The Story of the King - Duke
I was nine years old when it happened. The plague had struck our land and people were dying within weeks or even days after being infected. My family lived just outside the marketplace, where the disease seemed to strike the hardest. My father was the only one who would leave the house; no one else was allowed - I’m sure that he was just trying to protect us. Two years had passed since the plague had hit; two years and I had hardly left the house. I was ignorant as a child and decided to sneak out one night, despite my older brother’s warnings to me. I left late at night; the full moon lit the world from the highest point in the sky, but few stars could be seen, most of them were blotched out by thick dark clouds. I remember playing in the marketplace; it was late and no one was there. I ran through the open stone roads and through the alleyways. The marketplace was new and the Tudor buildings were tall and sturdy. I turned into one alley and a man was sitting there; his eyes were fixed on me. I felt my heart jump. I fought for breath, but shock had caught me by surprise. What had lasted only seconds, felt like hours to me. The man was dead; claimed by the plague. He was not the first one I had seen either. People were carried out by the dozens and buried in mass graves each week. Still, it is always eerie to see a dead man up close, especially with his lifeless eyes gazing into yours. The feeling you get in the pit of your stomach is indescribable. The hairs on your arms and neck stand up; the world seems colder. Of course, denial sets in quickly; looking at something you normally see up and moving, suddenly lifeless and dull. It is hard to even think of them as a person anymore; they are just like a rock or tree. At least, in my mind, the mind of a child, that is how I dealt with it. I approached the man; his body was pale and covered with black spots that looked more like dark bruises. He wore nothing but ragged brown shorts that were torn at the bottom; it is possible that whatever clothes he did have on were taken off of his corpse. I poked his body with a stick that I was carrying. My eyes did not move from his. I think I was waiting for a reaction or some form of movement; I can’t remember. The alley was much darker than the main walkway because of the rooftops, but the moon was still reflected in his eyes; it was all that I could see. His mouth was open and his right hand was lying stretched out on the ground. His back leaned against the building in the alley. His body was frail and he looked as if he had not eaten in over a week. Though, I don’t think he was malnourished; the plague eats away at your body. I placed the stick beneath the palm of his hand and lifted his arm to see underneath. There was a folded cloth lying under his hand; a new white cloth edged in bright blue lace. Three gold letters were stitched into one corner of the cloth.
The initials weren’t familiar to me. I reached down to pick up the folded cloth and the man’s hand slipped off the stick causing his body to topple towards me. I jumped and screamed; again, shock had caught me by surprise. A man stepped out of the building behind me with a candle in hand. I must have woken him. He looked over at me and recognized me right away. He was a close friend to my father. He stepped out from his house and grabbed me by the arm causing me to drop the cloth.
“Do you have any idea what time it is, boy?”
His tone was not angry, but more concerned. Truth be told, he was a very nice man; always caring for other people and never put himself ahead of anyone else. He was the kind of person to go out of his way to help another. He shuffled me down the street and back to my house in nothing but his night gown and slippers. He didn’t say another word to me nor did he even look at me. His eyes stayed focused on the road and his hand was steady as he carried the brass candle saucer. He looked as if he was deep in thought. We turned off the market road onto my street. We approached my house and he banged hard on the door three times as he always did. He pulled me back a few steps to make room for the door to open. I saw candlelight flicker on through the cracks in the shutters covering the window by my door. A second later the door swung open and my father’s tired face poked out from behind the candlelight.
“He was playing around in the alley outside my house” said the man who found me.
My father glared down at me. He looked back at his friend and nodded. He reached out and grabbed me by the arm to pull me into the house. My father’s friend spoke again.
“I don’t mean to be a bother, but could you step outside for a word in private?”
My father nodded again and stepped outside, closing the door behind him. I ran up to the shutters to see if I could hear what they were talking about, but the whispers were muffled beyond the walls of my house and I wasn’t tall enough to reach the window. I quickly ran and grabbed a chair to hoist myself up high enough to hear. The whispers were still too quiet for me to hear clearly, but I heard the man mention to my father about the dead man in the alley; he mentioned the plague as well. My father began talking; I tried to listen, but the whispers grew too quiet for me to hear and soon I couldn’t hear anything. I saw my father’s friend start to walk away, so I quickly jumped off the chair, but my father walked in as I was dropping to the ground; he knew I was listening and I knew that he knew. I was motionless with fear. I figured my father would be furious with me. He walked over to me and picked me up; setting the candle on the windowsill. He walked me into my room where my brother and sister were still asleep in their beds. He laid me down and placed my covers over me.
