See, I haven’t been slacking off. I rewrote some of it, added a few more chapters and greatly enjoyed experiencing for the first time a character writing itself. Although you won’t get to see that until later. I rewrote the last two chapters almost in their entirety and I’m not quite happy with them yet.
Power corrupts. How does a Hero cope with too much power? How far would he go simply to save that which he has sworn to protect? Especially when he must protect it from himself…
I own none of the copyrighted material contained herein, if I did I’d be sitting on my solid gold toilet right now wiping my ass with money.
FR18 just to be safe... I tend to go extremely, or even overly, realistic when it comes to violence. Although that hasn't happened yet.
War, Justice, Prophecy, Magic
His heavy boots echoed dully in his ears as he trudged into the Guild. The heavy stone walls seemed grayer than usual, the reflected sound of his weary footfalls somehow sounding louder than usual, while at the same time seeming almost… dead.
As he entered, the fitfully sputtering torches only highlighted the shadows which seemed to congregate in the map room. His dull gaze peered out from underneath his face obscuring helmet, and he wondered how none of these young fools could see it.
Even the Guildmaster, who seemingly never left the confines of the map room except to train some of the younger and more promising apprentices, was oblivious to it, and he was the only one here who was older.
Or perhaps not, a flash of gray but shining hair caught his eye, and he turned to the store room area, where Briar Rose was haggling, arguing really, with great enthusiasm with the storekeeper. He stood watching her for a few minutes, her once black hair faded to grey, but still standing straight and tall at the impressive age of one hundred and forty-seven.
“I don’t care if bloody Nostro himself rose from the dead and said otherwise, this is a bloody big ruby and I want at least sixty gold pieces for it.”
A small smile found its way to his face; she was still hunting trolls at her age! Most Heroes retired at a hundred, when the flow of the life-force from slain monsters, which also gave them their awesome powers and strength, could also no longer keep age at bay.
A Hero would always be healthier than a normal man, which was cruel in a way, seeing as some heroes could live to three hundred, meaning the majority of their lives would be spent remembering their past glories.
Many threw themselves into battles they could not win, not being able to bare the thought of such a long life of watching others do the deeds they could now only dream about. His smile faded as he recognized the look in Briar Rose’s eyes, the manic need to feel capable.
The need to feel that you could still make a difference as a Hero, that you were deserving of the adulation that people heaped upon you, even as it slowly dwindled away to nothing as your deeds became forgotten.
Most Heroes died alone and powerless.
But not all; which brought him back to his own problem. He had just returned from a quest, the first one he had bothered to take in months, and he had a dilemma. He had taken it as he had been the only Hero available who had the strength to fight off the Ice Troll infestation in the area of Archon’s Shrine, and it had been a close thing.
Which was the problem; as he had decided to do the accepted thing and die in a battle against overwhelming odds, and had not just survived it, it had actually been *easy*.
Rose’s voice, shrill with indignation faded away as he turned back to the map room, automatically checking the map table for more quests that would serve his purpose, but there were none.
He scratched at his long beard which flowed from underneath his helmet, inadvertently attracting the attention of Briar with the resulting squeaky noise as she sauntered triumphantly from the store.
“Hey, it’s you! You think you can waltz in and bugger off again without saying hello to an old friend, do you? Get your armor plated arse over here and give us a hug then!”
He gave in and hugged the old woman tentatively, trying not to crush her with his strength while at the same time marveling at how weak her own grip was. Had she really weakened that much? It was a terrifying insight into what awaited him, and he could only answer with short non-committal phrases, grunts and nods as she futilely tried to engage him in small-talk.
“Alright, Avatar, you silly sod, what’s up?”
He jerked awake from his melancholic daze, and realized he’d been led to the Guild gardens, where a small group of apprentices drilled with their weapons under the watchful gaze of Thunder, the senior trainer and only other surviving Champion of the Arena alongside Avatar himself.
“You haven’t looked this depressed since Theresa upped and left. Not that I can really tell with that horribly ugly helmet you’re always bloody wearing.”
He sighed loudly, but didn’t take the helmet off. After a while, he answered, “We’re getting old Rose. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but I have. I see old Thunder, keeps telling the same story of how he conquered the Arena over and over, desperately trying to impress people. And yourself; still bloody hunting Trolls so you can feel like you aren’t dead yet. And I keep wondering when it’s going to happen to me, when am I going to suddenly realize I’m sitting in a pub, surrounded by people pretending to be fascinated as I tell the same story I’ve told them a thousand times.”
He wrung his hands out in front of him, the sun glinting off the metal gauntlets as they walked past the archery range and into the Guild woods.
Once they had entered the small forested area, he continued “Sometimes I wonder if it hasn’t already happened.”
To his surprise, Rose barked out a humorless laugh as a response, “I was right the first time I saw you, I said to old Guildmaster you’re strong as a troll but just as stupid. Of course I’ve noticed how old and pathetic I’ve gotten! In every way that counts, Briar Rose is dead. But I’m going to keep hunting trolls, and one day I’m going to be too slow or too weak and its going to squash me like a bug. And I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said, a smile of grim acceptance on her face.
