He laid in soft ice with a warm head.
“Now that that’s settled,” a scratchy voice faded away, “I need to have a little chat with Mindbender about how things are going to run around here from now on.”
The skies above were light, then magenta, then dark. He could see no stars. Instead, in the void of space, an old memory appeared.
He wiped his eyes with the hem of his smock.
“Little Rey, why must you cry?” asked his father. The tall man stooped to look the child in the eyes.
“Surely these must be tears of joy,” said his mother.
“Of course,” said his father. “This is a good day for all of us.”
“No it’s not!” screamed Rey. “I won’t get to see Golob again, or Thona. I don’t want to go to the palace!”
“My child, you have a greater destiny. Your friends are part of this destiny, to be sure. They are healthy children, and will grow to become part of your great military. As it has been foretold, you shall lead us to dominate the world, to bring all under the loving hands of Cobra-La!”
“It’s not fair!”
Rey’s voice echoed through the empty mountains. He looked down, and relaxed his fists. He wasn’t a child anymore, he needed to get back to the fortress. His fortress.
He turned back towards the mountain, and marched up. His head was light. He reached up to feel it, then fell.
Rey slid down the mountain, and looked up to the black skies again.
A field, stripped of trees and life, was given fuel through the red-soaked remains of the battle.
“General, this is too much,” said Rey. “Would they fight this hard against our dominion, if they knew the paradise to come with Cobra-La? There must be a more diplomatic route.”
“It is necessary, Emperor,” said Pythona. “If they refuse to live in a happy Earth, then the only thing we can do is grant them their leave from this world.
“But our warriors, too-“
“Have pledged their lives to you, to Cobra-La. I would do the same.”
“Yes,” said Rey, “And I would have my own life taken a thousand times in a thousand ways if it would spare my people from death. For the sake of Cobra-La.”
“But we need you.”
His stomach hurt. Rey shook his head. These were dreams, they were not his life, he needed to survive the night. He rose to his feet.
The mountains were louder, now that the moon shone through the clouds. He could hear howling in the distance. He walked forward, reaching out in front of him to avoid the fir trees in his path. Before long, his eyes adjusted, and he saw the path the wolves had taken.
He snapped a branch off a nearby tree. It cracked easily in the cold, and Rey took care to ease one end to a point without ruining its strength.
Before long, the howls grew louder. Rey found himself at ease with silent movement, and crept towards the wolves.
Through the trees, he could see darkened snow, and could hear the tearing of flesh. Five wolves had bloodied the ground, finding a rabbit’s den in the night. They were thin and vicious, but most of all lucky. Even Rey was not sure how long he would keep frostbite at bay in these temperatures.
Rey knew that against a desperate opponent, time was your enemy. So he went behind one of the wolves and pierced it through the neck. Then he struck down another. The remaining wolves jumped at Rey, tearing skin and muscle from his arms and legs before he killed them. He thought that it should have been harder, he shouldn’t be feeling so ecstatic, but these injuries were nothing to him.
The rest of the night he spent warm and well-fed. But without a source of fire, he would have to hunt again the next night.
“Commander, we can’t be out here all night.”
“SILENCE, you fool! His body was here. I shot him in the head. TWICE! He is dead, and I am your leader now.”
Dr. Mindbender huffed, “Even if you had, the helmet I made for him was bulletproof. I made it strong enough that even at point blank, the worst he could have had was a mild concussion. If there’s no body, I’m not going to follow you. Serpentor is the leader of Cobra.”
Cobra Commander reached out and squeezed Dr. Mindbender’s neck, “If he’s your leader, then why isn’t he here, hm? Maybe he’ll save you.”
Dr. Mindbender choked.
Dr. Mindbender grasped at Cobra Commander’s arm, eyes blinking rapidly. The Commander dropped him.
“What’s your answer?”
“Of course you’re the leader, Commander,” Dr. Mindbender wheezed. For now, at least.