The Room

The floor was cold, grey stone.  A single slab, by the look of it.  The walls were seemingly made of the same material, but they gave off a muted glow.  It was the only light source in the room.  I say walls, but I should say wall.  There was only one, circular and enclosing the whole space, about twenty feet across.  There was no obvious seam between the wall and floor, either, so perhaps the whole room was carved out of one very large rock.

The ceiling, if there was one, was out of sight, shrouded in darkness above.  Had I not felt trapped, perhaps I might have appreciated the architectural feat the room represented.  As it was, I had woken up in this place without any idea of how I had gotten here, or even where here was.  No doors were visible in the floor or wall.  If I had fallen, my injuries would be greater than the scrapes I had received from the rough floor.  Maybe I had been lowered down.  Or maybe there were doors well hidden from sight.

Whatever the case, it was clear I was not going anywhere right now.  After being awake for only a few minutes, I could feel panic rising.  Was this a prison?  Or was this just a very odd cavern I had stumbled into?  The room gave no answers, only its muted light.  I was helpless and at the mercy of my situation.  I tried to calm down, tried to distract myself.  An empty room was a poor environment in which to try, but the alternative was madness.  All I could do was sit and wait.  And hope that someone knew I was here.

Alone in the Woods (part two)

After a day and a half, he finally stirred.  Rian had tended to his injury and waited.  It had been an anxious wait.

“You are awake.  Good.  How do you feel?”

“Confused.  Sore.”  He sounded groggy.

“That is not unexpected.  You have been asleep for at least two days.”

His hand shot up to his neck.  “Where is it?”

“Where is what?”

“My medallion.  It was around my neck.”

“What does it look like?”

He scoffed.  “You took it off.”

She feigned ignorance.  “I did no such thing.  Is it a family heirloom?  There was no medallion where I found you.”

He did not look convinced.

“So what happened to you?  I found you unconscious in the woods, but how did you get there?”

He stared at her intently.  “Do you really not know who I am?”

She was trying very hard to appear relaxed and unconcerned. Luckily false appearances were her speciality.  “I have never seen you before.  How should I know who you are?”

“And my clothes?  They mean nothing?”

“They are very nice.  Since you seem so concerned about this medallion, I assume you are from a wealthy family.  But I know little of such things.”

Doubt began to creep across his face.  Had he begun to believe that she might really not know anything about the Terrgat?  When he spoke next, he sounded less rough, more cordial toward his host.

“I had been riding.  Something must have startled my horse, and she threw me.  I assume I hit my head, and that is where you found me.  Perhaps I lost the medallion in the fall.  I apologize for accusing you.”

She waved her hand.  “It is alright.  I can take you back where I found you when you feel better.  We can look for it.  I saw no sign of your mount, however.”

“Thank you.”  His eyes closed and his head sank back into the pillow.

She needed to know more.  Was he in the woods because of her?  Did others know where he was?  In the end, did it matter?

She sat and watched him sleep.  What should she do?  Even if he was not looking for her before, he knew she was here now.  How long would it take to suspect her of being a mage?  Could she really be safe anymore?  If he were to disappear, would others come looking for him?  And is that something she could even do?  She had never killed before.

This Terrgat, he and his, had killed nearly everyone she had ever known.  If he found out who she was, he would certainly try to kill her.  But could she kill him to save herself?

Maybe she should just leave, go somewhere else.  Now that she had been found once, it could happen again.  It would be safer to quit this place.  But she was tired.  Too tired, she thought, to start again.  She would not run once more.

That decided it, then.  What she had to do.  He was defenseless; it would be a simple matter to stop his breathing.  A kinder death than he would give her, she was certain.

The shadows had grown long during her deliberation, and everything had taken on an orange hue in the late afternoon sun.  The Terrgat’s eyes were open once more and looking at her.

“Could I have something to drink?  I did not want to interrupt you, but I am very thirsty.”

“Oh, of course.  You need liquids to recover properly.”  She poured a glass of water from the pitcher and handed it to him.

“Thank you.  You have been very kind to me.”

