Sunday, December 10, 2006
A figure stood watching the hourglasses float past on the top of the tower. Clad in robes of black with the hood pulled back, the man, or what appeared to be a man, extended one hand out to a passing hourglass and gave it a spin with the tip of his finger. He smiled softly, imagining what the person looked liked, the one who had owned this glass. He wondered if he had been kind, or ruthless, or timid. Had he been a father? Was it even a man? Perhaps it had belonged to a woman, or a child. The figure wondered also if his own hand had brought about the death of this person.
Death looked down at the rolling fields of sand at the foot of the castle and at the expanses of the hourglasses which rested in these fields. The fields traveled for miles in all directions. The glasses still resting in the sand had not yet taken flight, but they would. He closed his eyes and ran both hands through his long, black hair. He kept them shut for a long while, wondering who it would be today. Would he be called upon to end the life of an innocent schoolgirl, or a man who had worked all of his life to provide for his family? Perhaps a murderer or a rapist? Those he didn't mind. More than likely it would be all of the above and many more. His masters called on him more and more of late.
Death heard footsteps coming up the tower stairs. He opened his eyes and turned toward the sound. A man, or rather one who had been a man at one time, appeared in the doorway to the balcony Death was standing on. Another servant of his master, the man was dressed in a white suit with shiny gold buttons down the front. Maybe the man had been a delivery boy during his time on earth, for now he was forever running errands around the castle for the masters.
He must have been the greatest delivery boy in history to have been given the gift of immortality, Death mused.
The new arrival bowed to the Reaper. "Lord Death, the masters have need of you in the Hall of Life."
Death nodded to the man and walked past him through the door and onto the stairs. He continued his descent and paused only to look again at the fields of hourglasses through a small window. He reached the bottom of the stairs and turned to a cubby in the stone wall. Death's scythe was resting where he had left it upon climbing the tower. The scythe was essentially a long pole with a wicked-looking, curved blade protruding from the top, but it served a great purpose. It was the tool Death used to transfer a mortal from the plane of the living to the plane of the afterlife. He grabbed the scythe by its long wooden handle and headed through a doorway into the library.
The room was rectangular in shape and taller than any tree he had ever seen on his many visits to earth. Death entered at the far end and had to walk the length of the room to reach the only other doorway. As he walked he looked to either side at the great shelves that lined the walls. Great tomes filled the shelves, each book taller than himself, and nearly as thick. These were the records of the Keeper, his master. Written inside the great books were the details of every man, woman and child who had ever lived. When they were born on earth, when they had died, how they had lived and what they had done. Some of the entries were short, nothing but the earth dates of the person's life and death. Others were long and in great detail. Many times had Death sat alone and read about the lives of the more interesting entries.
If time had existed in this place, it would have taken Death nearly ten minutes to walk the length of the room, but he finally reached the far side of the room. He opened the door and looked into his favorite part of the castle, the study. Small in comparrison to the library, but still considerable in size, the study was also lined with book filled shelves. These books, however, were not written by the Keeper. These were brought back from earth. Death himself had added many to the collection. In the center of the room was a small wooden table placed on a beautifully woven rug of red and black. On two sides of the table, opposite from each other, were two wooden chairs. One of the chairs was occupied by his only friend in this place.
The Dreamer was tall with short, well groomed hair the color of straw. He wore a robe of cream and blue, tied around the middle by a gold length of rope. The tassled ends of the the rope draped over his lap and rested on either side of him on the rug. When he was standing, they hung nearly to the ground. Parts of the man's body faded in and out from visibilty. At the moment, Death could see the table through where the man's arm should be. In an instant the arm retuned to view just in time for the bottom portion of his left leg to disappear. The Dreamer was another servant of the master.
As Death walked into the room, his friend looked up from the book he was reading and smiled. "Where have you been? I have a new strategy I want to try. It's more aggressive in nature, as you have suggested."
Death returned the smile and moved to stand next to the seated man. The favored game of the two beings had been chess for a very long time, though Death's companion was too defensive in nature. "I'm sure it is," Death assured. "I look forward to losing to it. What are you reading?"
"A book on gods and legends. According to this book, there is a song about me on earth. Have you heard it?"
The Reaper enjoyed a good laugh upon hearing this. "No, I can't say that I have."
"Nor have I. It has an odd title to be sure. The book has a portion of the lyrics. Would you like to hear them?"
Death laughed again and shook his head. "I can't right now, the masters have need of me. Perhaps we'll have a look at them before we try your new chess strategy."
The Dreamer nodded and his head faded from view as he spoke. "I look forward to it. Go and do your duty, and return when you have finished."
Death rolled his eyes and turned to leave. He passed through the door that led into the Crafter's Hall with a last glance over his shoulder at his friend. In front of the Dreamer, a chess board had materialized, and the man had returned to his reading.
