The old man threw up his hand and a torrent of sharp winds whipped jagged rocks at me and my poor struggling flower.
A cold dumbstruck shock radiated out from my heart and caused my muscles to tense. I threw myself over the flower to shield it from the blast, but left my back wide open to the assault. How did he wield such power in a world long devoid of magic, I wondered as the rocks bruised my body and tore through my already ragged tunic. "Stop! Stop! I'll listen!"
As quickly as the winds had risen they died down. Rocks and dirt fell to the ground. Their clicks and clacks echoed as they skittered down the steep cliff face. The old man cleared his throat and spoke with a commanding tone only an eternal could muster, "Stand boy."
Hot rage bubbled up from the pit of my stomach and acid burned my throat. How dare he speak to me in such a way. At just shy of ten thousand years old I was no boy. I stood alright. I rose to my feet and with one long firmly planted step I put myself in his face. My nails dug into the flesh of my palms as I squeezed my hands into tight fists. His pale seemingly colorless eyes locked on mine and I saw a flicker of eternity that quelled the fury flooding over me in an instant. Good job, I thought, here is one of the oldest beings in known existence, so old that not even I had the faintest clue how old he or it was, and I had just thrown myself in his face like a petulant teenager looking for a fight. He watched me, waiting for me to back down, but I'd already committed to my course of action no matter how fool hearty it might have been. "Well,” I said. "I'm listening."
The old man peered into my eyes for a lifetime. He gazed so deeply I could have sworn I felt my very soul wrap its arms around itself and huddle into a corner for warmth, but as I prepared myself for one of the worst beatings I undoubtedly would ever receive, he smiled. His lips curled up into a toothy grin and the endless number of wrinkles on his sagging face curled up as well. He clapped me on the shoulder with a hearty, "Ha!", and then he stepped past me and took a seat on the big rock I'd drug to the edge of the garden to serve as a bench. "Come, have a seat!" His voice wasn't harsh or threatening, but jovial and good spirited.
A blast of soothing relief overtook me. My body trembled and I released the breath I'd sucked in when I'd thrown myself in his face. I closed my eyes and took several deep calming breaths as I listened to the soft chirping of the birds who loved to hang around my garden and pick it clean when I wasn't looking. I understand that mortals live their lives with the threat of death constantly looming over them, but I was immortal, and the sensation was new to me. Though I couldn't fully understand it at the time, I sure was glad to hear those thieving little chirppers chirp.
Before I was ready to continue I heard the old man clear his throat and the calm I was building flittered away. All I had wanted to do when I woke up was get that flower to bloom. Now if I ever wanted that flower to bloom I had to play nice with the deity sitting at the edge of my garden. I don't know if you've ever had a God stop by for a visit or not, but trust me when I say that it is more than ample motivation to put your plans on the back burner. I took one more deep breath then I walked over and sat down by the old man.
Awkwardness, awkwardness is what settled on my shoulders as I sat down. It wasn’t the heaviest thing I’d ever felt, but it sure wasn’t light either. The old man reminded me of being a little boy who had stepped out of line and then received the disappointed glare of his father. I sat stiff, with my hands clasped in my lap, sweaty palms and all, and looked ahead at nothing in particular. I sat in a way that made my cheeks flush as soon as I realized what I was doing, so I altered it. I cocked one leg out, pulled my hands a part, tilted my head, and let one arm rest lazily against my inner thigh. So sue me, we all act silly when we’re trying to save face. “So, to what do I owe the visit?” I choked out and instantly felt a hot flush of blood in my cheeks again.
“Do you remember the first time we met?”
My chest ached. The ache spread into my limbs. My fingers and toes tingled and the pit of my throat froze. The old man readjusted his position to look at me when he no doubt felt my body go limp. I drew in a sharp breath as a tear escaped my eye. Damn traitor, I thought as I watched the tear splash onto my grass stained trousers. I sat up straight and held my head high. I drew back any tears that threatened to escape my burning eyes and cleared my throat, “I remember.”
“Do you remember what I told you as we sat in the dying sun?”
The ache was gone but it had left emptiness in its wake. I nodded my head several times as though I were trying to shake the words lose. My eyes burned hotter than the center of the sun and I knew the tears would come if I so much as opened my mouth. I looked away from him and peered over the horizon so he couldn’t see the wet tears that streamed down my face. “You told me that I’d done the right thing.” I was utterly shocked that my voice hadn’t broken as I spoke, but instead it had flowed from my lips calm and solid. A little cold, but that was to be expected. “What are you getting at old man?”
