Ethan Lin | Art by Christy Yu
The rippling water laps against the chipped sides of the pot, the spice jars on the
tabletop shuddering at the explosions in the street outside. The sunlight streaming into
the spotless kitchen is briefly obscured by the rising smoke. Adrian turns the stove knob,
a small, blue flame bursting to life. A shout from outside, then a barrage of gunfire flies
past the kitchen window.
Adrian glances at the bullets slicing through the air, then turns back to making
Not his problem anymore.
Adrian came to terms with the fact that he was dead when he heard the cascading
of an endless stream of sand. The salt in the air burns his nose, the particles scraping the
inside of his throat. His amber eyes burst open, and he sits up, coughing and blinking.
He pats his chest, where moments before he had felt the rocks crushing his
ribcage. Completely fine. Adrian’s feet, cut and bruised after losing his boots several
floors earlier. Restored to the condition they had been in the day he was born.
The late explorer lays back down, arms spread in the cool sand. He knew it. He is
dead. Adrian raises a palm to his forehead and a defeated breath escapes from his
mouth. He was so close.
Adrian blinks. The voice had come from all around him, yet it resonates in his
throat, as if the sounds had formed there. The very air around him vibrates, every
particle humming at the frequency of the mouthless phrase.
He raises his head, eyes finally registering where he is. An endless desert,
stretching into an infinite darkness. Behind him, an enormous boulder, jagged and
looming, accosted by an infinite stream of sand no wider than a finger. Yet through the
dust rising from where sand meets stone, Adrian can see a long indentation running
along the mighty rock. Chiseled by this stream, perhaps, but over how long?
The sound of shifting sands draws Adrian’s attention. Before him, the granular
earth moves restlessly, blown by a gust Adrian can not feel. The sediment twists in the
air, rolling over itself cyclically. It continues to swirl, rising four, six feet into the air. As
the sand does its mid-air dance, it forms a vaguely human figure. Lips made of the
earthen particles part and the voice returns. It is melodic, yet commanding.
Rise, Adrian Griffiths. You have been chosen to be my Vassal.
Adrian stands tentatively. “Who are you?” His eyes narrow, inspecting the
phenomenon. For years, he had followed the trail of the long-disappeared gods. Ruins
and ancient texts spoke of beings that granted powers to those they deemed worthy to
serve the cause of fate. He straightens his back, facing the shifting sands. Could this be
one of them?
The figure gestures towards the endless horizon, moving gracefully in spite of its
odd composition. I am the eternity before you, the avatar of countless millennia. It tilts
its head, as if looking upon a lost child, swept away from their parents at the bazaar.
Perhaps it would be easiest for you to comprehend me as the god of Time.
Adrian’s eyes widen.
You are but one of several Vassals that have been chosen by the gods.
The god of Time stretches out an open palm, the sands that constitute it now
glowing with energy. The irises of Adrian’s amber eyes begin to swirl, shifting in time
with the sand around him.
Your duty will be to defend this world from the enemies of humanity.
Pulling off his oven mitt, Adrian reaches out to the small bowl of salt. From it, a
solid stream of crystalline particles flows through the air, into the now-bubbling water.
Outside the window, a man in a dark red tuxedo leaps through the air, before sending a
uniformed Public Security trooper flying with an explosive punch. The soldier slams into
a brick wall, painting it a deep crimson while the color drains from his eyes. Adrian
watches the salt dissolve in the water, turning it a cloudy white, reflecting his stony gaze.
Adrian opens his eyes to see he has finally reawakened in the god of Time’s
domain. He stands angrily as the deity takes a physical form. “Are you not the god of
Time itself? How can I defeat the enemies of humanity with only the ability to control
dust?!” The Vassal of Time raises himself into the air, riding a pillar of sand to loom over
the god he serves. “Can’t you let me stop time or something?” Adrian fumes. The other
Vassals had been given superhuman, no, godly abilities. But it wasn’t enough. The sights
of villages they couldn’t get to, the ones they couldn’t save, chip away at his resolve. For
every monster they slay, every dark plot they foil, there is always another. Adrian
unclenches his fists, the sand tower melting back to the ground.
