The problem with chasing down a Hate Beast was how adept they could be at hiding from even a determined hunter.
Jin had tracked this particular monster across seven worlds, arriving too late on each to prevent it taking root but early enough to prevent the destruction of the biosphere.
“Are we gaining on it?” Way asked as she pulled the next world into focus through the portal Jin was holding open.
“There weren’t any fatalities on this world, so yeah, I think so,” Jin said.
“The last one we tracked started going deeper the closer we got to it,” Way said as their next destination rezzed into view.
“This one’s probably doing the same thing,” Jin said. “If it’s on an underlayer of consciousness….”
“We’re going to have to be gentle with how we root it again,” Way finished. “Again. I sometimes feel like I picked the wrong focus when I went for Guardian training.”
Jin wrapped her arms around Way’s waist and hugged her tight
“Not that it’s all bad,” Way said as they stepped through the portal together.
The destination world was an Earth world. Not Earth-like though strangely. Among the different classifications that distinction had puzzled Jin deeply back when she was still training for her role as a Dream Lord. Working in the field though had given her plenty of practical examples to explain the distinction.
An Earth-world was the local reality’s version of Earth. In some folds of the cosmos, there was no Earth orbiting the star Sol, in others the world that was third from the sun was so radically different that it could never have been called Earth.
For innumerable other realities though that was a planet, third out from Sol, which was clearly Earth, as it existed in that collection of dimensions.
Earth-like worlds on the other hand could be found anywhere. All an Earth-like world needed was a physical structure and climate that matched the configuration of the average Earth in its local bubbles of reality.
The world that the Hate Beast had come to was an Earth, but it was empty and blasted clean.
“Strange place for a monster that relies on emotion to go, isn’t it?” Way asked as they stepped onto the red sand of their destination Earth.
Above them the sky loomed dark and empty. Not only was the Earth cold and lifeless, but all the stars in the sky were too.
“Yeah, it is,” Jin said. “It can’t survive here.”
“I don’t think we’re far behind it,” Way said, pointing to a series of tracks that the thin, blowing wind was slowly wiping away.
“It’s taken physical form?” Jin said. “That makes no sense at all. It has to be running low on power after it fled the last Earth. Manifesting a body is horribly expensive and it can’t refuel at all here.”
“Maybe it wants to fight us,” Way said. “We don’t do the whole ‘formless terror’ thing that much, so it might be trying to meet us on our own terrain so we’ll fight fair.”
“We’re not letting it destroy another world,” Jin said.
Way frowned and narrowed her eyes.
“Do you really think there’s a danger of that?” she asked.
“No, and I suppose it doesn’t know that so it could seem like a good plan,” Jin said.
“I think it ran out of good plans the moment we noticed it, but I can at least let it go down in an honorable fight.”
Miles later, in the dusty remains of what Jin’s meta-senses told her was a small house at the edge of a moderately sized city, they found the monster.
“I’m not going to run anymore,” it said when it caught sight of them.
It was sitting on the ground, tracing patterns in the dirt.
“Then why did you run this far?” Way asked.
“I’m going to die, aren’t I?” the creature said.
“Almost everything does,” Jin said.
“Then I’d like to die in my home,” it said. “Here. Back where all this started.”
“You used to live here?” Jin asked.
“I did,” the creature said. “I’m why everything is like this.”
“What did you do?” Way asked.
“I was trying to harness the power of the mind,” the creature said. “My people, humans, have limitless potential, but they waste so much of it. I invented a machine to harvest that potential but I could only connect to it through emotional states.”
“And hate was the strongest?” Jin asked.
“No. It’s incredibly weak,” the creature said. “Very fragile and limited.”
“Then why work with it?” Way asked.
“Production,” the creature said. “It’s weak, but it’s so easy to produce. Getting people to hate en mass was easy. Much too easy.”
“The energy went out of control didn’t it?” Jin said. “That’s what scoured this planet clean.”
“It is, I started to draw it in but there was so much of it, I couldn’t contain it all. My device exploded and pitched me out of the world I was born in.”
“Why did you attack the other Earths?” Jin asked.
“I didn’t meant to, which I know isn’t an excuse. I was confused and out of my depth and so angry. The hate I’d churned up was uncontrollable and it was all inside me.”
“So you lashed out?” Jin asked.
“I tried to take control,” the beast said. “Of myself, of the world I was in, everything.”
“It didn’t work,” Way said.
“I made mistakes. So many mistakes. I kept trying to run from them but each new Earth, each new restart, was wasted. I still the same old me. Still drowning in hate.”
“It sounds like you want to end that,” Way said. “And you want us to end you to spare you having to deal with the mistakes you made.”
“I’m a horrible creature, that’s as much kindness as I can ask for I think.”
“It is, unfortunately for you, I’m not that kind,” Jin said. “You’re going to live.”
“I don’t want to, not after the things you’ve done.”
“You feel remorse, that’s the first step to reclaiming your humanity,” Jin said. “I’m not going to let the Hate Beast that grew here take any more victims. Not even you.”
“What will become of me then? Do I stay here?”
“No, we’re going to walk you back to the Earth’s you’ve damaged. Were you sought control and dominion you’re going to offer service instead. You’re going to listen, and really hear what people say, even if it’s uncomfortable and even if hearing it demands that you change. We’ll leave a warden with you. Someone to watch over your recovery and prevent any backsliding. This is the judgment I lay upon you.”
“What if I find a new source of hate though? I could be lifted back up again so easily.”
“You’re not the only one we’re going to pass judgment on,” Way said. “The people who supported and fed you were not all innocent and even the ones who were will still need help processing the trauma of the feelings you inspired.”
“I should have stopped running a long time ago,” the beast said.
“Sometimes we can’t change until we reach the end of the road we’re on,” Jin said.
“That’s not important though. What matters is where you go from here.” Way said.