"Kill him, Andy Dharma," demanded Queen Buzz. "Kill the Szuper Wizzard From Szpace."
Andy stood balanced on a balcony railing, hands folded within his long sleeves. From this elevated height he looked down on the nano-honey form of the monster bee leader. Her chin was up, her mouth was firm, her eyes held his with an almost entrancing amount of authority. But he could hear in her voice, behind the flat command, a small quiver of fear.
"Will you leave the invisible galaxy if I do? With the language and the machine? I have minds to change and worlds to make better." He was pressing her, but he could already feel the compulsion setting in. Like tree roots digging into his skull, weighing his thoughts toward an inevitable direction. The cosmic power of the hovering douli intensified, the conical shape tilting toward the target of the declared challenge. Soon, he wouldn't be able to resist the manipulation.
If the cosmic power of Queen Buzz's cavalier was doing the same, he couldn't see it reflected in her liquid-gold transmission. "Yesz. The othersz will liszten to our counszel. We will not interfere with the Invisible Monksz."
"Andy, don't do this," whispered Brody. Limp on the wooden floor, he was just a hazy golden-coloured shape behind the almost-clear gel of Queen Buzz's form. "You can't."
"Yes I can! Yes I will!" he shouted at him. "No more bad habits disguised as tradition! No more of yesterday's rules deciding today's fate! I will show you what change can accomplish!" He spat on the floor in disgust, and backflipped off the balcony.
He pulled his arms and legs close to his body, narrowing his shape as much as possible, and plummeted through the air. This near the peak of the mountain monastery, he could free fall into the valley parallel to the steep rock-face. The night air rushed past him and, thrilled, he couldn't help but let the douli's power drag him down faster than gravity would normally allow. The cosmic crown seemed as eager as he was, waves of unreal excitement washing over him from inside the conical helm.
Below him, the Gong Ago was a rapidly approaching metal plain. It had settled between the twin mountains of the valley, wedging flat against the sides, the edges of the mile-wide instrument having dug into the great stone. Just above the mist and clouds, it was like a huge dull-metal field hundreds of feet above ground. An ethereal hum resonated from it as the wind dragged thin air across the vast surface.
When the rock and trees and cliff flitting past him started to angle again, he stretched out his limbs, letting his robes catch the air. He slowed suddenly, and by imposing his will upon the air, it slowly thickened into an cushioning heaviness! Like a leaf floating lazily to the ground, he landed on all fours.
The power available to him was exhilarating! As easily as he could shape his chi and change his mind, the douli allowed him to bend the world around him. He dedicated his life to the principles of ultra-zen, creating a meditative nothingness inside that he could calmly fill. The cosmic crown overflowed from that space, letting the flexible nature of his calm to affect reality instead!
He scampered along on all fours, the pads on his toes and fingers barely touching the moss and grass as he darted downwards. Eventually, the mountain surface became sharp and jagged, the stone torn up and rubble scattered wildly. Coming to the edge of the gong, he stood upright and simply walked onto the metal surface.
He moved inwards, dodging between the debris as he generally kept going toward the centre of the gong. He paused to climb a particularly tall boulder so he could have a look around. From that vantage point, he could see the mile-wide disc stretch in front of him. The rubble cleared up soon, only confined to the edges that had dragged along the two peaks.
And, yes, over there, off-centre. A wide swath of blackness that was darker than the night around it. And a pinprick of a white-hot glow. Taking a deep breath of the fresh cool air, he hopped down and jogged toward the light.
Once he got close, he was careful to avoid touching the dark sand. He had witnessed it appear with the Gong Ago, not so much spilling out of the rent in the sky as being ejected through. The clattered vibrations of the giant musical instrument hitting the mountains had had a violent affect on whatever the substance had been, vibrating it apart into fine grains. But even in this apparently inert form, it still projected a malevolent, foreign sensation. It was a deep, unnatural black, absorbing whatever weak light the shadows provided, wanting to devour as much of this reality as it could. He gave it as wide a berth as possible.
In a round clearing in the middle, the Super Wizard From Space lay. Though the crown he wore shone brightly above his head, he seemed to barely have the strength to move. The black sand had a spread-out, pushed-out look to it. He must have expended a great deal of power returning from wherever he had come from, and then expended a great deal more fighting off the dreaded darkness that had followed him.
"You lashed out against Amity's blue sun when you fought the megalodon's ghost," Andy said to him. "You ripped power right from its heart. Now that it's dipped below the horizon to lick its wounds, have you come to finish the job?" He approached cautiously. He knew the super wizards lived and thrived off solar energy. It gave them a subtle glow that was unique to their race. A glow that was noticeably missing now.
