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Trying To Save The World (But Never Really Sure)

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Bertram Graves changed reality intentionally at twenty-four, by slipping into his own skin.

It wasn't like the little white lies he wrote down that became real, like the dog that actually ate his homework in fourth grade, or the forged notes from his parents to excuse himself in high school that somehow worked perfectly. Not like the same forged signatures on doctor’s forms at seventeen that got him what he needed to feel like himself, or enabled him to open his own bank account at fifteen to deposit the winnings from the first short story contest he ever won.

No, this was him forcing reality to bend to his will. Executing the very plans he’d daydreamed of, writing all the details in code in the margins of school note books and private journals, scrap paper he burned in hopes of setting fire to what lay festering in his chest.

He overwrote things so he had always been Bertram Graves the writer, and never anyone else. He had always been a young man with a life rough around the edges at first glance, with barbed grins and a sharp tongue. Any old photos of him quietly shifted so they aligned better with his current appearance, his hair shorter and clothes darker in hue. Any traces of his old name were replaced silently with the sprawling 'Bertram Graves' he had first used signing a contract with his publisher at twenty, so the person he used to be faded away never to be remembered. All the ink on necessary documents had dried twenty-four years ago when he had been born, and he was himself through and through.

So perhaps it was cheating, in a sense. Taking advantage of his gift to rearrange things, so all he had to concern himself with was the physical side of the matter.

But Bertram Graves wasn't made of money, with only two books under his belt and an inherited cabin to call his home. Even the watch around his wrist with a brass face and leather band had been a gift, another layer to his inheritance besides VHS tapes that had made growing up bearable, a typewriter heavy with memories of his uncle showing him how to switch out the ink ribbon, fix the jammed keys. There was only so much his power could do before it was it was stretched too far, and that was his limit.

(He could change names, memories, even papers as much as he wanted, but flesh...

All he could do was have it mend. It had him out of the hospital in record time, but the aches and bruising still lingered afterwards as he hobbled around, tried not scream when he reached up for something in one of the kitchen cabinets a few days later and pain ripped through his chest because he was an ass sometimes who made bad decisions.)

*

He never meant to let it go to his head.

Never meant to become the Author, a cocky man who believed the world his oyster. But book after book had to be bigger and better than the one before it, grander. Demand was great for his writing, and he had to keep up or he'd be left behind in the dust.

That period of his life led to some of his better horrors, and to some of his... darker indulgences, disguised from himself with focus on everything else in his life at the time. Perhaps it was his self-imposed isolation finally affecting him, leaving him susceptible to thoughts he had considered abandoned. Maybe it was his power coming fully into its own with age, leaving him drunk with all of its myriad possibilities.

Maybe it was the part of him he'd thought strangled the day he finally stepped forward into this new life, rearing its ugly head like some mocking ghost. Returning to eat him alive for his folly, rip him apart for playing with power he still didn’t fully understand while declaring himself something close to god-like.

Whatever the case may be, as the Author he wasn't Bertram Graves.

He was a fool believing in his own mythology, believing his gift meant he was in the right when he decided to use other people as his pawns. And it was that line of thinking that led him to select Daniel Paul Sinclair as his next 'Protagonist'.

It was what had him turning cruel and joyfully mocking, like a cat batting around a mouse before devouring it. He played with Sinclair, all of his perceptions, his very understanding of the world, until the poor man was beaten down and pliant. It was practically euphoric, the day Daniel finally, finally, listened like a good character and obeyed him for the first time by picking up his wallet. This was to be his masterwork, an entire series loosely connected by the same man being first tormented by his dreams and later by reality. It would be his next grand project, the very thing that left him among other literary greats in the world of fiction.

(It's what led to the Author and by proxy Bertram being shot after roping Sinclair's friend Ryan Tinsdale into their dangerous dance, having goaded Daniel one too many times in their game of cat and mouse. Pride goeth before the fall as they say, and oh how he fell.)

*

The Host was a strange... melding of sorts, of the Author and of Bertram, when it came down to it.

He had saved his own life so recently, changing his future in a desperate grab that left him recovering from shots to the back, had him paying with his sight for overstepping boundaries where he shouldn’t have. Ended up with his gift shifting, changing, to accomadate for his new needs and restrictions.

He'd been taken in by others like him as he tried to recover, people who shared his face and had gifts of their own, and for that he’d always be indebted. Yet, they were rather a strange group at first glance

The one in charge calling themself Dark could control a strange aura, manipulate perception and memories with disturbing precision, and even distort time so it felt like days passed in the span of ten minutes. Wilford Warfstache, who Bertram recognized as the one who fetched him from the bloodstained floor of his cabin by the cloying scent of cotton candy, was much closer to Bertram’s own reality warping abilities, only ever held back when imagination faltered. Then there was the Google automatons built for destruction who could control technology with a twitch of their fingers, the King with his woodland subjects at his beck and call. Bim Trimmer who could summon a spotlight from nowhere with a snap of his fingers, Silver Shepherd with strength and speed like something out of a comic. The dear Doctor Burkhart who's talent appeared to be primarily healing where the rest of them could only mend, and Ed Edgar who...sold babies, apparently, when he wasn't responsible for maintaining the space expansions on the offices to keep them bigger.

So it was a strange position Bertram found himself in, surrounded by people who were supposedly like him with similar strains of abilities. But this was at least a place where he could continue to write, where he could relearn the depths of his gift safely while relearning himself as well. Where he could heal, even if he was only ever recognized as the Host from now on by those around him.

(There are only two of them that are actually similar beyond the surface, with names abandoned and old photos left to gather dust. That's what had him quietly telling Bim and Burkhart, in one of his moments free of narration, "My name is Bertram, Bertie to my friends."

And if he happens to manipulate a few documents for Bim after a scheduled surgery, changed Burkhart’s medical license to read Minerva instead when she finally found her name? It's his first tentative attempt to help others as he once helped himself, to redeem for the path he once walked.)