An old man comes face to face with a long-thought-dead adversary
There is a man I observed the other day that I have been unable to neither place nor forget since. I am following him to his abode now, so I will know properly how to welcome him when his name is restored to my memory. Quickly, my eyes following, the man crosses the center of town, past several vegetable patches to a tiny dwelling where he enters. The town of Ree is small, so the newcomer's presence is quite noticeable to my eyes. Almost on the point of entering the man's territory, I stop, turn and decide to return to my own home. The question of the stranger's person is one that must be answered, but mayhap it will be some other day.
Forgive me, I should introduce myself. My name is Ekaruu 'Skip' Jean and, as mentioned, I expect my final days will be acquired and lost in this small town of Ree. I was not always an inhabitant of Ree though. No. I had a trade, a lady-love - ah Caterine; just the memory of her name warms my heart - and I lived in Ormund; A bustling city where the population vastly outpaces the town's boundaries. But I was exiled - convicted of a crime I did not commit - and now, age is taking its toll on my weary body... I fear I will not live out the summer.
And the reason for my exile? Ah, the tale is tragic, and long in the telling. Perhaps you would rather hear of the Golden Sword of Dominion, lost out of time, once in the Hautii Mountains, or the ancient Rod of Ancatis... no matter. Such things are the perils of youth, and youthfulness fled my person long ago. It is strange that I think of these things now, when I haven't in years past.
Suddenly, there is a tickling in the back of my mind, very similar to when I spotted the newcomer of Ree for the first time - and then, like wisps of smoke rising from a dying fire, as a bloated corpse will ascend from the bottom of a blackened lake, the name Igor Mirykin assaults my mind. Igor... Igor...
Igor Mirykin!! By gods, I had hoped, had prayed for - but never had I suspected that fate would ever deliver Igor into my hands.
Let me begin anew. Once, a long time ago, I was exiled from my native land of Ormund, and sad I was to see the last of my friends, family and hometown, you may be sure. At that time, in Ormund, dwelt my best friend Igor, who was to become my worst of rivals. Why, you may ask? Well, the two of us, in the flourish of youth, fell for a lady. The same lady Caterine. But this is a story of a great tragedy and a terrible deed, not a lover's ode.
It was a new winter the night Igor and I met the lady Caterine, or so my memory recalls. Years later, on another starry night I remember we were clothed heavily against the cold, whilst faint wisps of steam emerged lazily from out our mouths as we kissed.
Some weeks later, she suggested proposal - highly unusual for a female in these times - and I accepted greedily; secretly was our marriage, for have I not said she was a succulent foreign girl, rich and rare, taken to bouts of shyness? This caused a rift to form between me and my best friend, Igor Mirykin, though we had thrown stones at beggars together and explored the rocky mountainside surrounding Ormund. Igor's attentions were not quenched however, and he wooed her despite the proposal. At the time, living by the name Skip, I thought little of his chances, for I was a blacksmith's apprentice, solid of muscle and bone and he an ordinary man without a trade. But secretly, he sought some edge in the romantic stakes. He began to visit Dyne; the town drunkard and druggard, and his whole outlook on things began to change. Suddenly he was a man of notable repute for his supposedly "brilliant" essays on the mind and other, what I would call... extraneous subjects. But I had visited Dyne before then, and I knew beyond a glimmer of a doubt the essays were in truth only ripples of Dyne's warped reality. However grand Igor's theories may have been they had only found a niche because Dyne no longer possessed the tenacity required by the genius to walk the line between madness and sanity.
This was a well of illicit opportunity which Igor drank greedily from.
Time passed, and eventually Caterine decided to call off the marriage proposal - said that she needed time to choose which of us was the more important to her.
This brought great joy to Igor's heart, and much dread to mine, as you may imagine.
In any case, the time came when we grew impatient of her isolation. We demanded that she make a choice, and in counterpoint she suggested retreating to the mountains for a few days to smoke of the sacred ytras weed - supposedly a key to enlightenment and widely known as an alleviator of tough decisions - to divine which of us was her ky-rein or soul-mate. This was not an uncommon request for the 'wilder' young girls of our generation. We prepared to set out immediately.
Later, when we arrived, we set up camp, ate dinner, talked quietly about what we were planning to do and finally Caterine revealed the leaves that her and Igor had sought while I had cooked dinner. They were a brown-yellow colour and required no blade to chop - merely rubbing the stuff together was enough to break it down to the point that it could be smoked. The smoking was done in small pipes and we consumed two or three each - the effect was almost instantaneous.
Colours and sounds that I could never recall became evident, as if they were always lurking there. Caterine appeared to me even more beautiful, if that was possible, even Igor was elevated to the heights of something more than a friend - though I would never call any man but family loved... We began to laugh foolishly, hysterically, and the sense of communion was such as I have never experienced then or after.
But our joy was not to last - at least not in the end. Caterine and I became... connected, or so it seemed. A bond rose up between us, and I knew then, as she knew, that there would never be another for me. Igor saw this and grew quiet, sullen, hardly speaking. In time there grew a storm on his brow and he began to mutter.
