“A- an Immortal?”
I nodded. Or rather, I let my head fall forward, then laboriously pulled it back up to stare balefully at the four dubious faces watching me.
“That’s what I said.”
The caster, Jessa, shook her head vigorously at my words.
“That- that’s impos-”
I cut her off with a sardonic laugh that quickly devolved into a coughing fit.
“Imp- impossible, is it? Just as impossible as a book teleporting around? Or a bag of jelly regaining its human form? Surely one as traveled as yourself should have realized by now- Nothing is truly impossible in this world of yours.”
She fell silent, staring at me with an uncertain expression. I rolled my eyes, then slowly stretched out my arms to find purchase in the cracked and bloodied ground and began to drag myself forward, towards the far distant door. It was an excruciatingly slow process, but what I lacked in strength I more than made up for in time, and so I persisted. I had made it nearly a quarter of the distance, staining my clothes an irremovable crimson in the process, when I heard footsteps suddenly begin approaching me, followed by a startled shout.
Before I could even begin orienting myself to look back, I felt a dull blow in my side. Glancing sluggishly over my shoulder, I was just in time to watch the silver-haired girl kick my side again. I raised an eyebrow.
“So if neither blades nor magic can put me down, you decide to resort to the most formidable weapon of all- Petulant flailing. I commend you for using such a rare and difficult technique.”
Her face, already bruised and dirtied, twisted up even further at my words.
I paused in my dragging and rolled over to face upwards, quirking my other eyebrow in the process.
She didn’t respond, instead quickly looking around our immediate vicinity before her gaze settled on something beyond my sight. She dashed off, only to return moments later with the broken top third of a spear in her hands. I waited patiently as she drove the tip of the spear up to my throat, pricking the skin and drawing a bead of blood to the surface.
“Why are you alive!? Why do you get to live and Etheel… and my brother…”
She broke off as tears began to stream down her face again. Behind her, I watched the armored man, Daniel, begin to move towards her, but he was stopped by the red-haired woman’s arm. I sighed.
“Child, if you think that toy in your hands does anything to threaten me, I’m afraid you are sorely mistaken. This… condition… of mine makes a mockery of the weapons of men.”
Her tear-tracked face broke into an almost feral snarl as she twisted to the side, leaving a shallow cut across my throat, and drove the spear deep into my shoulder. I blinked as she leaned down to stare into my eyes, her violet eyes darkening until they were almost black. This was unexpected.
“Fool! I am no child- I am ancient beyond measure, with power to match. Thou would do well to humble thyself before me, lest thou wishes to be torn asunder and destroyed for all eternity!”
Interesting. From what I could see, the girl was possessed by an incredibly powerful spirit of some sort, perhaps even a remnant of a fallen god. What a shame, then, that it was likely nowhere near as powerful as it had once been.
“If you are ancient beyond measure, then perhaps we have more in common than I had originally imagined. However, that shell of flesh is still but a child, and if you are truly as powerful as you claim, why did you not save that boy and break free yourself?”
The girl’s body flinched, and I knew I was correct. Either the spirit was restricted from using its powers, or it was severely diminished. In either case, it was now but a shadow of its former self, and surely incapable of destroying me as it had claimed. Like I said, how disappointing.
“I… could not save the lad. But had I been given the opportunity, I would have at least tried! Thou did nothing!”
I could feel the gazes from the three onlookers sharpen at the spirit’s words, but I ignored them.
“For one who claims to be ancient, you are remarkably involved with these children. Why is that? Surely you know well that they will pass beyond the veil long before you.”
The girl’s face twisted again, this time into a look of disdain.
“Indeed, their lives are but mere moments compared to mine. But that is all the more reason for me to use mine powers and time to aid them, so that they may live and accomplish something of note before they are dust once again!”
I sighed again, then slowly reached into my breast pocket and removed the book from where it had been resting.
