The problem, I reflected later, was that there is never really any good or evil in the world. Even in a place like Xix, it just wasn’t something that could be divided so simply. The closer one got to textbook evil, the more difficult it was to differentiate between evil and insanity. Take it out of the textbooks and attempt to implement it in real life, and it just didn’t work. Sooner or later a certain practicality had to enter the equation. The evil tyrant without regard for rationality became a common psychopath and was put down like a rabid dog by his own henchmen. And the evil tyrant with an eye for the rules of engagement was ultimately very difficult to distinguish from the benevolent leader who gave the little people a voice. And while a “megalomaniacal but generally well-meaning guiding hand possessed of a certain amount of consistency and intelligence, with a clear view of historical trends” seems like a good idea, the dependence and lethargy it engenders is deadly.
Yoru had said it himself. He wasn’t the Hatboy. Whatever he did, he would do as a Xixian, locked to that world and invested in it, every minute of every day. And so in the end I had done the only thing I could, under the circumstances.
I had left.
Back to the world of darkness from which heroes and horrors sprang forth, perhaps, to fight the fight Yoru couldn’t. To keep Creepy from ever helping Xix again.
I attempted to philosophise with Creepy about all of this, but he was fixated on irrelevant details. Like his codpiece, and how it just didn’t stick together right anymore.
“So why aren’t you going back to see how it all went?” he grumped. “It’s all over by now. Surely neither one of us can do any more harm.”
I glanced at my watch. I’d never really given much precise thought to how the time-flows differed between the worlds. Certainly, a matter of minutes over here rounded out to several decades over there, and no matter how much time I spent over there it always seemed to be only a minute or two since I left upon returning. It was impossible to tell how much of that time was expended in transit, however, and how much was purely their time running faster than ours, or if it was even uniform at all. And with the two of us coming and going, independently of one another and not telling each other about it, covering a period of at least a Xixian millennium from the high-fantasy times of prehistory to the weird feudal Creepocracy we’d just left behind, we’d somehow managed to avoid overlapping to any noticeable degree or bumping into each other at the portal. It was all thoroughly confusing, so I just didn’t think about it.
“Let’s give it a few more hours,” I said.
We did go back, though. After sitting and glaring at each other all night and then half the next morning, we went back out into the garden and stepped through together.
Unlike the normal entrance process, which was a bit of cheesy swirly-effect and mild nausea followed by one’s body being deposited in a pixie-infested forest clearing that had become a pixie-guano-rich cabbage field in later years, this final transfer was smooth and seamless. We stepped into a featureless, gleaming-white room where a polite, disembodied synthetic (but amusingly pixie-like) voice told us that the Xix Federation was not currently accepting visitors through this particular spacetime fluxpoint. But if we wanted a copy of the Book of Yoru, it continued, one per detected brainwave-set would moleculate shortly. Otherwise, we were invited to return from whence we had come.
We waited for the books, which dropped silently into our hands in a seamless and silent materialisation through which I sensed a tendril of highly-advanced and impossibly-subtle Paladin-based magic, but which seemed to be mostly technological in nature.
They were sleek black electronic pieces of work, and Creepy and I exchanged a glance and an approving nod when we saw the large red PANIC emblazoned on the cover.
Yoru knew his classics.
There seemed little else to do, so we went back through the portal and out into the unholy morning brightness of our back yard.
“Now I know why I usually sleep through this time of day,” Creepy grumbled, and stumped back into the house, stripping away his medieval paraphernalia and tossing it aside as he went. I followed him back in, studying the little electronic Book of Yoru thoughtfully. It activated at a touch, and it took me mere seconds to figure out the simple user interface.
“Oh,” I said, navigating to an entry at random and looking at the picture below the text. “So that’s a mozo.”
Still browsing idly, I went inside.