October 30

Fictober, Prompt 30 – “I’m with you, you know.”

Warnings: general weirdness, brief mentions of stabbing and beheading, but nothing graphic. Fantasy of some sort.

I passed down an old road.

Once, I would have done so alone.

I wished that it were still so.

“I’m with you, you know,” he reminded me from behind. “I will always be here.”

“Not always,” I said. “I know of always, and you do not.”

“I have the means to follow you no matter where you go, or how you may try to escape.”

“For now,” I agreed. Already, long years had passed, and thus far his words had been true. I had given up attempting to escape or evade him. No matter what power or path I tried, by the next night, he always dogged my trail once more.

Acceptance had given me patience, and strength. I had not stopped looking for a way to sever the connection, just as he had not ceased to try and destroy me.

I was not indestructible, none of my kind were, but the means to end my existence would never be within his grasp. He had corrupted his own soul to gain the power for this…this leash. The power that he would need to destroy me had to be gained by other means, ways now closed to him.

Perhaps if I told him this (if he believed me), he would go away.

But I was cruel, and since he tormented me, I had chosen to silently torment him. At the end, he would know that all of this had been in vain, and despair. But only when I could be free of him.

He would not have believed me, in any case, though lies had never once passed my lips.

That was why all the others I had met, those who did have the power and will to destroy me, had never done so. We spoke, and they let me pass on, walking the old roads as I had always done.

I was older than humankind, and no friend to any. But that was not always the same as being an enemy, and my sustenance I could take in various ways. That this human did not understand that there were differences in my kind, just as in his own, was another mark against him.

This road, this was one of the oldest. I did not allow myself to hope that what awaited us at the end of it might allow me to be rid of him for good. I had had such hopes before and been disappointed.

But I would continue to walk this road, and the others, and he would follow me unwittingly, unlearning, uncaring, and long forsaken of the chance to have been something more than he was.

Had it been otherwise, I might have allowed him to stay willingly at the beginning, to walk beside rather than behind, and taught him something of walking. Such had happened, in the distant past, and I had not regretted those times of walking in company. But my current situation was a mockery of those memories, and it left a bitter taste always at the back of my tongue.

There was a crossroads up ahead, and I slowed, approaching such places with the caution they deserved.

I was glad of my caution when I saw that another already stood there, right in the middle of the roads’ meeting, a place of power or vulnerability depending on who stood there and what they knew.

My surprise to find another human there was great. Not many knew of this place, so cold and remote far from where humankind could comfortably dwell, even in these later days. Any human here was not here by chance.

This man was younger than the one that followed behind and startled me more by bowing as I approached. He did not rise until my power had touched him, measured him, and withdrawn back to myself, my slow steps finally coming to a halt just before the crossing of roads.

“Who are you?” my unwelcome tail demanded rudely.

“Walker,” the man in the crossroads greeted me, with the respectful title and another bow, doing me the courtesy of ignoring the one behind me.

I weighed him silently another moment, trying not to let my increasing surprise show on my face. He had the brown skin and straight, dark hair of those humans who lived far to the south and southeast of this place, and there was a sword belted at his waist. This one knew something of our ways, and had sought me out deliberately, that much was obvious.

“Human,” I greeted at last, cautiously. “What brings you to seek me out?”

“A request and a hope,” he replied truthfully. “A request to walk beside you, Walker, if you would permit me.”

This finally broke through whatever shock had been keeping my unwanted company silent. “You would seek alliance with this de—”

And,” the young man continued loudly, interrupting the other human, “and a hope that such a bond might help to free you of your…burden. With no disrespect, Walker.”

“I take no disrespect,” I assured automatically, mind whirling at the fact that I had somehow not considered such a solution myself. Of course, I had never sought out a human for such a connection and would not have known where to begin looking. They had always come to me, as was the case now.

But he might be correct.

“How do you come to know of me, human?” I asked, wanting to be sure.

“From my master, whose ancestor once walked beside you,” he told me, and gave a name that rang true in my memory. “She has taught me what she could, as passed down to her from of old, but she believes that I have more yet to learn, and advised that I seek you out myself, to see if you would allow me to walk beside you.”

“What are you talking about?” the man behind me demanded, fear and uncertainty now lurking at the back of his voice. After so many years, did he finally begin to understand that he understood nothing?

“I will understand if, after being so long burdened, you do not wish for companionship, Walker,” the man in the crossroads said, still ignoring his fellow human. “If it is so, please tell me and I shall take no more of your time.”

“I would allow you to walk beside me,” I said, and then blinked at my own impulsive decision. It was a true decision, and the right one – I could feel the resonance that had prompted his master to send this young man to find me. He would be a good companion. But always in the past I had been slower to accept such offers, even when I was equally certain of the resonance.

Perhaps such long years of unwanted company had made me long more for good company than for solitude, though I had not known it before.

The young man bowed. He was smiling when he straightened, his face lightened by hope and relief. He stayed in the crossroads and let me come to him, knowing already that a place of change was the right place for this.

I held out my hands, and he took them, mindful of the sharp nails but unafraid.

The resonance between us wavered, briefly dissonant, and then settled into full harmony, just as it should.

At the back of my neck, I felt the long-discordant tether from behind fall away into nothing and had to close my eyes in relief.

A strangled cry of disbelief and horror forced me to turn, and my new companion stepped up beside me on my left. The respite of being with one who knew the right way of things was so sharp it was almost painful, but there was one last thing to deal with now.

“Impossible!” the older man was yelling, pulling forth his own long knife. I sneered at the sight of it, remembering all the times it had entered my flesh to no effect save my discomfort and his frustration. That was a habit he had taken long to outgrow, always sure that it would work next time.

“There is much that you do not know, priest,” my new companion said, finally addressing the other man now that our business and bond were concluded. “Or you would not have created such a tether, at such a price, nor treated a Walker in this manner.”

“It was the only way to destroy that creature—”

“The power that you bargained for could never have destroyed me,” I told him, and knew that he could feel the truth in my words even if he did not want to believe them. “And in that bargaining you closed the only path to the power that might have been able to overcome me.”

“But it was the only—”

“If such lies comfort you in your final moments,” I said, my words sharper and crueler than the knife he held, “then speak them. But you will know in your heart that they are lies.”

At last, he was silent.

“Walker,” said the young man. “Would you allow me the honor?”

“With my thanks,” I replied, and allowed myself to feel satisfaction as he sprang forward with trained grace, his sword sweeping around in a single, controlled arc, and removed the head of the one who had followed behind me for too long.

He even moved the body off into the frozen grasses, leaving the road clear, if stained. The cold and the snows would clean it in time, and our path did not lie that direction now.

He stood beside me again, with that hopeful grin, more open now that I had accepted him. I did not return the smile, but felt myself relaxing all the same, and turned again to examine the roads that led away.

My reasons for walking it now would be different, but the oldest road still felt like the right path. I strode forward and he matched my step. There would be time later to learn what he called himself, and to decide what name I would allow him, and to speak more about his teaching.

But that would be later. For now, there was a road to walk.

(I wish that I knew what was going on with this world, and hopefully I’ll figure it out at some point, but for now this is what I’ve got.)

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