“Unfortunately, I must disagree. I see no value in interfering with the lives of this world’s mortals. If they should live, let them do it by their own will and power. And if they should die, let it be for the same reasons. No good can come from getting involved with such impermanent and fickle beings. And now, I must bid you all farewell. I grow weary of this debate…”
Before I could open my mouth to command the book, however, the girl jerked the spear free of my shoulder and slammed the broken haft into the hand that held the book, knocking it free and sending it sliding across the floor.
“Thou shalt not flee!”
I rolled my eyes. Ah, to have such youthful energy again.
“Fleeing would imply there was something here for me to fear. As it stands, you are nowhere near powerful enough to destroy me, which is enough of a disappointment on its own. So please, do stop throwing a tantrum, and let me get back to ambling through my endless purgatory.”
The girl opened her mouth again, but before she could speak the raven-haired caster stepped forward and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Goddess, please, allow me to speak to this… being. Eve’s body is already tired, and you know the strain continued manifestation can place upon it.”
For a moment, the spirit seemed ready to resist the request, but then I saw a flash of something like guilt in her dark eyes, and she nodded.
“Very well, I shall retreat for the moment. But I expect him-”
She pointed vigorously down at me with the tip of the spear.
“-to be present when next I awaken.”
Without waiting for a response, the spirit withdrew, leaving the girl limp and her eyes far brighter. As she began to collapse, the raven-haired caster knelt down and caught her, cradling her in her arms like one would a younger sibling or child. The expression she directed at me had no such tenderness in it.
“You let Etheel die?”
Tired of lying on my back for all these tedious questions, I slowly dragged myself over to one of the now-cracked support pillars and propped myself up against it.
“If Etheel was the name of the silver-haired boy, then I did not save him, no.”
The caster’s face grew more grim, yet her tone remained even when she next spoke.
“May I ask why?”
I returned her gaze evenly.
“Let me pose a question in return: If you saw a fawn being stalked by wolves, would you intervene to save the fawn?”
For the first time since she had cut down Micheal and his men, I heard genuine anger in her voice.
“That is hardly the same thing! A child is not the same as a deer!”
“Perhaps in your eyes, that might be the case. In mine, all mortal creatures are much the same, be it a child of man or a child of beast. All will die in what feels like the blink of an eye, and I will still be here, regardless. So why would I attempt to save a creature that is fundamentally different from myself? Though, if that child had the power to destroy me, perhaps I might have acted.”
She frowned at that, but the armored man spoke up before she could.
“You keep saying such things. Are you truly so desperate to die?”
I turned my gaze on him, and he drew back slightly at the desperation in my eyes.
“Of Course. I was once a man, much as you are now, but I have walked this world for far longer than I can recall. It is agony incarnate- A prison I can never be free of.”
It was the man’s turn to frown.
“But surely because of that, you’ve been able to see and do far more than any other person could ever dream of! It’s a gift many would kill for-”
I snarled and weakly threw my arms wide.
“Do not call this a gift! You have no concept, no understanding of what it is like to survive through everything- Every victory, every defeat, every sacrifice, every love, every heartbreak…”
I trailed off and took a shuddering breath before continuing.
“It breaks one down, until there is nothing left. There is no reprieve, no respite, no end. Tell me this: After you’ve seen everything, done everything, experienced everything not once or twice but dozens of times, what then? What is left? No, this is no gift. This is a curse, a burden I will never be free from, and one you could never understand.”
I was seized by a sudden coughing fit, likely the result of using my lungs more in the last few moments than I had in the entirety of the last century. It took me several moments to ride out the fit, and several more to regain my breath, and by that point the armored man and the red-haired woman had gathered around the raven-haired caster and were speaking in hushed voices. Paying them no heed, I quietly called for the book, smirking slightly as the trio jumped at the popping noise.
“Well, this has been an extremely… stimulating… meeting. However, it is time for me to bid you children farewell. I doubt we will meet again.”
