Behold now, the city of Crossroads, the city of All that Is , Was, and Ever Shall Be! Behold now, the city that takes up the place between all worlds! Behold, the greatest city there ever was, and the greatest that ever will be! For I have seen to the ends of time, and Crossroads, with all its inhabitants from all the various worlds, will lie in ruins only at the final triumph of the Nothing. -Yul the Prophet, at the Founding of Crossroads, the Beginning of Time

Prologue

The sky was a maelstrom of awful color, resembling something like a bruise in all its foreboding purples and blacks.

Adam was a young man, having just turned fourteen a month past. He was lean and fit, with muscles built up from hours of running and climbing back home, a home that he couldn't quite remember right now. His blue eyes misted over with confusion for a moment, staring intently at nothing at all as he tried to remember what he was doing, who he was, and where he had come from.

The wind was screaming at him, mussing his already untidy shock of dirty blond hair. He stood on a cluster of rocks in the middle of a roiling ocean, his bare feet barely clinging to the slick surface of the stones. He wore a pair of dirty, torn jeans and a black, unmarked t-shirt.

He stood, still and silent as a statue, as the wind, sky and water raged around him. His memory seemed to have escaped him, and he could no longer recall any friends that he may have had, his parents, or what his home looked like. All he knew was that he was a fourteen year old boy named Adam.

"Beautiful, in its own way, isn't it?" The voice was quiet, almost a whisper, but it cut through the howling wind.

Adam tensed instinctively, adrenaline rushing into his system, as the voice came from disturbingly close behind him. He spun around, ready for a fight, for some reason fearful of this unknown visitor in this unknown place.

The owner of the voice was almost disturbingly thin and tall, with almost ridiculously long, lithe fingers. He wore a long cowled robe of dull red that made Adam feel extremely uncomfortable, as if by looking at that peculiar red he was watching, for no other reason than sick horror, the live skinning of another human being. His face was somehow peculiar-it looked off, in some way that Adam could not name. Other than that, it was an old, friendly face, full of lines and wrinkles, with twinkling gray eyes and a lock of white hair that hung down beneath the cowl.

"The chaos and disorder can be frightening, but to know that you can take hold of it, to reshape it to your will...it's screaming at you, but there's nothing it can do to stop you, yes?" said the old man.

"I suppose," said Adam, still vaguely confused as to where he was. "If it's really necessary. Otherwise I'd be fine just leaving it alone."

"Ah," said the old man, his eyes gleaming and intent, apparently finding the conversation extremely fascinating. "So it is necessity then that forces the human hand to shape the world?"

"Well, sometimes, I guess," said Adam distractedly. "Sometimes it's for our convenience. It really depends on who is doing the shaping."

"Hmn," said the old man, somehow sounding disappointed. "I see." And he took a step forward, his robe dragging on the wet rocks. Adam, stirred out of his attempt to regain his memories by the man's movement, noticed with some horror that the man's robe seemed to be melting into the rocks, staining them a deep blood red.

"Who are you?" asked Adam, taking a step back from the still advancing cowled figure.

"I have had many names," said the old man. He turned his ancient face to the sky as it began to rain, slowly at first, quickly escalating to a torrential downpour. His robe was sending tendrils of blood-red liquid coursing down onto the stones now. "You need not know it." And with that, the old man reached into his robe and pulled out an ancient-looking, tarnished black key.

"What is that for?" said Adam, quickly becoming very uneasy with the entire situation.

"You have something that I want," said the man in red. "You could almost say that I deserve it. It is something I have been looking for for so very, very long, after all."

And though Adam did not know of what the man in red spoke, or much else other than that he was a boy named Adam who was fourteen years old, he felt as if he was about to be robbed.

"You're not taking anything of mine," he said, clenching his fists.

The man in red laughed, and there was a note of pity in his voice. "My boy, it's not as if you have a choice," he said, and suddenly his long, lithe fingers looked an awful lot like claws that would slice through rock like butter, though their appearance did not change at all. And then, key in hand, he swept toward Adam, his oddly liquid robe billowing in the wind, and suddenly the whole sky was full of red.

Adam cringed as the man in red closed in on him in awful silence, closing his eyes as he was engulfed in the red of the robe while the skies and seas raged all around him. As the man's long fingers touched him, though, something inside him screamed that this should not happen, no, no, a thousand times across a thousand worlds NO, to strike now, to strike at the wretched man, STRIKE-

Adam became vaguely aware that he was screaming defiance, and that the man in red lay sprawled a few feet in front of him, blood pouring from his nose and one eye swollen shut. Moving like some strange insect, the cowled figure skittered backwards on his elbows and heels and drew himself up, his robe looking like some strange fountain of red as he rose.

Adam stared at his bruised and bloodied hands. He could scarcely believe that he had done that. The old man looked fragile enough...but there was just something about him that had seemed to radiate strange and terrible power.

The man in red wiped blood from his nose and winced and scowled at the scarlet smears on his hand. "Very well," he said, glancing back up at Adam, "Perhaps we can arrange for a trade."

"You don't have anything I want," said Adam.

"Not yet," said the man in red.

And then Adam woke up.