelby was unconscious and so was the remnant of what was Infectus. Sitting down cross-legged, he took a moment to let out a heave and relax. For the first time since he had acquired his title as The Balance, Dallas felt like he had peace.

Everything Balanced

"I have a whole new respect for you, Balance. If I knew what you were doing I would have been there to help you in less than a second," said Devaide, no more than a moment after entering Legion's fortress. Balance smiled at him, both of them knowing Legion would never allow it. Devaide would have been killed by Edo Edi Essum, and Legion would become mortal. In short, Legion was a lot like Devaide's older brother. In fact, it seemed like the three best friends who had once come together out of love for one another were bonded yet again. Devaide was temporarily, for the most part, controlled by Doom; yet Balance didn't feel the hostile creature bred by decades of rot and solitude. Instead, he found Victor, an eighteen-year-old boy with more spirit than he had in eons.

Dallas continued to walk until he found the diamond on the floor of the entrance of the castle. It was painted white on the stone floor like it always had; the contrasting dark blue rock and the strangely painted white stone gave the palace a very dramatic feel. He wondered briefly if Legion had ever wanted to redecorate. He also noticed that the rock here and the rock in the tower had the same texture; however, his train of thought was interrupted by thudding from one of the three gigantic spiral staircases in the wall. Legion came into view, his massive feet making a thump as they met the stone.


I have to talk to you, Balance.

I'm aware.

You know where to find me.

I do.

I'll see you in a few moments then, correct?

No, I have something I wish to do first. If that is alright with you.

Yes, I understand.


"So, we meet yet again," said Legion. He hadn't noticed before, but Legion had a title. And he adhered to it. He always wore clothes or robes that made him appear to have authority. He decorated himself with rings of gold and bracelets of silver. Balance had even expected he wore entire suits of armor on a regular basis. This time, however, Legion had his wide, muscular shoulders fit nicely into a black suit. His hair covered by a nice hat; his shoes were tied and he had but one ring on his right hand. The middle finger bore it well, how Legion found rings that fit his fingers was an intriguing thought.

"We do, indeed, Legion," said Balance, extending his hand. Legion took it and shook it. The gesture was all formal, very... human.

"What is the occasion?" Balance asked.

"A wedding."

Balance laughed a bit. "Who do you know that's getting married?"

It was Legion's turn to smile. "I don't spend three hundred and sixty-five days a year cooped up in here and finding Objects. Not since you lifted the Hollow Man's filth from my mind. I don't believe I've ever thanked you for that."

"Do not thank me, it was but my duty."

"No, Balance, you could have just fought me. Instead, you tried to make me better than what I was. You are a good man; don't forget that, wherever you go."

"Where is he going?" that was Devaide, from beside Dallas. He was always beside Dallas.


"Balance has to leave. Isn't that why you came, Balance? To say goodbye?"

"Yes, it is."

"But... I'll see you again, won't I?"

"Devaide, you will feel my presence with you always. Yes, this may be the last time we meet, but it also may not. The future is something nobody can predict. Well, almost nobody. Either way, I sense the realms are in near equilibrium, and I never expected them to be completely equal. Perfectly imperfect they must remain. I believe the world has seen enough of The Balance. That is, until the time comes when I am needed again."

"But what about Essum's minions? There must be millions of them everywhere!"


"There must be millions of them everywhere!" pleaded Devaide, trying to find some way to make Balance change his mind. He sounded like a six-year-old child trying to convince his mother not to leave him with grandma for the weekend. He was tugging slightly on Balance's cloak which further added to his begging stature. Dallas looked at him, slightly downward because Devaide was relatively short.

"Devaide, Victor, Michael, you will be missed. I owe you more than you know. Without you, I couldn't have done half the things I did."

Devaide nodded, and then Balance turned back to Legion.

"You watch him, you watch him well."

"Even if our fates weren't tied, I still would," was his reply.

Balance nodded at him, and turned to leave; however his robe refused and held him back. Before he could do anything about it, Legion told him to wait a moment.

He touched the diamond on his chest, and looked upward.

Down from the ceiling almost forty feet above them, floated a white feather. It drifted in the breeze, even though there was none at that point. It glided into his palm; he then outstretched it to Balance.

"Take it, I find it fitting that you have it."

Balance took it gently, admiring it as he did so. "Thank you, might Legion."

He nodded once more to Devaide, and started down the long walkway to the subway entrance. Every time he had walked this kilometer-long path, he had used magic to speed the process up. But this time he wanted to take in the beauty that the Objects could create when used properly. Legion's realm was indeed one of the most awing.

Cherish her came a whisper as he walked.

"I will," he answered back.

Balance - no, Dallas - walked toward the portal to the human realm, where Shelby waited for him outside the gates.