The Crafter's Hall was a large, circular room filled to the roof with wooden planks and metal scraps, among other crafting materials.. Amongst the piles of materials were small tables and chairs. These were the workspaces of the Crafters. Men and women who in life had been the best of their trades. They too had been given a second, immortal life upon their deaths. Here in the castle they labored night and day, making hourglasses for the Fates. Lifeglasses, the Fates called them. Each finished hourglass would be filled with sand and placed in the Sands of Time. The moment the glass was placed in the fields of sand, a new life would begin on earth, and the sand would start to drain into the lower portion of the lifeglass. When the last grain of sand fell, Death would be called upon to harvest another life, and the hourglass would take flight. One of these vessels had emptied. That is why the masters had called him.
Death passed by many tables, unnoticed by the laborers. They were all hard at work, some hammering at their forges and others engraving unfinished lifeglasses with tiny hammers and chisels. Some were shaping their creations out of plaster and still others were shaving off unwanted splinters with sharp crafting knifes. Death could not see the spiral staircase in the center of the room that led upward to the Hall of Life, but he knew he was going the right way. At his feet was a long trail of hair that varied in color from naturally snow white, to brown and black where it had been dragged through sawdust and soot. The hair wove its way under a woodworker's table and around a huge pile of woodchips. He followed the hair a good five hundred feet, twisting this way and that over and around piles of materials and under tables, all the way to the bottom of the staircase. The hair lifted off of the floor at this point and became intertwined with the banister. It snaked its way up and around the handrail of the staircase and Death followed it upwards.
When he reached the top of the stairs, Death climbed through the hole in the floor and stepped into the Hall of Life. This room, like the one below it, was also round. At the top of the staircase the hair again joined the floor. It ran from the hole in the floor to the wall where it did innummerable laps around the circumference of the large hall. The hair at some point again left the floor and climbed the wall up to the ceiling. Here it draped amongst the rafters, falling back to the floor at some points. To Death, the hair looked like a giant serpent, especially here where it hid in the rafters and circled the room. He looked to the wall, where the serpentlike hair fell down from the rafters and exited one of the many windows, only to come back in another. After snaking its way among the rafters some more, the hair plunged down into a great pile at the foot of a great yellow sandstone throne. Here it reminded the Reaper of a great white, sleeping beast. But the trail had not quite ended. The hair moved up the last few feet to join to the face of an elderly looking man of very large stature.
The Keeper sat on his throne, one of his giant books in his lap. His face was down and his hand tirelessly entered the deeds of mortals into the tome with a large peacock feather pen. His robes were flowing white with black ink stains splattered everywhere. His face, which had not one wrinkle, was also smeared with the black substance. Legends on earth named the bearded man Father Time.
Death's master did not look up when he entered the room. The Keeper was the master of this castle, indeed of all time, but he left the majority of the governing of mortal lives to his underlings, the Fates.
Before the throne, halfway to the staircase, was a round stone dais rising from the floor. Directly above the center of the stage was the top half of an hourglass which spilled the Sand of LIfe down onto the dais. Tables were placed in no particular order on the platform, each containing numerous lifeglasses. The cascading sand climbed up the legs of these tables and even gained ground on the top of some of them. Wading through the sand were three beings which appeared as old women garbed in dark colored rags .They judged the lifeglasses of the Crafters, filled them and placed them into the endless, dry ocean that was the Sands of Time. The three hags had but one eye to share amongst themselves and they passed it back and forth depending one who needed it the most at that particular moment. They ruled the lives of mortals on nothing more than whims and the loose instructions of the Keeper. These crones were the Fates, and much to Death's dislike, they too were his masters.
The Reaper walked from the stairs towards the dais, careful not to trip over the Keeper's beard and trying to avoid the larger piles of sand which had flowed off of the platform and onto the wooden floor.
As Death approached the Fates he could hear Lysa, the judge, talking to her sister. "Helena, give me the eye. This lifeglass has an interesting feel to it, perhaps it deserves a peek."
Helena, the filler, who was perched on a pile of sand at one of the tables, finished filling a lifeglass three quarters of the way full and reached to her face. She stuck her thumb into the socket which contained the eye and popped it out with a squishy, suction-like noise. "I almost feel sorry for this man. He will live a long life by earth standards, but it will be riddled with sickness and frailty," the crone gave a cackle which belied her true feelings, which had nothing to do with pity. She held the eye out in the direction of her sister for a long while before speaking again. "Lysa! Hold out your hand, my arm is getting tired!" Once Lysa had taken the eye, Helena turned her sightless gaze towards her other sister.
Jada, the sentencer, was busy filling a metal tray with finished lifeglasses, ready to be placed in the Sands of Time. It was Jada's job to decide the way in which a mortal would die. Once she decided the manner of a mortal's last moments on earth she placed a final, black grain of sand into the lifeglass.
Helena held the newly filled hourglass out to Jada and smiled, showing the very few teeth she had left. "Jada, here. Give him something good. Perhaps the same sickness which will torment him his whole miserable life."
