Rain Upon Ivory's Journal, Part 2
It hardly seemed like a fair trade. Someone had to be losing in this. I chuckled, until I got the sick sensation that I would be the one losing. “You are not doing this out of the kindness of your heart, are you?”
He looked down at the journal. “I have many reasons to lie to you, Ivory, for my own sake. All I will say, truthfully, is that this trade benefits both of us.”
“Becoming immortal …” I muttered, mostly to myself, then louder, “but at what cost?”
“Your mother’s impromptu death. Your father’s suicide …”
“Those costs are … they are not costs at all.”
The storm started again, this time with forks of lightning flashing overhead and thunder that caused tremors beneath our skin.
“… and your life with them. Your name. Your memories. Your past. You will not die, no, but you would not exist as you do now. You will be given a new life. Entirely new. A new form, if you wish.”
“You would ask me to forsake myself so that my parents can live happily?”
“I am not asking you, Ivory, I am giving you an opportunity that few would ever have. How old are your parents? When did they fall in love? How old were they when they brought you into Netherway?”
“They were young, and still are,” I said, frowning, “they were, and are, still … very much in love.”
“There is a greater story, here.”
Lightning struck a tree just within arm’s reach of us. The top of it burst into flames, immediately sizzling and sputtering from the rain. We hardly flinched, our gaze strong as we stared into each other.
“What do I have to do?”
“So you accept, then?”
The rain dripped down my hair, over my eyelashes and fell down my cheeks. I nodded at him.
The fire sputtered, the smell of smoke filling the forest.
“You understand what you are agreeing to?”
I shook my head.
He looked me over with a sadness touching his face. Strangely, all of the worry in his eyes had left. He looked relieved. “You are brave.”
“Stupid,” I corrected.
He reached back, lifting up his cloak—which, as I looked closer, realized was a wing—and held it over our heads. “Close your eyes.”
Internium decescape, he murmured.
There was a hue of violet behind my eyelids. “Open.”
The sound of thundering rain was gone, and the rain itself. The clouds, the sky, disappeared. The forest, too, was gone. We were in a cozy chamber with a fire burning, a writing desk, a bed with wooden head and footboards embellished by iron vines and leaves.
I reached over and touched them; they were not iron, they had the feeling of smooth, perfectly forged silver, but were pitch black. Impossible.
Two windows that stretched from the floor to the ceiling were gaping open, black curtains fluttering into the wind from a midnight breeze, and a full moon, blood-red, was shining through, onto black-and-white checkered floors.
We were both entirely dry.
Beyond the windows were dipping valleys, expansive forests, and an ebony ocean beyond, sparkling with the scarlet of the moon. The home must have been on the side of a very tall mountain. A god’s view.
“Where is this place?” I breathed.
“This is my home. And if you accept my trade, it would become yours. But you can change it any way you wish.”
I looked around, not bothering to ask him how. “There is only one bookshelf? I would start with that.”
He sighed. “Being immortal … sometimes you get sick of books.”
I couldn’t really empathize with that idea, but I nodded anyways. Then I remembered why we were here. I frowned, and caressed the window’s edge.
As if reading my mind, he continued.“I entered that forest today thinking I would cheat you. Lie to you. Deceive you. Tell you many untruths hoping you would blindly accept my offer, throw your past behind … But as I talked with you, I thought perhaps you would do all of that just … as you said, ‘out of the kindness of your heart.’ ”
“Save my mother from a terrible death? Blind, then deaf, then utter silence, losing all her senses in just months? Unable to feel my father’s hand in the final moments, hear him tell her that he loves her … if, like you said, he was even there for that moment? And then for him to take his own life years later?” The scenery was shifting, changing like a dream; every time you looked away and returned your gaze to the same spot, something had transformed. “Few idiots would decline this offer. Whatever it may cost.”
His wings twitched as he shook his head, smirking. “You would be surprised.”
“So, what is this? What are you?”
“What, no dagger this time when you ask?”
“I thought we were short on time. Now you’re being all snappy.”
“We’re in my domain. This exists outside of your time. I did not think I would take you here, but you are far more receptive than I thought.” He reached into his pocket and took out a flat piece of wood. Glowing symbols, very similar to numbers, appeared above it. He scrutinized them, then put it back.
“Sure. Let’s say that.” And then hide the fact that I am considering the idea that I lost my mind when I opened up my journal, I thought.
“No, you did not lose your mind.”
“Well, that’s not—”
“My domain, my small, tiny realm. Your thoughts, my mind. As I said, Ivory, this would be your home, but I would not be here. You would, in a sense—No. You would replace me.”
“Replace what, exactly?”
He took a deep breath. I, too, braced myself. “You’d become an apprentice of the Handmasters of Death. An apprentice of the apprentices. Your primary job would be gathering lost souls and bringing them to the Nether, making sure they feel comfortable, before they dissipate, or return to their god or goddess. Your second duty, what would take up the majority of what you call ‘time,’ would be serving the beck and call of any practitioner that may summon you. Witches, mages, necromancers, warlocks … those sorts.”
