-up! Wake up!
The Eagle's voice pierced through the darkness like a knife, awakening the Old Man from…what?
Where am I? What's going on? the Old Man thought in complete confusion. He felt…odd. There was no pain, no aches. Nothing. He didn't feel his body at all. It was as though his body was asleep, even while his mind was awake. Except even the Old Man's mind felt odd. Usually he could feel his brain throbbing, his heart beating, his lungs pumping air in and out. But there was nothing now. What's going on? he thought again.
You're dead, the Eagle informed him. The fire killed you.
The Old Man knew he should be afraid, but he never realized how physical fear was. The jackhammering heart, the heating of the blood, the tightening of the skull, the queasiness of the stomach. But without physical sensation, any fear that might have been there was so ethereal that it may as well not exist at all. Where am I?
Nonexistence, came the Eagle's reply. This is Nothing.
Shit! The atheists were right! What the hell am I supposed to do now?!
It's an illusion, the Eagle told the Old Man. A trick by the Shadow Spirit to break your will, make you beg for his mercy. But you can fight it.
Focus. Reject Nothing. Reject nonexistence. What do you want?
I...I want to go to a new universe, the Old Man thought uncertainly. I want to begin my war against the Shadow Spirit. I want purpose! The Old Man's confidence slowly grew. I want a new life!
Then focus on that, the Eagle urged. Focus on your purpose. On your dreams.
"No!" The Shadow's booming voice was everywhere, saturating the Old Man's very essence. "You are mine! And you will never escape from me, never be free!"
The Old Man felt his spirit start to break, but the Eagle was there, reassuring. Ignore him. There is nothing he can do to you here. You have no body to torment, no life to be taken away from you. Here the Shadow Spirit is as powerless as you are. And that is why he will ultimately allow you to be reborn…so he can torment you anew.
No! The Old Man thought desperately to the Eagle. I won't go through another life like the last one! I'd rather cease to exist!
Relax, the Eagle reassured the Old Man. That life has given you strength, given you a gift you haven't even begun to tap. You can convert all of that suffering into power that will change the next world you go to in ways you can not even imagine.
But the Shadow Spirit—!
Can not stop you. He tried his hardest to break you in your previous life, and failed. Now he knows you can not be broken with suffering.
So I'll actually beat him!
"Never!" the Shadow Spirit hissed. "I swear I will break you! No matter what universe you travel to, no matter what life you try to have, I will always be there to destroy it. Your soul will be mine!"
No, the Old Man thought, his course set. The Eagle's right. I survived over seventy years in that hellish life, and I still exist. I survived countless losses, tragedies beyond count. And I kept on going, never abandoning my dreams. I've survived death itself, and I still exist!
Are you ready? the Eagle asked.
Yes, the Old Man replied with every ounce of confidence.
Then concentrate. Imagine yourself being reborn, imagine a new body for yourself. Picture the universe you want to go to, the life you want to have. Concentrate on it.
The Old Man pictured his first memory from his previous life. He imagined reliving that memory, only this time having the knowledge and memories he needed to make his second life a better one than the first. The Old Man felt sensation again, like an electric current was flowing through him. He finally saw something; particles of light coalescing around him.
"No!" The Shadow Spirit screamed. "You will not escape from me!"
But the particles kept coalescing; the Old Man realized it was his body reforming. He began to feel his heart beat, his brain neurons firing. Screams escaped his throat as the agony of his muscles and bones rebuilding themselves overwhelmed his reconstructed nervous system. The darkness began to fade, and light teased his new eyes. Crackles of energy exploded around him, and he felt himself falling...