“You are welcome.”  She smiled.  “I could not just leave you to die.”  As she said it, she knew it was true, and she could not bring herself to make it false.

Alone in the Woods (part one)

Rian was walking back to her small cabin from the village when she found him.  The woods around her home were inhabited only by small animals.  It was more than a day’s walk to the village and there was no road or other path, so she had never seen another person out here.  Yet it was the fact that he was wearing the green and black colors of the Terrgat that truly unnerved her.

Ever since she had had to flee from her last home, this day haunted her thoughts.  She had refused to form new ties because of it.  Only making trips to the village when she was desperate for supplies, no one there knew who she was or even where she lived.  Just another crazy hermit in the woods or the caves.  She had offered her services to no one, so there wasn’t anyone to depend upon her.  All of this was to make it easy to run again.  And running is precisely what she should do.  If there was one Terrgat – even if he was unconscious and perhaps injured – there would be more.

Despite all of that, she did not relish the idea of leaving.  Why was the Terrgat here?  She had been extremely careful; there was no reason for them to suspect her presence.  Maybe his presence was merely a coincidence.  Perhaps they weren’t looking for her.  Could she stay after all?

It was foolish, she knew.  Even if he was here by accident, she should not take the chance.  And yet the mystery intrigued her.  It was probably the isolation.  The ideal mage life of solitary study, unimpeded by social obligations, had never quite fit her.  Rian always enjoyed contact with others, cooperative endeavors.  These past several years spent almost entirely alone had worn her down.  Finding out why this Terrgat was here, and how he had gotten injured, excited her far more than it should.

She could see he was still breathing.  Getting closer, blood was evident on his brow, but it was not much.  He might have hit his head on a rock, but that still didn’t explain his presence.  If she wanted answers, she would need to ask him.  That meant bringing him back to her cabin where she could tend to his wound properly.

He was not a very large man, maybe not even as tall as she was, though it was difficult to tell while he was prone.  Still, she had no intention of carrying him.  The levitation spell was simple.  It would make him light enough to pull without much effort at all.  However, though it was one of the first spells she had learned, it would not work.  Only after several attempts did she remember the medallion, the Terrgat’s secret weapon against mages, making them immune to magic directed at them.  Secret, that is, until word spread about them after the catastrophe that brought down Cepheus’ kingdom.

She pulled the chain over his head and stared at the circular piece.  Gold, emerald, and onyx, just as it had been described to her.  Holding it made her feel a little dizzy.  The magic that normally infused her was silent, she realized after a moment.  Its absence seemed to unmoor her from the world, and she dropped the disk.  Having one of these, studying how it worked, was tempting.  But it frightened her as well.  She wished she could send it far away, but she had no means to do so.  She left it where it lay.

The levitation spell worked easily now, and she resumed her journey home, the unconscious Terrgat in tow.  It was almost certainly a mistake.  But it was also a chance at information she might never have again.  And anyway, life had gotten too boring.

The Plan

“Wait.  What?”

“I kicked them out of the garden.”

“And why?”

“They disobeyed.”

“By eating from the tree?”

“I told them not to.”

“The tree of knowledge.”

“Right.”

“Knowledge of good and evil.”

“Yes.  That tree.  I told them not to.”

“So you punished them.”

“Yes!  Why are you belaboring this?”

“Just want to be sure I understand.  You told two creatures with no knowledge of good and evil, two creatures with no understanding of right and wrong, not to do something.  When they did it, you punish them for having been disobedient, for having done something wrong.  When they didn’t know what it meant for something to be wrong.”

“Well, when you put it that way…”

“And why did you tell them not to eat from the tree?”

“I didn’t want them to become like us.”

“Okay, hold on.  So you made two creatures, and to keep them inferior, you did not give them knowledge of good and evil.  Then you make a tree, such that if they eat from it, they will gain that knowledge.  Then you tell them not to eat from it, even though they don’t know what wrong is, but definitely raising their curiosity.  Then you punish them when the completely foreseeable happens.  Does that sound like an accurate summary?”

