CHAPTER XI : world on fire
Like Sam had previously mentioned, he was not half bad with his weapon.
But he was certainly no match for the Phantom.
Sam could only go aft, warding him off with difficulty.
And even though his stick was of a good quality, it wouldn’t last long against a deadly, sharp sword.
Luckily for him, his opponent didn’t use the secret gun in his rapier.
In truth there was no need for it.
The Phantom was used to dueling and stronger in every domain, but he didn’t go all out on him.
He was taking pleasure in shattering every little defense move Sam could make.
He cut him swiftly on his arms, hands and thighs, methodically, carving him as if he were a piece of meat.
But after his little speech, Sam was more than determined to put an end to all of this.
The words he had spoken in his crazy soliloquy had relieved him of a weight he had been carrying for a long time.
This was it.
His final adventure.
His body was bleeding everywhere, yet he hadn’t even scratched his assailant.
But the adrenaline had numbed him.
In the end he was smiling.
“I’m glad you at least have the decency to fight me,”
the Phantom whispered between the steel’s loud clashes against Sam’s stick made out of wood and scraps of metal.
“But this won’t be enough to defeat me,”
he added coldly, more to himself than to his opponent.
Sam had already reached his limits and the little force he had left in him was starting to wear thin.
Still he managed to utter a few words: “Any prey would fight back when cornered.”
Upon hearing this, the grim reaper thought he could finish him with a last blow.
Preparing to fence with his secret technique, one that had buried so many men deep into the ground, something unexpected happened: the high mountains surrounding the city started puffing smoke, followed by explosions of liquid fire.
Thundering sounds shook the whole deserted ruins below their feet. And it looked like Hell itself was coming onto them.
Seeing his opponent distracted by the volcanos tumult gave Sam an opportunity to run.
An opportunity he took.
Sure, he wanted to die and atone for his doings, but he hadn’t given up on his fight and there was no more he could do here.
He started to run through the already devastated town, looking for a shelter to hide in, or at least to catch his breath and think of a strategy to fight his way back.
The Phantom was frozen in time: he didn’t know of any mountain that could spit fire like that.
And a deadly and black cloud was spreading across the wastelands.
Amongst such confusion he had let his victim escape.
But he couldn’t have gone very far given the extent of his injuries.
All that fighting had been about crushing all his last hopes.
Sam would die like the miserable rat he was, and the Phantom was determined to look deep into his eyes when the time would come to plunge his sword through his heart.
“You fiend! Come on and face your judgment!”
Sam heard his cry throughout the ruins, but he was not stupid enough to come out in plain sight.
He was waiting, taking cover behind a statue big enough to hide at least three people.
He had pressed his wounds against his thigh to stop the blood from dripping and from revealing his position.
He had regained a bit of force but was still barely standing.
He would trust his hearing and throw himself at Mog’s darkest duplicate .
But the Phantom wasn’t making a sound.
He truly was the ghost most feared by his city’s villains, and with reason.
Obviously, the dreadful figure had seen through Sam’s plan.
He was an assassin after all.
A machine shorn of any emotion.
He had only been acting like a hero because his friend liked him to.
Now he was what he had always been.
And he could smell the blood on his prey.
But instead of just cutting Sam’s throat along with the statue, he felt the need to play with him a little longer.
The Phantom pulled the trigger on his gun, aiming for the statue Sam was hiding behind.
The whole thing burst like a piñata, smashing with it Sam’s remaining hope.
The blast had thrown him on the ground.
His little plan reduced to ashes.
Plus, the shattered pieces of the statue had broken a few of his ribs.
There was no way he could stand and fight again.
Spitting blood all over himself, he thought he should at least think of something to say before he died.
His friend’s ghost stood over him, his shadow shielding Sam from the sun.
But nothing came to him.
“What a shitty way to die. I ran only to end up worse,”
he thought to himself.
The Phantom brandished his sword over his head.
He didn’t say a thing either, savoring the moment.
He was about to inflict death upon his enemy.
Nothing was ever more delightful than this precise moment.
Sam closed his eyes, waiting for the final sentence to come.
But there was none.
A crack of light had appeared behind his executioner, a spear now running through his chest.
Blood dripped from the Phantom’s lips, a look of total incomprehension on his face.
Who could have done this?
Slowly falling to his knees, eyes wide open, the Phantom collapsed on Sam.
Sam couldn’t believe what he saw: Mog, the real one, was standing in front of him.
Next to him stood the Indian girl with the red hair.
He knew this was not a different Mog from another world.
He knew that face.
Even though his bare-naked body was covered in strange marks.
His beard had grown bigger too.
But it was him.
The friend he thought he had killed.
Sam tried to reach him, the Phantom’s dead body still weighing heavy on him.
But he didn’t have any strength left and fell unconscious.
“Is he gonna be alright?”
That was Mog’s voice.
