Chapter 69

Chapter 69

Snake Report: Life as an ascended being, Day 3.5


 

After a few hours, Miss Paladin woke up.

No... That's not the right description.

After a few hours, Miss Paladin began to talk.

It was quiet, really quiet at first. So much of a whisper, it sounded more like breathing than speaking, but then I started to make out the words. Really strange and unfamiliar things, suddenly shifting to a language I understood completely.

Between every tiny sip of water, she let out a few more syllables. A few more words, sneaking along on the harshest and ragged heaves.

As the hours passed, I realized she was telling a story of some kind. A fable, maybe.

Not to me, not even to herself... No, this was a fever dream being spoken aloud. A legend, from long, long ago, stretched out into verses.

Like a song that isn't meant to be music, a story hidden in this quiet whisper of a foreign chant.

In the dark, with nothing more to do but wait: I did the only thing I could do,

I listened to her.


 


 

Once upon a time, there was an Ancient King...


 

Long, long ago, he ruled.

Before the oceans came to rest, before the sky came to form, before the world was as it was: he was the First King, of the First men, of the First Era of the world.

Of wits, of power: As a ruler, his people prospered, and more flocked to him to build a great city. The likes of which, the world had never seen.

Carvings and monuments of stone, brought and assembled to a mighty towering castle at its center- visible even on the distant horizon. So it was that the tales of his city's wonder began to spread far and wide. Stories towers that reached for the clouds, of knowledge that none else possessed: stories of a man chosen by the gods, destined to guide them.

All of skills and talents came to his city, and as they came, the King learned of them. Each and every with few exceptions. Humbled by the years, he would stand beside the common man to speak. To take what knowledge they could share, and pass it on through the ages. For the people were not wrong. The King was blessed and wise as he was ancient, for unlike the people of his Kingdom.

The King could not die.

He was the first and only Immortal: a being outside of death's reach.

No sword, nor arrow, nor poison could end him. No passage of time could age him further, or disease that might hope to ruin him. Whatever danger threatened him, fell away like rain on glass.

For some, this was a blessing in true form: a sign that The King was chosen- nay destined to lead them!

But for the First King of the First men, this gift was little more than a curse.

Years weighed down upon him as his rule carried on. Heavier and heavier, until it filled him with sorrow: the King suffered greatly.

Though he found meaning and purpose in his role as rule, in the love for his people as a whole, the sorrow was still there. Even surrounded by thousands, beloved by the people of his great city. The price for love has always been the same.

Loss.

Yet, even surrounded by his own kin: sadness still gripped the King. Worse by every year, it ate away, wearing down like waves upon the sand: for just like all the others before them, all he cared for would one day leave his side. Lovers, sons, daughters, their children. Like fleeting moments, each came and went until his own descendants spread out among the people of his great city, mingled indistinguishable from all those who lived within.

In the passing of countless lifetimes, that weight did pile like the bricks of his great city; a structure rising and sinking atop itself. A burden too heavy for one soul, this knowledge gripped the King so horribly that he often wished for an end: prayed for the great solitude of death- prayed for it- perhaps even begged.

But the gods did not answer his prayers, and so he could not end.

Be it violence, poison, or the elements themselves, even with the help of his own people: he could never embrace death. Instead, the King could only try to erase. To push away the memories of any who knew him- those who cared for him, who served him or lived beneath his rule.

As the years pressed onward, the King grew cold.

Cold, even for his purpose.

To rule, to protect, to guide: these were duties for another to fill.

While the city grew larger, when a nation formed about it- stretching the expanses of the continent, and then spread further: the King faltered in his rule.

No longer did he walk among his people.

Never did he travel further to witness their achievements, as they met the great oceans of storm, and crossed the jagged mountains. To every corner of the world: soon he was known to all, and yet to no one.

In time the people began to think of him not only as a ruler, but as a God.

As men spread across the world, with them came his legends: To the Elves he was divine. To the Dwarves he was like the stone beneath their feet, and the ore within their forges, but to man: he was all. A diety meant to guide them onward towards greatness beyond all else.

But the King claimed to be none of those things: the gods did not speak to him, nor answer his prayers. He swore to never have met the creators, and he knew nothing of the heavens.