“Well, I wouldn’t put it like that…”

“No, of course not.  How long is the punishment going to last?”

“Well…”

“What?”

“I sort of told them it was permanent.”

“What?!”

“Don’t worry, I have a plan.”

“I can’t wait to hear it.”

“This is really good.  In a few thousand years, after they have had time to think about it, I’ll go down and inhabit one of their offspring.  I’ll tell  them all about this place and guarantee those who apologize a place here.  Some of them will get angry and kill me.  That sacrifice will make up for this act of disobedience and clear the way for everyone who is sorry to come back to us.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I know.  Isn’t it a great story?”

“No.  I mean, you are kidding, aren’t you?”

“You don’t like it?”

“Like it?  Your initial reason for all of this was to keep them from becoming like us.  But now they have the knowledge you kept from them.  And after the most complicated and convoluted plan I can imagine, you’re going to let some of them in here so that they become exactly like us.  But you’re going to let them suffer for several thousand years first.”

“I can’t just forgive them.”

“Why not?”

“Because, they have to ask for forgiveness first.  And there has to be some sort of punishment.  That’s why I’ll go down.  To take their punishment and show my love for them.”

“They didn’t do anything wrong!”

“They broke the rule.”

“When they didn’t know what rules were.”

“Still.”

“And why does there have to be a sacrifice?”

“Because justice demands it.”

“You made that up.”

“What do you mean?”

“You made that rule.  Change it.”

“I can’t.  I’ll look weak.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes.”

“Wow.  Okay.  I’m leaving.”

“Why?”

“Well, since you’ve got all these great ideas, maybe you can figure it out.”

“Where will you go?”

“Anywhere but here.  Good luck with your plan.  They deserve better than this.  Goodbye.”

Initiation, Reversed

Disruption.  Again.  The meaning was still obvious.  The world was in turmoil.  His life was in turmoil.  There was nothing new here.  He knew it was still relevant counsel, still important to listen to what the rune was telling him.  He needed to leave behind old ways.  But his patience had worn thin, and he wanted something more than this same message.

He cast the runes once more.  Perth.  Initiation.  Reversed.  It seemed the runes were not going to let him off the hook.  He faced obstacles and needed to approach them as opportunities for growth.  The world was testing him, and his focus on the past and future meant failing in the now.  Now, the only time that really matters.

Too often, he viewed his challenges as external.  He needed to see that his life was his, the challenges were his.  Quit thinking about harms already suffered.  Quit worrying about what the next day might bring.  The question was what he would do right now.

Right now, there were needs to be met, problems to be solved, things that could not wait for some other time.  Those issues that could wait needed to be left alone for now.  Their time would come.

The present is the only time there is.  The only time he had.  Making good use of it, focusing on it, was the only way forward.  But the past and future were always lurking at the edge of consciousness, threatening his concentration.  If he was to grow, if he was to find his way out of disruption’s grip, he needed to resist their pull.  Whatever lay before him demanded this growth.  The only question left was whether he could meet this demand.

Stains

The church was dimly lit, cold and quiet.  As I sat on a pew a few rows back from the front, I thought about how each of those descriptors helped make this place feel right somehow.  There were candles lit in the front and along either side.  The flames flickered in the drafts that permeated the space, and I was glad for my jacket.  A single light lit the altar.  No one else was present.  It was just me and whatever passed for the divine in here.

Perhaps that seems too flippant.  Maybe blasphemous.  Even so.

I intend no disrespect.  In my experience, most things identified as divine aren’t.  And those that are don’t want obedient pets.  If they had, I’m pretty sure we never would have discovered sarcasm.

The best time to visit churches is always later in the day, in the middle of the week.  By then, most people are so wrapped up in their lives that they don’t have time for things beyond them.  Occasionally an older woman – always a woman – will be there, begging intercession on behalf of her family.  But they don’t want to talk.  They just want to make their pleas in silence and leave.  Usually the only interruption is in the form of…

“Can I help you, sir?”  A priest.  Always looking to be helpful.  Always.

“No, father.  Just having a little chat.”

“Praying?”