I’d heard rumors of such beings, though they typically personified Death himself. The idea of him needing workers and assistants never struck me as a possibility. Apparently, I realized, I was dull. “A demon?”
“Netherwayans call us many things, but those who do not know the details of our existence often call us that.
“There are few of us who work for the Handmasters, but many demons that serve different gods, goddesses, and lesser deities. You would, specifically, and only serve Death. That also means you would be busy, quite busy, as he is a scrupulous god.”
“Death would be my taskmaster?” I chuckled.
He shrugged. “I never met him. From what I heard, he is a rare god. Not a bad deity to work under, though you may never hear from him. The Handmasters will speak with you directly if there is something urgent.”
“What do you mean, he is rare?”
“He is one of the few gods who is just as dedicated and deliberate with Netherway as he was during the first hours of your realm’s creation.”
“Are you saying many gods have abandoned us?”
“From what I have seen, which is more than your average priest or priestess … all I will say is that there were many who were not there from the start, though they portray themselves as compassionate, all-loving, however they could not be farther from that. They are flawed, like we are.”
I was silent as I thought all of it through. Sometimes, in my journals, I wrote about characters who would guide me to another world, rescue me from my boredom. This was how I imagined it, somewhat, though in my stories, the characters did not have the sickening fear that they would not be able to remember their boring, monotonous past when they were taken away. It put a slightly different perspective on it.
It left me feeling cold. I was Ivory Quill. One boy from generations of writers, bards, poets, scribes, pages, penmen, and others under similar professions. Of the few things I was proud of, it was my lineage. At the heart of it, my family.
But it would be over. With me, their life, our life, would be over.
Without me, it would continue.
It was simple.
“Ivory … I do not wish to rush you, but, the time in your realm has caught up with ours here. Your presence in my reality distorted the usual way of passing time transdimensionally.”
“There are a good many new words you will learn if you accept my position.”
“Could I write?”
“Write what?” he tilted his head to the side.
“Stories, thoughts. Could I write them down?”
He looked down at his hands. My journal was still there. “With enough practice, you can bring objects from their world to this one. Fragments may be lost, but your imagination is your only boundary. And your willpower. But, Ivory, you would learn all of this and so much more. Time is slipping. You must decide.”
I nodded, and sniffled a little, wiping at the corners of my eyes. I was getting the same feeling in my chest I got when my family packed for the Stelmnest trip to Portsworth two years before. Except, this time, I would be alone. “It’s all right. I … I already decided. Just tell me what needs to be done.”
“Close your eyes.”
That same color came through my eyelids again.
And we were standing in front of my home, his right wing wrapped around me. The clouds had thickened, though it was not raining anymore, but snowing.
And night had come with a deep winter chill.
He let his wing fall back to his side.
“We are just in time,” he whispered, clouds of frost coming from his breath.“Your parents are both asleep. Do you have a key?”
I dug it out of my pocket, purposefully slow, so that I might feel the snow falling all around me and my home, savoring that moment. “My pack. It’s still in the forest,” I mumbled, losing courage.
“That, you will not need, anymore.”
I walked to the door, slipped the key in, and unlocked it. I tried to ignore the feelings that accompanied hearing those words. The warmth inside brushed over us. Some snow swirled, following us in, before the door shut behind us.
“Your mother is strong. She has been fighting this for many years.”
“Years?” An aching started in my chest.
“Yes. She has been hiding it, so as to not worry you or your father. She knew from the start what it was.”
“She could have—”
“No, Ivory. She did what was right. Few practitioners could ever heal your mother, and the coin they would charge for such a spell would be mountainous. No household magick could have saved her, either. That disease is … unforgiving, to say in the least.”
We were speaking lowly in the hallway. I tried not to let my eyes glance over the bookshelf in the living room, or the other shelves built above the fireplace, or the blanket I helped my mother knit as a child, that draped the armchair, where I would read every morning. I took a deep breath, pushing the memories back.
“Are you sure my father will not wake up?”
“I am certain. He poured too much of himself into those spells. Literally.”
Naturally, I assumed what was to take place, was beside my mother. I led him to the bedroom, and stepped in first.
We shared a glance as he stepped through. Was it my imagination, or was there pity in his eyes?
“Will you tell me your name, now?” I asked.
“And I will lose mine?”
“Lose one, but gain another.”
I brought out my pen, and went to the pad of parchment beside her bed.
“What are you doing?”
“Writing a note.”
“No. Ivory, you should not. It will not make it easier for them.”
“Is this a rule set by the Handmasters, or your own advice?”
His face was set hard in concern. “Advice.”
I bent to the notepad, pushed the sharp point of my pen to the tip of my forefinger, until a few drops had soaked into the silver nib, and wrote:
“The best things are said in few words,” he agreed when I finished, looking over my shoulder.