“Get some rest, son,” he said to me. “We’ll talk in the morning.”
My father disappeared from my room and I saw the candlelight blow out from the other room. The house was completely dark, but my thoughts drifted to that man in the alley. I still felt his lifeless eyes piercing through me. I could hardly sleep that night. Even though it was not my first encounter with death, his image haunted my dreams. Still to this day I see his lifeless eyes staring at me; his jaw, dropped and askew. The initials ‘LSM’ are still fresh in my mind and the little girl; I remember it all so clearly.
I woke up late the next morning, surprised I had even slept at all. The house was empty. My father was gone. My mother was gone. I heard my brother and younger sister playing in the alley beside the house. I stepped outside and breathed in the summer air. No one had left the house since the plague first hit, except my father, but nothing had changed. For weeks I had watched through the window as the people laughed and conversed and the children played out in the marketplace. I headed to the marketplace and immediately went back to the alley where the dead man was. The alley was empty, but the white cloth still lay in the dirt where the man was. I squatted down and examined the cloth in my hand. It was made from very high quality cotton and the blue lace was silk. I rubbed the cloth in my hands and closed my eyes; the cloth was incredibly soft.
“He’s gone. We had him taken this morning,” my father said from behind me.
I hopped to my feet and turned to face my father, hiding the cloth behind my back. My father laughed; he had left the cloth for me, he knew that I would go back there. My father walked up to me and wrapped his arm around my shoulder. He led me through the marketplace, but we did not go back to the house. He led me to an alley at western corner of the marketplace. On the other side there was a dirt path that led to an open field with rolling hills. In the distance there was a large crooked tree at the peak of one of the hills just off the dirt path. We exited the alley and the noises of the marketplace grew quieter. Leaving that alley into the field was like entering another world. No houses or people could be seen, only hills and mountains in the distance. My father spoke to me about when he was a child, how he used to come out here to get away from things. He told me how the tree in the field was his sanctuary; he would go there and spend hours in thought.
“I was never too interested in people,” my father said. “They were too unpredictable; they are still very unpredictable. I usually kept to myself when I was younger and lived my life inside of fantasies and daydreams. Until one day while I was sitting beneath that tree up ahead, a family walked in front of me down this path, heading towards the market. They had a little girl with them, not far in age from me. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She was absolutely radiant. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Shortly after they walked by, I followed them down the path. We entered the marketplace and even through the crowd of people I could still see her. I could smell the sweet scent of her perfume through the crowd; it was enticing. It tickled my nose and begged me to follow. They exited the market on the same street we live on now and only a few houses down from ours they stopped. They were new in village and had just moved in a few days earlier. I must have stood outside that house for hours. I waited across the street in an alley, hoping that I’d be able to catch a glimpse of her again. I hadn’t seen her face since she walked past me in the field, but I couldn’t forget it. Her face rested in my mind as clear as day. I fantasized about what I might say to her if I had the chance; what we would talk about. I played through the whole conversation in my head and even acted it out in that alley. I got so caught up in a daydream that I didn’t realize that she had been watching me. I turned to the sound of her laughing. She was standing at the foot of the alley. Though, I didn’t know how long she had been there. I was so embarrassed. I held my head down to hide my red face. She walked over to me and placed her hand on my shoulder. I looked up and she was smiling and in the sweetest voice she said, ‘its ok, I like to daydream too.’ I smiled and introduced myself. At that moment we had become best friends; we saw each other every day. After years of being around her almost every day, I worked up the courage to ask her to marry me. She was shocked; apparently she had always wanted us to have something more, but was too afraid to ask. I guess she thought I wasn’t interested. I had never met anyone I had felt so connected with. Needless to say, she said yes and we are still married to this day.”
We arrived at the tree and my father stepped off the path, sat down beneath the shade, and leaned back against the trunk. He invited me to sit with him. I was confused as to why we were having that conversation. I sat beside him at the base of the tree and looked up at him. He stared off in the distance with a small smile on his face.
“It was the happiest day of my life when I married your mother. Life seemed like it couldn’t get any better and then your older brother was born. I loved him so much from the moment that I saw him and it only got better with the addition of you and your sister.”
He did not look at me, but instead continued staring off into the distance. I was about to ask him what we were doing when I noticed the sun reflect off his cheek. His eyes were red and his cheeks were wet from crying even though his face was smiling.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
He wiped the tears from his cheeks and cleared his throat. He looked at me and smiled.
