Kendo stood at the chasm of Reality, readying himself in the only way he knew how. He took a breath, cracked his knuckles, and hummed his favorite song from deep in his throat. He didn't usually share his musical tastes but no one was around to ridicule him anyway; Melissa had told him what to do and then disappeared somewhere, claiming she had to "deal with some issues," whatever that meant. Kendo welcomed the solitude. It made it easier to think and by extension, easier to manifest his power.
Before him the Earth sunk into itself in a pit of sand and mud and dirt. Behind him stood Fowlina's Forest, the wafting, distant music from the Creature's Court, and an unfamiliar yet welcomed heat that slithered up and down Kendo's spine. He was ready. He had never been so sure of anything in his life.
The portal swirled open in a gust of stinging wind, bringing with it the scent of decay and stagnant water. Its pure light flooded Olden's permanent nighttime, tinting everything with white, and Kendo had to squint so his eyes could adjust. The Veins recoiled into their trees, tendrils sizzling in fear, and the whole forest seemed to lean backwards in an effort to avoid the widening portal. But Kendo stood tall and ready, with open arms and half-closed eyes as he breathed in the scent of Reality, the wildflowers and grass, the humidity on the air, the stink of decaying road kill and the scratchy smell of gravel that's been beaten smooth by hikers and bicyclists alike. He thought it fitting that he was ripping open the portal that started all of this, Grivgas' portal, which according to the Court's rules should only be opened once every seven years.
"We'll see about that," Kendo yelled into the portal, all regrets and hesitation gone, shoved aside by his shivering anticipation. He hadn't enjoyed anything this much in a long, long time. He was doing something daring, something drastic. The old scars on his wrist tightened and tensed, but he ignored them. He wasn't about to get this far and let something stupid get in his way. He was finishing this. When all this crap was over, at the very least, he could say he had a part in ripping open the world.
Kendo was caught in a chasm of clashing energy. Olden's giant trees, hissing invisible creatures and Veins receded while Reality careened through the portal, a waterfall of mortal, normal things.
Now was the time. Melissa had told him to construct something capable of ripping apart Reality. He didn't exactly know what she meant but he couldn't hold back now, and so he brought to life the first thing that popped into his head. Closing his eyes completely, Kendo let the light wash over him. He opened his palms. Two silver forms manifested inside each hand, growing longer as they molded into something tangible. Kendo felt the cool metal against his palms, familiar and grooved. He knew those handles well. He had in his grip the very same daggers he had taken to his wrist after his mother died.
With silver-plated handles and five-inch blades, the daggers gleamed in Reality's light. Kendo took one last quivering breath, in and out, and he brought the daggers to the ready. He pictured the opening portal as though it was made of billowing, thin plastic.
Melissa had said to him before she ran off, "Imagine something weak for the portal, and something that can break it apart as your tool."
If Kendo had held the daggers any tighter they would've crushed under his grip, but they held strong.
He brought the daggers down on the portal with all his strength and it split open before him. Knowing well that it wouldn't be that easy, as nothing in Olden was, Kendo was prepared when the portal wormed its way back into itself and closed tighter than before. Olden's nighttime conquered some of the light seeping out from Reality, gobbling it up like a snake devouring its squirming meal. After coming this far, going through with this much, Kendo wasn't about to give up. He gave a holler and slashed at the portal again, over and over, until he caught a glimpse of Grivgas' path. The nearby pond's scent slipped between the cracks in the portal, and as Kendo pushed forward he stepped out of the sandy floor of Olden and onto the spindly, dying grass of Reality. Gravel pushed against his boots.
The portal's final effort to remain closed shoved Kendo back three feet in one hurl and he threw his arms over his face to block its thrashing wind. Then with a grimace and a tightened grip on his daggers, he lunged forward, forced the portal wide with his willpower and punctured the last shred of it with a left stab. He felt it tear along his blade, heard it rip open with a hiss. He knew by some acquired sixth sense that despite its recoil when the portal first widened, Olden was creeping its way into Reality, crawling along behind him.