That was when my mother began to wince in her sleep, and cough.
“Her time is near. Are you certain, Ivory?”
My heart panicked, thudded against my chest, but all I could do was nod quickly.
“Good. This ritual is simple, but powerful. Death magick is one of the most potent schools of magick, especially in the hands of a demon. I take your hand, your mother’s, and you hold onto hers as well. No blood. No circles. No symbols or sigils. Just three souls, three bodies, and a physical connection between them all.
“Dying is an art. It has its own magick, its own beauty. There is a plethora of energy to work with when someone departs. What we will do, as smoothly as possible, is push your mother’s spirit back into her body after it attempts to leave, and I will assume her dissipation. Only this time, when she returns, she will be healthy. And you will take on the role of my spirit, and we will have traded places, you and I, all through the energy of your mother’s death.”
I was raised to feel, to think with my heart first and analyze with my mind afterward. A damnable thing. It was only now that I felt a twinge of suspicion. “How will I know if it works?”
“It will happen quickly, but you will see it.”
“And you could not fix this without me taking your position?” I dared to ask.
“Correct. But now’s not the time,” he said as she began a fitful set of coughs again, “Us trading places spiritually, keeping the balance, it’s a delicate dance in which the souls have the power to—Now!”
The room slipped away. A surge of will from Saronis’ hand shot through my arm, flooding my senses.
I lost control, but felt, as my body collapsed, that I had, somehow, stayed standing up. My hand still lingered on my mother’s, and Saronis was keeping his grip mine.
My mother’s ghost and my own had slipped from our bodies. The demon alone remained in his.
Her spirit was lying like her corpse, unconscious, just hovering inches above her.
Then Saronis left his body, joining us in the ethereal state. He reached towards her spirit, murmuring something I could not hear. A brilliant, violet energy shot from his hands and burst through every seam of my mother’s spirit. Rivers of darkness trailed out from where the light had eradicated it, but instead of continuing through the wall, arched around in dark swirls and latched onto Saronis like leeches, then worming their way inside him.
I heard him grunting, holding back curses, as he took on the sickness that had been brewing in her for years.
“Ivory … watch.” he managed to groan. “Take my hand. Your … body’s.”
I reached toward my unconscious body, snatching my hand, linked fingers with his, and he managed, shaking all the while as the disease’s energy coursed through him, to grab his own body’s hand, too.
Then I saw my mother’s spirit fall back into her body. The impurity was gone. Her ghostly glow faded, such that only ours remained. Her eyelids fluttered.
Just as she gasped, and sat up, she found me, eyes widening as they stared through my translucent expression of longing.
She screamed my name as it became clear to her, reaching a hand out toward me.
There were many times in my life when I realized, no matter how many words you said, no matter how long you spent considering the perfect way to word something, silence would almost always reign. A single glance could express depths that novels would only dream of touching.
So I looked at her.
And Saronis whispered, “Close your eyes.”
So I did.
And the room vanished.
My corpse, his own, our spirits, landed on his checkered floor.
Outside his windows, the world was crumbling. The forests, the ocean, the blood-red moon, falling away, their colors chipping like a cracked paint, leaving only pitch darkness behind it.
“I’m fading, Ivory.” He winced as the pain became too much. Still, he was grinning to himself.
I stared at my unconscious body. It, too, was crumbling into ashes, and so was his.
But every so often … a part of that which made his body whole would drift to me, turn a piece of my translucent outline into living flesh.
It was then I realized, everything that had made his world whole was being pulled into a vortex. Its center was me.
“It is the binding. It is the immortality.”
We were sitting on his floor, looking into each others’ eyes as pieces of himself fell away, turning to ash before flowing toward me.
“I know,” I whispered.
“The Handmasters will contact you. This darkness won’t last for long. Do not fear it. It is you and only you. It is death, but now you are immortal, so embrace it.” He was leaning on his right arm, which swirled into an immaterial darkness, he fell forward.
“I know,” I whispered, barely audible.
“Write down your name, if you can remember it. Soon you will lose it.”
An ethereal tear fell and dripped onto my hand. “I know,” I mouthed. I’d already forgotten my name. A crippling sadness came over me, but I couldn’t discern why it was there.
The walls of the room crumbled. The last of Saronis’ spirit had dissipated, leaving only his voice, faint in my mind, as he told me, “Thank you. Now I am free. Good lu—”
I know, I thought. The final binding, not a light, an object, or any tangible thing, hit me. I fell backwards from the force of it, into nothingness, feeling more whole, but more empty …
As all of it faded.
As my memories swirled with the ashes.
As the room became utter darkness. And I floated in it.
And I was alone.
Wondering how I got there.
hope you enjoyed this story; much thought and emotion went into it. But be informed! This is not a solitary tale. Although the character seems to have met a bitter end, his journey continues here, in A Drunk Thief, Bat Ears, and an Angry Mage.