“It’s nothing; just an old man reminiscing.”
He looked back into the distance.
“You’re a good kid, Duke.”
He rubbed my head and pushed off the tree. He stepped back out to the path and turned back to me. I knew that there was something on his mind even if he would not tell me.
“You’re a wonderful son and I love you.”
He reached out his hand and helped me to my feet. I was young and naive. I loved my father, but I didn’t say it. We walked back towards the marketplace in silence. Looking back, I should have said something. I should have told him that I love him. Anything would have been better and maybe then I would not have felt as empty as I did. Maybe then I would have had some sort of closure.
I woke the next morning jumping out of a bad dream; the sun outside cheerfully lit up the house. I sat up in my bed and looked to the right at my brother’s bed; he was still asleep. I looked left at my sister’s bed and she was asleep as well. I slowly moved out of my bed; rubbing my eyes to adjust them to the light. I walked out of my room and up the stairs across from my door. I peered into my parents’ room at the top of the stairs to see that they were still asleep. I was bewildered. My parents were normally up long before me; or maybe it was earlier than I thought. I slowly approached my parents’ bed, grabbed my father by the shoulder rolled him over. His eyes were closed and he was not breathing. I quickly ran to my mother’s side of the bed to warn her, but she was gone too. I was terrified. The world seemed to close in on me. My feet gave out and I fell backwards. I landed with my back against the wall. The covers slid off the bed as I fell; I must have been holding onto them. Both of my parents were killed by the plague; their bodies were covered in black spots and they both looked pale and sickly. I didn’t know what to do. I was motionless. I couldn’t find the strength to lift myself up. I sat there shaking; gripping the blanket tightly in fear. Tears rolled down my face. I was breathing heavily, desperately trying to hold myself together, but despite my efforts I couldn’t do it. It was too much for me to handle; I was just a kid. As I stared into the blank faces of my dead parents I knew I was lost. I had no direction left in life. I was alone in the dark. The man in the alley was different. I didn’t know him. I didn’t know what he was like when he was alive, so all I could picture was what he was like in death - motionless and pale - but my parents were different. I have known them my whole life. It is strange, looking at someone you normally see up and moving and full of life, suddenly lifeless and dull. After almost an hour of sitting there I finally managed to stop crying; or maybe I just ran out of tears. My sister walked into the room weary from just waking up. She stood in the doorway rubbing her eyes with her left hand as her right hand hung by her side holding her beat up stuffed teddy bear. She slowly started walking to the bed to lay with our parents, but I got up and stopped her before she could reach it. I hugged her, but didn’t say a word. I walked with her down the stairs and into our room. I told her to get some clothes and get dressed. I was still in shock and the world was muffled. I felt as if I was looking at my life through someone else’s eyes. I could only think how sorry for that person I felt; how alone they must feel. It made me feel worse when I remembered that person was me. I couldn’t hold my head up. I dragged my feet and talked quietly to everyone. I felt nauseous and cold. I walked over to my brother’s bed to wake him as my sister got dressed on the other side of the room. I shook his shoulder, but there no response. I leaned back away from him. I remember thinking that it wasn’t possible; he couldn’t be dead too. I pulled back the covers slightly and saw that he had been struck by the plague too; he was dead. I laid the covers over his face and fought hard to keep myself together for my sister’s sake. After she was done getting dressed and gathering her clothes, I grabbed her wrist and pulled her behind me. She fought back slightly looking back at our brother’s bed.
“Duke, what about Gabriel?”
I stopped and looked back at his bed. I kneeled down and looked into my sister’s eyes. I had thought about telling her right then that he was dead, but I couldn’t do it. Looking into her eyes I could see her innocence. There had been too much death in our family that day and I couldn’t bear to see her innocence die with it. I tried to fight back the tears as I lied to her.
“He is going to sleep a bit longer. He will be right behind us.”
“But where are we going?” she said to me.
I looked down at the floor. It had just occurred to me that I hadn’t thought about where we would go. We had nowhere to go. I jumped when I heard a knock at the door. Slowly, I rose from my knees to answer it.
“Wait here, Catherine,” I said to my sister.
I pushed the door open and standing there was my father’s friend, Crewe, with two guards. I was confused. He pulled me and my sister out of the house as the guards entered. He led us towards the marketplace without saying a word, and on our way there we walked by a wagon half-full with plague victims. I knew then why the guards were there.