Kendo stepped through the open gap willingly, invigorated by his thundering heartbeat. He willed his daggers to fade. They sizzled out of existence, leaving behind traces of magic on Kendo's sweating palms, tiny shards of silver that sparkled like glitter. He wiped the shards away, sifting his hands over each other in a gesture of someone who was satisfied with a job well-done.
For a moment, all was still. Not even traces of a breeze were on the air. Nothing shifted through the grass. The pond gave not even a gentle ripple; it simply existed there, reflecting the cloudless sky, flat as a mirror. If Kendo didn't know better, he would have thought the pond itself was another portal. Despite the fallen leaves on its surface the water appeared somehow sterile, pure. Kendo didn't know what was coming, but he knew this was a moment to be cherished. He calmed his breathing, wiped the sweat off his forehead and then sat. This might be the last bit of peace he ever got to enjoy, not that that mattered to him or anything. He knew it would end soon. The fragments of peace in his life always ended soon.
A hand gripped his shoulder and he whirled around, expecting a creature from Olden. Then he glared at Melissa as she laughed in his face.
"Don't stop now," she said, "We've got at least a dozen more to rip open."
The world darted back into motion. The pond and the trees curved away from the wind shooting out of the open portal. Both Kendo and Melissa tugged their hair behind their ears to keep it out of their faces.
"Come on, let's go. This isn't gonna work unless we time it right," Melissa said before pulling Kendo to his feet and jogging off down the path, not turning back. Kendo guessed that she had assumed he would follow her. While that notion vaguely irritated him, he didn't have much choice in the matter. He wasn't about to go pissing off someone who seemed to be so close with Olden's creatures. There had to be some reason she hadn't been eaten yet. She was useful to someone, probably someone with huge sharp teeth or the power to suck you out of existence or something equally dreadful.
Kendo scoffed as he thought the same might be true of himself. Both Victor and Enkaiein, the giant monster made of black ink, had commented on how remarkable it was that Kendo hadn't been gobbled up in his time travelling between Olden and Reality. Serves them right, Kendo smirked. He focused his mind on the portal swirling wider and wider in his wake. What did Victor know anyway, thought Kendo, other than what creatures liked which drinks? He chased after Melissa when she turned a sharp corner in the path up ahead.
"Here we are," Melissa said. She stopped so abruptly that Kendo almost ran into her. He managed to skid to a stop a half-an-inch behind her and scoot to the side. He avoided hitting her by a fairly small margin.
They had passed the bike path surrounding the little pond quite a while ago. With Kendo bent over to catch his breath and Melissa crossing her arms, seemingly thinking, the air around them seemed thin, compressed. They were in an overgrown section of town, in the middle of a street that used to lead to the railroad tracks back when they were still used. Vines, long grass, and dandelions poked through the unkempt pavement alongside violets and white foxgloves. There was a tiny red dot on the air where Melissa's gaze was focused, small as a pin-prick. Kendo didn't notice it until she pointed it out.
"What is it?" Kendo asked.
"The start of another portal," Melissa answered. "So let's help it out a little." She gave not another word as she pulled her dragon pendant off its chain and tossed it at, no, not at, but into, the red dot. The tiny silver dragon twitched to life and swam through the air towards the steadily growing dot. It landed at the dot's edge and gnawed until the portal shimmered open completely. Kendo manifested his daggers in the hopes that something would come through, but nothing did, and Melissa told him to finish the job as her little silver dragon hopped back onto its chain. He slashed away just as he had before and the portal swung open like a doorway, eager and inviting. When Kendo was finished he saw Melissa pull a piece of notebook paper out of her pocket and scratch something off with a purple gel pen that matched her hair. Then they moved on to the next portal, then the next, then the next.
