When the tower collapsed beneath me, I crawled from the rubble. Weak, in body and magic. Defeated. Faced with a choice: wallow in regret for letting such a band of misfits defeat me, or strike out toward a new goal.

I chose the first for all of one day, cursing the plucky heroes by every god and demon I’d ever heard of. When all my cursing got me nowhere, I chose the second.

Still too weak to walk, I slithered away through worlds few know, worlds even I don’t want to remember. When I returned to this, the World of Nines and Rubies, ages had passed. My enemies were heroes of legend, and my role reduced to that of a precursor to some other terror I’d never heard of. It too had underestimated those heroes and was long gone.

I sought out the remnants of that terror in the usual places. Pits and pools of evil lying deep in the swamps and rocky deserts, a sink of deep power in a high salt plain, where no rain ever escaped.

Power once again coursed through me. And what could those heroes do, now dead?

Except… that would lead me the same as before. When was death ever a perfect barrier? Some memory or ghost of them, a legend and a wind, would raise up new fools to withstand me. This one’s sword would fall into the hands of a barmaid. That one’s wand would tumble off a dusty shelf into just the right hands. The rings or bracelets or magical bows would all find new owners, and the same luck that carried them to victory would defeat me again.

Not acceptable. First I needed to find what remained of the heroes. If pits of evil lingered, surely pools of goodness did as well, magical wells of some strength I didn’t yet understand.

I must drink it all up, find every last glimmer, and when it is gone… Who knows? Will it overwhelm me, turn my power into sickly goodness? Perhaps I will become the unlikeliest hero of all. Or will I at last be able to pursue control over all, with nothing good or evil left with any glimmer of power able to stand against me?

There is a lake over the next ridge, deep and cold, that holds the essence of many heroes. Its stench overwhelms my ancient blood. I will see to it that only plain water remains.

Daniel Ausema’s work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, Diabolical Plots, and many other places. He is also the creator of the steampunk-fantasy trilogy Spire City. He lives in Colorado, where pools of the power of ancient heroes and villains abound.

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