“Your father knew,” my father’s friend said to me. “He knew he had caught the plague a few nights ago; him and your mother both. He told me the night I brought you home. He asked me to watch over you kids when they passed on.”
Crewe stopped walking and looked back towards the house. He looked back at me.
“Where is Gabriel?”
I shook my head and looked down. I couldn’t find the words to say and even if I could I wouldn’t be able to speak them without crying. He nodded. He knew what had happened even without me having to say it. He kneeled down and looked me in the eyes.
“Duke, I am so sorry. I wish there was more that I could do to comfort you.”
He glanced over at my sister and back at me.
“Does she know?”
I shook my head. I looked into his eyes as he patted me on the shoulder. There was nothing he could have said and he knew it. He stood up and grabbed my sister and my hands and continued walking towards the marketplace. We arrived at his house and stopped outside the door. He took a knee in front of my sister.
“We are going to be staying here for a little while ok, Catherine?”
“But where are mommy and daddy?” She asked in concern.
She was upset and I could tell that Crewe was struggling with what to say. He didn’t have children of his own. To be honest, I don’t think he cared for children much.
“Mommy and Daddy won’t be coming, darling,” he said to her.
“Why not?” She replied in a shaky voice as her eyes started glazing over.
He was going to tell her the truth; I could tell, but I couldn’t let her know right then, so I interrupted him.
“Mom and Dad are going away for a while and we have to stay with Crewe.”
Crewe looked up at me quickly and back at Catherine.
“That’s right,” he said to Catherine.
“Is Gabriel going with them too?” she said in a happier voice.
I looked at her and nodded my head. I struggled to plaster a smile on my face for her sake. Crewe led us into his house and I went straight for the bed. I needed to sleep. I had too much to process that day; I felt weak. I wish I would have said more to my father. Had I known it was his last day alive I would have told him that I loved him. I wish I would have said more to my father and my mother and my brother…
….and my sister…
I woke up as the sun started to set. It was summer, so it must have been later than it seemed. I had almost forgotten that I was in Crewe’s house. I walked out of the room to see Crewe reading by the window.
“Where is Catherine?” I asked.
He motioned his head towards the window. I walked out the door and she was in the alleyway where I found the dead man the night before playing with her teddy bear and another little girl. Suddenly I was reminded of the white cloth that the man was holding. I pulled it out of my pocket and rubbed my fingers across the blue lacing that edged the cloth. I heard the sounds of whimpering, so I looked up to see the little girl staring at me about to cry. I lowered the cloth slightly and approached her to ask what was wrong. She burst into tears and darted off into the marketplace crying heavily. I followed her with my eyes, confused, as she cut around one of the buildings not too far away from me. My sister walked up next to me confused as well.
“What happened?” She asked.
I hesitated slightly still trying to figure out what it was that I did. I shook my head and responded.
“I’m not sure.”
I turned and looked at my sister and shrugged my shoulders. I walked over to the alleyway and picked up my sister’s bear from the dirt. I brushed the dirt off of it before I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard a woman speak.
“Excuse me,” she said.
I turned and the little girl was back with her mother. My eyes shifted between the two, but I didn’t say a word to either. The woman cleared her throat to break the silence.
“My daughter came to me crying her father’s name. When I asked her where she had seen him she just led me here.”
I glanced at the daughter confused.
“I haven’t seen anyone here old enough to be her father,” I said.
The little girl tugged on her mother’s dress, her eyes were still red and she was still sniffling. The mother leaned down as the daughter whispered in her ear. The mother stood back up keeping her confused glance fixated on her daughter. She looked back at me.
“The cloth?” She said to me.
I repeated what she said in confusion.
“My daughter said that you have the cloth that her father had made for her. It has her initials stitched into the fabric.” She explained
My eyes grew wide and I pulled the cloth from my pocket. The mother’s hands covered her mouth and her eyes began to water.
“Where did you get that?” She asked me.
I turned back and looked at the alleyway. I hesitated for a moment as I admired the quality of the stitching in the initials. The man’s dead face and lifeless eyes positioned themselves back into my mind. Suddenly, he seemed more real to me. He had a child. He had a family. I turned back to the woman. I felt shameful for some reason. I had treated the man with no compassion because he was dead; he was no more alive to me than a pebble in the street or the building he leaned against.