Jada gave a shriek of laughter and fumbled her hand through the air until she managed to find the lifeglass her sister was holding. "A month of suffering in bed, unable to move or talk will do nicely I think." At this all three Fates howled with laughter, and Jada placed the final black grain into the glass.
Death watched the black speck fall into the bowl on top of its yellow brethren and scowled. It would be him, not the Fates, who would have to listen to the bedside sobs of the man's family when that final black grain tumbled down.. It would be Death who touched the man with his scythe and watched the life drain from his eyes, not the Fates. Here they sat laughing at the pain and suffering of a man they would never meet, but it would be Death who had to collect him.
The eyeless Jada waded out of the sand, holding the tray of lifeglasses in her hands, and headed towards the archway that led down to the Sands of Time. Death watched her fumble her way across the floor, even giving a chuckle when the witch tripped over the Keeper's beard at the door.
Lysa heard Death's laughter and turned her head towards the sound. "What do you find amusing, Reaper?"
"Nevermind. Why did you call me?"
Lysa smirked at Death's question. "Why do you think we have called you, fool? For your company? It is time to collect, ready your chariot."
Death gave the Fate a scowl she couldn't see. "And who is it now? Has a little girl wandered off a cliff at your command? Or has a viper crawled into the cradle of a sleeping baby?"
Helena looked up from the lifeglass she was inspecting. "Why do you dote on the lives of children? We could have a fire in a schoolhouse if you like. We could make hundreds of innocent brats die if it would please you."
The lack of emotion in Helena's face angered the Reaper, but he managed to keep control of his temper. "No, it wouldn't please me. In fact, I think I will no longer collect children. Maybe you could go and collect them, Helena."
Both of the Fates before him hissed at this remark, and blind Lysa pointed a gnarled finger in his direction. "Silence, servant! There will be no more talk like that," Helena shook her head in digust and then went back to examining the lifeglass she held, but Lysa continued. "Your predecessors spoke like this as well, and they are no longer with us. If you wish to share their fate, by all means, remain insubordinate."
"As I understand it," Death countered. "You old gals lost your eyes because of your failures with the previous Deaths. You are down to one eye and one Death. I wonder what the master would do if you tried to replace me."
The Reaper knew he had hit a nerve with that comment. Both Fates were completely silent for a long while. Helena finally broke the silence. "It is true, child. We were punished, but so too were the Reapers. For all of our sakes keep your voice down and do the job you accepted," Helena looked over her shoulder at the Keeper to make sure he hadn't come close enough to hear, and then to the door and saw her second sister returning from the fields. "Speak to Jada, she will give you your instructions. We will talk no more of this."
After Jada had given Death his instructions, the Reaper took his leave of the Fates and headed off to ready his chariot. He paused at the top of the staircase he had entered by and waved to the crones and called out to them sarcastically. "You old broads have outdone yourselves this time! Disease! How original!"
The Fates heard Death's departing shout and collectively gave a wince. Helena again looked over her shoulder to make sure the Keeper had not heard, but he was still busy writing in his book. "Insolent fool, what are we to do with him?" Helena finished with the eye and held it out to Lysa.
"I am not sure, but I do know that I will not risk our last eye for that self-righteous peacock." said Jada.
"Agreed," said Lysa as she took the eye from her sister and placed it into her own head. "Send for the Dreamer."
The instant his name was mentioned, the Dreamer appeared in the doorway which led to the fields. He approached the dais and bowed before the Fates. "You have need of me, masters?"
Lysa smiled at her servant. "Yes, dearest Dreamer. You arrive promptly, as always. Your friend, Death, could learn much from you."
The Dreamer bowed again, even lower this time.
"We have a problem," continued Lysa "As you are the second Dreamer we have created, Death is the fourth of his kind. The first Dreamer and the first Death conspired together to overthrow the master. For our failure in creating obedient servants worthy of this hall, my sisters and I each lost one eye. And though you, dearest one, are far superior to your predecessor, the second Death was an unstoppable killing monster. He ruined all of our plans for the humans and killed out of desire. For that failure, another eye was taken. The third Death was, in retrospect, too timid. He lacked the drive to end lives altogether. For our failure with the third Death, yet another eye was taken."
The Dreamer nodded.
Lysa smiled at her servant again. "Death has become bold and disrespectful of late. We cannot let him rise in rebellion as the first Death did. We cannot risk another failure. Sharing one eye is bad enough, but to be permanantly blind until the end of time..." Her voice trailed off and she folded her hands in her lap.
"Fear not, master," said the servant. "Leave this problem to me."
Lysa rose to her feet and hobbled over to the Dreamer. She placed a hand on either of the servant's cheeks and smiled up at the tall man. "Far superior indeed."
It was the dead of night when Death's chariot landed on a narrow, dirt road outside of a small, wooden house in 12th Century England. History on earth had exceeded far beyond this point, but time did not work the same way in Death's world.
