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We've been waiting for you [[Finn]]
[[Continued from Almaz; this scene isn't in the world of dreams, but this was the best option.]]

The room with the far was brighter than he remembered.

The walls were white? They should be stone. Wood beams. A sophisticated bar.

He glanced over his shoulder to see if Ashton saw what he saw, only, there was no Ashton. Instead, a curtain of light shimmered floor to ceiling like a portal.

“Uhh—“ he licked his lips, but when he reached out to swipe the curtain, it disappeared.

He turned in a circle. Almaz had transformed into an impossibly smooth tunnel. The world around him was awash with a brightness that seemed to have no source; the light simply was, as if the air itself exuded a soft glow. Everything curved and spiraled into itself—the ceiling, the floor, even the air seemed to twist in a gentle helix above him.

Now this should normally be a little distressing. Jumping from Almaz’s underground club to some sort of sci-fi looking world, but given that Jaxen lived through two similar experiences, he was more annoyed than disturbed.

He began to walk, stepping lightly to avoid drawing attention to himself until he better understood what was happening.

The architecture was a marvel, he admitted, an endless enigma of snakelike structures that defied the laws of physics as he knew them. The walls bowed outward, ceilings arched into impossible heights before curling back into themselves, and the doorways were rounded, as if carved by the spinning of a giant potter’s wheel. Jaxen walked through one of these doorways, entering a chamber that seemed to lead into another, and then another, each one a perfect circle, each one leading back to the last.

At first, there was a calm curiosity in his stride. He admired the fluidity of the design, the way the circular windows refracted the light into rainbows that danced across the curved walls. He might have thought it an elaborate illusion until he ran his hand along a banister, feeling the smoothness of its twist, impressed by the craftsmanship and appreciating how real it truly was. But as he walked, a realization began to dawn on him: no matter how far he walked, he was getting nowhere. Each turn, each spiral staircase, brought him back to a place eerily similar to the last.

Panic fluttered in his chest, and with a frown, Jaxen picked up his pace. The rounded hallways seemed to stretch and grow with his expanding alarm. He started to run, the sound of his footsteps echoing against the undulating surfaces, a maddening cacophony in the brightness. Doors that once seemed inviting now mocked him, leading him in looping paths that had no end, no escape.

His breaths came in ragged gasps as he pushed himself to run faster, the world blurring into a whirl of light and color. But no matter how desperately he sprinted, the realm kept him ensnared within its serpentine grasp, an endless maze designed not to confine the body, but almost as if meant to entrap the mind. Jaxen was beginning to realize that this alien world of curves and spirals might be more than just a labyrinth—it might be a trap from which there was no escape.

At the end of a final spiral, he clenched his fists and summoned the Ancient Power to his grasp. One way or another, he was getting out of there. A sly lick of the lips and he prepared to hurl a knot toward the wall.

That was when he heard a voice, not unlike the speech of the naga, but more sinister.

“We’ve been waiting for you,” it said.
"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."
Jaxen +
Loki +
+ Jole +
Jaxen's blood turned to ice at the sound of that voice. Even the Ancient Power surging within him offered no comfort. When he spun around, confronting the source of such a sinister sound, his body succumbed unwillingly to paralyzing terror.

Lofty and ethereal, the being before him was a nightmarish elegance personified. Its eyes, vast slits of obsidian, dominated a hauntingly disproportionate face that seemed like skin stretched over skull. A tapestry of iridescent scales adorned its flesh, glittering ominously. Ebony locks tumbled down its back in a dark cascade, still and flat as if wind would never disturb it, contrasting starkly with the sinister leather armor it wore—an armor Jaxen instinctively recognized as human in origin.

Panic clawed at his chest, his heart pounding with refreshed desperation to escape.

Yet, in the throes of this fear, Jaxen unleashed the tempest of the Ancient Power, a force he had intended to demolish the walls themselves.

