From the tallest, snow-capped peak of a mountain to the deepest crevasse within the Earth, it didn't matter where The Dragon brought him, the colors were so vibrant. Even the darkness, where it pulsed as though it were a living, breathing mass. Perhaps it was, the old man would tease. And the more Anthony thought about it, the more he believed it was alive in some sense.
Like anything and everything else. Connected through some cosmic force.
He laughed at how much he sounded like a friend. Not out loud, but there was still an echo as though he had bellowed out in a cave, even though he was outdoors, standing at the edge of a stone-rimmed Koi pond. It felt imagined. Dreamlike. But the thought of his friend also caused him pain, light but persistent. A feeling of dread lingered far off in the distance of his mind. He furrowed his brow, concentrating on the sensation, trying to pull it to the forefront.
"I do not think you are ready, Tony."
The voice of The Dragon, soft and thick in accent, was enough to successfully interrupt him. Perhaps because he wasn't really wanting to confront the emotion, as curious as he was. Or maybe he knew what was attached to it and his new spiritual master was right. He wasn't yet ready to face it. Even if true, the notion frustrated him.
"How long have I been here?" He knew he had asked the question what seemed like countless times.
"Not long enough."
Tony turned away from the fish darting around one another in the clear blue water. The Dragon stood only a few paces away on the trail leading out of the clearing that housed the pond, and connected back to the main temple grounds. Back to where he was required to train in meditation and mindfulness. He knew he wasn't being forced, they were exercises he was familiar with and wished to sharpen, but he also had the impression he couldn't exactly leave. And leave to where from here, exactly? Wherever here is.
"Are you no longer grateful for this gift you've been given?" The bald man gestured towards his feet.
"Of course I'm still grateful!" Tony was shocked the man would imply such a ridiculous thing. He was sure his expression gave that much away. If it wasn't computing — there existed some barriers of understanding — he would make sure to hammer it home. "I just want to know how long I've been here." His inner-calmness was subsiding.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Tony cut him off. "Time works differently here. I get it." He could feel his irritation beginning to shift. "But that doesn't change my question. And where the hell is here anyway?" The same questions asked over and over and never being answered.
"Time works differently here."
Okay, now you're just fucking with me on purpose. He didn't bother filtering his thoughts, knowing The Dragon could hear them. The more he became concerned about his mother, the more agitated he became. And his friend, Samson. A stabbing pain seized him and he squeezed his eyes shut. It didn't make any sense. All the exuberant beauty and wonderment surrounding him, the miracles, but yet the anger still simmered beneath it all. No matter how much meditation he practiced.
The mixture of emotions dissipated, being replaced by a bewilderment at the unfamiliar voice. It sounded ghostly. Perhaps robotic. Like speaking into a fan. Tony opened his eyes to see The Dragon still on the path, staring at him. His shimmering robes hovering just about the ground, bare feet peeking out.
"What did you say?" His companion shook his head and raised an arm, pointing behind him.
Tony looked back to the pond. Across the water stood a man, naked as the day he was born. Maybe more so, considering he was bald and hairless as well. To say he was white would have been an understatement. He not only looked powdery-white, but there was a very obvious hazy glow encompassing him. The man's eyes were a cold, steel blue, his lips matching their shade. Whoever the stranger was, it was apparent that he was in excellent shape.
"Who is this?" Tony asked over his shoulder, but the teacher was gone. He slowly returned his gaze to the chalk-white being. "Who are you?"
"You." The voice was deadpan and monotone, he couldn't register any voice inflection whatsoever.
"Well, I mean, you do bare a resemblance," Tony teased, "especially in the lower regions, if you know what I mean." He made a swinging gesture with his finger. Is this another test, Dragon? Another lesson. "But you are stacked like a ton of bricks, where as you can tell..." He spread his arms open revealing his figure, which he noticed was still draped in the clothing he woke up in. When do I get a comfy robe? Dragon? No response. The man across the pond was also silent. "What exactly is it you want?"
"I only want what you want."
"Is that a fact? And what exactly is it that I want?" While the man's face remained expressionless, eye devoid of life, Tony could sense an energy from the being. It was possible that explained the aura emitting from him, but he knew there was more it. Could feel it in his bones. A raw power.
"Freedom." Freedom from what? Tony thought to himself. "From this place. From your pain and suffering. From your guilt. From your hate." The stranger continued, "But you know the truth."
Anthony was growing tired of the man's games, they were worse than The Dragon's. "What truth is that?"
"That you will destroy everything you love." The haunting voice carried across the pond and reached him, sounding as though he was being directly whispered to, the being's mouth inches from his ear.
Tony began to sense that twinge of despair again. Tugging as him, beckoning for his attention. For the first time during the encounter, the entity nodded his head. "I don't have any idea about what you're talking about." He shook his head. "You don't have any idea about..."
"You've merely forgotten," the man interjected. In the blink of an eye, the supernatural-like being was in front of him. "Let me help you remember."
Before Tony could react, the man reached out with a glowing hand, clasping it around the crown of his head. His body was instantly throttled with an unknown energy, bordering on pain, as he was bombarded with images. Images depicting various points in his life, culminating to a moment where he was fighting for his life, and his mother's. A moment where he was unable to control himself, doing whatever was needed to survive.
He saw himself screaming to the Heavens, consumed by rage, before being drowned in whiteness.
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