Death gripped his scythe and climbed down from the metal basket and walked towards the front of the vehicle where his horses were harnassed. He examined the house he would visit and let his hand trail along the flank of one of the two beasts as he continued forward. He stopped at the head of the chariot and scratched the nose of Epona. Both bearers of the chariot were as black as a starless night, with flames, instead of hair, for mane and tail. Epona reared her massive head and snorted her nose, releasing two dark clouds of smoke and soot.
"My good girls," said Death as he gave Epona a few quick pats on the neck. He glanced over to the other horse, Rohesia, and playfully slapped her on the nose before turning his full attention back to the house.
It was a tiny dwelling among many other tiny dwellings. The walls were nothing more than rough planks of wood, and the roof was thatch which appeared to be in need of a little repair. It had only two windows that he could see; square holes with nothing but dirty cloth keeping out the night air. The door, much like the walls, was of roughly sawed wood mounted on shoddy metal hinges.
The Reaper approached the door and stopped, listening for the sounds of crying which often preceeded his visits. Nothing. He walked through the door, literally, and found himself in a humble room with a packed dirt floor. In the center was a makeshift, square table with four rickety chairs surrounding it. On the far side of the room from the entry was another, smaller table with a bucket of water and a bowl of what appeared to be stew. The room had various other tables and rude cabinet like furniture, but Death payed them little mind. He looked to his left and saw another doorway. This one, like the windows, had nought but a length of cloth where a door might have been in a more lavish house.
As he approached the second doorway, Death could hear muffled speach from the other side of the cloth. He passed through the cloth and found what he was looking for. A middleaged man lay on a cloth-covered pile of straw in the corner of the small bedroom. What appeared to be the man's wife and daughter kneeled on either side of the dying figure. The younger female had a tear streaked face and was rubbing her father's hand, which she held in both of her own hands, with her thumbs. The wife simply stared at the painfilled face of her departing husband.
The man's breathing was rough and heavy, broken periodically by thunderous fits of coughing.
Death watched as a single tear pooled in the corner of the wife's eye, streamed down her nose, and fell from the tip to land on the hand of her dying mate. She looked over to her daughter. "I only wish there was something we could do for him... to make it better... a little easier."
The ghostly visitor to this scene walked up to the older woman and brushed away the trail the tear had made. The mother closed her eyes and gave a shudder that made her shoulders jump at the touch of the intruder she could not see. She raised a hand to her face and rubbed at the spot where Death had touched her.
"There is nothing you can do," Death told the grieving woman who could not hear him. "but fear not. His suffering will end and you will see him again."
Even as the Reaper spoke, time froze and the room became completely still. The woman was frozen with her hand pressed against her own face, her eyes back on her husband. The daughter looked like a mourning statue, still holding the hand of the father she loved, with eyes downcast. This was the moment Death had been waiting for. When time began again, the man's suffering would be over.
The whole house was frozen in time, the whole of earth even. Death held his scythe out above the soon to be deceased and lowered the tip of the blade. The instant the dark steel touched the man's skin, his life ended. The spirit of the man sprouted from the dead shell of flesh and sat up.
The newly deceased raised his hands and examined them, then looked to each side at his grieving family. He reached out and touched the face of his daughter and his mouth opened. "I'm sorry," he told her as he moved his hand to stroke her hair. Then the spirit looked up and saw his killer.
"I guess I finally died. Took long 'nough."
Death smiled sadly at the man. "Yes. You are at peace now. The pains that wracked your earthly body are no more."
"What now?" asked the man.
"Come with me. I will take you to my home. Those who sent me have need of your craft. I will give you some time to say goodbye to your family. When you are finished, come to me outside. Be wary, though, if you wish to spare yourself further grief. When time starts again your family will realize you are dead and will most likely grieve loudly. If you do not wish to see or hear this, say your farewells quickly." Death had seen this too many times and had no desire to see it again.
The dead man left behind to say his goodbyes, Death exited the house and climbed back into his chariot. He leaned his scythe beside him and grabeed the reins. He hoped the man would emerge soon, for the Reaper had come to fear the sound that followed the commencement of time.
Death stood in the chariot watching the windows of nearby houses. He saw candlelight begin to flicker around one of the cloths and knew time was picking back up where it had left off. The dead man's spirit emerged from his house a moment later. The man trudged toward the vessel that would bear him to the afterlife, but stopped when two screaming voices cut through the night air. The ghostly figure looked back over his shoulder for a moment and then quickened his pace to reach the chariot.
"Go," said the man after he climbed in behind Death. "You were right. I don't want to hear this."
The Dreamer sat alone in the study waiting for the return of his chess partner. He tried to plan ahead of time what he would say to his friend who was nearing open rebellion, at least in the eyes of the Fates. Of course, their opinion was all that mattered.
Maybe it would be better to not think about it all, just let it be a natural converstaion, the Dreamer thought.