“He was right here, in this alley,” I said to her; the words slipped uneasily from my mouth. “The other night I had snuck out of my house and found him here. I saw the cloth beneath his hand and took it. I’m sorry.”
I looked up and saw Crewe standing at the doorway watching me. His arms were crossed at his chest; he looked curious to see how I would handle the situation. The woman was almost in tears. I could tell she was trying to fight them back.
“He’s dead?” She said struggling to keep her composure.
I handed her the cloth and nodded my head shamefully. The woman crashed to the floor in tears. She hugged her daughter tightly.
“No! Daddy!” The little girl screamed as she burst into tears again.
I stood patiently as they hugged and cried and mourned the loss of their family. The sun was almost set and a man walked through the almost empty marketplace lighting large lanterns that lined the street. The mother began collecting herself. She looked up at me from the floor and held the cloth up for me to see.
“This was his birthday present to Lillian,” she said to me. “He went to pick it up from the western village three weeks ago.”
“Lillian?” I replied quietly.
The mother nodded as she wiped more tears from her eyes.
“Yes, Lillian Shea Madison; she is our only child.”
The mother stroked her daughter’s hair and smiled.
“Out of 5 children she was the only one to survive through birth.”
I was speechless. I can’t describe how I felt that night. That day was the worst of my life. Crewe walked out and helped the woman to her feet. She looked back at me and gave me a hug.
But why, what had I done to deserve a thank you from her? The woman and her daughter walked off into the night. Crewe stood next to me watching them leave.
“I’m proud of you,” he said. “You handled that well. Much better than any other 11 year old that I know.”
He turned to me and put his hands on my shoulders.
“Your father would have been proud.”
I looked down. I still felt shame for taking the cloth from the man. The little girl’s face was so innocent; the same innocence I tried to preserve in my sister was now broken in another girl, much like her, because of me. I looked over at my sister standing in the street watching me and Crewe. Suddenly, she collapsed to the ground. I ran to her and I could tell as soon as I got closer that she was gone; claimed by the plague. In one day the god’s had stripped my life from me; everything that I had loved and everyone that was close to me was now dead. I truly was alone...
I didn’t sleep that night; I couldn’t sleep. I sat in thought the entire night. I didn’t know what I was going to do, I had just lost everyone. My entire family was dead. I left Crewe’s house before the sun even rose. I didn’t know where I would go or what I would do. All I knew is that I wanted to find answers. I left with nothing; no extra clothes or personal belongings. I walked away from that house and out of that village. I walked down the path my dad brought me down the day before. I stopped at the tree and played through some memories of my life. After a few moments reminiscing, I turned and continued walking, leaving my old life behind and all of the memories with it. I was broken and left that village as an empty shell; emotionless and hollow. I walked towards the sunrise with the hopes of finding answers to why my life was the way it was or why that had to happen to me. I walked village to village for years trying to find someplace where I could speak to the gods. I disappeared from anyone I might know. It was 14 years before I made it back to my village. Nothing had changed. It was midday when I arrived and as I wandered the crowded streets of the marketplace I felt an eerie chill crawl up my spine. I was 25 years old and hadn’t walked those streets since I was 11. I went straight to my old home; it was empty. It was dark and cold there. It was home to nothing but cobwebs and dust. No one had lived there since my family it seemed like. I stared at the house for a moment recalling thoughts of my childhood. I was flooded with emotions. I hadn’t thought about my family or my old life since I had left that village. My eyes began to water as I remembered my parents.
“They were great people,” said a voice from behind me.
I turned to look and saw a hunched over old man, leaning on his twisted branch of a cane. His white hair was thin and almost completely gone from his head. His arms and legs looked like bone loosely wrapped in skin, but his body was still thick with meat; although most of it was in his gut. He limped over to me, supporting most of his weight on his cane as his feet dragged behind him one by one.
“My best friend in the world lived here,” he said, “and when he passed I didn’t know what to do or think. They made me promise to watch over their kids, although, there was nothing I could do. The entire family passed within a day of each other.”
The man stopped next to me and looked up at me.
“All of them, but one,” he said.
I looked over at the man; his smoky gray eyes were fixed on mine.
“I had a feeling that I would see you back here.”
Our eyes shifted back to the house. I didn’t say a word back to him. Seeing Crewe had made me realize that things had changed since I was last here. I turned to Crewe.
“I won’t be staying long,” I said.
He nodded his head and smiled. He knew that I wouldn’t be here long before I had even told him.
