The Mystic’s Dream
“Welcome to the velvet room.”
Souji opened his eyes to the same nondescript velvet draped room he’d seen the last several times. Only this time, Igor sat across a small table from him.
“So, what my assistant has told me is true,” the old man sighed.
Margaret stood beside Igor, carefully avoiding Souji’s eyes. Why?
“You have involved yourself in a story which should not be. A story which should not exist.” A tarot spread appeared on the table, death face up. “A story which can end only one way.”
“I thought I had infinite potential,” Souji counted.
“Potential and ability are different.” Above death appeared a card Souji didn’t recognize it. To that card’s lower left appeared the World. “The Universe,” Igor explained, “in which all of creation dwells.” He closed his eyes. “All its lover and potential. All its anger and despair.” He opened them once more. “Do you understand?”
“Butterfly may be somewhat unstable, but I trust him and his intentions.”
“And if you’re wrong?” Margaret quietly asked. “He may not be evil per se, but can you really trust that his intentions are in line with yours, that he will protect humanity?”
“He will defend his friends.”
“And his family,” Igor stated.
Igor glanced over at Margaret who nodded and walked away. The pianist began to play softly, the singer Souji had yet to meet slowly beginning to sing a gentle melody. Margaret came back carrying a tattered looking compendium.
“This is the compendium of Minato Arisato,” she explained quietly. She opened it to the middle, the image of the familiar Thanatos appearing above its pages.
“Thanatos,” she recited. “The Greek god of death, he is the son of Nyx and brother of Hypnos. He is depicted as a young man with an inverted torch and wreath or butterfly in his hands.” She looked up at Souji. “Ultimate persona of the death arcana, above even Hades. Variations of his birth vary, but in all he is the son of Nyx, night, and brother of Hypnos, sleep. Often the son of Erebus, the gloom of Tartarus, the gloom of the world.” She slammed the book shut. “Sometimes god of peaceful death. Other times capable of carnage beyond any you can imagine.”
Souji cast his eyes down. So the young man he’d seen among the butterflies, the unfamiliar man, had that been Thanatos? Probably, but wasn’t that just a persona? He knew well enough that other beings existed, but all of them had proven nothing more than bigger shadows, one who could control the weaker ones and had developed an identity of their own.
“The Thanatos before you now is not a Shadow,” Igor rasped. “Nor is he the Persona described within Arisato’s compendium.”
Souji looked up at Igor. He had to ask. He had to know. “Then what is he?”
“A god,” Margaret breathed, “and not just a god. He is death in its truest form and the son of shadow itself.”
“The son of shadow itself,” Souji repeated. That must mean Erebus, and Nyx was night. But what of Arisato in all of this? Surely his interests still mattered?
“Arisato and Thanatos have fused,” Igor explained. “Where once he held but the shadow of a god, Arisato now must control the entirety of its being with his own soul irreparably damaged. He cannot recreate the Great Seal.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means,” Margaret faltered, “it means someone of a comparable ability would have to die in his place.”
“But you are not the Universe. While comparable you are not the same, not a perfect match, as no two humans truly are. Your experiences are different, creating a different being. You cannot do it.”
“What happens if this seal remains broken?”
“Erebus will break through what little remains,” Margaret whispered. “And he will bring down Nyx. She will crush humanity in her darkness.”
“Then why not immediately? Why doesn’t this happen right away?”
“Margaret, if you would leave us.”
“Tend to your sister,” Igor commanded. Margaret looked helplessly between her Master and her guest a moment before retiring to the back room.
Igor turned directly to Souji. “You are no longer a true guest of this room, but that never meant your journey had to end. However, you are bound by no contract. You may walk away.”
“You know I can’t do that.”
Igor gave a toothy grin. “Very well. But seeing as you are no longer a guest I am no longer bound to what I do or do not tell you. Understood?”
Satisfied, Igor slid his hand above the table, causing the tarot cards to disappear. “There is no more set path. No more destiny. Merely what has been. What has always been. That which must be found. That which must remain hidden for eternity. Thanatos is a god, as are Nyx and Erebus, as are many others. What does that mean?”
“What does it mean?”
Souji thought about it a moment. “Well, a god is one who dwells within a certain object or aspect. They are old and powerful, but not almighty. Many are greatly skilled.”
“You are not wrong. Whether gods or humans came first is an eternal question, but they are intricately tied. For one to exist without the other would create a fundamental change it what it means to be human or god.”
“Doesn’t sound so different from shadows.”
“We know which came first. There are humans and gods and from them come shadows. An aspect of the soul given form. Of a god, of a human, of the masses, but always but an aspect of the soul and the thought.” Igor pointed at Souji. “You are human. You are independent. You have mastered the physical manifestation of your soul. You decide for yourself.”
Igor lowed his arm with a sigh. “Gods are bound by innumerable contracts and grave consequences follow if they are broken. Be it by age or nature no god is truly free. It must protect something, serve a function, never interfere in a certain thing. A continuous list of requirements and limitations forged between other gods and humans.
Do you understand now why Butterfly is so dangerous?”