The anxious being did not have to wait long before Death arrived. The Reaper walked over to the table where the Dreamer sat and leaned his sycthe against the table before taking a seat.
"You look deep in thought," said the new arrival.
"Of course. I am mentally perfecting my strategy," said the Dreamer in response. "Shall we give it a try?"
Death rubbed his eyes and shook his head. "Not yet, if that's alright with you. I have much on my mind."
"Yes," said Death. "They grate on my nerves more and more every time I am called before them."
"Remember, my friend, that you did accept the job when they created you," said the Dreamer with a comforting smile.
"And what would have happened to me if I had said no, I wonder," Death said with a forced laugh. "Would they have destroyed me on the spot without another word? Believe me when I say that the job was much more pleasant in theory."
The Dreamer remained silent and watched his friend stand and turn away.
Death reached up to his scalp and ran his fingers through his own hair. He closed his fingers and gave a good tug with each hand. After releasing a great exhaling noise from his mouth, Death turned back to face the Dreamer. "I wonder if they even can destroy me..."
"I should think so, seeing as how the first few who occupied our jobs are no longer here," replied the still seated man. The Dreamer dreaded the next question. It was the question he had feared during his entire time spent playing out this conversation in his head. He hoped with all of his heart that it would not escape his friend's lips.
"Could I destroy them?"
The Dreamer rose to his feet and held both hands out to his friend, shaking them back and forth. He hoped the gesture was taken as intended, as both of his arms faded from view only an instant after standing. "Please! Please, my friend, do not talk like that! That road of thought can only lead to disaster. If you were to be heard talking like that, you would be destroyed without another thought of their precious remaining eye."
Death listened to his friend's pleas and then leaned with both hands against the table. The Reaper leaned in close to his friend and lowered his voice to a level better suited for conspiracy. "Tell me you have not thought it. You and I could run this castle ourselves. We already do most of the work. The Keeper. All he does is write in his books. As interesting as some of the pages are, are they really necessary? And the Fates. They scheme and play out their sick fantasies on mortals who do not even know we exist. We could do all of that, you and I. We could bring the world back to how it was in the earliest of days. Humans living for centuries instant of decades. We could spend the vast majority of our time playing chess and discussing the incorrect information the mortals write in their books of legends. Tell me you have not thought it!"
"I have not." replied the Dreamer who had become petrified with fear. His friend's thoughts strayed more than he had even thought possible. "Please, Death, hush now. You have said quite enough on the subject. If we were to be overheard, we would both be killed on the spot."
Death waved his hand dismissingly at the frightened being before him. "Bah! They have no power over us! The Fates value that eye more than you would admit. They should fear us!"
The Dreamer stood helpless. He had not the slightest idea what to say to sway Death's mind, or at the very least shut him up. "No..." he managed to say at last. "No. The system has worked the way it is since the beginning of time. It is not for us to change it. The Fates design the lives of mortals, I guide them in the direction they are supposed to go, and you..." the Dreamer paused for a moment. Wording was very important at this point. "You carry them to their second lives."
Death burst into sarcastic laughter and slapped both hands down onto the table with a clapping noise that it made the Dreamer jump back. "And who, do you think, got the short end of the deal in all of that? And let me remind you, my friend, that out of all of us I am the only one who ever hears the screaming of children and the wailing of those left behind!"
This emboldened the Dreamer and he stepped back up to the table. He placed both hands very near to Death's and looked his friend square in the eyes. "And when the Fates decide that a man should rape a girl, who do you think has to enter the man's room at night and whisper seductive ideas of atrocities? The fact that the monster will have a life-changing experience in prison and will one day start a great church of man does little to dull the pain in my heart at the thought of the victim!."
For a moment the Dreamer paused. "She died by the way. The foul beast slashed her throat and left her in an alley. And although I sympathize with you, friend, do not think for a second that mortals are completely innocent, and do not think that you are the only one of us who has burdens to bear."
Death watched his companion sit back down in the chair. This time it was the Dreamer's turn to massage his eyes wearily.
"Nevertheless..." Death started, but he was cut off by the other.
The Dreamer again waved his hands for silence. "My friend, we should stop here. I cannot take anymore of this conversation. Perhaps we could play that game of chess?"
"I will have to pass tonight. I, too, am weary of thought, and I doubt I would be able to effectively test your new plans of conquest." Death smiled at his friend.
The Dreamer returned the smile weakly. "Very well. Tomorrow then. You should go and rest."
"I doubt I will find sleep. I have too much on my mind at the moment."
The Dreamer's smile widened and he rose to his feet. "Now that I can help with."
Death clapped his friend on the shoulder and together the two beings left the study for the hall which led to their chambers. At the end of the hall was three doors; on the right was the Dreamer's chamber, on the left, Death's, and the door straight ahead of them led to the stables where Epona and Rohesia were no doubt asleep. They entered Death's chamber.