Ah, peace. It may be that I am old, and forget much - but I will always remember the black deed Igor committed.
Finally he had stopped muttering darkly under his breath, but it was only to rave. He had said, "You see that!? Do you? It's just like he told me - lightning in a jar..." Cackling, "And you!" pointing at Caterine. "You who I have seen in my nightmares. You think your disguise fools me? I laugh at what you call subtlety. Those fresh lips, wide eyes... you are a daemon!" By the end he had not been talking, or spluttering, but yelling madly.
He had then revealed a wicked blade from within his robe - I know not where it came from or why he had bought it into the countryside - and screaming, he leaped forward to stab my love right through her heart. For a moment, he seemed to realise what he had done and wailed in absolute despair - then he collapsed, pitched into the sleep of the dead. When he awoke, he recalled nothing.
And so it was that I made my next mistake. I told him everything - even stretching back to how and why we were on the outskirts of Ormund, why we smoked the ytras weed, finally the deed he had done. He did not believe a word until he saw Caterine's body - then, crying murder, he fled back to town.
Finally, I arrived safe and ignorant back in town. Strangely, there were no people anywhere in sight. Not man, woman or child. I called out several friends' names as I traipsed the entrance to the town, but my quest for company was unsuccessful. At length, a man heading a large mob charged me - and shockingly, Igor was there with him - as I recall the man had said something to the like of, "He told us of your foul deeds, daemon!" before pitching a rock straight for my face. I ducked, and the stone missed, but the next one took me right in the stomach. I doubled over, and, for a moment, all I knew was pain - more and more rocks rained down on my hapless body as the mob exacted its supposed revenge and I came to a painful and bloody conclusion - Igor's rousing of the mob before I arrived to speak the truth, as well as his having earned a reputation as a great thinker ahead of his time, was very convincing to the people.
The barbaric torture continued for a short time. However, finally the head of the mob - Igor - pleaded with his cohorts for mercy... he claimed that, as I had smoked from the ytras weed, perhaps I was not entirely to blame for Caterine's death. Entirely to blame, forsooth! His guilty conscience spared my life, and saw me exiled from my homeland instead.
It was somewhat understandable - and it would be a reasonable chain of thought to think - that Igor had lost his mind, however cunning he appeared, thanks to the smoking of the ytras weed. The majority of the town denied Dyne any social or personal respect - and there was a motive behind their prejudice. The reason they all ignored Dyne was not because the old man smoked the ytras weed that grew on the mountainous outskirts of town. No, the reason was because many years ago he had pieced together texts of a forgotten age, religious scribblings of breathing and exercise - and chunks of the village council's general knowledge, and formed the pieces into a puzzle so terrifying that four on the council had committed suicide and seven more civilians besides, two of them women. He had unlocked horrors of the mind so inconceivable as to be unattainable for one who had not sold his soul to the daemon of death.
Dyne was an intelligent man. He had suggested, quite compellingly, that each person was either an angel, or a devil. He advocated many irrational excuses at first, and most took him for a fool; but after perfecting his craft and visiting The Stag and Crow (again) - Ormund's best of inns - and giving another speech yet, he really had the people going. The attention was addictive poison, and Dyne started to experiment; mixing chopped up ytras weed with herbs bought from the gypsies that sometimes passed by the town. Dyne's townsmen had been eager before, even bloodthirsty. Three of them were to turn blood-frenzied and begin a killing spree that ended with a total of fourteen dead; women, men and children hacked to pieces for the crime of being 'devils walking alive'. Including suicides as mentioned before, this bought the total deaths induced by Dyne to twenty five.
Surprisingly, (or perhaps it is not so surprising?) the eagerness was drained from the people when the youngsters were found with two men and a little girl that they had killed. Many townsmen vomited to see the youngest, a fourteen year old, laughing and hacking into the cranium of one of the dead men. They had seen enough and decided to kill the boys - but in their town's eye of justice, Dyne was a member of the council and had not actually killed anyone. They spared his life, but his connection to the council and his social status were terminated indefinitely. That is, until Igor had begun visiting him...
You know the rest, and now the tale must end as I approach my rival's doorstep, soon all will be well and I will not die an unhappy old man.
Rap, rap, rap!! Rap, rap, rap!!
Thin, regular hands open the door - a withered voice questions my intentions.
But I think I will play this out before I do anything too hasty, let him simmer for a while.
I reach out my hand and introduce myself, knowing there are a variety of painful techniques at my disposal if he takes my hand. "Good day stranger. I see you are new to town and I wished to give you welcome. My name... is Ekaruu Jean. Some have known me over the years as 'Skip'. Could I trouble you for your name, sir?"
The thin man stepped outside slowly, and as he came into the light, I saw something more horrifying than anything I might have imagined...
"Gerald Nichton, nice to meet you."
The man was most obviously not Igor.
Torin Rutledge, 2005