I sit in the chill alone, another mile further down the road, staring up at the sky and watching my breath as it forms puffs of vanishing clouds. The air is the way only winter can make it, sharp and crisp, cutting at my lungs as it goes down my throat. Clouds are gathering, distant on the horizon, foreshadowing the storm I know is coming. Wind, snow, and tumult; the storm of our humanity will not even register.
I hope he feels as tired as I do, as hopeless and alone. Is he worn out and ready to quit, the strength to keep fighting drained by these endless hardships? No, not him. For him, the privations and difficulties are merely proof of his righteousness. The blood on his hands only demonstrates the justness of his cause and the lengths he will go to stand by it.
For me, I do not enjoy the apocalypse that he and his kind have wrought. That it is him, of all people, that I am forced to reckon with only makes it all the worse. If it were someone else, someone I did not have such a history with, it would be another matter. It would not cut so deep.
As these thoughts flit through my mind, I finger the sepulchre tome that I carry with me. It has only the dead in it now. The incantations here that my kind once worried over are now only the words of a dead tongue. He and his kind have seen to that.
He has the silver and the gold, and our lives, so many I cannot even bear to count. And now he will take this last thing too, to bring an end to this all.
There is no sense waiting further, and so I get to my weary feet and make my way to him.
He is waiting for me, sitting at a table, deep in some dark corner in a low den of impiety. It is smoke-filled and foul smelling, littered with grim-faced men who meet my eyes only fleetingly, but never cease to watch me. How many of them are his, brought to ensure that I attempt nothing? I ignore them and make my way to sit across from him.
This moment feels inescapable, the culmination of all that has happened before, and I wonder if he feels that way too.
He grins, that false smile. “It is good to see you.”
He nods, grimacing slightly. “You have it then?”
I take the tome out, where I have hidden it in my robes, and place it on the table in front of me. I run my fingers along the spine a final time, feeling the charge and pull of those words, longing to utter them. To curse him. To undo him.
It would do no good though. At least one of these men here is a Betrayer, I feel certain, ready to unfurl a spell on me at the first sign of sorcery on my part. To say nothing of his own abilities, of which I know only too well. It would be my death, and that is what I have come here to avoid.
I push the tome across the table and he looks down at it, not touching it. “So we are done then?”
He inhales deeply and looks up at me. “You are not so tough. You don’t fool me for a moment.” I do not answer and he continues, “We live in a world betrayed.”
“You would know,” I say, looking past him at the men scattered throughout the room. None of them has stopped looking me, but they have not moved either.
“Are you going to pretend not to understand why I have done this? Why all of us have done this? Sorcery could not continue as it was, unfettered. It would have ended with us all destroyed.”
I look at him, rage burning in my cheeks. “Have you forgotten the world is real? You’ve reduced this to another ideology that you’ll toss out tomorrow when it suits you.”
“You were always a stubborn fool,” he says, slumping in his chair. “We live in a world betrayed. This is what the Autarch always says. He will not rest until all sorcery is eradicated.”
“All but his own.”
“It is necessary.”
“Do you smell that?” I say. “It never leaves your presence. The carrion will find your body when Autarch is finished with my kind.”
He bites his lip and at last touches the tome, pulling his hand away as though scalded. “You have always failed to understand him. But you did trust me once. More than that. Trust me again.”
“We’re long past that point now,” I say, standing up and turning to go.
He stands as well, his expression plaintive. I can almost believe he cares. “What will you do? Go back to scrabbling around ruins for any old washed out scraps of parchment to cling to. That is the past now, even you can see that. The future lies elsewhere, with us.”
I shrug my shoulders. “I’ve made it here, I can make it to tomorrow. The next if I have to.”
He reaches out to touch my shoulder. “You won’t reconsider?”
I do not reply, turning my back on him and making my way across the room and back out into the cold. There I find three robed figures awaiting me, faces covered, fingers already moving, spells ready to be unfurled. I look from unseen face to unseen face, knowing in my soul that their faces would be ones I have seen before.
Behind me I hear the door open and turn to see him stepping out into the snow, the cowl on his robe lifted and the mask upon his face as well.
“He is madman you know,” I say in a loud voice. “He will be the ruin of you all.”
“We are finished here,” he says, his voice gone hard. “I gave you a chance to see reason, more than you deserved. But that time is past now. I am deeply sorry.”
“You just do what you have to do,” I say. “Whatever you feel is necessary.”
In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…