“But I don’t know what you’re on about, you’re not as young as you used to be, to be sure. But you’re still damn near fifty years younger than I am, and you were always the strongest of all of us. So what if you look like a dried up prune, your strength will only start fading long after I’m dead.”
She paused, with her speech as well as walking, and looked up into his face, her expression turning suspicious.
“Take that helmet off.”
He didn’t move.
“C’mon you stupid git, this is what it’s all about then, is it? You think you’re starting to look old? Can’t be that bad, let’s have a look then. Skorm’s balls man, a person would swear you haven’t taken it off in years from the way you’re acting.”
“Uhm…” was all he could answer with.
Shock filled her eyes as she realized that it was indeed the case, “You, you really haven’t taken off your helmet in years? Not even in your own home?”
She stared at him, astonishment rendering her mute as she struggled to think of something to say. After a long time of working her mouth, choosing and discarding a multitude of things, she finally settled for just reaching up and forcibly pulling his helmet off.
A few seconds passed.
“Well, how bad does it look?” asked the querulous voice of the heavily bearded, heavily scarred, but incredibly young looking face of Avatar.***
He was staring at his face in the mirror.
A clean shave and a decent haircut had made it obvious even to him that age was the last thing he should worry about, and could now joyously begin worrying about just why and how he was so young.
It was only a few hours later, but already the idea that he’d actually been afraid to remove his helmet seemed laughable. He’d destroyed Jack of Blades! He’d faced countless monsters to get where he was today, he was the most well known and most powerful of Heroes, and ironically the thing he was most afraid of turned out to be himself.
He’d left for Oakvale while Briar and the Guildmaster began to research to see if there could be some magical reason for his apparent youth. Though Oakvale was on the other side of two huge forests, it took him only seconds to get there using the teleporter.
He’d felt a small rush of pride as he’d strolled through the village square, attracting more than a few stares from some the younger ladies, but their attention was bittersweet at best. Even with his freshly stirred memories, he still looked up expectantly when he entered his cottage only to again be reminded of her absence when silence greeted him.
Jenna had passed more than twenty years ago, and he still woke up every morning wondering why her side of the bed was cold.
He stripped himself of his armor and fell heavily onto his bed. The single room cheerily lit by the fire seemed drained of color, shadows danced across the bookshelves and cupboards. The small plaques with his trophies seemed to shrink under his gaze, as if they had lost their importance.
So I’m apparently going to live forever, he thought.
Some tests had been done by the Guildmaster before Rose and he had retired to examine their findings, but what they had been able to discover was that he was actually getting younger. The fear of an undignified and obscure death was gradually being replaced by the fear of never actually dying.
The thought of outliving everyone he ever met filled him with, no, not terror; a numbness that was horrifying in its own right. The other discovery of their tests was almost as worrisome.
All Hero’s have a limit to their powers, and all Hero’s differ in that regard; some were more adept at magic and only slightly stronger than the average adult, while others could learn only a few spells but could knock small trees over with a single punch.
Avatar was already unusual in that regard, due to his bloodline; once he had reached the limit of all his powers he was the strongest Hero in recorded history as well as being extraordinarily capable with magic.
At least, that used to be true. The other finding of the tests was that he no longer had limits. And even if he retired today, never taking up his sword again and never drawing the life-force of defeated foes again, his powers would continue to increase.
Until he was the single most powerful being in Albion, maybe even the lands rumored to be to the south and those denied by the impassable mountains to the east.
Impassable mountains to the east, he mused, why did that statement sound wrong to him?
His mind wandered again.
The sun shone through the windows in his cottage, illuminating different objects as it traveled in its path across the sky, all the while Avatar lay on his bed, staring at nothing and thinking of nothing.
The sun eventually began to sink under the horizon, and then perhaps by coincidence, a final ray of light shone through a window, illuminating one of the few things he kept which he did not earn in some battle or quest, and his thoughts briefly turned to his sister, Theresa.
He stared at the object for a while before his thoughts returned to the problem at hand.
He recalled the tale of Archon, the first human to learn the secret of drawing the life-force, how he had grown so powerful that he had sat in his throne all day growing ever more powerful, actually accomplishing nothing. Day by day growing more powerful as the Sword of Aeons slowly corrupted him, which Avatar had… briefly…, held…-
Always it came back to that damned sword! If he wasn’t battling Jack of Blades in the Chamber of Fate to wrest it from his grasp before he became too powerful, he was destroying Jack of Blades’ reincarnated dragon form that was looking for revenge and maybe a chance at finding the Sword again in the void that Avatar had thrown it into.
And now it could be responsible for his immortality, hoping to corrupt his as it did Archon?
He sighed angrily, half expecting Jack to burst through the door shouting, “Surprise, little Hero!” in that creepy, echoing, metallic voice of his.
