Brian turned. Now the scene became one of a wide river, flanked on both sides by massive factories. Rusted drainpipes of immense size poured forth an acidic sludge into the river, which teemed with dead, floating, rotting fish. The smokestacks of the factories regurgitated clouds of black smoke that filled the sky, obscuring the sun. Or the moon. Brian couldn’t tell whether it was day or night. A shower of dead birds fell from the sky to sink into the poisoned river.
“Still another of the ways in which My children offer themselves to Me,” the Darkness said. “See what they do to your world? You cannot deny this is the reality, not an illusion.”
“I’m tired of this!” Brain said. “If you have a point, make it!”
“Look at Me.” The Darkness’ voice thundered. Brian complied, finding the likeness of Dave had vanished, replaced by a humanoid shadow, so black it seemed to radiate the dark. It grew, swelled, towering over him like a tsunami of impenetrable—what?—
Darkness. Brian understood why no other metaphor fit the entity quite so well. A human being could look upon it and see nothing else.
“Tell Me, little thing, if you are a rational being, if you would speak the truth, how is it that you could desire such a world to continue?”
Brian did not speak.
“Would you prolong such a wretched state?” the Darkness asked. “Who are you to extend the suffering of your race?”
“You’re trying to trick me,” Brian said.
“I have no need of trickery,” the Darkness said. “I am prepared to make with you a special covenant, little thing. An offer I have never before extended to one of your kind.”
The shadow shrank, becoming Dave once more. Its tone became conciliatory. “I would allow you to survive,” the Darkness said. “As I created this realm in which you now stand, I will create for you a new world. I will make you its king, its unquestioned ruler. You could prevent any and all things unpleasant there. I would give to you that power. And you can have anything you desire, anything at all. To Me, this realm would be so tiny as to be beneath My notice, yet to you it would be as large as your desire. A paradise of your own making, little thing.”
“In exchange for my soul,” Brian said.
“Keep your wretched soul,” the Darkness said. “All you need do is to do nothing. Allow your flesh to continue its slumber in the clay. When this world dies, I will allow you to live on. I count it as a small price to pay in exchange for your cooperation. I will even allow a few of your friends to survive. They can share your world with you.”
The Darkness placed a hand on Brian’s shoulder. “I will trade you one world for another, Brian Alderman. The corrupt world you have known for a new and perfect one. You know that you could never hope to defeat Me. Why throw away your existence in a futile cause, when I offer you a deed of ownership to Heaven itself?”
Brian smiled. “Thank you,” he said.
“You accept?” the Darkness asked.
“All my life,” Brian said, “all I’ve ever known is doubt. It took you to change that. For the first time, I know what I have to do. I know who I am.”
“What do you say to My offer?” the Darkness demanded.
“You want to trade me an illusion in exchange for billions of lives,” Brian said. “Though I doubt you’d keep even that promise. But you said it wouldn’t cost me my soul. That’s a lie.” Brian straightened. “I guess I’m not as selfish as I always thought. You’ve shown me that.”
“Be warned, little thing.”
“Here’s how I see it,” Brian said. “The reason you’re trying to bargain with me, instead of just killing me, is because you do see me as a threat. I never believed I could be, until now. You’re trying to buy me off because I’m a threat to you.”
“You arrogant little fool!” the Darkness roared with such intensity that Dave’s face split, dark light streaming out from the wounds.
“No, I’m not arrogant. I believe it because you just made me believe it. Because I know that something like you exists, then I have to accept that something exists that keeps you in check. Otherwise, we’d all be dead now. The Universe would be dead, because that’s what you want. You’ve shown me that true evil does exist. You’ve made me a believer. But if I believe in the Darkness, then I have to believe in the ‘Light’ too. And if, as crazy as it seems, that Light has chosen me to stop you, then so be it.”
“You dare?!” “Yeah, I dare,” Brian said. “Because I’m a believer now, I dare. I won’t let you have my world.”