“Sure.”

“If you like, I can hear your confession.”  He was on the younger side.  Probably in his 30s.  Still had an earnest hopefulness about him.  A few more decades of listening to humanity’s sins should beat that out of him.

“No, thank you.  Just spending some time, one-on-one.”

“Are you certain?  You know what they say, confession is good…”

“For the soul.  Yes, I’ve heard.”  I smiled, trying not to seem rude.  Not only did he have the hopefulness of youth, he had the insistence of it, as well.  Most would have given up by now.  But he showed no sign of leaving me in peace.

“I haven’t seen you before.”

I smiled again, more forced this time.  “I guess not.  I travel a lot.  Like to visit different churches when I go new places.”

“Oh, very good.  But you do have a spiritual home?”

Concern for my soul.  Hopeful, indeed.  “Certainly.”

“Which diocese, if you don’t mind me asking?”

I did, actually.  I don’t like lying in houses of worship.  Silly rule, I suppose, given everything.  But the little things become important when so much else shifts.  They help us hang on, remember who we are.  Of course, not lying in this case just opened up more questions for him to ask.  Still, no reason to break the rule.  “I’m not Catholic, father.”

“But you’ve come to a Catholic church to pray?”

“God is everywhere, after all.”

“That is true,” he replied, still confused.

“You don’t mind that I came here, do you?”

“No, no.  Of course not.  The church is open to all.”

“Thank you, father.”

He surprised me by finally taking the hint.  He simply nodded and walked away, inspecting the other pews.  If asked, I’m certain he would say he was looking to see if any homeless had wandered in to sleep.  Or perhaps making sure that no one had left anything behind after the last Mass of the day.  I am equally certain he would be lying, so I didn’t ask.  As long as he let me be, I didn’t mind if he wanted to keep his eye on me.

Perhaps the divine was everywhere, though I doubted it would be hanging out here.  But I could be wrong.  And in any event, there was still something about these places where people gathered in search of it.  Maybe they knew something I didn’t.

But tonight had brought me no insight.  No hint of that something greater.  With the priest still trying to appear not to be watching me, I walked out of the church.  I wondered if I could find a laundromat to get some of the stains out of my shirt.

Try, Try Again

When he walked into the apartment, his roommate looked up from his book.  “How did it go?”

He slumped into one of the armchairs.  “She broke up with me.”

His roommate looked puzzled.  “Wow.  Serious déjà vu.  How many times have we had this conversation before?”

“I’ve lost count.  Maybe a dozen?”

“A dozen?!”

He shrugged.  “Give or take.”

“You’ve gone back about a dozen times, and each time she breaks up with you?  I think it’s time to take the hint and move on.”

“I almost had it right,” he protested.  “I could tell.  She nearly didn’t break up with me.  I think I can fix it on the next go round.”

“I don’t have the benefit of remembering our previous conversations like you do, so you’ll have to indulge me.  How many times have you said that?”

“Don’t remember.”

“Uh huh.  So you’ve lived through the same day over and over trying to stop this one woman from breaking up with you.  How long do you intend to do this?”

“As long as it takes.”

“That’s crazy.”

“It’s not like I’m wasting time.  I can do this over and over and never lose a day.”

“But you never move forward!  You plan on just staying stuck here?”

“I’m getting tired of this same argument.”

“Quit going back, then.”

“What’s the point of being able to relive a day if you don’t try to fix your mistakes?”

“But you haven’t fixed anything.  Whatever you’re doing isn’t working.  Maybe it’s bigger than just this day.  Don’t you think it might be time to let go?”

He sighed.  Was it time to give up on this and let time move forward?  “Maybe you’re right.”

“Just go to sleep.  Let today go and see what tomorrow brings.”

“I suppose so.  Well, I guess I should go to bed before I change my mind.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.  See you tomorrow.”  His roommate grinned.

He smiled back to acknowledge the jab and walked down the hall to his bedroom.

*     *     *

When he walked into the apartment, his roommate looked up from his book.  “How did it go?”

He slumped into one of the armchairs.  “She broke up with me.”