So saying, I rolled over onto my stomach and resumed my dragging crawl towards the doorway. Silence followed me for a few moments, then the hushed discussion behind me resumed, this time at a faster pace. I had almost reached the doorway when a voice called out from behind me.
Grimacing in consternation, I slowly looked back. Behind me, the raven-haired caster was now standing flanked by the red-haired woman, who now carried the child on her back, and the armored man who was sporting an impressive frown.
“Now what? Another tantrum? Or are you going to squish me into paste for old time’s sake?”
The caster shook her head.
“No. We want to make a deal with you.”
Beside her, the armored man’s frown deepened, and she sighed.
“Alright, I want to make a deal with you.”
I raised my eyebrows in curiosity.
“A deal? What kind of deal?”
The caster took a deep breath, seemingly to steel herself, then began to speak.
“We, the five of us, were hired by a very powerful organization to protect Eve and Etheel, and to bring them to the northernmost city of the Duchy of Balt, Hagcope. I want you to travel with us and help us protect Eve from any other threats like this one.”
She gestured around the corpse-strewn dungeon. My eyes followed her gesture for a moment before snapping back to focus on her face.
“And if I were to entertain such an idea, what would be my reward?”
She shifted slightly on her feet.
“To explain that, I need to explain why we were hired to bring Eve and Etheel to Hagcope. As you’ve already seen, Eve is the host for a fragment of a fallen goddess. Etheel also has- had the potential to host such a fragment, which is why he was part of the contract-”
I cut her off with a wave.
“Even an immortal has limits to their patience. Get to the point.”
“I’m getting to it. We were hired to bring Eve and the fragment she holds to Hagcope because, in the farthest reaches of the northern forests and tundras, we’ve received reports of large numbers of beasts and monstrous creatures gathering, led by a small group of people similar to Eve- People who hold fragments of fallen gods, but these ones either malicious or insane. The northern kingdoms have all banded together to destroy this group before it becomes a larger threat, and they’ve sent for fragment holders from all across the continent to come join their cause-”
“The. Point. Please.”
As the caster opened her mouth to reply, the armored man suddenly interjected.
“The point is, there’s a rumor going about that one of the fragment holders leading that group is in possession of an incredibly powerful artefact, one said to have been made by a god bent on destruction. It’s supposedly a blade capable of killing anything- Even a god.”
I blinked. I had actually heard talk of such an item centuries ago, but no amount of searching on my part had ever been able to turn up anything substantial. In all likelihood, this was simply another such rumor, spread by fear-mongering tongues. But if it wasn’t…
Pressed against my chest, I felt the book shudder slightly, and in a heartbeat I knew what my answer would be.
“Very well, you’ve sufficiently piqued my curiosity, and you do seem like you need the help. I’ll accept your deal, but on one condition.”
The caster raised her own eyebrow.
I nodded as I pulled the book out again and carefully opened it, flipping quickly past page after page covered in crimson ink until I finally reached a blank page. Pausing, I reached up and bit down on my thumb, tearing it open and letting the blood flowing from within splash upon the blank page. The wound only existed for a moment before sealing back up without a trace, but already the previously blank page was covered in new writing, shining with the sheen of freshly-spilled blood. I looked up to find shock plainly written on the faces of my audience.
“The condition is, you will apply your blood to this page and seal the contract, which stipulates that if this rumor you mentioned is a falsehood created to trick me into accompanying you, you will have all the blood drained from your body, leaving you a dessicated husk until the end of time. Do you accept?”
If they hesitated now, it simply meant that I would continue on as I always had, leaving the world to tear itself and its inhabitants to shreds without my involvement. But if they accepted…
The caster stepped forward, pulling a dagger from her belt and setting it against her thumb as she did so.
“Welcome to our party, Evren. Here’s to a good journey.”
As she pulled the dagger across her thumb and let her blood drip onto the page, I allowed myself to feel a glimmer of hope for the first time in many, many centuries.
“A good journey indeed. And perhaps, for me, the final journey as well.”