“There is a place in the forest to the north that I went to pray at a few years after you left. It is a small opening at the base of a cliff. It was the only place that I had felt connected to my old friends.”
I turned to the north and looked back at him. Without saying a word I left quickly through the marketplace. Crewe just stood there, staring with glazed eyes at the house of his deceased best friend and my family. I rushed out of the northern end of the marketplace into an open field with a forest sitting at the top of a small slope. I entered the forest and continued north. There were mountains in the distance, but in the woods I couldn’t see the skyline, only the trees. After three days of wandering I came to a large rock wall with a mirror dug into it. The mirror had designs running around the arch of the mirror. There was a small clearing in the trees around the mirror where light shined in brightly. I slowly approached the mirror with a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. I walked closer staring at my reflection; it was the first time I had seen myself in 14 years. I was shocked at how much I had changed. My hair was long and unkempt; it stretched down past my shoulders. My beard had grown in thick and knotted. I could hardly see my face; only my eyes were visible, but that was the only way I could actually recognize myself. I got lost in my own reflection and how much I had changed, how tall I was, how I looked – it was almost liking meeting someone new to me – I had gotten so lost that I didn’t notice two figures standing next to me in the mirror. I am caught off guard and turn around quickly, but there is no one behind me. I pause in confusion before turning back to the mirror. There are now four figures in the mirror besides myself; faces I hadn’t seen in 14 years. My mother, brother, sister, and father were all standing there smiling. I collapsed to my knees and broke down into tears. My mother put her hand on my left shoulder and even though she wasn’t touching my, I could feel it.
“You are not alone, son,” she said to me; her voice was just as soothing as I had remembered.
I wipe the tears from my face. My father places his hand on my right shoulder.
“I have a gift for you, son. We have been waiting many years to give it to you,” he said.
I looked up at him and stood up. I was confused. I couldn’t tell if I was hallucinating or if this was real.
“What do you mean?” I said to him.
He explained how the god Helios had been watching my struggle and how he had sent my parents to wait for me at that altar to give me a great gift; the power to protect the one’s I love from harm. My mother and father removed their hands from my shoulders. My sister walked towards me and began to glow in a brilliant white light before disappearing into my body. I could feel her spirit connect with mine and suddenly I felt her presence around me as if she had never left. My brother followed after her and my mother after him. As each member of my family entered I felt weaker, but at the same time I felt more complete, like the hole in my life was going away. I dropped to my knees and was breathing heavily. As great as I felt being attached to my family, I had felt like I had been drained of all my energy.
“Your pain of separation has been lifted,” my father said to me, but it was not his voice; Helios was talking to me through him. His thunderous voice echoed through the woods. “If you will pledge your service to me to help protect the balance between the worlds, then I will grant you immortality and the power to watch over the worlds.”
“I don’t understand,” I said, fighting to catch my breath.
“This world is connected to Elysia, the afterlife,” he explained. “Without this bridge, the souls of those who have died would wander aimlessly. You must protect the bridge between worlds and ensure that they remain connected.”
I was hesitant to answer. “Why me?” I thought. My life was filled with mistakes and turmoil. I was too unstable to protect myself let alone entire worlds of people. I was weak.
“The struggle within yourself has made you strong and capable of many things,” he said. “While you may think yourself weak and empty, I see a loving and dedicated heart in you. Even after watching every member of your family die, you still carried the strength to wander the world for years to seek refuge from your pain and find a way to communicate with your family again.”
I was confused. I hadn’t spoken out or questioned him.
“Your thoughts are not secret from me,” he said. “There is an evil forming in the shadows and I fear that the balance between the worlds is in danger. The Guardian for this world has been slain by another and the reincarnation cycle has been broken. I shall give you the power to fend off this unholy allegiance if you would only pledge your loyalty to me and the other gods.”
I looked down at the ground. I didn’t know what to say. Then I felt a surge of energy rush through me. I felt completely at peace. I took a deep breath and rose to my feet. With strong conviction in my eyes, I gave Helios my answer.
“Ok, I’ll do it.”
The mirror began to glow until my reflection disappeared completely. The light extended past the mirror and enveloped me. My right shoulder began to burn and I grasped it in pain. The right sleeve of my shirt was torn off and I could see my skin peeling back in a series of thick curving lines down my arm. From beneath the peeling skin I saw a green light pulsing. The pain grew more intense until I couldn’t bear it anymore and I began to black out. As my sight was fading I heard Helios speak again.
