Blackheart gazed out at the world around him and shuddered. The grass, rock, and stone that once made Athoria was nothing more than dust. Ash covered the ground where beautiful flowers, once bloomed. All that remained of Athoria was embers and darkness. Blackheart glanced at the sky, it turned a blood red as puffs of soot scattered across the great expanse, then he looked down at the beast beneath his paws-Apollychron. The monsters skin looked cracked, and dry, with a stick-shaped body. The Apollychron had once caused more mayhem than a Blackhole, but it lay dead beneath Blackhearts paws. All the sacrifice, all the pain . . .it was worth it for this-defeating Appollychron. He thought. Blackheart’s journey had been long. He’d fought his own soul, survived Blackholes, time warps, and all kinds of radiation and had been rewarded with a victory. Blackheart slowly slid himself off of Appolychrons body, wincing as his claws met the spikes that covered it, and gazed around the world that was once his home. The planets landscape looked bleak and barren like a desert and was black with ashen dust. His eyes wandered towards the two dead bodies that lay next to him. One had a round cat-like face, with sprout like growths between its ears, a thin leaf-shaped torso that had leaves growing along the flanks. The strangest thing about this body was its three tails-the first tail had a Venus Fly Trap growing at its tip, the secant tail had an oak leaf growing at its tip, and the third tail had vines, draping down along its length. Coloring the body was a vibrant array of greens. This was the body of Shay, a cat who’d been turned into a vine monster. Next to him lay his mate Starla an alien-She had an oval face, with a frill of thick short vine-like appendages growing around it. Arching gracefully over her back were two long wings. Instead of green, her fur color was a mix of purple and blue. Blackheart was again struck by how different they looked from himself. He had a diamond-shaped head, square eyes, a stalky build, short legs, and the fur along his flanks and neck grew upwards like spikes. Blackheart’s coloring was unusual as a well-his face was a blend of oranges and creams, but the rest of his body was different-half of it was purple and blue, half of it was green and yellow. Despite their differences in appearance, these two creatures had been his closest friends. He lowered his head, his twisted ears drooping, as memories of Shay and Starla flooded his mind. The Athorians had banished him for being a tyrant, and he could still feel the fury he’d felt as he left his planet. It was a part of his past that would haunt him forever. He’d vowed vengeance on all beings in the universe, and that vow still rang in his ears- I will prove myself a worthy leader, and I will succeed by death and blood even if I must answer to the creator of the universe himself– Then he’d taken refuge on earth, in an old abandoned garage where he’d met Shay. Blackheart refused to trust Shay at first. But Shay helped Blackheart see through his rages, to the path ahead, and in the end, gained his trust. Blackheart missed them both. They’d given him so much, but now they lay dead lost to the chaos of the war against Apollychron. Blackheart gently touched his nose to Shay’s shoulder, and shuddered his grief washing over him sharper then he’d imagined. For a monster, you taught me so much about what it is to control your inner beast. Your own self. He thought, body wracking with sobs, tears streaming down his face. Then he touched his nose Starla’s shoulder. He felt his grief sharpen. Starla, what can I say about you? He wondered. She’d had enough power and wisdom under her graceful wings to guide both Shay and Blackheart. Blackheart sighed. He wondered if either of them were watching him or Zina, the only other surviving member of The Four. She had the ability to shoot out strange violet rays that revealed where darkness lay anywhere in the world. Her sharp wit and valiant fighting skill had been a valuable asset. Shay, Starla, and Zina. They all had such talent. When the time came to fulfill their destinies, and defeat Apollychron, he’d expected one of them to kill the creature. But it had been the weakest of the four who found the power to defeat it-Blackheart himself. . . A sharp pain shot through his body. He collapsed to the ground with a moan, spewing up ash. The agony felt sharper then claws, as though a thousand needles were being stuck in to him all at once. He felt his consciousness drift away as a burning fever-wracked his body. Blackheart tried to move only to let out a screech as his anguished intensified. The whole world began to spin, into a blur of grey that slowly melted into black, until he was barely aware of anything but extreme agony.
”Blackheart!” Zina’s panicked screech cut through the air. The sound of her voice brought back vile memories. Memories of how deeply he’d wronged Athoria his own home, and so many other beings. He flinched. Blackheart had done too many loathsome and torturous things to even count, but he’d overcome his inner evil and saved the universe. But all of that would soon be over. Now all that was left was the destruction around him, Zina, the Chosen he’d been closest to, and his dying breath. Blackheart knew he was dying. He could feel it.