That took Souji by surprise a moment. Then, he thought of the arcana spread. Of persona users, and he had seen Orpheus with his own eyes. Butterfly still had a persona, even a persona of Thanatos, but supposedly the god Thanatos dwelled with him as well.
Oh. “He’s not bound by these contracts.”
Igor nodded. “Thanatos cannot act against the rules set before him. Arisato’s soul cannot function long on its own.”
“Arisato can act unbound by contracts,” Souji reasoned. “Thanatos can provide power to the soul. Is that why gods so often have followers? So they may act on their own?”
Igor nodded solemnly. “Whether a human does as a god commands is their decision. The loophole that never closes. From a cosmic perspective, from my perspective, Arisato is still human. That he uses power from a god does not change this fact.”
“But he can’t lose Thanatos.”
Igor nodded once more. “Do you understand why that is so dangerous? For the seal and the one it seals to be so tightly linked?”
This time it was Souji’s turn to nod. No way Thanatos would let Arisato re-establish the seal.
“Now, I must send you back to the waking world. Margaret will continue to aid you as well as she can, and I must prepare for what is to come.” The old man waved his hands.
Souji woke up feeling very drowsy. He never felt rested after something like that.
He turned his head slightly to see Butterfly lying beside him, staring.
“You slept through your alarm. Your mother came in to try and wake you, but you slept on.”
Wait. What? Souji turned to his alarm. Almost noon. Shit. He bolted out of bed. He’d already missed two classes for the day. He’d need to apologize to his professors, get the notes, eat, and make sure he got to his last class of the day.
“That got you going.”
“You could have woken me.”
“I tried, but I could not reach you.”
Souji groaned, throwing on the nearest pair of pants. How much to tell him?
“Igor called me to the velvet room.”
“Yeah. Butterfly, we need to sit down and figure things out.”
Souji grabbed his bag. “What you are. What you want. What needs to happen. I go along with it because I see people getting hurt, but I need to know the final goal. Can we talk about that after classes?”
Butterfly nodded, transforming into a butterfly hairclip. Souji put it in his pocket. This was going to get interesting.
Souji and Butterfly sat side by side on a bench in Yoyogi Park. It was a cool day, but the sun was bright and warm. The cherry blossoms would bloom soon.
“I promise to answer honestly,” Butterfly began.
“Thanks.” Now that they were here Souji had no idea what to even ask. Be broad or specific? Push the issues? Reveal everything he’d been told? “What is Thanatos?”
One voice. “My persona.” A second voice. “Me.” Together. “Death.”
“Addressing Thanatos, why do you need Arisato?”
One voice, the one which had answered second before, “I don’t.” The other voice. “We’re bound together.” A pause. Butterfly smiled sadly. “Because I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
“Addressing Arisato, why do you need Thanatos?”
Souji didn’t like the implications on what that meant about the power struggle between the two should it come to it. Still, at least they did indeed appear to be telling the truth. “What do you want?”
Butterfly took a long time to think about it, sitting very still in the sunlight. Emotions crossed over his face quickly, sadness more predominant among them. “To help them,” he finally answered. He looked at Souji. “To help Nyx and Erebus. To find a solution.”
“If Nyx awakens-“
“No. It’s not that. She means humanity no ill will. Neither did Erebus, but he is the deepest gloom, the largest shadow. He is where you hide your problems, hoping they’ll go away. They don’t, you know? They just sit there, rotting inside of him. He reaches out to Nyx, not because he wishes our destruction, he’s in too much pain to think. He just wants the one he loves. I try to ease the pain, but in the end nothing but allowing them to reunite and making Erebus whole once more will accomplish that.”
“What do you mean by whole?”
“The Erebus who calls for her, I don’t understand it, but it’s not him. It calls for the real Nyx, but it’s not the real Erebus. It’s truly just a shadow. That’s why you kill them and there’s always more.”
“Gods are unique?”
Butterfly nodded. “There can be thousands of lesser versions. Those who appear and call themselves Thanatos, or Erebus, or Nyx, but only one true on of each. All the lesser ones are bound to that one. I don’t understand why, or how, but I know that’s how it is. Like avatars to a deity, wandering around and interacting.”
“I’ve never seen one.”
“You’d never seen a shadow either, but they’d existed in our world for at least twelve years.”
“Point taken, but what you’re implying seems a little bigger than shadows in a TV world.”
“They don’t have to be in a separate world, Souji. You know that.”
“Guess there’s a lot of strange things out there.”
“Heh. I guess. I want to reunite Erebus, to make him whole and real. I think then, it will be okay if he goes to Nyx. But all that rage, all from humanity…”
“Guess I’d be mad too.”
Butterfly nodded once more. “That’s why I can’t abide by this Armageddon. To choose to create more of that, choosing to harm my father.”
“Thanatos, son of Erebus and Nyx,” Souji muttered.
“Don’t be. I agree with you. That’s why we’ll start by dealing with Armageddon.” He held out his fist. “One thing at a time.”
Butterfly offered a fake fist bump. “I can try that. At least for now I don’t think we’re in a hurry.”
“Just keep me informed. I want to help you.”