With an unnatural grace, the creature contorted its slender frame into an impossible arc, as if devoid of any skeletal structure inside. The fireball blazed past, missing the serpent-like entity by a hair's breadth. In response, it snapped its fingers effortlessly. As a curse spilled from Jaxen's lips, a suffocating darkness enveloped him, dragging him into weightless sleep.
"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."
Jaxen +
Loki +
+ Jole +
As consciousness fluttered back to Jaxen, a surreal sensation engulfed him. He was drifting, not walking, down an endless corridor, suspended on an unseen bed that cradled him in a weightless embrace. His mind, foggy and disjointed, struggled to piece together the fragments of what was happening. He recognized the corridor, bathed in that otherworldly glow. The curves and arcs of the passageway was familiar, yet the beings that surrounded him seemed to understand exactly how to traverse its mind-bending paths. It was in this dream-like state that Jaxen became aware of the hissing whispers echoing around him.

“..the human," one voice slithered, its tone laced with a mixture of curiosity and eagerness. “Are we sure it's him?”

Another voice, smoother, yet chilling, responded. "We are certain. But is he a threat, or an opportunity? The Great Ones will decide. His fate comes.”

Jaxen's heart quickened, the words seeping into his consciousness like venom. He strained to see his captors, but his body refused to obey, remaining locked in its invisible hold. He wasn’t sure which was more terrifying, an alien escort or the fact he couldn’t control his own limbs.

“I smell it on him… It is the one foretold.” A third voice joined, quivering with an emotion that Jaxen couldn't decipher. Excitement? Hunger? Both? He shivered.

Now, Jaxen was no stranger to unpleasant places before. He just needed to think. Think of a way to escape. Then think of a way to run away. Then think of a way to get back to Moscow. First, he had to think of a way to move.

Wait. Smell him? Rude motherfuckers weren’t they? He was wearing Baccarat cologne for fuck's sake.

Jaxen’s eyes fluttered open to witness the corridor spill into a vast chamber.

In the heart of the chamber, under the watchful eyes of the snake-like creatures, the atmosphere shifted. A sudden, sharp sound, like the crack of dawn, echoed through the space, heralding the arrival of new entities. From the recesses of the chamber’s many round doors, a procession of beings, markedly different from his captors, emerged.

These new creatures bore an uncanny resemblance to some sort of mammal, yet they moved with the same distinct, otherworldly aura. Their heads were angular, with sharp, pointed features and ears that tapered to fine tips. Their eyes, a ghostly white, scanned the room with an intelligence that belied their animalistic appearance. Vibrant red hair covered their scalps, contrasting strikingly with the yellow and red robes that flowed elegantly around them. Each one wore a bronze sword at their belt, the metal gleaming in the glowing world.

Silently, the two sets of aliens formed a circle around Jaxen, their eyes fixed upon him with an unsettling intensity. One of the animal-like beings stepped forward, its hand raised in a gesture that was both commanding and graceful. As its fingers moved through the air, Jaxen felt a wave of dizziness wash over him, his senses assaulted as a cloud of images and sounds washed across his mind.

Horrific sights bombarded his field of view: visions of people consumed by fire, of snakes swallowing him up, of darkness so profound it seemed to kill the light itself, of acid raining upon the faces of melting skin, of it dripping on him. He closed his eyes to block the view, to squirm away from the terrors surrounding him, but the more he tried to hide, the clearer the visions became, each one more terrifying than the last. His heart raced, panic clawing at his throat. A scream was trapped within him. 

As his fear escalated, he caught a glimpse of a disturbing phenomenon. The beings around him began to inhale deeply, savoring the scent of his terror. Their robes fluttered slightly, stirred by an unseen wind, and their eyes glowed brighter with each passing moment. A soft humming sound filled the chamber, emanating from them, and Jaxen twisted as much as he could to discover they were all entranced with the same drunkenness as the images continued to barrage him, wave after wave of sights plucked straight from his own subconscious.

