David Bernard sits cross-legged on the cracked stone floor in the not-dream of the old dojo.
The old dojo still sits in the endless grassy plain. The sky is still a canopy of clear, deep blue. The alien power that dwells within him still murmurs occasionally, slithering through his mind, but it hasn’t actually done anything since it tried to break him earlier. He doesn’t remember how long he’s been there, methodically sifting through Artigenian’s memories, suppressing his revulsion as he examines each in turn, a menagerie of remembered horrors. The lore that Artigenian remembered teaching a younger Artemis LaFleur was nightmarish in itself, but the lore that Artigenian had decided not to teach him—the lore he’d decided his pupil wasn’t ready to accept—that was far, far worse.
He closes his eyes, forcing himself to learn, forcing back the bile that rises in the back of his throat as the knowledge stains him. He sees exactly how Artigenian had been trying to reshape LaFleur’s perceptions, nudge him down a path of nihilism and self-destruction—where he had succeeded, where he had failed, and how, when the opportunity had presented itself, he had set the would-be monarch on a path that would end in the world’s annihilation…
…and how he had, ultimately, failed… which was fortunate for everyone in the world, except the doomed citizens of Esperanza.