"Brody...?" the wizard murmured.
"No, not Brody." Andy walked up to him. He could see a viscous oily substance in his teeth and spattered around his mouth. And his ears and his nose. Something from the flowing darkness? Or wizard blood? No one has ever seen a wizard bleed. "I am master villain Andy Dharma, I've challenged you to cosmic battle."
The wizard's head rolled to one side. Andy felt a well of disappointment. This was the terrible being that seven super-civilizations feared? Cracking a planet in half, murdering billions. Brody's spine had shivered at the thought of facing him down. Brody had been unsure he could defeat him, much less take his crown.
"Now look at you," he said under his breath. He fell to all fours, and marched onto the prostrate form. He used his the weight of the douli to press down on the wizard's chest. Andy felt ribs weaken under his fingers as he leaned completely over the wizard. Faces inches from each other, he looked this terror in the eyes.
"Now look at you! They call you disaster, you know that? You are seen as a force of nature to some. They say even the cursed Pyramids Of Ka know fear because of you, worshipping you like some terrible god. A god! Pah!
"Dozens of generations of the family Dharma. The most flawless martial art in known reality. The ultimately perfect practice of ultra-zen. The awesome cosmic power of an entire folded universe tied to my very mind... and you come here to what? To force change? To dispense justice? Just like that?
"I am Andy Dharma! I am the difference, not you! I am that change, not you! Not you! Not this broken thing I see! I am master villain of the Invisible Monks! What are you, here? What gives you the right?"
"...know things..." ,the wizard squinted his eyes, barely managing the choked reply.
"What secrets do you have that lets you change a world? What could you know?"
The Super Wizard's fist crunched into the side of his head. The crash of bone on bone came sharply before the awareness the arm had moved. A terrible crawling cold stung his cheek and crawled into his eyes.
He clawed at his face, feeling fine unworldly grains sticking and seeping. Panic set in. The black sand. He'd blinded him with the black sand. He could feel the grit burrowing into his pores. He could taste it in his teeth.
"I know you're not actually invisible," growled the wizard from under him, the words popping away as the blackness ate the sound before it got to his ears. He felt a shifting below him. His senses were blind. He couldn't balance himself. "And I know that you're standing in my light."
A crushing against his chest. He was knocked backwards. Falling backwards. But he didn't feel the hard surface impact his spine. Instead he felt cold. Seeping, crawling cold. More soft shifting sands under him.
He yanked at the douli's power. Tried to lash it against the black sand. No reaction. It was like the crown didn't see it. Couldn't see it. He felt it between the weave of his robes, in the sinews of his muscles. He tore at his arms. He tore at his face. He tore at his eyes to get it off.
Like a film peeled back, he could finally see again. Flat on his back, looking up. The Super Wizard From Space was standing, a grimace on concentration on his face. Reaching up into, almost clawing at the night sky.
Then Andy saw the stars go out.
Just pinpricks of light that disappeared, one by one. Scattered across the blue-black of the heavens, a half dozen just winked out one by one.
The wizard lowered his arms. He stared at his hands a moment, then wiped the oily blood off his face. His glow was back.
Andy felt the grit in his spine, like beach sand lodged between the vertebrae. He screamed and spasmed, the chalky darkness scrapping his cells.
The Super Wizard From Space stepped forward. His crown flared blindingly, like an angry dawn, but like Andy's conical helm, seemed to have no effect on the crawling darkness. Instead he stamped on the sand, each footstep an explosion of stellar flame. The white-blue flashes seemed to be greedily absorbed by the black grains, so much so that they turned a glowing yellow, then simply popped.
The wizard stomped around Andy. Explosions the size of solar flares ricocheted off the metal of the gong. The sand jumped into the air like dust and mist before bursting in yellow-gold fireworks. When he got close to Andy, he grabbed him by the collar, hauled him to his feet, and wrapped his arms around him. One under his arms around his chest, one around his neck in a solid choke.
That's when Andy felt like every part of his was on fire. The sensation of sand in between every bit of his outsides and insides were replaced with searing pain. He could only taste ash. He could only see flashes of light. But he growled and endured, savouring the feeling of the invasive black sand burning away.
And then it was gone. The fire and the grit and the cold. And with it his strength. He was let go. Tired and weak, he couldn't even stand. He fell forward on his knees. He caught himself with his hands. Even breathing was laborious.
He looked at his hands. At his arms. At his robes. At his skin. All the color had been drained from them. Leaving grays, a stark contrast to the rich metal hues of the gong.
Andy looked up at the man looking down.
The Super Wizard From Space reached down and removed the douli from Andy's brow. Neither resisted.