Trapped amid a circle of predators — for that was certainly what they were — Jaxen realized with chilling clarity that they were drinking the fear they elicited from their own illusions. They were using an illusion — a fucking illusion — to assault his senses. And that was royally pissing him off.

He anchored his mind to anger, and his resolve hardened.

The shift was instantaneous. The once paralyzing dread that had coursed through his veins now burned away, replaced by a blaze of fury. The air around him crackled and hissed, reacting to the sudden change in his emotional state. The Ancient Power within him, dormant under the weight of his fear, now roared to life, fueled by his rage.

The beings staggered back, taken by surprise from the sudden shift in emotions as if the intensity of Jaxen’s anger was a physical force. The invisible bonds holding him shattered, and even in his suit, Jaxen landed nimbly on his feet, body charged with a newfound energy. The illusions that had tormented him dissipated like mist under the sun, their power broken by realizing what was happening.

The chamber, now clear of the haunting visions, revealed the true extent of its size and audience. The snake and animal beings surrounded him, but where they gripped bronze swords and coiled to strike, Jaxen surged with the Ancient Power. A bright arc of energy erupted from his outstretched hands, striking the nearest of the creatures. The being was thrown backwards, its robes billowing as it collided with the chamber wall. The others hesitated, their eyes wide with uncertainty, as Jaxen turned his burning gaze upon them. The snake-creatures, sensing the shift in power, began to hiss and coil, readying themselves for conflict. But Jaxen was a tempest, uncontainable and fierce. He moved with a speed and agility he had never known about himself, each movement infused with the intensity of his rage and the Ancient Power within.

The battle reached a crescendo as Jaxen faced his otherworldly adversaries, ready to burn the entire place to the ground if he had to, when a commanding presence suddenly silenced the tumult.

High above the fray, on a balcony that overlooked the chamber, emerged figures of regal bearing. They exuded an aura of authority that dwarfed all the creatures Jaxen had been contending with. These were the rulers of these alien beings, their demeanor marked by an air of serene command that was instantly recognized by their people.

A striking figure with scales that shimmered like moonlit water, raised a hand. The gesture was elegant, yet it carried an undeniable presence. The other, with hair as red as embers and eyes that held the depth of ancient wisdom, stood beside their counterpart in a silent show of unity. At their signal, the room fell into an immediate, almost oppressive, silence. The beings retreated with a mix of reluctance and obedience. When they slunk away, their eyes were still fixed on Jaxen, but now with a hint of wary respect. They lowered their weapons and slipped into the round openings from which they had first emerged.

Jaxen, his fists still clenched in readiness, watched as the beings retreated. His heart still pounded in his chest, yet he met those haughty eyes and raised his voice, 
“Let me go, or I will burn this place to the ground.”

A pause followed, filled with a palpable tension that made Jaxen wonder if they believed his threat. Then, in unison, the two royal creatures declared: “We will bargain with you.”
"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."
Jaxen +
Loki +
+ Jole +
"Why the hell do I keep getting sucked into these messed up backward worlds?" he muttered, more to himself than to the beings before him.

“Because you are knotai’veren.

The word was lost on him, but he quipped anyway. “I always knew I was special.” He smirked, but when there was no reaction, he rolled his eyes. “And what exactly does that mean?”

Even high above him, Jaxen could feel the white eyes of the fox-creature studying him as though able to dissect his entire history in a glance. “It means you will devastate the pattern and ruin the lace of your age.”

Jaxen blinked, unsure if he was offended or not. Regardless, it was obvious these creatures wanted something from him or else they would have kept drinking their savory Jaxen-wine until the bottle was empty. Time he figured out what that was.

“What do you want from me?” he finally asked, a sense of resignation seeping into his tone.

“You bargain with us,” the scaled ruler proposed, “and we will bargain with you,” the other ruler finished.

Jaxen sighed, “…Okay.”