While the others commanded the skies to strike down threats, molded metal to
create weapons in an instant, or snatched the mortally wounded from the cold grasp of
death, all he could do was throw sand in his enemy’s eyes. He had spent so many years
searching for the gods so that he could find the strength to fight evil. And this was all the
god of Time itself could give him?
The swirling sands slow. Despite the ever-shifting shape of the god’s featureless
face, Adrian can feel a knowing gaze piercing him from all sides. Finally, it speaks.
Time yields for no one. The most that can be done is preventing aging from
claiming your new mortal body.
The figure of sand shakes its head and gives a gentle sigh. You know not the
strength you are in possession of. You merely lack the right frame of mind. A single
finger raises, directing Adrian’s attention to the mountainous rock. The dent caused by
the stream of sand had extended into a long trough in the three years since he had been
brought back to life. Though the size of the boulder, the shape of it all, remains about
the same, the indentation stands out regardless.
You have been bestowed the power of an endless eternity. The sands of fate are
yours to command, their paths yours to draw. A sandy arm traces the trajectory of the
stream along the boulder. Like the erosion of a millenia, it will be your duty to carve
away the evils of this world. In time, you will see your role to play in keeping this
world’s delicate balance.
“What does that mean?” Adrian cries. But there is no answer. The sand below
him falls away, and he tumbles into the void. When he wakes, Adrian is in the real world
again. Watching the shadows of the campfire dance on the cave ceiling, Adrian sighs. He
had learned nothing.
“You’re back!” The Vassal of the Earth god hurries over to where Adrian is laying,
nearly tripping over the basket of arrowheads she had molded from pebbles.
“Careful, Satou. We need those.” The man leaning at the mouth of the cave
adjusts the straps on his spear. He turns to look at Adrian, blue eyes peering at him
intently from under his helmet. “Any luck with your god, Griffiths?”
Adrian shakes his head slowly. The man looks back out into the pouring rain,
clenching his spear tighter than before. Water slowly drips somewhere deeper in the
cavern, echoing loudly.
Yui Satou breaks the silence and slaps Adrian on the back. “Hey, cheer up! You’re
just as important a member as anyone in this group!” She points to the empty pot laying
beside the fire. “Your cooking is great! We all loved that soup you made.”
“We would have if you didn’t drink it all.”
“Shut it, Rolin, you know I couldn’t help myself.”
The Vassal of the War god chuckles and shifts his helmet back. “Yea, try
explaining that to Lana and Wei when they get back.” He stares at the all-consuming
darkness outside the reaches of the campfire’s light. Rolin furrows his brow. “What’s
taking them so long?” The darkness does not answer.
“Oooh, almost forgot.” Yui pulls Adrian to another corner of the cave. “You
remember that big ol’ sword that nice villager gave us?” She tries to lift a claymore,
nearly toppling over in the process.
“The one who smelled like tea?” Adrian pushes her back into an upright position.
“Yea, him. Anyway, I figured that you could use a more… conventional weapon,
since not all monsters have eyes.” She beams up at him, her freckles lighting up in the
campfire’s glow. “Can’t really throw sand in the eyes of a monster who doesn’t have eyes,
am I right?”
“Get on with it.”
“Wow, okay, real gracious of you. I guess I’m not gonna give it to you then.” Yui
pouts, taking a seat on the large, gray blade.
Adrian sighs, kneeling beside her. “Fine, I’m sorry.”
“Good! You should be! Anyway, as it was, the sword was too heavy for any of us to
use.” Yui leans over and knocks on the flat side of the sword with her deceptively
delicate fingers that Adrian had watched bend hardened steel. A low ring bounces
against the cavern walls. “Hear that? I hollowed it out.”
Adrian frowns as he struggles to lift it. “Still too heavy.”
“Yea, but I was thinking earlier. You can freely control the motion of dust and
sand, right? Make it zip around in the air and stuff, right?” Her mahogany eyes sparkle
with excitement. “What if you fill in the sword with sand?”
Adrian’s golden eyes light up. “Then I could control the sword.” He quickly
scoops from his pouch of sand, pouring the grains into an opening in the sword. The
sand fills the gap with the sound of a maraca, bouncing and settling into the metallic
interior. Yui glances at Adrian excitedly and steps away from the sword.