Twelve portals and countless hours later, someone stood in their way. It was hard to tell who it was at first. The sky had grown dark and, whoever they were, they stood beneath the shadow of an overpass. A single streetlamp flickered overhead and for a split second, Kendo could make out nothing more than a leaning humanlike figure with a fang poking out from the corner of its lip. Melissa halted. Kendo gulped involuntarily and his daggers curled their way into existence along his palm. He gripped them even though they were beyond his current attention. It was a reflex that seemed to have snuck itself into Kendo's psyche.
"Why are you doing this?" Victor stepped into the yellow light and directed his question at Melissa, ignoring Kendo's presence entirely. His tone didn't suggest anger and he seemed more concerned than anything. He had his arms open and his palms up, gesturing confusion. Kendo noticeably relaxed, shoulders slacking. It's only Victor, he thought in relief. But when Melissa didn't answer him, Victor bore his fangs, "Just tell me why and I might understand!" Once he saw that, Kendo found himself stiffening all over again.
Melissa scrunched up her nose and said as she tried to avoid looking at Victor's shark teeth, "You know why."
Victor made the first exasperated noise Kendo had ever heard him make. And since Kendo had never heard such a noise erupt from someone who was usually so suave and flirty, he couldn't help but snort and laugh. This was what brought him to Victor's attention.
"I bet you think what you're doing is funny, don't you?"
Kendo ended his laughing fit in a nervous titter. "Well, no. Not exactly." He didn't remember Victor being this intimidating. Maybe it was his flashing eyes or the fact that his burgundy hair, which was normally slicked back, was bristling out of the gel that usually held it firmly in place. Or it could have been his oversized, pointy teeth.
"Don't you realize what you two are doing?" Victor pointed behind him to a red slit on the air. Kendo had noticed Victor before fully noticing his surroundings, but now that attention was being drawn to those surroundings, he wondered how far he and Melissa had really run to get to this place. The overpass arched its way behind Victor, hosting the now-tattering red slit. The slit was splintering out like someone was tugging at both ends of it, but the overpass itself remained intact by some lingering sense of Reality. No wind blew. The long grass and cattails leaned far to the left like falling skyscrapers and a single car whizzed along the overpass before vanishing out of view up the road.
Victor was looking at Kendo like he expected an answer, so Kendo gave him one. "Yeah, we know what we're doing." Victor advanced on Kendo but Kendo stood his ground. He even dared to comment, "And you can't stop us."
"Oh-ho," Victor's teeth grew longer, stopping only when they reached a solid two inches. His eyes were wide and black when he refocused on Melissa. "I see Kendo's grown a mouth in the short time he's spent with you. But I suppose you have that effect on people, don't you?"
If Kendo hadn't known better, he would've thought Melissa was more peeved than afraid, given her expression.
"Get out of our way, Victor," she said in the tone of someone who did not have time for this.
The slit was ripping deeper into Reality, its edges curling like talons. Nonetheless it was silent. No cricket dared to chirp. They knew what was coming.
Kendo inhaled. Melissa and Victor were staring each other down. They'd stay that way forever if he didn't do something. So he did something.
"Duck," Kendo said much quieter than he had intended to. Then he hurled his right dagger straight at the splintering portal. Victor dropped to his knees, barely managing to dodge the dagger as it whizzed over his head and struck the portal at an exact perpendicular angle despite Kendo's sloppy arm.
Then the world opened like a wound. Dragons and monsters and tiny red particles collapsed out of the opening. Some flew, some crawled, some floated, some ran. Leaf dragons and lint goblins and even iridescent Veins tumbled out of the crack-turned-chasm with griffons, wolf-sized ants, faefolk and elfish maidens whose limbs were made of water cascading after them.
Kendo had fallen backward when the portal opened completely, knocked down by the shockwave, but now he was crawling on his elbows, trying to reach the overpass. He didn't know where Melissa or Victor went. He didn't have time to worry about that; he was entirely focused on not getting trampled. He rolled out of the way when a three-foot hoof came crashing down beside him. After an eternity, scraped and exhausted, he reached the overpass and clawed his way into a more upright position beneath it to catch his breath.