It was a small, square stone room with nothing but a bed with black sheets against one wall, and a table with two chairs across from the bed. It had one window which overlooked the great fields of sand.
Death leaned his scythe against the wall and climbed into bed. "I meant what I said, you know. Think on it, Dreamer. We could run this place by ourselves."
The Dreamer didn't say anything, he simply pulled a chair up next to the bed and held his hand out to his friend.
"Not long," said Death as he arranged two pillows underneath his head. "Just a little rest to clear my head."
Death extended his own hand. The moment he made contact with the Dreamer's flesh, sleep took him.
The Dreamer smiled at his sleeping friend. "Pleasant dreams."
It felt to Death like something had crawled into bed with him. He woke with a start and looked down towards the bottom end of the bed. There, perched between his feet, was Lysa. She was resting on the balls of her feet. Her right arm was resting on her knee, and her left was placed on the bed before her. She looked like a cat waiting to pounce. Her one eye was fixed on the Reaper.
Frozen in sleepy confusion, Death only stared. After a few moments he finally asked the Fate. "What is all of this?"
The hag at the foot of his bed gave a shriek of laughter. "You are quite the fool, child, to think that we could not hear you talking with the Dreamer. We know everything that happens in this castle."
If the Fates had heard his rebellious conversation in the study, then Death had no option but to fight. He threw his arm out to the side and grabbed his scythe. He climbed out of bed and held the weapon out towards where Lysa had been, but she was gone.
Death turned in circles, clutching his weapon and scanning the room for where the old woman was hiding. The were few places to hide in the small chamber. Death went down to one knee and peeked under the bed. Nothing. After another circle he heard the witch speak.
"Up here, child."
Above him, on the ceiling, Death could see all three Fates. They were upside down, all three looking at him with broad grins splitting their faces. Death backed up several steps, and even the two eyeless hags followed him with with sightless gazes. Without saying a word they jumped down in unison, their hands extending towards Death.
The Reaper ran through the falling women pulling his scythe behind him. He gave a mighty tug on the weapon when he had bowled through them. The scythe nearly pulled out of his grasp, and Death knew he had cut one of his opponents. He ran a few more steps and then turned, ready to strike again.
On the floor at her sisters' feet was Jada, cleaved in two by the long blade.
One down, thought the Reaper, his confidence growing. He looked to the two women still standing, expecting them to curse him and weep for their fallen sister. But they just smiled their gapfilled smiles. As one, they pointed down to the two pieces of Jada.
Where Death expected to see blood and entrails, there was nought but sand pouring out of the two halves of Jada. The golden grains were spilling into two piles between the pieces of the cloven Fate. When the two piles met, they began to pull the two sides of Jada back together, and after just a moment all three fates were again standing.
"Did you truly think you could defeat us here? You are powerless on this plane," mocked Helena.
Bewildered, Death lunged at the Fates swinging his scythe back and forth. An arm fell, then a head, then a leg. The Fates stood perfectly still, allowing their attacker all the futile swings he wished. Death now knew that he could not hurt them here, but we wanted to slow them down a bit. He wanted to disable them long enough for him to escape to a place where he might could harm them.
After the Fates had been reduced to nothing more than one large, sandy pile of body parts, Death turned and ran to the window. He leaped through, swatting passing lifeglasses out of his way as he fell. When he landed, Death ran around the corner of the castle to the stables. He burst through the side door, startling his two mounts from their slumber.
"Calm, calm! I need you now!" said Death as he leaped onto Rohesia's back. The Reaper kicked his heels against the flanks of his mount and Rohesia took to the air. After they had cleared the stable grounds, Death looked behind him towards his chamber. The Fates had joined back together, and one by one they leaped through Death's window. With great precision, each witch landed on a lifeglass and began flying towards the fleeing horse.
Rohesia flew further and further into the air, until finally the castle below blinked out of sight with a flash of light. They had made it through the transition of planes, and now Death steered his mount downwards towards the earth. Hope began to flood back into the rider as he descended. The world of man, after all, was his plane. He was as a god here.
As Death flew ever downwards towards the earth. With the clouds whirring past, he became lost in his thoughts of victory. Surely the Fates cannot touch me here, he thought.
But even as he thought this, Death felt a hand grab his cloak and heard the cackle he had come to despise. Lysa, riding her lifeglass, tried to pull Death from his mount. The Reaper tried to swing his sycthe back at the hag, but Lysa merely caught the weapon by the haft and yanked it from Death's grasp. The rider watched in horror as the Fate tossed the weapon behind her into the air.
A moment later, Jada appeared and caught the scythe. Holding the weapon in both hands, she then moved through the air and became lost in the clouds. As Death watched his blade speed away in the hands of the enemy, another set of hands grasped his cloak. Helena and Lysa now pulled Death up off of Rohesia and tossed him away. The clouds rushed upwards past Death at great speed. The Reaper was now terrified and knew that he was powerless to stop his attackers. He hoped the Fates would allow the fall to kill him. But instantly upon thinking that his hopes were dashed. Jada appeared out of a cloud and flew straight at him, the scythe held over her head ready to strike.