He lets his eyelids close, turning his focus inwards. The scent of dew-soaked
rocks and wood popping in the fire dissipates. The Vassal channels the energy from his
core, and lets it flow into each particle of sand now resting within the claymore. The tiny
pebbles begin to hum, glowing with kinetic energy. Adrian pulls upwards on every grain,
and the sword follows. Yui cheers as the blade begins lifting off the earthen floor. Hand
outstretched, Adrian grins as he directs the sword to cut through the air, a kite with an
invisible string. It swings playfully around the cave, cleaving the gray clouds over the
campfire. Rolin bats it away as the blade taps against the helmet that he never takes off.
Laughing, Yui grabs Adrian’s other hand.
He stiffens as her fingers interlock with his. This is all very new to him. The
sword lowers to the ground gently, a soft tone resonating as its tip touches down. He
looks to the deep end of the cave, his face glowing. “…Thank you.”
The tender silence is split violently as, one after the other, three bolts of lightning
tear the stormy night sky apart. The thunder crashes through the cavern, ricocheting off
the walls. The Vassals clap their hands over their ears. The wind screams horridly into
the mouth of the cave, blowing out the warm campfire instantly.
Rolin bristles, knuckles white around his spear. Though his ears are ringing,
Adrian can read his trembling lips. “Three strikes. That means they’re in danger.”
Rolin’s face is ashen. His perpetually calm ocean-blue eyes are now stormy, panicked.
He dashes out into the rain.
Adrian looks to Yui, their eyes passing words between each other. They follow,
the sword trailing behind.
Leaving the pasta to boil, Adrian watches the struggle against the insurgents
continue outside. As rubble rains on the combatants, the Public Security officers use the
dusty fog of war as cover to retrieve their wounded. Behind them, an old sedan swerves
precariously through the wreckage. Before it screeches to a stop, a figure leaps through a
passenger window, firing a grappling hook onto a nearby balcony, and zipping out with
a holler. A woman with a scarf of bandages and bone-white hair steps out and hurries to
an injured soldier. The driver, a man in a trenchcoat, steps up to the frontline, and
unleashes a swarm of ghosts that sends the terrorists into disarray.
The familiar music of the battlefield beckons Adrian, but he has long since
discarded the tune. He’s done fighting.
His eyes drift to a drawer beside the living room table. The brass knobs glint in
the dwindling afternoon light. The lack of dust upon it masks the fact that Adrian has
not opened it in decades. After all, there is not one speck of dust out of place anywhere
in his apartment.
Opening the drawer, Adrian lightly brushes his finger across warm steel. The
worn blade, gifted to him so long ago, gazes back at him wistfully.
Fresh flakes gently come to a rest upon the scarlet-stained snow. The bodies of
several bandits lay crumpled around the old cabin, scored with red blade marks and
arrows. The winter winds brush the sand out of their empty eyes.
It has been six years since the ambush on that stormy night. Rolin had
disappeared without a word to look for the ones responsible. No one had tried to stop
him. They all knew Wei’s death had hit him the hardest.
The icicles on the eaves drip slowly, tearfully.
Lana had abandoned her duty. Losing her right arm was too much for her. “By
the time we put an end to enemies of humanity, all of us will be dead.” Adrian couldn’t
Inside the cabin, the air is still, almost sympathetic.
He just can’t bear to lose Yui too.
Her breaths are slow and shallow, the dagger lodged in her stomach making each
one of them painful. Even so, she smiles as she grips Adrian’s quaking hand. She lets out
a short laugh. “Good thing I made that sword for you, huh….we would’ve been in some
real trouble if you didn’t have it.”
“Yui, please…stay still.” Adrian’s amber eyes glisten and his voice is unsteady. “I’ll
get a doctor….”
Her delicate hands tighten around his.
“I’m glad that at least you’re here with me.”
Yui Satou’s soft brown eyes lose their glow.
Adrian’s fill with tears.
The last Vassal of the gods pulls his blade out of the stomach of a chimera. It
releases one last hiss, before collapsing. Too many years have passed since Adrian lost
count of how many dying breaths he has heard.
