From the perspective of Tobin
The day after the attack dawned bright and many of the town folk started this day just like most days. It was odd seeing people just go about business pretty much as they always had. Sure a few had a bounce in their step either due to their happiness at finding themselves alive or the thrill of a great victory and a few walked more slowly through the streets contemplating what this life meant or morning a lost friend. Most notably the Tanners. Kallen’s funeral would be a little later in the day after the grave was dug and everyone else was prepared for his time in the earth. Did I fail him? Wasn’t it my job to keep everyone safe? Sure as these things go it went splendidly well. One loss against an army of solders, who could ask for more. Still my heart was sore not only for him, his family but for Deularla too. It was almost too much to get up and get going this morning. How many times can someone lose their family members? I, for certain, didn’t want it to happen again. That meant getting up and training hard. So I got up and got going. I took a while to rouse Roland from his stupor. He had celebrated louder and harder than most even though I don’t recall seeing him at the battle at all. It makes me wonder who I have as my trainer. I suppose that results matter not the means by which they come or at least that is what Kali would say.
“Stop gawking and get back to work! If you’re getting me up this early I’ll not have you standing there staring at everyone who walks by.” He brays.
I start running around the inn again in my armour with a bundle of fags across my back. He said it would strengthen me up and put some meat on my scrawny frame. He has me work on balance and footwork. Barking orders and correct my stances while he goes on about he used to be the great so and so, how the world was cruel to put in a such a place to train a pup, still wet behind the ears. Today though I’m finding it hard to concentrate on the lessons and I’m not really paying attention to what he’s saying. Finally, exasperated he lets me go and get cleaned up for the funeral.
After washing off and getting in some of my newer cloths I go to Dunman’s room and bang on his door. “It’s time to start the procession to the funeral.” I yell through the door but there is no response. Feeling down again, I meet with the others and we head to the church. The priest says some flowery words at the altar, that does nothing so soothe my guilt, they gather the body and we proceed to the grave site. He has a family plot near his home.
How nice that must be. I think to myself as we proceed. To have a place to call home. A place your family can go to morn you or even speak to you after you’re gone. Where will I be when I die. Will they bury me behind the Inn? Maybe the communal plot in the church lost among all the other stones? Will anyone come to mourn?
As these thoughts chase one another through my head I notice someone unusual has joined the end of the procession. A man a head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the crowd. People make way for him almost without seeming to know he’s there. Arbold Tethyr, one of our wealthiest citizens in Eveningstar, actually bumps into him and profusely apologizes, a dazed look in his eyes. After the tall man passes Arbold sinks into a nearby doorway, head in hands, no seems to notice. He is cloaked all in black tattered robes and carries a long curved walking stick with a long gleaming blade affixed to the top. I fall back and match his step.
“I know who you are.” I say
“I have worked hard and long so that all know me. So all know that no matter how hard they work, how long they towel, how passionately they love, I’ll be waiting at the end.” the reply in a high whisper
“Why! Why do all have to cross your path?”
A hollow chuckle escapes the cavernous hood. A sound like that of a snake slagging off his dead skin. “Who are you to question me? The very balance of the world itself? Today though I’m feeling generous. Some say goodbyes make you think. They make you realize what you’ve taken for granted. So appreciate what you have before it becomes what you had. It drives them to succeed and clears the path for the new. Others think it is during the darkest of times when you understand and see life differently. People who you love become strangers and people who you have never met become your friends and angels. But when it comes down to it, I’m the truth, life nothing more than a beautiful lie. You’ll never know the last time you’ll see a place… or a person.”
“No!” I shout. “That can’t be all there is. I defy you and what you stand for. I will stop you. I’ll find a way to save those I love!”
“I can’t believe you people. I come for you, and you want to stay, I let you stay and you want to go. Like your friend Dunman. They were granted a reprieve. She probably believes it was all her doing, but I’m not thwarted that easily. Listen well child. No matter how far or fast you run. The world isn’t big enough to hide you from me.” he says it coolly. with no hatred or malice. Inevitable,… as death.