Death held his arms out in front of him to shield his body from the blow he knew was coming. Jada swooped in and with a loud, shrill cry she swung the scythe at the helpless man, cutting both of his arms off at the elbows. No blood spewed forth as the flesh seperated and the arms floated away.
Death let out an earthshaking scream. He thrashed his two nubs of arms wildly and cryed out, "Mercy! Please, have mercy!"
All three Fates flew into view and circled the falling man, each still perched upon her lifeglass.
"Mercy?" called Helena. "And do you deserve mercy, servant?"
"You sought to end our lives and take over the control of the fates of men, and now you ask for mercy?" added Lysa.
"Insolence is not repaid with this mercy you ask for." said Jada.
Death listened and his heart dropped. "Please," he managed to say at last in a low, defeated voice. "Please, my masters."
Lysa moved her lifeglass to float right before Death. "Very well, slave. We will allow you to keep your position. I think you now have a better grasp of our power. We will renew your body and we will never speak of this again...ever." Lysa moved to the side and Jada took her place in front of the maimed man.
"After you have rested, come to us in the Hall of Life and swear your fealty to us anew."
"And don't forget," added Helena to his side. "Keep your voice down lest the Keeper hear you."
Death turned his head and nodded agreement with Helena. He looked back to Jada just in time to see her strike out with the butt of the scythe. The end of the haft cracked against Death's head and he lost conscienceness.
The Dreamer was sitting beside the bed when the Reaper awoke. "Welcome back, my friend."
Death sat up with a start and held his arms out to examine them. "They're back. My arms."
"The Fates told me of your encounter. They brought you back here and mended your body. I kept watch as you slept."
Death put his hands on his temples. "I was wrong, Dreamer. So very wrong. I should have listened to you. The Fates posess more power than I would have ever imagined. I can't believe..."
"Hush, Death," the Dreamer interrupted. "Lay back and rest."
The Reaper threw the covers off himself and jumped to his feet. "I must go and see them. They have given me a second chance and I would not risk their anger by making them wait."
"As you wish." said the Dreamer. With an invisble hand, the seated being reached out and grabbed the scythe which was leaning against the wall next to the bed. "Here."
"No," said Death, shaking his head. "I would not take that into their presence yet. I must build their trust again."
Death smoothed his robes out with his hands and looked down at his friend. "What of Rohesia?"
"She's fine. She is back in the stable."
The Reaper nodded and moved quickly towards the door. He turned the handle and threw the door open, breaking into a run down the hallway.
Watching his departing friend, the Dreamer rose to his feet and also made for the door. He passed through the open doorway and looked down the hall. Death had already turned the corner. The Dreamer smiled to himself and walked towards the study to await his friend and their long overdue game of chess. He was confident that the turbelent time had passed all would be right within the castle again. As he walked he sang quietly to himself.
"Mr. Sandman... Yes? Bring me a dream..."
Thursday, December 07, 2006
I think Moms are more difficult for females to write about. We always think 'I'm never going to be like her' and then find ourselves thinking back, trying to remember what she said so we can say it too. My relationship with my Mom has always reminded me of a quote I once read. "When I was young, I was sure my parents knew nothing. Ten years later, I was amazed at how much they had learned."
My Mom always went out of her way to help me-she would take the time out of her life to teach me. She taught me to cross-stitch, crochet, tried to teach me to cook. Anything I showed interest in, there she was, ready to help. She even became interested in hobbies I picked up. We both rode horses, we both played golf, later on we even worked in the same place. I cannot think of a single time that she refused to help me. I remember calling her at 3 a.m. when I was new Mom, knowing she had to go to work soon. Did she fuss? Nope, she answered the questions, reassured me and said I was doing good.
Despite all that, I still assumed my Mom had no understanding of me or my life. Was I just an ungrateful little brat? Probably...But also she was Mom, she was always there and I knew she would be regardless of what I did. So that made her a safe target to rebel against and say I would be different than.
It's years later now and I can say I'm not all that different than she was. My husband says I act like her as does my oldest. I hear her words when I speak and now can recognize the thoughts behind those words as I have the same ones. My 12 year old is positive I have no clue of whats happening in his life and has even said that his kids will be raised different. It's even reached my mirror. If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then Mom should be proud. After all the heck and trouble I put her through, after all the times ahe spent trying to show me her love, after all she did..I have finally reached the zenith-I have become my Mom. And I couldn't be happier :)
Monday, December 04, 2006
We spend time explaining to our kids that strangers are not to be trusted and to never take anything from them. We warn them of what to do in case of emergencies at home and teach them how to make a 911 call if needed.
Then comes Christmas. We tell our kids that the oddly dressed man is okay and to go sit on his lap. We tell them this stranger will come into our house late at night and they should set out treats for him. We tell them that this stranger leaves gifts and can read their minds.