And for what? There are always more monsters, more villains. And he is just one
He stands, pulling out a glass flask filled with gravel and dust. Uncorking it, the
particles surge through the narrow opening, floating in the air around him. As the last
grains exit the flask, Adrian gazes at its circular surface. The face of the explorer who
had died in a rockslide decades ago peers back at him. Unmarked by time, just as the
Time god had promised. No etchings scar his face and no grey streaks line his brown
hair. Only his hardened eyes bear evidence of his half-century of vigilant and solitary
duty. He looks away, kicking the corpse of the beast in frustration.
What use is an eternal life without companions to spend it with?
The levitating gravel scrapes the flesh and blood from his blade, resharpening its
edge. Its leather grip is firm in his hand, having aided him for so long, its combat
effectiveness unquestionable. Adrian gazes out to the badlands in the distance, sand
dancing along their peaks in the dusk glow.
Watching the whirlwinds of dust crest the rocky peaks, Adrian can’t help but be
reminded of the Time god’s parting words. Using his ability to control dust to cut down
enemies with a flying blade, is this the “right frame of mind” it had spoken of?
How many more would the sword have to cut down before his duty is complete?
How many more comrades would he have to lose?
Adrian Griffiths turns, heading back down the mountain. The lights of the
burgeoning Metroplex City begin to glow as the sun rests. Perhaps he will settle down
He’s done fighting.
Adrian looks up in time to see a person smash through his balcony’s sliding door,
skidding across the hardwood. As the intruder slides, they grab the floor with one hand.
No sooner do their fingers make contact with the floor than the person comes to a halt.
The old sword flies to meet their neck, stopping just an inch short.
“Whoa! I’m not the one you should be pointing that at, big guy. Lotta undesirable
fellas out there that deserve poking more than me.” They nudge the tip of the blade aside
with a pinky finger.
“What are you doing here?” Adrian folds his arms.
“Just trying to get the good folks living on this street evacuated.” They blow at a
loose strand of copper hair, which falls right back where it was. “Luckily for me,
everyone else was smart enough to have done so already.” They spring up, brushing off
glass. “Jesus, what the hell did you wipe that window with to make it invisible to the
“I can take care of myself.” Sweeping his arm in one motion, the small shards of
Adrian’s shattered patio door coalesce, forming a sphere of broken glass.
The intruder raises their eyebrows. “A Kinetic-type superpower, huh. That
explains the cocky attitude.” They stick out a gloved hand with a grin. “Name’s Robin
Satou. We could really use someone like you right about now.” Another explosion lights
up the side of their freckled face.
Adrian looks away, blinking away the image of Yui's smiling face imprinted in his
eyes. The sword settles to the ground. “What’s the point? Why fight something that can
never be defeated?”
Robin flops onto the couch, adjusting the wing-like grappling hooks on their arm.
“It’s simple, really.” They glance out the shattered patio door, the gunfire echoing from
the street below. “It’s the only thing we can do.”
The energetic intruder leans back. “Look at me! All I can do is make the things I
touch slippery or sticky.” Their index finger touches the ground and Adrian nearly loses
his balance as the floor loses its friction. As he steadies himself, Robin laughs, kicking
their feet up. “But you don’t see me moping around in a freakishly-clean apartment. All
that matters is that you get up every day, go out there, and kick ass in any way you can.”
They leap to their feet, boots landing firmly on the hardwood. The Time god’s words ring
through Adrian’s ears.
Like the erosion of a millenia, it will be your duty to carve away the evils of this
Standing on the balcony, Robin gazes at the battlefield below. An injured soldier
screams, shrapnel embedded deep in his arm. The man in the trench coat stands,
bloodied, and hurls himself at the terrorists again. “No one likes the fighting, really. But
everyone’s gotta pitch in to make sure this world doesn’t go to hell.”
Robin glances back at Adrian. “See you around.” They dive back into the fray,
grappling lines whizzing.
In time, you will see your role to play in keeping this world’s delicate balance.
Adrian watches the dust fall past his balcony, unsteady but constant. The boulder
within the Time god’s domain flashes in his mind. The indentation caused by the stream
of sand grows, day by day. Perhaps a day will come when the boulder is no more, etched
away by the unrelenting current.
He looks at the pot bubbling on the stove. Dinner can wait.
The sword flies to Adrian’s open hand.