The air was earthy and crisp. Kendo both smelled and tasted it, his mouth agape. He squished his back against the arch of the overpass and watched the creatures rampage. The ground sunk under the stampede and the wind bent out of the airborne creatures' flight paths. If there were water, Kendo knew its tides would slide away from everything that pushed outward from the chasm in Reality.
Kendo trembled in awe and said aloud because that was the only way he could hear himself think, "Wow. I did this. I did all this." Soon he found he couldn't control the smile that stretched across his face, and a chuckle slipped out of him that quickly evolved into a full, chesty laugh. His lungs and face ached but he kept laughing; he had found his solace. In a combination between a yell and a laugh he called out, "Nobody can fuck with me anymore! I just tore apart Reality!" And he felt in that moment that everything had been worth it.
The moment ended when Kendo saw Wilfred standing over him in wolf form, snarling. Neither spoke. The sound of the creatures bursting through the portal reached a crescendo, but to Kendo, who was faced with Wilfred's glare; it became nothing more than white noise.
"Foolish child," Wilfred growled.
With a bristle of the fur on his neck, Wilfred barked out a scoff and dashed away, following the herd. Kendo was left with his thoughts, the dirt on his skin and the mud on his clothes. There wasn't a single creature that paid him mind, not one that headed back towards the portal. Kendo got the vibe that the creatures had wanted to overtake Reality since Olden's inception, if Olden had even had a beginning. At least he wouldn't have to worry about being hunted since he was the one who made all this possible. Fowlina would let him live, even offer him protection like she did Melissa.
"Wait, where's Melissa? And Victor?" Kendo shimmied up the arch of the overpass until he was grounded in a standing position and squinted at the migration. After what seemed like hours later, his eyes dropped on a burgundy and purple wash of color that contrasted the blurs of brown and grey that passed above, over, or around it. Crouching to get a better look, Kendo saw that Victor, his head down and his muscles straining, had curled himself over Melissa, who was scrunched up in a ball with her arms over her head. Kendo tried calling out to them but neither heard him. Cursing, balling his hands into fists, Kendo clenched his teeth and ran straight at them. Miraculously, nothing tramped him. He dropped to his knees next to Victor and Melissa turned her head in a feeble greeting.
Too tired to lash out at Kendo's presence, Victor did nothing more than pant and shake, but he held his position firmly above Melissa. Kendo hadn't noticed before, but Melissa's little silver dragon had scuttled off its chain and placed itself directly atop Victor's back. It seemed to be entranced, aglow with an effulgence that vaguely resembled fastitocalon scales' luster. While Victor's arms and legs were pounded and cut, his back and neck remained entirely untouched and Kendo came to wonder if it wasn't the work of the little dragon. He guessed even jewelry could have some sort of weird power if it came from Olden.
The creatures were slowing, coming out from the portal less frequently. Kendo decided to wait it out with Victor and Melissa and the little silver dragon. It wasn't long before the very last creature, a cross-eyed red ghoul with fangs on its fingers and dragonfly wings sprouting out of its joints, stumbled out of the portal and hobbled after the rest of the creatures as they spread in all directions across the moonlit horizon.
Then the little silver dragon, huffing and coughing, slid off of Victor's back and returned to its chain. It curled there and retired, solid silver once again. Melissa slapped Victor on the arm to tell him it was over and he nearly collapsed on top of her, but instead he flopped to the side onto his back. He wheezed until he could speak again.
Victor said, "Humans are such idiots."
Kendo found himself saying sorry. He helped Melissa to her feet and left Victor sprawled, sweaty in the dirt.
The screams began far off in the distance. Distant roars curdled the wind. The overpass finally crumpled over itself and fell, crashing down like a bomb. Olden's portal ceased being a portal; it became a road, a twisted road that didn't lead into or out of Olden, but along it. Reality may have remained, but no longer was it its own entity. Both worlds swam into each other as a river would join an ocean, as if all of this was meant to happen, as if it all were a natural process.
And Kendo, Melissa and Victor stayed up that night, watching the worlds meld.