"The doorway is open once more. A treaty between our people is to be signed," the rulers announced.

Jaxen groaned, his patience fraying. "Then you have the wrong person. I don’t sign treaties. You want Ascendancy."

“You, knotai’veren, are the treatymaker.” The ruler’s insistence left no room for argument.

A treaty was carried out, but it was unlike anything Jaxen had seen before. It was neither paper nor parchment, and the script was a series of indecipherable glyphs and symbols.

"I can’t read this," Jaxen stated, his frustration mounting.

The red-haired creature appeared beside him seeming to have manifested out of a swirl of white smoke. It pointed to the words as he translated.

"The portal shall be fixed into a doorway, permanent, but may be crossed only once. Humans shall bring no instrument of music, fire, iron or light, and the wrong will be righted.”

Jaxen scanned the room once more, as if there was something to all this hidden from his senses. He trusted these creatures no more than they should trust him, but he still felt like he was being played to their tune.  Yet the desire to leave this world and its convoluted politics grew stronger with each passing moment. He glanced up at the rulers, then to the strange writing instrument that the creature at his side offered, but before he grasped it, he had terms of his own.

“Fine,” Jaxen said tersely. “I’ll sign your treaty. But I want something in return.”

The rulers nodded as if they already knew that was how he was going to react. The fox-like creature responded while the snake-like ruler at his side watched.

“In return for your cooperation, we will grant you three wishes.”

Jaxen paused, taken aback by the offer. Three wishes was interesting. Something out of a fairy tale, definitely, but here, in this bizarre world, he suspected they were telling the truth. He eyed the creatures, knowing he needed to choose his words—and his wishes—carefully.

But then they added, "For a price." 

And suspicious grew into understanding.

"And what price is that?"

The two rulers exchanged glances, their pointed teeth bared as each smiled one to the other.
"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."
Jaxen +
Loki +
+ Jole +
The scaled ruler's voice was solemn as it replied, "We require your firstborn child."

Jaxen's initial reaction was one of disbelief, followed swiftly by a dismissive chuckle. The idea seemed absurd. Laughable. 
"My firstborn? You're talking to someone who's  never going to have children," he retorted, his tone laced with incredulity.

Despite his response, a part of him couldn't help but wonder about the gravity of their request. The rulers seemed earnest, their ancient eyes betraying no sign of jest. Jaxen's mind raced to contemplated their motives. Why would beings of such power desire a human child? What plans could they possibly harbor?

Jaxen decided to probe further, his words carefully chosen. "Let's say, hypothetically, I agree to your terms. What kind of wishes are we talking about? Can you make anything happen?" It’s not like he would ever father a kid then bundle it up and bring it back here.

The red-haired ruler tilted its head slightly, considering his question. He seemed to be doing all the talking now. 
“The wishes we grant are bound by the laws of our realms. They are powerful, yes, but not without limits. We cannot create love, resurrect the dead, or alter the fundamental laws of the universe. It is foolish to even ask.”

Jaxen nodded, absorbing this information. It was clear that their powers, while vast, had constraints. This knowledge could be useful. He needed to tread carefully, to glean as much insight as possible without committing to their ominous bargain.

"And what about your plans? Why do you need me, or any human to sign this treaty? What's really in it for you?" Jaxen pressed, his gaze unwavering. The hell did aliens care about human treaties anyway?

The rulers exchanged a glance, a silent conversation passing between them. Finally, the scaled ruler responded, "The treaty is ancient. It has always existed, and it will always be signed. As for our plans, they extend beyond the scope of your understanding, human."

Jaxen's suspicion deepened. Could they not come up with a better derogatory name than ‘human’? But the vague answer did little to quell his unease. If it always existed, why did he need to sign it now? He realized that he was dealing with entities whose agendas were as vast and most likely stupid.