“The time has come,” the old man said as he dug into his faded orange robes. When I’d first met him they shone with a majestic brilliance, and when the wind blew they flickered like flames. “The time has come for the right man, to do the right thing, again.” I heard him liberate something from his robes. It tore loose with a brittle ripping sound. “Look,” he said and I did.
A vicious horror wrapped its scaly clawed hands around my lungs and rung the air out of them as though they were ringing the wash. I rose to my feet and withdrew several steps. I couldn’t help myself. My mind shrieked a million impossibilities. It doubled back on itself and filled my thoughts with every excuse it could conjure. It wanted more than anything to discredit the glimmering object lying in the old man’s rough hand, but in the end it couldn’t. I closed my eyes and took another deep breath. All I wanted to do was make that flower bloom like I used to. I opened my eyes and leveled them on the shattered infinity loop lock the old man held. The last time I had seen it was when I snapped it into place, when I closed it into the elongated figure eight that it no longer resembled. An entire side of it was missing, leaving nothing but a deformed s-shape. “How?”
There was no shock to accompany his statement only the deep exacerbation that comes with the understanding of, “Of course. Who else.” I let out a long sigh that I’m positive illustrated the very exacerbation I was feeling and sat back down. For nearly eight thousand years the lock had held, and I’d never feared the arrival of this day. It might have been a bit short sighted but I was arrogant enough to believe myself infallible. Don’t look at me like that. We’re all that arrogant when we’re young, and yeah I know ten thousand isn’t exactly young, but when you don’t really have an expiration date you’re always young. The world looks different, nothing more than that, and nothing less. “How bad is it?”
The old man held up his hand and snapped his fingers. A spark of flame erupted from the snap, whirled around, and then evaporated into the air.
In the face of all that was going horribly wrong I felt a little giggle at the center of my being. Instinctively I held up my own hand and snapped my fingers, but nothing outside of the normal friction occurred. My little giggle faded away. It had been a couple of millennia since my magic had faded, but I’d never forgotten how good it felt to wield the primal forces. I knew the day I sealed the Infinitum Vorago that magic would slowly fade away and depart the world, because I’d sealed the primal forces away. For several thousand years the remnants of their being fueled my powers but what was inevitable was simply that, inevitable. As I came out of my own self venture, refocused on the old man’s fingers, and recalled the spark of flame that erupted from them I realized he had answered me. The primal forces, and everything else I’d sacrificed everything for was free to roam the world of human beings. The Infinitum Vorago had failed entirely. “What would you have me do? I don’t have my powers anymore.”
“You need only remember how to use them,” The old man said as he stood and popped his back. “As for what I’d have you do…” He smiled at me and I hated the way his crooked yet pearly white teeth gleamed in the afternoon sun. “You’ll do it now either way, with or without your powers.” He laughed and walked away from me.
There were few things I hated in the world more than having someone tell me what I would or wouldn’t do as though they could read me like a book. I happened to believe I was a bit mysterious, and in hindsight I certainly am to any old human being, but to an eternal? “You sound so sure of yourself old man.”
“No, not sure of myself, just sure of you.” He leaned on his gnarled limb staff and winked at me. “It’s in your nature.”
There it was, someone presuming to know me better than I knew myself. Anger wanted to erupt again. It wanted to seep through my veins and set my blood on fire. Goodness knows at that point I was ready to blow anyway. There was a perfect storm of emotions brewing in the pit of my stomach. I put it away, pressed it deep down into my soul and stored it for later. If I did manage to access my powers again there were few things that served as better fuel than raw emotions. I met the old man’s gaze and returned his smile. “Why don’t you do something about it then? You seem to already have all of your magicy explody powers in tow.”
He laughed and shook his head at the same time, and then said, “Your mess, you clean it up.” As he spat out the last word his entire form spun in all different directions at once. The wind whirled around him and static crackled through the air, and then there was a pop and he was gone.
The urge to mumble and grumble like a spoiled brat coursed through my veins, but I pulled all of that angst away and shoved it down into my growing reserve cash. When I said there were few things I hated more than having someone presume to know me better than I knew myself, it just so happened that self-righteous angsty heroes was one of them. I cleared my throat, knocked as much dirt off my clothes as I could, lifted my chin, and then I strutted into my little ramshackle house.
