Tuzark looked up at the roof of his ship. He had finally been given his own ship, but he was still unsatisfied. He had just been promoted to a captain. He had thought that would be enough, but, it wasn’t. He still wasn’t happy.

“I just need more power,” he concluded.

His own empire was ambiguous. They were not pure evil, as were the Mardor, or pure good, as would be the Aeoneonatrix. Tuzark, however, had every intention of changing that. His hope was to become the ruler of the empire, and his ideas would change it significantly. He would make conquerors out of his subjects, and slaves out of their conquests. This was his goal in life, and he had plenty of life-time left to accomplish it.

But as it was now, there was no fast track to success on the horizon. It would be a long and difficult climb indeed. Or would it? No, in fact, he would find himself at the top very quickly. For one day, as he stared at the roof of his ship, he heard a voice.

“Hello, Tuzark.”

He assumed he was hearing things.

“Hello, Tuzark,” the voice repeated, “come outside, I must speak with you.”

“Ummm, hello, voice in my head,” Tuzark said, “I can’t go outside. It’s space outside. I can’t live in space.”

“Very well,” the voice said, “Shall I take you to my world then?”

“You own a world?” Tuzark asked.

“Not really, it’s an illusion I give you, I project what I want you to experience into your brain, I effect only the senses, and your movements, your thoughts and will are still your own.”

“Why should I come?” Tuzark asked.

“Because I can give you power, true power, beyond your wildest aspirations.”

“Really? I’ll take it then, so long as I get to come back.”

“You will be back,” the voice said.

“Sign me up then,” Tuzark said.

Tuzark was instantly gripped by the illusion that he was standing on a beach. He could smell the salty air, feel the sand beneath his feet, and hear the ocean waves, and the fluttering and chirping of seabirds. Floating above the water, in front of him, stood, the ghastliest figure he could conceive of. It was a mix of dark red and black, massive teeth, horrible claws, all of the things any race subject to predation feared.

“Hello,” the being said, “I am the Patron of suffering. I come bearing an offer. I shall raise you to leadership of your species, and you will make every change you desire once there.”

“I want it.”

“Hold on, now” the being said, “In exchange, I want your soul. At any time, I may claim it, do with it as I wish, even without your knowledge, and you may have no objection.”

“But I’ll have power?”

“Yes,” said the being, “You shall have all the power you desire, and more.”

“Deal,” Tuzark said, “At last I shall have happiness.”

Tuzark was suddenly back on his ship. He saw that he was still a captain.

“Did that thing lie to me?” he thought. “No, he wouldn’t break his end of the deal, he’d gain nothing then.”

Over the next several years, Tuzark slowly became more powerful. He was promoted again and again. He went from captain to admiral in an absurdly short time, and was then elected president.

As president, he enacted every reform he had planned. His species became the most feared conquerors in the Galaxy, and his legion of slaves waited on him at his every beck and call.

One day, as he looked from his royal bed, up to his ceiling. He heard the same voice he had heard years ago.

“Hello, are you enjoying this?”

“Yes,” Tuzark said, “I am.”

“Good,” The voice said, “now, do you remember our deal?”

Tuzark gulped, remembering what had happened. “Yes, I… I do, I promised you my soul, and… and…” he was shuddering.

“I will now take it, and torment it.”

“I… I uh…”

“You shouldn't sell your soul if you’re unwilling to face the consequences, now, prepare for your torment.”

The next thing he knew, Tuzark was kneeling in front of his own palace. He stood up and looked at his hands, completely different to what they should have been. He seemed to be a completely different species from before. He felt the lash of a whip across his back.

“Resume kneeling slave!” a member of his own species shouted. In fact, he recognized the voice. It was his own slave manager. He quickly resumed his kneel. He heard trumpet blasts as and looked up, he felt another whip, and bowed his head again. He couldn’t see it but he knew what was happening. His master, The Great High Emperor of the Breathing, Tuzark, was emerging. This was a special time of year. He was among 100 slaves, taken from his own empire’s best, all of which would now become part of Tuzark’s personal collection.

The Emperor began his welcoming speech.

“Hello, my slaves,” he said, “You, have been gathered here today, because you are the best in your trades. Of all of my conquests, you have stood out, as the greatest slaves in my empire. Your reward is that you shall receive the honor of serving me, your ruler. Step inside these palace doors, and you will be led to your stations.”

As he was led away Tuzark remembered writing the speech that had just been given to him. He remembered chuckling at what he could get away with calling an “honor.” He remembered the glee he had felt, each year, as his new slaves came in, to join his army of personal servants. He now knew what it was like to be the source of that glee.

He was led to his station. He spent the next several years experiencing what he had spent the last several years causing. He was the most unhappy he had ever been. As he lived out his life, as a loyal servant to his own image, he began to think the most horrible of thoughts. Was he insane? Was he merely imagining a past life a Tuzark? Had he been a slave his whole life? At first, this was a horrifying question, for fear the answer was yes. But as time went on, he discovered just who his master truly was, and his greatest fear, was now that the answer was no, as it probably was.

As he interacted with his fellow slaves, he saw the persons in them. He became friends with several of them, not daring to tell them who he truly was. He began to see his own cruelty. How could he? How could he do this to so many innocents? He wished with all of his heart, that he had never become this “Emperor.” Not because he suffered, for his own pain was just, but because, he wanted to stop the suffering of these others.

Very soon after this repentant thought, he found himself back on the beach. What stood before him was an absolutely beautiful being. A brilliant Gold, with blues and greens added on, yet he somehow knew that this was the same being he has encountered before.

“You have learned?” it asked.

“I… I have. I wish I had never made that deal with you!”

“Good,” it said. “That was my purpose. You are now free to leave my world at any time you please.”

“You… You’re letting me go?”

“Yes,” it said, “Allow me to explain. I am the Cleanser. I bare the title of the patron of suffering. You were broken, and I have fixed you. Now that you know the horrors of what you once desired, you will most surely not enact it. You will obtain everything I promised you, for now you are worthy of it. At any time, you may call my name, and I will answer, but now, you have been away from your world, for far too long.”

Before he could reply, Tuzark was back on his first ship, as a captain, looking up at the roof. It had all just been a hallucination. Everything was inside the Cleanser’s world the entire time. His goals had now changed. He still intended to become the ruler of his species. But rather than an empire of conquerors, he planned to form it into what he hoped would be the greatest force for good that the Galaxy had ever known.

Over the next several years, Tuzark slowly became more powerful. He was promoted again and again. He went from captain to admiral in an absurdly short time, and was then elected president.

As president, he enacted every reform he had planned after his encounter with the Cleanser. His species became the most beloved protectors in the Galaxy, so much that his species even began to be called, and call themselves, “The Protectors.”

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The Creature he saw the second time.

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