So soon I’m going to be the most evil being walking around, am I? Well at least I’ll have a hobby to keep me busy through eternity, he thought viciously. He couldn’t sustain the anger for long however, above the consuming realization of his fate.
It rolled over him like a wave, dousing the fire in him and leaving him feeling oddly empty.
He almost wished Theresa were still here. She might have been not quite right, and barely recognizable as his sister, but she always seemed to have a clearer idea than he of what was going on.
Unfortunately the Oracles, those giant talking stone heads in Snowspire, had told him much of her journey since she had simply walked out of the Chamber of Fate after his first battle against Jack, and apparently had just kept on walking.
For some reason she needed to get as far away from her old home as she could, although with everything that happened to her, the loss of her eyes at the hands of Jack, growing up as a slave and then becoming a Seer for one of the most powerful and ruthless bandit kings in Albion, her brief reunion with their mother before Jack slit her throat in front of them; needing the blood sacrifice to free the Sword...
He couldn’t really blame her.
And she was far away, as the Oracle had told him. Far away to the east, over an impassable mountain… range…
The first thing he did, was nothing. He lay in bed, thinking through the plan that was quickly but methodically being formed. Only after a whole five minutes of careful, methodical, cogitation did he jump out of his bed and almost kill himself trying to put on his armor as fast as possible.
He gathered every single item he could possibly sell in his cottage, the trophies, rings, gems, clothes, books, and so forth, and crammed them all into the stained Guild issue travel pack. The powerful enchantment made it contain, as far as anyone knew, infinite space, and made it always weigh the same no matter what was inside it.
As Avatar now demonstrated by casually dropping a large mace which, at six feet, was almost as tall as he was into it. Preparations made he was almost out the door when he suddenly stopped. His eyes found the object, tucked away on a shelf, and stared at it for a while.
This object was what had guided his thoughts towards their current revelation. It also symbolized everything he had ever fought for with a simple clarity that no trophy or scar could ever match.
On the day that Jack of Blades had led his small army of hired bandits into Oakvale, to pillage and burn it almost to the ground, on the day that Jack had killed their father, tortured their mother and cut out his sister’s eyes in pursuit of the boy who would be Avatar, it was his sister’s tenth birthday.
After only a few more seconds of hesitation, Avatar stuffed his sister’s birthday gift into his pack, and hoped the other enchantment of keeping food fresh would work on a box of chocolates. Just to be safe, he bought every box of chocolate in the Oakvale general store they had, to make up for some of the other birthdays he’d missed.
A few days later, Avatar began his journey from the Guild itself, deciding that he owed it to his few friends to at least say goodbye. Rose made him swear upon Avo that he would not succumb to his natural stupidity and die, and that if at all possible he should bring her back something pretty.
He smiled and promised, knowing that she knew that he was not planning on ever returning, but it was nice to pretend.
The Guildmaster maintained his own brand of smiling stoicism, giving him only his best wishes and a book of all that was known about the lands to the east. Avatar tried not to comment on how thin it was.
Finally it was Thunder’s turn, and his reaction surprised Avatar most of all. Thunder had always been at odds with him, with his constant overshadowing of Thunder’s own sister, Whisper, and his belief that Avatar was a rival in his affections for Lady Grey, the now former mayor of Bowerstone. They had grown even more distanced when Avatar had exposed Lady Grey to be a murderer; she had killed her own sister to inherit the title of mayor.
So it was with no small amount of surprise that Avatar, himself a tall man at just under seven feet, was swept into a hug by the enormous brown skinned warrior.
“You have always been a good friend to my sister; you spared her life in the Arena, when Jack forced the two of you to fight against each other. You saved me from my folly in courting Lady Grey, and spared me from a marriage to an evil woman who would never love me. I resented you, envied you. But I could not allow you to leave without telling you that I am thankful, and will remember you as a friend.”
Avatar stood speechless for a moment, stunned by the unexpected words.
Thunder continued, “I must ask, have you given any thought as to how you will find your sister?”
Avatar grimaced as he answered, “I actually haven’t. I figured I would ask around once I find some people, she certainly would stand out anywhere she went.”
Thunder reached into a pouch on his belt, and removed a strange device that somewhat resembled a compass, which he then handed to Avatar.
“For a long time, I intended to follow my own sister across the sea to the south, to return to our homeland if possible. This device would have allowed me to find her. It works with blood; a single drop of yours onto the needle, and it will always point towards your closest living relative,” he explained.
Avatar immediately tried to give it back, but Thunder interrupted him before he could protest.
“I said I intended to follow my sister, but I no longer do. I too have spoken to the Oracles, and I was told she is hailed as a great Hero among our people and has found her place. I am content in knowing that.”
Thunder shook his hand one last time, before returning to his drilling of the apprentices in basic sword work.
A few hours later, he had left the Guild and any known roads long behind him, and ahead awaited an unknown destiny.