A flash of lightning on the horizon as dusk settles upon those vast peaks that spread in all directions. It forms a haunting visage of a land torn apart, uprooted and broken, seized by unspeakable forces in days long ago. Ves slides down a snow-streaked road that winds into the town below, his journey interrupted from time to time by the surge of lights from a vehicle making an ascent. The town is quiet, the streets nearly empty, but for a few revelers gathered at the foot of a stairway leading up to a tavern. There are shouts from within and the promise of warmth, drink and women, but he passes on. His day is not yet done.
The town is built upon a mountain with streets that slant here and there, coming together at odd angles, or sometimes ending abruptly. It is one of these that Ves finds himself on, the road coming to an end at a cliff, the gulf below stretching on into a darkness that seems to know no bounds. At the precipice of this awful vastness sits a mansion, spreading across the cliff so broadly that it gives the impression it might teeter over the brink at any moment to what lies below.
When he announces himself at the door servants scurry to rouse the Master. Ves is taken through the building and brought out onto a veranda overlooking the precipice. The air is cool and he can see his breath forming under the lights. He does not have to wait long until the Master emerges from one of the doors to join him. He is unremarkable to look upon, small and thin, with fine features that somehow leave him undefined. Ves can rarely call up a picture of his face in his mind.
“So you found her, did you?” the Master says.
Ves nods. “She has a message for you.”
The Master gestures for him to continue and Ves reaches into his pocket and removes the ring he has kept there these last long months and holds it out for the Master. He takes it and holds it up between his fingers to study it, the ring flashing under the glare of the veranda lights.
“Unfortunate,” the Master says. “How many is that now?”
“Fifteen,” Ves says.
The Master sighs. He looks very old for a moment, carefully hidden years emerging from within his flesh. “I fear our hour grows later and later.”
Ves does not reply, knowing the Master refers only to himself. He will outlive this man, he will last as long as these mountains. As if thinking the same thing, the Master turns to Ves. “Who will you serve when I am gone?
Ves does not answer. The Master does not require an answer, and he could not give him one even if he did.
“You are very much a present tense sort of creature, Ves,” the Master says with a smile, though his voice holds no amusement. Once again Ves does not speak. “What did she say to you?”
“She said your time has passed, that the universe will go on without you running it. Your power has vanished and it is time someone else took your place.”
The Master shakes his head, looking out into the implacable darkness beyond the cliff. “Of course she did. And I imagine she thinks she is the one to be in charge now. Did she make an offer to you?”
Ves nods. The Master flinches at that motion, though he quickly recovers. “And what did you say to her?”
In response Ves reaches out to seize the Master, ignoring his cry of anger and fear, and sends him off the veranda over the precipice, hurtling into the abyss below. His screams seem endless, though eventually they dim and quiet, the serenity of the mountain evening is restored. Ves stares into the unfathomable darkness below, contemplating it for a time. When he is done he nods at it, as though acknowledging someone, and turns back toward the mansion.
There are several of the Masters other servants standing at the veranda door watching him with trepidation, drawn by the Master’s scream. When they see him turn around they flee back into the house, glancing back as if expecting Ves to follow. He does not, going to sit on one of the veranda chairs, staring off at the sky as though lost in thought. After half an hour or more a new star appears above, growing larger and brighter by the moment and Ves stands and heads into the mansion.
Within the other servants are frantically packing what they can and streaming from the house out into the mountain town. Though it is many hours before dawn, most start down the tortuous road to the valley below. Some are weeping, all look frightened and grim, already appearing to be destitute in spite of the finery of their clothes. Ves pays them little mind, standing aside to let them go.
When the last is gone, Ves closes the door and stands outside at the entrance, erect and alert, his eyes still on the growing star. The light grows brighter and brighter until it blinks out, disappearing into the planet’s darkside. Some time later he hears the roar of a landing vessel echoing through the mountains. Its lights are visible a moment later and he watches as it sets down on the landing pad just above the town.
Soon there are a number of people, marching in a line, down the road and the streets he had recently walked, visible but unrecognizable from the streetlights. Ves knows who they are and he sets his vest, smoothing out his shirt and pants, and goes out to greet his new Master.
In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…
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