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  1. He was free. All he had to do was take the next step. A voice in the back of his mind gnawed at his reasoning, sowing discomfort and doubt into his mind. Was this the right thing to do? He had already made up his mind. But was it the right choice? He squashed that voice, squashed it hard. He had no mercy towards the voices in his head, not after Ioc. This voice would never rise again. It helped to personalize the voices in one’s head. Turn the voices into people, then kill them, obliterate them, smash them into the ground, mix their blood with the dust. It always worked. Another voice began its attack on his decision. Would this next step bring him happiness? He destroyed this voice as well. He didn’t have a name. Not many others needed to refer to him as… anything, really. Several have asked what to call him, but the first time it happened… “What are you?” the frightened boy of five or six years asked, crying silently except for the words. “I am… a Friend,” He had responded. Since that day, he had gone by many things. That same boy had given him a joking nickname. He sometimes identified himself with the initials of that nickname. However, usually, he just went by Friend. It seemed to fit. Friend had no body. He was free. It had taken a long time to free himself from the bonds he had tied, but finally, Friend was free. So, because he had no body, to say he looked into the distance would be a lie. Instead, he simply thought, his thoughts having nothing to do with his surroundings. At present. He was floating above the Alleycity, a beige cloud stretching almost a mile long. It was a thin beige, however, so it was unlikely that anyone below would see and make anything of it. Friend rumbled internally. The next step would leave no return available. But, right now, there was always a return possible. Was it right? Yes. No. Another option? Maybe. Humans used past experience to guide their future decisions. Friend had no such luxury. His memory began nearly fifteen years ago. Beyond that, he had only impressions, but he sensed he had been around far, far longer than 15 years. What was he? That was a question that frequently plagued him. He had several theories. Was he an Entity? Maybe. That would explain how he had never felt comfortable in his own body, and how he was able to share minds. Was he a spren? That would explain his pure Investiture-related abilities, and how he could bond with humans. Was he a Shard? Very unlikely. Was he a Splinter? Also unlikely. Was he a child of the Nightwatcher? No, since she often acted as though he was older. Was he a child of a Shard, then? A human who wished for more and appealed to a higher power? That would explain his internal masculine identity, even if he had no body. Whatever he was, his first memory was one of fleeing. Dodging around a danger, a terrible force that threatened to pull Friend apart at every opportunity. Friend almost died, that first memory. Until in this chase around the planes of existence. Friend, worn out and unable to continue, stopped at a very special world. Very special. The Earth protected by mimes. Friend escaped to that planet, barely sifting passed the protective shell of silent, all-powerful clowns that protected this Earth. He was dying, then. He was about to die. On his arrival in Earth’s atmosphere, he slowed down time. Burning part of his own investiture to think faster than any other being. And friend reached out mentally to the beings on that Earth. And found the most vulnerable creature able to handle Friend’s power. For that instant, there was one newborn that would remain the newest person on Earth for only milliseconds. But it was enough. Without really knowing how, Friend had lodged himself into that baby’s brain, saving himself. At first, in the child’s beginning years, Friend had stuffed his entire existence into that baby’s mind, causing some unwanted side effects. Later, Friend discovered that he could leave a small part of his being to share the brain. The rest of him, he could travel the planes of existence again. And, the best part was, at any time Friend could shift his attention to the child, to look through the child’s eyes. Or, he could shift back to his main being, and look through his own eyes. The beige mist that was Friend could teleport instantaneously back to the child. The child could not teleport to him, however. It was fruitless to try any more than once. It was this one attempt, when the child was five or six, that Friend received his name. He pumped the child’s brain full of investiture, preparing to teleport, and the child had detected him. “Who are you?” a frightened boy of five or six years asked, crying silently except for the words. “I am… a Friend,” Later, the boy would give his mind neighbor a joking nickname. But that came later. It was around this time that Friend discovered the Alleyverse. It was amazing! An entire planet dedicated to the traveling between other planets! Friend had never seen anything so marvelous. Was it even a planet? Perhaps, perhaps not. It was difficult to see the entire thing. Friend wanted to know more. That’s when he ‘bonded’ his second person. A man named Nei’an. Nei’an was a special man. Impervious to pain, he was creative and more determined than any man had the right to be, Nei’an seemed the best person to explore the Alleyverse for Friend. So, Friend discovered how to send another bit of his being into Nei’an’s brain. And Nei’an had been a disappointment. He hadn’t realized the power he had been given. Instead of using Friend’s investiture to explore the Alleyverse, Nei’an ignored it and pranced around causing trouble. Friend was almost glad Nei’an died. However, Friend had gotten a taste of adventure, however unexpected that taste may have been. The child back on that certain Earth wasn’t