Land of Chaos is a serial novel that we'll pick back up after these recaps! You can read previous Metacosm Chronicles stories in past issues of Tumbleweird.

Fleet Captain Gorian had been unmade and reborn in a body created by an Ascended, gifted the new identity of ‘Golden Paladin,’ devotee of — and empowered directly by — the Creator. After a journey through the Creator’s space of Godholme, the Golden Paladin was unceremoniously dumped onto Arthur’s Kingdom, a planet with a serious mage problem.

Thus the Golden Paladin found himself in the middle of a battle that would have been laughably one-sided to someone any less professional. An armored figure was using an impressive mirrored shield to reflect three flying mages’ spells back at them, which eventually ended with the mages’ deaths.

The armored figure introduced himself as Baleraphon and swiftly asked for his sword back: “The one Andural gave you.”

The Golden Paladin, still somewhat in a state of shock, handed over the sword in question, on which Baleraphon then wrote a ‘B’ in permanent black marker. Baleraphon led the Golden Paladin to a nearby copse of trees where two horses waited. Baleraphon mounted one and the Golden Paladin the other, and they were off into a forest that seemed endless.

Near nighttime, they stopped at the roughshod camp of a small mixed group of hominins and xenomorphs to see a woman whom Baleraphon called Nono (she turned out to be an ancient hominin). The Golden Paladin’s everpresent confusion hadn’t been  assuaged whatsoever by the time the two of them — Nono and Baleraphon — hustled him to the fire to ‘rest,’ despite his protests that he felt fine.

And yet, the soothing flickering of the fire awoke an exhaustion in him that he hadn’t even been aware of, and he slipped into unconsciousness…

…Or, more accurately, someone else’s consciousness.

The Golden Paladin found himself in someone else’s mind, unable to control the body he was inhabiting but unable to pull back — trapped as silent witness.

A desert, a ramshackle town made entirely of scrap metal: Junction, on the planet Crossroads. A bone golem approached, whose name he somehow knew was ‘the Custodian.’

The man whose mind the Golden Paladin inhabited and this Custodian were two of a very small group trying to protect this town from an approaching army of raiders, slavers, and worse.

The man had figured out how to tap into his soul and use its power as a weapon. With that and the gun in his hand, he defended The Spot, the place where all the noncombatants were huddled, against the cannibals and mutants that poured in. The army in the distance grew closer, and the man knew his time was coming.

The Golden Paladin’s connection wavered, but not before he heard the thought clearly:

I don’t wanna die. Please, save me.

With that thought came the dying moments and dying thoughts of a thousand different minds, a rush that the Golden Paladin had no choice but to endure.

Suddenly, he was inside another head. This woman was taking an innocent child, wrongly accused, to the highest law in the land on the planet Aureus-4 with evidence of her innocence. They rode in an autonomous vehicle, which started to take on fire.

She looked down at her stomach, which had a smoking hole in it, and thought: Creator, why are you letting me die like this? I could have had a family! You put me on this path, and this is how you wanted it to end up? How dare you …

Another image rush.

And then … a familiar ship’s control room, filled with choking smoke and the ominous orange glow of fire.

The Golden Paladin tried to speak to Gorian, to tell him that he was already dead.

And Gorian said: I know. But I don’t care. If I die, so be it. I did my job. I saved who I could. But damn it, I’m going to try to survive.

In that moment, the Golden Paladin understood. These lives were all his.

A soul trapped in the cycle of rebirth on the physical plane would tie itself to a body, and that tie would be severed upon the death of that body. But the information gained from that lived experience wasn’t lost; it was encoded into the soul, and brought forward into the next lives.

This information was usually locked away within the soul, never to be read by a living being. But the Creator had unlocked the Golden Paladin’s soul, and he was, in rapid succession, reliving every person his soul had ever been.

And it wasn’t until he was Gorian that the Golden Paladin realized the error he’d been making over and over again … and corrected it.

The Golden Paladin awoke and, before he and Baleraphon set off again, Nono gave him some ‘sowing seeds’ and told him to “toss them into mother earth’s wound.”

As they got underway once more toward Arthur’s Kingdom, Baleraphon explained that the place they were traveling through was fae-wood and the fae didn’t like mages for the scars they left in the Weave. The path they traveled was a necessary one to keep them out of the sights of the mages — but it left them vulnerable to fae interference (a caution that, some hours later, proved to be well-founded).

Baleraphon stopped them and the forest changed around them. The Fae Queen, struggling to communicate with non-quantum beings, introduced herself. She called the Golden Paladin ‘the prototype’ and asked that he assist her with a group of mages who were harrying her.

The Golden Paladin agreed, and she disappeared. As they moved to their new destination, Baleraphon explained a bit about the fae:

“Fae don’t value our lives. To them, we’re little more than talking insects — in the most neutral way possible. We’re part of the ecosystem and they recognize that, to the same point we’d recognize worms as being important to soil. But we would doubt that a worm has any thoughts worth listening to, and the same is true of the fae and us.”

Upon reaching the site of the mage’s assault, the two warriors found a blasted landscape with active fires raging. As Baleraphon attempted to quell the blazes, a group of evil mages attacked. But before combat could truly break out, another group of mages descended from above. These introduced themselves as the Crystal Magi, Celestial’s faithful. Their leader admonished Baleraphon (in a way that truly and wholly confused the Golden Paladin) as to why the Golden Paladin was at that site and not still on his way to Arthur’s Kingdom.

Turning a potential disaster to an advantage, the Crystal Magi chose to escort the Golden Paladin via flight to his ultimate destination, cutting off a week’s worth of travel through the forest.

In short order, Arthur’s Kingdom stretched out before them.

N.A. Soleil is a portmanteau pseudonym of the two authors' names.