This story begins with an end.
So many times I play this scene over and over in my head. What could I have said to stop her? Was it my fault for not worrying enough? So many questions and I have no answer for any of them and it plagues me so and rips at my soul. Has so little time passed since then? I feel like a man stuck out of time looking back and forwards all at once. I see her standing there again, the sun shining brightly behind her as she grabbed her things in preparation for a small walk.
I remember asking as the memory plays on its own in my mind’s eye.
“You’re leaving?” I asked, pretending to have my attention occupied by the trophies that she insisted to have about the formally empty walls of her cabin.
The older woman standing before me smiled kindly at me, but that smile was tired and wearied “I have some business to take care of. I’ll be back before you know it, I promise.” She said with a cordial nod and an inference of a better future for the both of them. She was ready to leave and I was here mulling in worry and unrest.
She paused at my silence “You’re still worried, aren’t you? “She asked concerned.
“Why shouldn’t I be?” I retorted. “The attacks have been coming every day.”
Glen ran her hand over her right cheek, along the jagged scar that marred her pale, wrinkled skin “I’m only going into Liberdam.” She said with a cheery inflection “You travel that same route every night, or I hope you do, for Claire’s sake.”
“I’m a professional.” I said confidently, as I pivoted my knuckles on my hips. She patted me on the chest “And I’m a big girl.” She said dryly, “It’ll be fine.” I looked around the room forcing myself back into a corner out of her path. As she passed the window the morning light cascaded off her face, leaving an angelic glow following after her.
“Come back soon, okay?” I said pleadingly. “And come back safe, Glen.” She sighed, looking back at me “Roy, I will.” She smiled softly as she placed an object next to her bed. “I always do.” She gave a playful wink and a twitch of her Elven ears as she continued to pack her bags.
“…But she did not come back… A body covered in blood…a knife…in a bleeding, heart…” I was muttering like a madman sitting in the dark forest away from prying eyes and ears.
“Where….Are…You? If I had the choice, I would break my body…I would poison my blood…I would burn the land around me to ash. I would give anything to avenge you…anything” I was shaking clawing at my face.
“Really, now. Anything at all?” A maddeningly cheery voice announced. I looked to where the voice was coming from. “I couldn’t help but hear you crying out, mewling like a babe for his nurse. I do hope I’m not intruding on your little moment.” The masked man gestured with a disturbingly pleasant voice. “I came here to be alone.” I said, spitting venom. “We are never truly alone, little thief.” The masked man said.
“Who are you?” I asked finally caring enough to look at him critically. He was dressed in tight clothes that covered his entire body, leaving no trace of exposed skin, and over his face was hung a laughing yellow mask. The mask appeared to be abnormal never strictly sticking to a single static expression. He must have noticed me studying him, but his expression yet he did nothing to show that. “Always smile, little thief.” The masked man said. “Even when you’re planning the most horrible mischief.” He then chuckled, producing a hollow ticking sound like two blocks of wood being clapped together.
“You act as if you know me.” I said. “I do know you.” The masked man said happily. “I know you better than your bones and blood. I know what she meant to you, and I know the resentment coiled up inside you, like a serpent waiting to strike. I can give it a target.” The masked man spoke with no trace of an accent. Every word was perfectly inflected, as if it had never passed from a human throat. He continued, “Suffering is my stock and trade. In the wake of great tragedy, people always ask why. Why did I fall sick? Why couldn’t she love me? Why did they have to die?” The masked man paused. “I can tell you.” He then approached slowly and proudly, I could feel the smile under his mask, “You were hurt so that you could have the power to hurt others in turn.” He finished and it took me longer than I’d like to admit to come up with a retort.
“Did you practice that just for me?” I said with a smile. Not even a flicker of irritation was shown on this alien looking mask that seemed to twist and writhe with his every movement. I felt uneasy this poker face gave me no leeway to press his buttons or entice a reaction that told me anything about this monster in men’s clothes.
“I want to help you, Roy,” The masked man said, “but I am something of a businessman.” He emphasized the ‘something’ ever so slightly. “I need a few little letters on a contract in return for my assistance. Do that, and I promise nothing will stand in the way of your justice.”
All of this was too good to be true, I knew there was something more to this. “There’s a catch, though.” I stated. The masked man twiddled his fingers in glee “there’s always a catch.” He responded “You simply have to give me what you think this offer is worth.” There was a pause between us an awkward silence brought upon by my shock. “That’s it?” I was dumbfounded.
The masked man spoke while tapping his mask “Now, if you’d like to see the results first, I understand. I’ll just take a little something extra for my time.”
I couldn’t trust him, I knew that, and yet I didn’t care. Glen was dead. My entire world had collapsed around that one, simple fact. Glen is dead, and there was going to be blood.
“I don’t have anything on me.” I said. He seemed disappointed “Then don’t pay me until you’re satisfied.” He bowed slightly, “I promise I’ll hold you to your word.”
“Will you accept gold?” I asked, gold makes the world go round. The masked man tilted his head in manic consideration He muttered quietly to himself. “Seems a bit mundane to me, but I suppose it will do, how much gold?
“Ten thousand royals.” I replied. The masked man muttered to himself, as if I weren’t there, trying to figure out how much gold that would equal. “Perfect!” The man cheered. I jumped at his reply. The mask looked back at me, caught in a fake eternal grin. “Is that it?” I asked. “There’s one more thing. For ceremony’s sake, I need your signature.” The masked man said with a bow. “In ink?” I asked suspiciously, blood contracts are not something I want to be a part of. “If that is your choice.” The masked man seemed to sigh sadly as he pulled out a piece of parchment from his sleeve and handed it to me. He then procured a quill from behind his mask and handed it off to me. I scribbled something that didn’t quite resemble my name on it and passed it back.
“Very Well,” the man said as he examined my scribble. He quickly rolled up the parchment and slid it back into his sleeve. “Is that her knife?” he asked, pointing to the dagger in my belt. “Do me a favor and drive it into that tree there.” He pointed at an ancient tree behind me. I was taken aback by his request, “What?” I asked, taken aback by his request. “Why?” He seemed annoyed at my question, but answered me anyway “To fulfill the bargain. I’ll be back for my payment when our deal is complete.”
“You’re leaving?” I looked back to see that he had vanished into thin air. My only reply was the emptiness of the forest clearing around me. I stood there for a long while, trying to decide if I had been tricked. In the end, I realized I didn’t particularly care. “If you’re just toying with me, I’ll be coming after you, too.” I thrust Glen’s knife into the weakest notch of the tree.
Beneath the bark, I felt something rupture. I yelled out “what the hell?!” There was a sudden blinding light, causing me to cover my eyes. When I was finally able to see I was met with the figure of a man. An inaudible sound flowed from his throat: a language I could not hope to comprehend. The words overwhelmed me, drowning me in noise. I fainted. The words overwhelmed me, drowning me in a strange noise causing my vision to fade as I fell to the floor.