Surrender

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This post was originally published through Patreon on May 31, 2017.

“You found me.”

“You weren’t hard to find.”

Arcturial nodded. He hadn’t wanted to be caught exactly, but neither had he tried very hard to evade his captor.

“What happens next?” He looked toward the shadowy figure in the doorway.

The figure emerged into the soft, mystical glow of moonlight, resolving into a man of indeterminate features, skin tight and pallid, as if he donned a mask rather than a face.

“You come back with me,” the man said, “and we return together to the Council.”

Arcturial nodded again.

“Just as well. I’m tired. I don’t want to run anymore.”

“Five hundred years is a long time to be away from your kind.”

“It is.”

The man fell in beside him, and together they walked, boots clip-clopping through the darkened street. Arcturial flipped his gaze upward, finding the moon, white and luminescent. He drank in its otherworldly glow. He’d walked through hundreds of worlds, had existed long before the births of most, and still the vision was unlike anything else he’d seen before. He committed a snapshot to memory, for this would be the last time he saw it with his eyes.

“There will be punishment,” said the man.

“I understand.”

The echo of footfalls. Buildings rising before them, falling behind them.

“What was it like?”

Caught off-guard by the question, Arcturial stopped.

“What do you mean?”

“To live as a human. To feel, laugh, cry. What was it like?”

This was not a question he’d expected.

“Why do you ask?”

“Because,” said the man, features set in a perpetually emotionless state, “there are those of us who envy what you’ve taken, even if we will never partake of it ourselves.”

“I see.”

Now, it was the other man’s turn to nod.

How to sum up centuries of life in a human body that could never grow old or die? How to explain the desire and the need to feign mortality, to spend so many long years in the shadows, always on the outside looking in, knowing all you could ever do was pretend?

Arcturial thought before he spoke.

“Lonely.”

“Ah,” said the man.

Arcturial continued walking, and the man once more took up station beside him.

“I think we’ve gone far enough,” said Arcturial. “We should be hidden from any mortals who might have seen us in the alley.”

“Yes,” the man agreed, “I think it’s time to be on our way.”

The two turned a corner, taking a detour that was neither north nor south, neither east nor west. The blackness of night enveloped them like a cloak, and the physical world melted away.

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Up

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This post was originally published through Patreon on March 29, 2017.

Darkness surrounds me. I see only a silver flight of stairs that ascends into endless black. Only one thing is clear: there’s nowhere to go but up.

I begin to climb.

Each step is illuminated, and I look around and try to find the source of the light. But it’s a mystery. Just like this place. Just like myself.

It seems that hours pass before I finally stop to catch my breath, and when I do, I glance back to discover an infinite expanse of metallic steps, sinking down into the blackness below. Meanwhile, the air up here is warm and humid. I reach to wipe sweat from my brow, and that’s when I hear them for the first time. Voices, whispering beyond the void.

Cautious, I continue to climb.

One voice in particular distinguishes itself from the rest. A woman. The sound is warm, inviting.

“Life,” I hear her say, and then broken shards of memory invade me, flashing before my eyes. They are remnants of a time outside the darkness, and for a moment, I almost remember who I am.

I’m afraid, but the comforting voice urges me to continue.

The humidity has become a pressure cooking heat. Sweat pours from my face and neck like a river.

“Life,” she repeats. The word terrifies me even as it gives me strength, and I find myself scrambling up the steps two, even three at a time.

“Life. Life. Life.” The other voices have joined with the first, merging into a single-minded chant, an otherworldly chorus that makes the hairs on my neck stand on end.

A beam shines above me now, not far from where I stand. The heat has become unbearable, yet I know I must press forward. All the while, the voices cheer me on.

My skin feels like it’s catching fire, and I can no longer breathe. I wobble, teeter, and for a moment I fear I’ll fall, that I’ll tumble down and down, all the way to the distant and forgotten bottom.

That’s when I see her, a woman clothed in white, iridescent robes, descending from the light like an angel.

“Don’t be afraid,” she says, taking my hand. “I’ll help you.”

Power surges through me at her touch. I’m in agony, yet I find I now have the strength to go on. Face covered in sweat, I climb the last step, reach out, and push through.

A solar flare: coruscating, blinding. The impurities of my old life burn away, until I am a part of the fire.

It no longer hurts. Instead, love and life surround me, welcoming me home. A column of white robed figures chant my name. My encouragers. They smile, and I greet each as an old friend.

“Well done,” says the woman who helped me through. Transfigured, she has become more beautiful than I could have possibly imagined.

My old life is over, and my new life has just begun.

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A Spell Gone Wrong

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This post was originally published through Patreon on February 28, 2017.