“Find the Tranquil Gardens in Elysia, there you will find a master to train you.”
My sight went black and the world went quiet.
I woke in the woods with little memory of what had passed. I was half convinced that it had all been a dream until I saw the burn on my right shoulder. The scorched design looked as if it had been tattooed onto my arm. I stood up to examine my shoulder in the mirror, but as I got closer the mirror began to crack and splinter. I backed away quickly, but as I did it returned to its normal state. Confused, I approached the mirror again more cautiously. I went to place my hand on it, but as I put a little amount of force on the mirror my hand sank and the mirror cracked and splintered around it. I slowly pushed my hand further into the mirror until I was up to my shoulder. The design on my shoulder began to pulse a radiant green color as I pushed the rest of my body into the blackness behind the mirror. The cracks only seemed to form around my body. I emerged on the other side of the mirror in a large fire lit room that seemed like a ruin. The stone work on the floor was uneven and unlevel. The large circular room was lit only by several large pedestals topped with flame. The most impressive feat, however, was the large green orb in the center of the room; the orb was the same green glow as the design on my shoulder. Though, that room only seemed to show the top portion of the brilliant globe and it was as if the room was built around this large sphere. There was a staircase leading down to my right, following the curvature of the wall. Another staircase sat to my right leading up, only a soft white light was emanating like a smoky fog from the top of the staircase. I was captivated by the light as if it was calling me to it. I felt a presence shoot past my left shoulder and suddenly an apparition appeared in front of me; a floating spectrum in a torn cloak. A skeletal arm hung from each side of the cloak, but the face could not be seen; the figure was wreathed in black smoke. It spoke to me in its dark voice.
“Who are you?” it spat.
“I am Duke,” I spoke back quickly, too afraid to falter my words.
“State your purpose,” it replied impatiently.
“I was greeted by Helios,” I explained as I looked at the mark on my shoulder. “He told me to find the Tranquil Gardens and I ended up here,” I said, careful not to fumble my words.
There was a short pause and I feared that the creature was going to strike me down. That demonic apparition had terrified me, though I was careful not to show my fear.
“I am Chiron, the arbiter for Elysia,” it said bluntly. “The gardens you seek lie at the top of that staircase.”
He motioned towards the staircase to my right, where the light was emanating from. When I looked back, Chiron was gone. I approached the staircase uneasily; I wasn’t sure what I would find in the Tranquil Gardens. I walked into the cloud of light and at the top of the stairs was an entirely different room. The walls and floor and dome ceiling were a magnificent white; glossy marble covered the entire floor. Intricate designs were carved into the walls and ceiling of the room. It was truly a sight to behold. Across from the top of the staircase there was another mirror, but this one was trimmed in a golden floral pattern that decorated the arch of the mirror. At the pinnacle of the mirror was a peculiar design made of black stone inlayed into the mirror. The design was of an array of connecting crescent moons. To the left and right of the mirror were two stone fountains. Water poured like a waterfall into a stone bowl and water from the bowl poured over the edge and formed into a cloudy white fog before reaching the ground. As I was admiring the supreme workmanship of the room, I noticed the mirror beginning to fracture as a figure began to emerge from it. The man that exited the mirror wore a long white robe that was edged in a gold feather pattern at the base and around the hood and sleeve cuffs. The man pulled back his hood to reveal his youthful face coupled with long black hair.
“Greetings, Duke, I am Havok,” he said. “Helios has instructed me to teach you to wield the weapon you were gifted and instruct you in the archaic art of energy manipulation.”
“I was given no weapon,” I replied.
The man approached me and placed his hand on my right shoulder.
“Yet, you bear the mark of Verus, god of struggle,” he explained as he examined my shoulder.
I looked at my shoulder and explained that it was a wound I received from being burned.
“The burn you felt was the weapon being integrated into your body,” he said. “The scar marks you as a servant to the gods.”
I gripped my shoulder and examined it in curiosity.
“What about the light?” I asked
“The light you see is your newly gifted power in effect. It allows you to enter Elysia and travel to other worlds. It is also the sheath for your weapon,” he explained to me. “Come with me, I will teach you.”
Havok turned back towards the mirror and passed through. I was hesitant to follow. A new life was beginning for me and I wasn’t sure what was in store, all I knew is that it began here. I approached the mirror to the Tranquil Gardens to begin my training and assume my role as a Guardian Angel; a servant to the gods.
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