”Zina . . .” He felt weak, and every muscle hurt. Just breathing was a struggle. Nevertheless, Blackheart forced himself to speak. This was his last chance to make things right with the people he’d led, and failed. He couldn’t stop now. ”Tell my people . . .” Tell them what, that I’m sorry I destroyed so many of them and I deserve to die? Blackheart asked himself. His body screamed for him to keep silent, but he refused. There was so much to say that he’d left unsaid. And then he knew what he wanted his people to know. ”Tell my people that I regret everything I did to them. . . That I’ve finally learned how to be a leader they can be proud of . . . but most of all tell them that . . . Athoria belongs to them now. They can live in peace. . .” He felt his chest tighten and he gasped for breath, as he continued, ”I’ve been proud to lead. . .” Then his muscles shook violently in a spasm.
”You shouldn’t be talking. You need to rest.” A new voice announced firmly. The voice belonged to the Healer Synth. The Athorian had insisted on being the healer for the Chosen Four. And he’d done a fine job. ”Here,” he went on, ”Have some water while I check up on you.” Blackheart just moaned ignoring the water and closed his eyes, while Synth prodded his stomach and flank, then paused to listen to his heartbeat. ”Nothing wrong there . . .” Synth muttered and pinched Blackheart’s back and tail. Why didn’t I feel that? Blackheart wondered with a surge of panic. He lifted his head and watched as Synth pressed on his legs with a hammer. But he didn’t feel it. Blackheart couldn’t feel anything but his own pain. He saw the Synth’s movements grow more desperate as he repeated the routine. At last, he let out a hiss of frustration.
”I can’t figure out what’s going on with your body.” Synth reported ”Doing a quick checkup only revealed that you have a fever and some kind of muscle failure that’s leaving you somewhat unresponsive. But that doesn’t explain what’s causing those symptoms.” He paused then went on, ”And I couldn’t feel any lumps or abnormalities other than your fever.” He let out a long sigh. ”The only other thing I’m willing to try is to draw some blood and run it through the analyzer.” Synth nodded to himself and grabbed the needle, carefully cleaning it. ”We’ll find out what’s wrong with you and fix it. ” He spoke calmly, though Blackheart could see the fear in Synth’s face. Blackheart braced himself for the sting that would come as the needle pierced his skin, but no such sensation was forthcoming. A few moments later the click click click of the machines keys sounded as Synth typed up Blackhearts blood information onto the Blood Analyzer. Then the whoosh as the machine began its work. Synth let out a gasp a few moments later as the results turned up.
”I’ve never seen a read like this! The analyzer says that your blood is. . . poisoning itself!” he exclaimed in a shocked voice. Then Blackheart knew. This was it. He was dying the heroes death. Blackheart was surprised to find that he felt a calm sense of peace, knowing that death was a few breaths away. But there was one more thing he had to say. Blackheart lifted his head and fixed a bleary gaze on Zina. She looked elegant, with a streamlined torso and slender legs. She had one unusual feature, a glowing blue stripe that ran down from her forehead, along her back and ended at the base of her tail, that added to her beauty.
”Zina” Blackheart whispered. ”I’ve become more of a hero then I’ve dreamed, and that’s because of you. You’ve saved my life so many times in the Vortex Blackhole, don’t you remember? . . . But you changed my life as well as saved it.” He gave way to a spasm and coughing fit before forcing himself on, each word punctuated with gasps of pain. ”You gave me the strength to change who I was, and I’ve spent most of my life searching for something I could give you in return . . . but I could not find a gift great enough then Apollychron attacked, and I realized this was about my life or your death . . . and then I knew what that gift was . . . I could give you your life for my death and give you the gift of life . . . . and I chose to give you that gift. I chose to die so that you might live . . . . Your life is worth more than mine you’ve done so much good, and I’ve done too much evil.” He gasped as he felt the pain that racked his body intensified. He gritted his teeth against it and forced himself to continue speaking ”All that I can say is . . . thank you . . . and . . . good bye. . .”
”Oh Blackheart! . . .” Zena breathed eyes widening with dismay. A fierce spasm shook him once more, and Blackheart let out an agonized screech. Then he fell silent. His chest rose and fell desperately grasping for breath once more then lay still. Blackheart was dead.
. . .