“I think so. I used powerful magic to heal his injuries, he’s gonna be okay. I used the same on you; you don’t have any scars left, right?”
That was the girl with the red hair.
“Come on he’s fine.”
Still, Mog was worried.
After being left for dead at the camp by the cliff where he thought he was breathing his last breaths, he had awakened on the Indian girl’s knees.
She had healed and cared for him with the utmost attention.
He had asked her how she was still alive, and how he was after all that happened.
But her face had gone dark and she didn’t tell him.
Mog feared she had done something she was deeply ashamed of.
From talking with the other Indians, he had guessed that she used her powers for something other than travelling through worlds looking out for parties.
All he could think about was that their assailants had gotten what they deserved.
With her help, they had tried to follow Sam’s trail.
It was an erratic and difficult task.
They had wandered through about almost every world Sam had told him about.
The strangest of them all had been that blank room filled with holograms.
He knew Sam had always been a little blue, but he looked even gloomier than ever on these pictures.
They had also gone to a magical world, where a tall man with a hat had told them that Sam was his friend.
But it was a messy way to travel: time did not exactly pass in the same way in every world.
And being dragged from one world to another was exhausting.
Mog’s brain was on fire, trying to recollect it all.
But in the end, they had ended up in that shadowy, early twentieth century version of Paris.
They had followed a scent only the Indian girl could smell, from a swamp to a tree in a park, miles away.
And when he thought he had seen it all, they had arrived at the roman ruins, volcanoes erupting and ashes spreading all over the lost city.
A black figure was about to kill his friend, lying on the ground among the debris.
Without stopping to think, he had pierced the man with his spear.
To his horror, his victim had the same face as his.
He had to ask Sam about that.
Or he wouldn’t find sleep for a long time.
Days later, Sam awakened at last.
Surprisingly he didn’t hurt anywhere.
His beard had been shaved, his wounds mended; as if there hadn’t been any in the first place.
Mog and the Indian girl explained how they had found him.
Sam’s eyes filled with tears as he told them he couldn’t shake off the idea that he still had to pay one way or another for what he had done.
Seeing that he wouldn’t change his mind, they let him in peace for the time being.
The girl had come up with a plan to send Mog and Sam back to their world, but only Mog knew about it.
This way she could suppress Sam’s power, which was too dangerous to be left unsupervised.
Sure, with time she could have taught him, but the chances of him disappearing during his training were too high.
They needed to erase his memory.
The memories of every world he had gone to, even the one of their trip with Mog.
And particularly the one with the Indians.
Sam had just woken up, but they had no time to spare; time was precious and they couldn’t risk to lose him again.
So, when the night came, Mog went to see Sam still lying on the blankets and offered him a decoction he said would ease his mind for the moment.
This was like offering candy to a kid, and Sam drank it in one gulp.
It tasted awful, but he didn’t mind.
Of course it wasn’t just a simple herbal tea, and it dragged Sam back to sleep in the blink of an eye.
Mog felt like he was betraying his friend, but there was no other choice.
He was hurt inside, and these wounds couldn’t be treated with magic nor meds.
Sam would forget everything and go back to normal, if that was even possible.
A few minutes later, Sam slept as a rock.
They carried him into the forest near a river, far from the tumult of the camp.
Mog had said his goodbyes to everyone there, and now he had to go back to his world.
The girl began the ritual.
It looked complicated and Mog couldn’t grasp what kind of language she was using.
A green light enveloped them, rising towards the night stars.
Mog thought it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his life.
“It’s done”, she said. “The memories have all been erased, he won’t remember a thing. And he won’t travel again.”
“Glad to hear that,” Mog responded with calm.
But there was still an unanswered question lingering in his mind.
“How did he do that? I mean, I drank the same mixture, why didn’t it affect me?”
The feathers in her hair shivered in the wind.
“I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Apparently he had the same kind of predisposition to magic as I have. And from what you told me about him, I think he wasn’t completely anchored to your world. His mind must have been too wild to properly work it out. I think every time he felt an emotion that was too much for him to handle, he fell through different worlds. Kind of like an escape route you could say. But it could only get worse. There are certain repercussions to travelling, you felt it too. You’re disoriented, you don’t know what’s right or left, you don’t hear sounds like you’re supposed to. It’s like drowning in your own mind. And our travels were organized and controlled ones. I can’t imagine being dragged into this without any clue of what is going on; that would have driven me crazy. I truly am sorry.”
Her words went in a gentle breeze.
“That’s okay you got us back, that’s all that matters.”
Mog smiled to cheer her up.
He had grown fond of the Indian girl, after all she was beautiful.
And he couldn’t be mad at her; she was just trying to survive, leading her little group, enduring the worst so they could all be happy.
He felt a pang of sadness in his heart thinking he would never see her again.
“One last thing,”
“Erase my memory too. I don’t want to be the only one to remember this. It’s too much of a burden for me to carry.”
This was only half of the truth, but still a good half of it, he thought.