"Alright," Jaxen said slowly, buying time as he formulated his next move. "Let's talk more about these wishes and your treaty, but I want time to think.” He crossed his arms over his chest and planted himself firm in place. They had reached an impasse.
"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."
Jaxen +
Loki +
+ Jole +
The rulers, observing with those annoyingly glassy gazes, nodded in understanding. "Very well," the scaled ruler replied. "We shall grant you the space and time to contemplate your decision." There was a hint of a smile on its jaw, although it might have been a snarl. Jaxen couldn’t tell.

The fox-like ruler gestured with a hand, and the atmosphere in the chamber shifted. "We will take you to a place where you can reflect in peace. Follow us." Then they disappeared from their pedestals.

Jaxen was led from the chamber and through a series of winding corridors that seemed to defy the laws of physics, with angles and perspectives that were disorienting. Finally, they arrived at a door shaped like an ornate star had been punched through the wall.

Jaxen stepped into a place that was a stark contrast to the ominous chamber he had just left. He found himself in a garden, an oasis of tranquility seemingly untouched by the outside world. The garden was bathed in a gentle, diffused light that seemed to come from nowhere in particular. Exotic plants with luminous flowers and tall, wispy trees with an umbrella of branches flowing from the top unreal colors filled the view.

The air was surprisingly fresh and invigorating, although Jaxen could detect no wind. The sound of a tranquil stream could be heard, its waters sparkling as they flowed over smooth, iridescent stones. Nearby was a glassy pond, its surface still and reflective as a mirror.

The creature at his side left him alone to explore. There were no naga in sight, though he assumed that if they lived here, one would have shown itself by then. Yet he was glad when the snake-like alien left. He exhaled air he hadn’t known he’d been holding.

With that, Jaxen was alone in the garden. He remained alert, though. This all felt far too easy.
"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."
Jaxen +
Loki +
+ Jole +
The garden was full of exotic flora, each plant and flower stranger than the last, and a particular one caught his eye—a flower of such unusual shape and color that it seemed to beg him to look closer.

The flower was unlike any he had seen before, with iridescent petals that shimmered in the garden's soft light. Delicate, thread-like fronds radiated from the center, waving gently despite the lack of wind. Compelled by a mix of curiosity and the strange, almost magnetic pull of the flower, Jaxen squat to examine it more.

As his fingers gently touched the petals, they burst open, releasing a cloud of sparkling particles that resembled pollen yet poofed like cloud of baker's flour. The particles swirled in the air, and before Jaxen could react, it engulfed his head.

The effect was immediate and disorienting. The garden around him seemed to blur and shift, the colors and sounds intensifying. Jaxen hurried backward, but he stumbled, trying to steady himself as the world around him transformed.

He saw a child - a young boy with a mischievous glint in his eyes, playing hide and seek among the trees and bushes of the garden. The child's devious laughter rang clear. He darted behind plants, peeking out with a cheeky smile, as if inviting Jaxen to join the game.

The sight was surreal and deeply unsettling. The boy bore a striking resemblance to Jaxen, so much so that it was like watching videos of his own childhood. Memories, long buried and forgotten, surfaced in Jaxen's mind, mingling with must be the hallucination. He could almost remember playing the same game in this same place.

A wave of emotions washed over him—nostalgia, confusion, and a pang of sadness. And amid it all, a sense of doom sure to descend any moment grew so strong that he made an instant decision.

He sniffed and rubbed his nose with his sleeve as if capable of dislodging the vision and the invading plant that had stimulated it. The child looked him dead in the eye as if suddenly seeming him in return, then he stuck out his tongue and ducked behind a bush. When Jaxen followed, the child and all evidence of his presence was gone.

And he decided that he was ready to get the hell out of here and wishing to be home and never return was going to be the first of his conditions.
"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."
Jaxen +
Loki +
+ Jole +
Jaxen’s head was reeling from the hallucination in the garden while he made his way back to the chamber. It wasn’t easy. The same twisting, turning halls that looped back upon each other became his own personal labyrinth.