I hunker on the bare stone floor, shrouded in darkness, and scream. The room is silent, ghostly. I can see a sliver of moonlight leak through the bottom of the caged window like the tip of a dragon’s fingernail, but it’s swallowed at once by a palpable black void.

My home, it seems even the entire world, is gone, undone by my careless words.

My master was there when I uttered the phrase that brought about this ruin. He was smiling, encouraging me to continue, and I was eager to please. Then I opened my mouth, and he must have spied the latent syllables on my lips, for I glimpsed the sudden twist of his own, perhaps a warning in the making, just before I let loose a hailstorm of destruction.

Avenhalom.

The mystical word rolled off my tongue so easily. It tasted sweet, like honeyed milk. But as soon as the last syllable escaped my lips, I knew something had gone wrong. The sweetness turned bitter like ash, then acrid like charred flesh. I felt the air around me part like the Red Sea, and I became dizzy and lightheaded.

Stunned, I crumpled to the ground, assailed by a deafening, high-pitched whine. Then the world burst in a violent explosion that tore through my entire chest. I slipped inside myself, and the world turned black.

I woke on the dusty floor of an alien world that only vaguely resembled the home I’d once known. Everything had been consumed by darkness, made empty in a way I can’t describe. My master was gone, and with stomach-twisting certainty, I knew that I would see him no more.

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I Only Had To Bleed

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This post was originally published through Patreon on July 12, 2017.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
—Ernest Hemingway

I huddle over my desk beneath the soft light of an incandescent lamp, brow furrowed, and stare down at the empty pages of my notebook. There’s a world out there somewhere, waiting for me to give it life. But I cannot find the words, and without them this other world can remain only a pale shadow, suspended in the half-life of the imagination.

I hear a thousand screams, a million, all from denizens of this other world. “We want life,” they say. “Please, give it to us.” Their cries have become a fire that burns me from the inside out, until my soul can bear the pain no longer.

“All right,” I say. “I’ll try,” and the screams die down to an expectant whisper.

I tremble. I know the words will come if I ask them to, but they require a sacrifice, an offering as old as humanity, and I am afraid. I glance around the dim surroundings of my study, bite my lip, and turn back to the notebook at my desk. Resolved not to stall any longer, I pick up the pen, and in a single practiced motion I stab downward and break open an emotional artery.

The pain is tremendous, and at first, the words come in fits and starts. I have to drag each of them from my head kicking and screaming, sharp, sticking barbs that tear skin and flesh as I pull them out into the light. I want to stop and lick my wound. But if I do then it will heal, and my sacrifice will have been in vain.

So I toil through the night, through ice and fire, dredging up the best and the worst of myself as an offering, a vessel into which that other world might enjoy the coveted fruits of existence.

Just before dawn I finish, bloodied and bruised. The inhabitants of that world whisper their thanks. Tears well at the corners of my eyes.

It was nothing, I think. I only had to bleed.

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Old Friend

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This post was originally published through Patreon on January 11, 2017.

“Lisa.”

Her name is the first thing she hears. She opens her eyes, and the blackness over her vision lifts like a veil. Light. It nearly blinds her. She narrows her eyes to slits, and the scene resolves into a pair of burning globes in a sea of roiling green.

Where am I?

She rolls onto her side and becomes aware of the rocky ground beneath.

She wonders again: Where am I?

“Lisa.”

“Who’s there?”

Anxiety takes root. She staggers to her feet and beholds the alien landscape once more. She notes the sea of green is actually a sky, though not like any sky she’s seen before, and that the globes suspended within are actually twin suns.

What is this place?

“It is home.”

“This isn’t my home,” she says aloud. Then she pauses. Isn’t it? She can conjure no memory of her origins. Once more, she panics. She scrambles to dredge up something from that inaccessible part of her mind and comes up short.

“Who are you?” she asks.

“A friend. You will remember in time.”

The cryptic reply, though frustrating, is strangely comforting. It grazes a segment of her heart that was previously hidden, and it entices her, makes her want to learn more.

“Come.” The word is not a command but a request, humble and filled with unfathomable love.

“How?” She wants to follow, but she doesn’t know how.

“That is a question I cannot answer. You must find your own way.”

“I can’t go to you,” she argues, “if I don’t know how to find you.”

“Follow my voice, have faith, and all will be clear in time.”

She hesitates, examines her heart, and discovers a trust she hasn’t recognized until now, the quiet, logic-defying certainty that the voice is telling the truth, that it can lead her down the proper path. She takes one step forward.

Then another.

Then another.

In the centuries that follow, she will see many wonders, and though the voice will only be an infrequent companion, she will find it reveals enough to keep her headed in the right direction. She will grow in wisdom and love, and at the end of her journey—at the end of time—she will be greeted by the source of that voice not as a stranger, but as an old and constant friend.

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