We walk on in silence. My mind reeling, my world torn asunder. He’s right, how could I have been such a fool. My new found goals of protecting everyone come crashing down around me. Visions of the end come to all those I love regardless of all my efforts. We come upon the grave and they proceed with committing the body to the ground. The priest continues on with his meaningless words.
“I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice. When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.”
I stay lost within myself as everyone leaves, except his wife and kids. Who start to fill in the grave. Is it so inevitable? As the last rays of the sun start to fade from the horizon Something else he said finally sinks in. Dunman! was it true and if so, why is he so reclusive. I run home to the inn as fast as my feet can carry me.
I throw myself at the door to his room, pounding frantically until finally he opens the door. He’s irritated no doubt about that. “Why won’t you leave me in peace! I could care less if the end is nigh, go away!”
He is about to slam the door in my face, but then he looks beyond me and his eyes go wide with terror. He shrinks back from the doorway. I turn around quickly and Myrkul is back. He slowly strides into the room and I follow in his wake. Without breaking stride, he goes to the corner where Dunman is cowering. Low moans escape his lips, which change strangled choking sounds as Death grabs his face and lifts him from the ground. Taken aback by this sudden violence I was momentarily stunned. I launch myself at the man in black, but I’m completely ignored, as insignificant as an ant.
“Tell me what you want.” the raspy whisper of a voice like the last breath of a dying man resounds through the room.
“Wha-what?” Dunman responds
“Tell me that you want her back and it’ll be yours… for a price.”
“Yes, anything you want. Just let me have her back.”
Slowly, drawing out his pain and fear as long as possible. Yet, as unstoppable as the juggernaut at the walls. He reaches into his pouch and removes a vial of foul ichor. As the stopper is pulled, a smell permeates the room of an open mass grave a week old. He pours it down Dunmans throat.
“You understand you will owe me a debt that will be collected.” said as a statement of fact, more than a question as he drops Dunman to the floor, who responds anyway “Yes, yes of course.” Next he pulls a gem from his pouch and drops it to the floor. “Swallow it and she will be with you when the need is great.” Dunman crawls over to the gem, puts it into his mouth and swallows. Pain etches his face as if every millimeter it travels tears his throat. Myrkul turns and begins to leave as if it was nothing and his thoughts are already on the next soul he will collect but he pauses by my side, leans down and whispers “She never left you.” Then fades away.
I lean down next to Dunman and make sure he is alright. While he recovers I go over the day’s events, his eyes darkening even more at the mention of Myrkul. As he stands a soft glow permeates the room and a peace settles over him. He daintily sits back down as lightly and effortlessly as a bird settling to a branch, just as I’d seen Deularia do a hundred times or more before our lessons. As her voice comes out from between his parted lips, tears start to stream down my face. I launch myself into her waiting embrace.
“There, there. Sweet child or should I say young man? You have turned out to be all I expected and more. The accounts of your actions at the battle have shown me so. Quite now, I have a lot to say and not much time to say it. I find this quite draining. I know what he told you has left you in doubt of your place. Hear me now and take my words to heart. Power is fortified not just by what it destroys, but also by what it creates. Not just by what it takes, but also by what it gives. Powerlessness reaffirmed not just by the helplessness of those who have lost, but also by the gratitude of those who have gained. You protect those around you so they can live full and meaningful lives. Not to prevent them from going to their true home, where all their ancestors wait to get them. You already possess the means to find peace. You only need to focus on letting go of hindering attitudes that give rise to grasping and identification, the likes and dislikes or the worldly phenomena that otherwise may overpower us. In life we do thinks. Some we wish we had never done. Some we wish we could replay a million times in our heads. They all make us who we are, and in the end they shape every detail about us. If we were to reverse any of them, we wouldn’t be the person we are. So just live, make mistakes, have wonderful memories, but never ever second guess who you are, where you have been, and most importantly where it is you’re going.”
Her presence fads from the room. Dunman comes back to himself, but he knows everything that occurred and he almost seems giddy knowing she is still here with him even if not as he would prefer. We talk late into the night about all we loved most about her. Much later as I finally lay down to sleep, I know that even though I can’t go back and start a new beginning, I can start today and make a new ending…