Blackheart opened his eyes and jumped startled. ”Where am I?” he wondered. Surrounding him was an endless field of yellow grass, that gently swayed in the breeze. A cloud of hazy golden mist seemed to encompass the field, and decorate the sky. A sense of peace came upon Blackheart. A peace he had never felt before. It was as though all his agony, and despair had been washed away, leaving a calm tranquility. He heard his mother’s voice whisper in his ear, you did it Blackheart, my son. You rose from the ashes you burnt and saved the universe. My heart shattered when I saw you destroy lives for the sake of your own power. I believed you were headed for eternal darkness. But now I see I am wrong. Blackheart, I am proud of you.
Mother . . . He thought with a twinge of sadness. His heart may have felt at rest, but sorrow gnawed at it as he recalled his mother, Starstrike. She had taught him so much about life, destiny, and even if she had once been cruel, she’d changed before her death, and become the mother he’d needed all his life. His heart grieved the loss of that mother.
”Starstrike is with you deep in your heart you know” A voice counseled. Blackheart jumped and turned his head. His heart leaped when he saw Shay. The vine-monster was sitting in the meadow a little distance away. His three tails were curled around his paws neatly. He looked calm, even amused. His green coat seemed to shine like leaves in the sunlight. What’s going on?Blackheart wondered, shock pulsing through him like lightning.
”What are you doing here?” he asked faintly. ”What is this place?”
”When humans die they go to either heaven or hell. But all other beings in the universe go to a place called Home.” Shay explained ”And all other beings also face what’s known as the Final Judgment before they enter Home. The Final Judgment results in you going to the High Place section of Home where you live out your days in peace, and adventure, or the Low Place-where you live out your days in poverty and suffering. The greatest or noblest beings go to the High Place. The least or insignificant beings go to the Low Place. The place in which these trials are held is called the Reckoning Grounds. I am here to escort you there.”
Blackheart jumped back. High Place? Reckoning? He didn’t do well with reckonings. It was likely he would end up in the Low Place. He shuddered. As if he hadn’t suffered enough!
”I don’t deserve to go there.” He murmured, hanging his head in shame. The screams for mercy that were screeched by the endless number of beings he’d tortured rang in his ears like echoes in a cave. A deep dark cave. ”I was too much of a villain in my past. I’ve done more wrong then good.”
Shay gave him a hard look.
”If it is possible for a hero to fall to shadow, don’t you think a villain could rise to the light?” He asked, kinking his three tails questioningly, the Venus Fly Trap at the end of the secant twitching, as he did so. Blackheart thought about it. No villain had done as much as he had. He’d destroyed millions of galaxies, stars, planets, and killed any beings in the way. Blackheart also was a tyrant to the Athorians he led-To gain leadership he’d killed the previous ruler, Starburn, then enslaved the Athorians, forcing them to work for him. Blackheart had some horrendous torture methods as well. He’d whip beat or fight the Athorian he was torturing until they were either near death or dead. Or he’d torture his victims loved one, and force them to watch while being chained. Blackheart was also fond of poisoning the Athorians or starving them. To further abuse them, he cheated, lied to, and stole from, other planets so they’d start a war. Often he’d promise his people a way out of their suffering than just when they pursued it tell them he’d lied. Blackheart was not afraid to verbally abuse his people either. He knew words could cut deeper than any weapon. Blackheart ruined countless lives and was behind endless deaths, tears, and shattered dreams. A villain like that would never be forgiven or see the light in anything.
”No,” He decided at last. ”I don’t think a villain and rise to light. I know Christ chose me to save the universe, and I did change . . . but how much of that change was because of you three influencing me, or because of me choosing to change on my own?”
Shay gave him a long look, then shook his head.
”Warlord Blackheart, you changed by your own choosing. Do you remember how you faced the darkness in your own soul in the Valley of Spirit? If it was us that changed you, you’d have lost that battle, but you won.” He paused seeming to be lost in the memory, then continued. ”I was not surprised when Christ chose you to defeat Apollychron. Even in your dark moments, even when you were unable to move on, I saw that you were the strongest among us. Your only true weakness is what you think is your strength-your need for power. Now your Final Judgment awaits.” He halted. ”Welcome to the Reckoning Place.” He announced. Blackheart gazed around the area. He noticed the golden mist had a reddish hue, and a silver stream that flowed through the area seeming to stretch on forever. Blackheart felt nervousness churn in his stomach as a deep fear swelled in his heart. There was a lot that had to be judged about him. Would he be forgiven or were the things he’d done truly unforgivable?