But that did not stop the people from their faith. Their desires and knowledge grew with each generation, but no matter what they learned, built or achieved: their King was the light in the sky

Those privledged to speak with him interpreted his suggestions not as experience and mortal toil, but in divine proclamation. The King's words were Commandments! To be heeded, to be followed, to be taught as law.

To be enforced.

To be enforced cruelly.

Even with his protests, this continued. Tainted by a fervor of faith, until even the people as a whole had changed beyond his own recognition. Those passing familiar faces, descendants of his friends and families over the ages, all twisted and wrong. Though they shared his blood, they were no longer his kin, and so his final purpose was lost.

The King found then, that he could bear the life no longer- and yet still! The King could not find his end.

So he secluded himself: deep and away, travelling down the stone staircases of his castle, far below the city atop it.

Deeper and deeper down into the most sunken and ancient ruins, farther down than any other might ever reach.

Down, and down, and down into the Earth where the first blocks of his first city still rested beneath the others.

Until there was nothing but stone.

Nothing but soil.

Below the footsteps of man, the King found himself surrounded only by forgotten graves of ages long past and through the great knowledge of all his years upon the earth, he pursued the greatest question upon his tired mind.

How could he die?

And so it was, that time passed.

Onward...

And onward...

As it does, and as it will continue to do, time marched towards the endless horizon, and the people of the King began to forget of his teachings. Some even began to forget him, entirely. Had there ever been such a man? Was it a King that once ruled them- or a god? The people lived short lives and held even shorter memories, and s it was their descendants passed him on towards legend.

Generations came and went.

Greed and ambition began to sprout in the King's absence. The people changed, shrinking in on what they were in both form and mind. Some wished to rule in his stead: to fill the position and throne left abandoned, and in time, some did.

Mankind fell to war.

Inventions of tremendous power clashed, oiled by the blood of its makers.

For ideals, for gain, for the sake of glory and legend. Still empowered by the knowledge of their ancient heritage, but far too young and foolish to control it. Across the land, a Triumph of Death was proclaimed for all to hear and know, crumbling the greatness of man to splinters and fragments.

The broken pieces of the once powerful nation fought and killed one another in an almost endless cycle of desire, shattering again and again.

Still, time passed.

Still, the King worked.

Deep in the long-forgotten tunnels of his ancient castle, covered and hidden by the ruin of the ages like layers of the bedrock that surrounded him, he worked. Pressed with the long-held years and secrets of his mind, tying thoughts and knowledge together in an art never before seen. Thousands of years, of lives, of experience and insight came and formed, bending to his will as he sunk beneath the stone.

Deeper than any had ever dared, farther than any among the living should pass. In search of answers, in search of secrets: it was there he discovered the answer.

Not only for what he had hoped, but greater.

By blood spilled, the First King of Man opened the Gates of Magic, and the world was forever changed...


 

Miss Paladin kept talking for a long time.

Eyes closed, face sweaty. I think she was losing more water than I was actually giving her at first. For every sip, she probably lost at least as much before the next.

But the hours passed.

I got a little better, a little more controlled.

Some improvement came as the skill pinged its rank, some came as practice, but in time I could see the difference.

One drop found itself turning into two drops. Then into three, then four, then five.

So on and so forth, it was working.

Miss Paladin stopped looking so close to death, and her fever seemed to fade off a bit. Still looked as though she had been surviving in a dungeon and doing a rough job at it, but not like she was flirting with death before the end of the tunnel.

Her weird words rolled out, with her voice a little less dry, a little more lucid. As if she decided to keep telling the story herself, waking up to it part-way through.

I listened, and poured. Listened, and poured. It was musical, rhythmic: her voice fit with the acoustics of our small space but then, finally, she stopped.

So set in my routine, it took me a few minutes to realize her voice was absent in the room.

I came back to awareness with nothing but quiet, and the sound of water dripping out of the air into a stone cup.

Nothing.

Silence.

Then panic.

Was she dead? After all that?

I cast heal a more than a few times before I realized she was just sleep. Finally truly asleep, resting peacefully. No more words, but there was a slow and quiet breathing. A lazy lift and fall of her ribs, rocking me on my perch like some strange boat.

So I began to fill the cup again.

She would need more water when she work up, I reasoned. Setting it on the floor, I made it into a large vase with a wide and weight base. Then I memorized myself into a quiet trance, watching the flow of water, feeling the vapor condense and fall with a quiet pitter-patter of artificial rain.

Miss Paladin left me with a lot to think about.