nearly so interesting. Friend would have pulled out of that child’s brain if he knew how. Instead, he ignored the child, and sent another bit of power to another host in the Alleyverse. Naermen. She had been smarter with the power. He had been able to give more investiture to her, through the Nightwatcher. She recognized her power and used it. She used it too well. One week, she decided to ignore all the exciting things happening around her and meditate. Friend grew frustrated and bored and tried to make her join the action. This was during the seven Day War. That was when Naermen seized control of Friend and bonded him more fully. She became a beacon of power, able to switch from a beige cloud to her person at any time. She would have been able to access all of Freind’s investiture, instead of following her Nightwatcher’s curse, if she had searched for that. Instead, she died. And Friend was given a wonderful chance. The chance to own a body of his own. Naermen had gotten such a hold on Friend’s power that, when she left to the Cognitive, then Spiritual Realm, she left Friend with control of her body. It was a simple matter to heal up and awaken as Ioc. Friend lost the ability to shift his attention towards the child back at that certain Earth, but he didn’t care. He had his own body! Friend thought he was free. He killed. Oh, how he killed. He grew confident. He did as he wished, and when others got in the way of his goals, he killed them. Ioc was a failure. And it was to no fault of a second consciousness. No human shared this brain that Friend could put the blame on. Friend was a monster. He was glad when he was killed and imprisoned, his mind and power separated. Entrapped in metal. Metal is nowhere near as strong a prison as a human mind. Friend’s mind fled, back to the stagnant beige cloud he had left hovering above the Alleyverse before bonding Naermen. He retook control and looked to the child to see what had changed. The child was now a teenager. And Friend found he liked looking through the teen’s ryes more than he had liked looking through Naermen’s or Ioc’s. Part of him wanted to return to the boy, to take a break from it all. But a voice inside convinced Friend to try one more time at the Alleyverse. Vesuvius. Fred. Xena. Vesuvius. A villain from the start. Instead of using Friend's power, Vesuvius used Friend's mind, learning how to construct explosives. Vesuvius killed, maybe killing more than Ioc ever had. Fred. The armless pewterarm. Friend was glad about his choice here. Fred had a good soul, but… a tendency to get into trouble. Chewing through the ropes that bound those children to that bomb? Friend could never have been prouder. Xena. She… was often ignored. She was smart, witty, and had a mind to match Friend’s, but she never did anything exciting. Friend was growing bored, so he left her to her own devices more often than naught. After Ioc had died, Friend had despised violence. But right after he rebonded, he found himself bathing in it. And he enjoyed it. Vesuvius was fun to look through. Fred was hilarious. The way they both fought, Vesuvius with solemn precision, Fred with… that giraffe technique, Friend enjoyed it all. Until one day, he looked through Xena’s eyes. And he saw carnage. He felt her feelings. She hated it. And Friend remembered. He looked through the teenager’s eyes, back on the special Earth. He wasn’t innocent, completely, but he was infinitely better than a murderer. Friend knew he had to escape. But he had never been able to escape a mind. Unless the person died. Friend hated it, but he hatched a plan. He bonded others. A Grey Man here, a squad of henchmen there, a Lightweaver or so to finish it off. Vesuvius. Friend guided Vesuvius to find Frob. Frob lead those other people to Vesuvius. Vesuvius was beaten and blew himself up. Perfect. Fred. Friend was sad he had to kill Fred, but it was the only way. Fred had been kidnapped. It was a simple matter to lead the Lightweaver to Vesuvius’ hideout to spike him. It was the spike that was important. It was the fact that Fred died as a side effect. Friend had hated watching it, but it had to happen. Xena… when she was up in the mountains, he had sent the Grey Man to kill her. But, once again… He retook control of the Grey Man when she was least expecting it and used the assassin to kill her. Then, he had to clean up the loose ends. Frob and his gang were all dead from the battle, a convenient end. Friend could control the Grey Man directly, so he sent it to kill the Lightweaver. Then, he had the Grey Man fall on his own knife. And Friend was free. Free to leave the Alleyverse. His mind was made up. He had made friends with the people, though. He would miss them, those people he sometimes watched. One of them always had the longest thread hanging off their clothing. Friend would miss that. He had seen several personal messages sent out. He would miss those. He would miss all the guilds, all the subterfuge, all the planning. He would miss the bakeries, the creativity, and the leaders. He would miss it all. But if he stayed… Friend feared his life would not turn out how it was supposed to. He would go and watched his first human grow up. Friend would guide the youth through the events of a troubled world. “Thank you,” Friend thought, shifting his gaze downwards to the Alleyverse. “Thank you for being so wonderful, for letting me stay. Thank you for accepting me, and I’m sorry for when I took advantage of that. Thank you for everything.” Friend now shifted his attention upwards towards the stars. It was time. He would treasure the memories he had gotten here, but it was time to move on. A part of him would always be there, hanging over the Alleyverse. Friend, nicknamed Gancho Libre by the teenager, teleported away and landed in the head of the first bonded human, content with his decision. Farewell.