Jaxen eventually reached his limit. Halting abruptly, he threw his hands in exasperation.

“Alright! I’m ready! Come on let’s get this over with,” he declared. Time seemed to stretch on as he stood there, but nothing happened. After what felt like an eternity, a subtle change in the atmosphere signaled that he was no longer alone. A creeping sensation of being watched crawled up his spine. Hesitantly, he turned, only to recoil in shock.

There, mere inches from his face, loomed a pair of immense, obsidian-black eyes, their depth and size startlingly inhuman. Jaxen's heart leaped into his throat, a surge of adrenaline jolting him as he barely stifled a startled cry.

A long string of curses tumbled out while his heart resumed its normal beating.

He submitted to being escorted, and upon entering the chamber once more, the alien royals observed him with their inscrutable gazes as returned to the center.

"I'll agree to your terms," Jaxen announced, his voice carrying a firmness that belied his discomfort here. He couldn’t shake off the feeling of unease, and it pissed him off that he was so dependent on their whims.

The treaty was presented to him again, the strange, unreadable script shimmering on the surface that was neither tablet, paper nor parchment. Jaxen took the offered stylus, an instrument as strange as the document itself, and signed. The moment he did, he felt a subtle shift in the air, as if reality itself acknowledged the pact.

"Now, my wishes," Jaxen said, his mind clear on what he needed.

"First, I wish to return to my world, to my home, as soon as possible."

The rulers nodded, a faint glow emanating from their hands, signifying the preparation of his wish.

"Second, I want to know how the sword of Light of Nuada works, so I can use it effectively."

Again, the rulers nodded and visions began to flood Jaxen's mind.

First, he saw a mighty king with long, bright red hair, garbed in battle regalia scuffed by the marks of countless battles. The king stood tall and proud, masterfully wielding the shining sword.

The visions shifted, flowing through time like a river. He watched as the sword passed from one warrior to another, each descendant bearing it with honor and valor. The sword's light never dimmed, its power on display with each owner.

Then the perspective soared across an ocean, following the sword's journey to a new land. Here, it found its way into the hands of another king, a ruler of different lands and people, yet bound by the same legacy. This king bestowed it upon a young, blonde prince. The prince was the epitome of heroism, his features noble and fair, and his heart as brave as the warriors who came before him.

In a turn of fate, the prince, driven by love and the pursuit of a beautiful bride, entrusted the sword to his loyal servant.

The visions took a darker turn as the sword then came into the possession of a dark-haired witch. Her presence in Jaxen's visions was a stark contrast to those before her. She wielded the sword not with the nobility of the warriors and kings but with a covetous and dangerous grace. There was something about her that struck a chord of recognition in Jaxen. He didn't know her name, but her image evoked a sense of familiarity laced with an undercurrent of danger. 

The visions faded with a flash of green light, and Jaxen blinked as the surroundings came back into view. He’d seen the sword used by previous owners, and while none of the faces were known to him, he wondered if anyone was Nuada himself.

"Third," Jaxen continued once his voice was steady. The immediate bestowing of the wish still bounced in his head, and he was eager to get home to the sword and try it out. "I want the Atharim to stop chasing me and leave me alone.”

At this, the rulers exchanged sly glances. Then, with a gesture that seemed to weave the wish into reality, they sealed his final request, but nothing happened as far as Jaxen could tell.

"As you have wished, so it shall be," the rulers intoned together. "The treaty is bound, and so is our agreement."

"This portal will take you back to your world," the fox-like ruler explained as a curtain of light shimmered into existence like a doorway.

Jaxen stepped towards the portal, pausing for a moment to look back at the rulers, wondering what the hell this was all about, but at least he was going to wind up in his own condo. First thing he intended to do was take a hot shower. He shuddered and stepped through.
"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."
Jaxen +
Loki +
+ Jole +
Continued at Appointed Day & Time
"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."
Jaxen +
Loki +
+ Jole +

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