It wasn’t much but it was home. There were only three rooms and they all pretty much looked the same. I’d built it out of the sturdiest trees I could find from the woods below back when I still had some wind in my sails. I made sure to only take the trees that were old and ready to die, because obviously I had a soft spot for foliage, and it would have been a crime to snuff out the light of a young up and commer. As I laid out the logs I spelled them so that they would withstand the end of the world if need be and even though magic had faded long ago the walls still hummed and gleamed with the raw energy I’d pushed into them. The furnishings were sparse as I didn’t really need much and I never had guests, until today that is. There were a couple of tables, a chair, and a bed, but the best room belonged to Ezzy. Ezzy is my horse and by far the best company a man like me could ask for, but she was rather harsh and blunter than an ogre’s club. Yes, I keep my horse in my house, because I didn’t see any point in building a stable when I already had a perfectly good house. I’d spent the first few thousand years alone, but then one day she was just there, outside in my garden eating all of my hard work. When I went outside to yell at her she let me know in no short words that I was a, “Greedy food hogging stupid face.” It was friendship at first nay I tell ya. As I shut the door and leaned back against it I was greeted by a very similar nay, only way more sarcastic.
I groaned and shook my head. She always thinks she knows best, “No, I don’t think I was rude in the least!”
“Naaaaay. Snort, snort, nay,” she stomped her large heavy hoof on the hard pact soil that made up the floor of her room and shook her jet black mane. She was an odd looking horse. White hooves, shimmery grey coat, jet black mane, and green eyes. Don’t ask me how that’s possible, but her eyes were as green as polished emeralds.
Normally her playful jesting lightened my mood but I had more than a lot on my mind and all it seemed to do was agitate me. I stalked over to face her and planted my hands on my hips while I stared her down. She wasn’t impressed. “No, I didn’t manage to make the flower bloom today either.”
“Snort, whiney,” she stomped her hoof twice and shook her head.
My body tensed and a slow throb started to settle in between my temples. I rubbed my brow absently and sighed. “Yeah? Well I’ve not seen you grow anything since you’ve been here.” I stalked over to the ornate chest in the corner of my living room as Ezzy continued to ridicule me. It was the only thing in my house that looked out of place, and for good reason. It was the only thing I’d carried with me from the home I’d abandoned in the high land all those many years ago. It was constructed of steel and inlaid with gold and silver, three metals the world had lost their knowledge of in the long millennia since the dark days. The days I ended. I flipped the latch and popped the lid. I hated proving someone else right about me.
“It’s in your nature,” the Old Man’s voice bounded about inside my thoughts.
The throb settled at the center of my skull and started hammering on my brain with a thousand tiny hammers. I wobbled and almost fell over as I hunkered down to rummage through my history. Every object I ran my hands over filled me with a cold ache and my breath faded to shallow gasps. I hadn’t opened the chest since I packed it, because I had intended to leave that life, and that world behind me, but as I sat there and started pulling things out I understood why I’d brought it all with me. Deep down, I always knew that someday, I’d need it again. I drew out the tarnished chain mail and the worn white tunic and draped them over me. My head slide through the opening and the light mail settled over my torso. It felt like home. Next came an old rusted gauntlet that I slapped around my wrist and the magic it had been spelled with eons before even I had been born sealed it shut around my left forearm, the Shield of Souls, don’t ask me how it got its name, because I don’t know. I just know it can save my tail. The last piece I pulled free of the chest I did so with great reservation. It was a tarnished rapier hilt, the blade broken off much like the Shield of Souls, long before I’d even been born, but it didn’t need a blade, all it needed was the will to use it. I strapped it to the belt that was attached to the tunic and instantly felt the weight of it. I’ve taken lives before, goodness knows that is one of the many reasons I found myself in the state I was, but it wasn’t me. The Rapier, name unknown, was a weapon, a weapon I knew how to use, but I prayed (perhaps to the Old Man) that I’d never have the will to use it. That kind of will terrified me, but to seal all the dark things that had escaped from the Infinitum Vorago, I’d have been a fool to not take it with me.
Ezzy nayed and stomped the floor as I stood. Her words brought knowledge I hadn’t paid any attention to.
The weight of destiny settled on my shoulders, but instead of slouching I stood taller and squared my shoulders. It was the heaviest thing I’ve ever felt. I’d made a choice I didn’t even know I was making, my body had taken over, perhaps even my own nature when I went to the chest and donned the raiment of the past. “Ezzy, I guess we’re going on an adventure.”