And we are surprised that our kids are confused?
This came home today as I was encouraging one of mine to tell Santa what he wanted for Christmas. He looked up at me and said, "But Mommy, he's a stranger, I can't take stuff from strangers" We ended up not sitting with Santa as in a store was just not the right time to try and explain all this. In fact I'm still not sure HOW to explain it. I don't know whether to reclaim some of the mystery and joy of childhood for my children or whether to reinforce 'stranger danger'. I don't want them growing up without that sense of excitement but I don't want them to be a target either. I have seen Halloween pass from a joyfully anticipated holiday to just another day. I don't want to lose Christmas as well.
Life was easier when I was small. I wonder what it will be like for my grand children.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
The first is the two of us catching rainbow trout while out camping. I loved doing that. The flash of the fish, the fight..I was always torn between wanting the pretty thing to get away and wanting to catch it to show I could. A few years later, I remember us throwing chicken legs on string into the ocean hoping for crabs. So different, crabs took patience, usually more than a kid had.
The next memory was all of us watching football together in my dad's 'private' study. We had a game that let us pick 2 teams as 'ours' and we would support them the whole season. It was a contest to see which team would be the best. The competition and yelling at the TV screen when 2 of our teams met was fierce. My 2 were the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders. I knew everything about them--even years later I kept up with them, at least until they changed their home towns.
The last one that stands out is more a series-it's all the books he gave me to read. My Dad would hand me books that he found interesting. This led to some interesting choices for a little girl. The books I got were not the kind you would find in a children's library. They were strange, disturbing tales that sometimes shocked and bothered me. I was probably one of the few kids that read Kurt Vonnegut, Studs Terkel and a really odd book called 'Report from Group 17'. There were others, lots of them, but those stand out.
Lately I've been thinking about why these memories stand out above others and I think I finally know. These were the times my Dad was teaching me the important things in life. Not by dragging me to a class or explaining things heavy-handedly but by showing me how the world worked.
From the fish and crabs, I learned that different situations call for different reactions. You have heard the saying 'To a hammer, everything looks like a nail'. These 2 things, while being similar, required totally different approachs. One took speed and fast reactions-the other required patience and determination. Pretty useful concept for dealing with others..
The football game helped me learn about healthy competition even against those we cared about. I learned the importance of sticking with one thing for the long term instead of just bouncing about.
The books were the greatest gift of all. They opened my mind to ways of thinking that I never knew exsisted. The bothered me but they made me think. They made me want to know more, to find out more. Even today I'm constantly reading.
I think my Dad did it right (even if he didn't know he was doing it). The best way to teach our children is show them- not with long lectures and pontificating. Just let them see life through activities done together. Not once do I recall my Dad saying-"See, this is what it all means..this is how you act..." He didn't have to-he showed me and I learned and it stuck with me.
Thank you Dad :)
Monday, November 20, 2006
For me the perfect game would look a lot like WOW, just with additions.
From SWG it would add the crafting system that that game had at the start. It would have the variety of professions and the ability to custom build and rebuild your template that SWG had at the start. Finally, it would add the level of character customization that I loved so much.
From EQ2, it would add the housing system, the betrayal quest, and the scaling dungeons.
From Second Life and Entropia, it would add the real life currency conversion. There will always be buyers and sellers as long as there are games...might as well have it as a feature.
Other qualities would be strong customer support, GM's in game enforcing the rules (especially on RP server types), player events that actually changed the world, multiple outcomes or ways to complete quests.
Last I would add a community that worked together to make the game fun for everyone, that was there to help, to compete, to challenge and to enjoy the created world together.
That's my vision of a perfect MMO. I'm sure there are things I left out. But its a good start. :)
Thursday, November 16, 2006
After EQ2, I wandered randomly for a bit.. Lineage, Final Fantasy, Second Life, Entropia, others I can't even remember. None of them held my interest.
I hadn't wanted to try WOW. Somehow that the fact that seemingly everyone played it worked against it for me. But finally, with not even a shimmer of an interesting game left to try, I bought it.
Thats when I learned that there was a good reason everyone played it..the game was great! It's acronym fits it well.
Customization was again not as good as I had hoped, but I was happy with the choices I had. The quests were interesting, varied, and suitable for both solo and groups. The areas were graphically impressive and hidden things seemed to be around every corner. Just in case you missed them, the birds flew over POI's so you could see if there were any you had missed.
I play on a pvp server and frequently died as I am pretty bad (laughable even) when it comes to my pvp abilities. But it added excitement to the game as you had to watch your back all the time. I could spend pages extolling the good qualities of the game but its subscriber numbers speak to that just fine on their own.
It's not perfect of course. After being 60 on a couple characters, you start to run out of things to do. Theres only so many times you can relevel to 60 without it becoming just another job. So, yep, another game is now cancelled..but I'll be back to this one the day Burning Crusade ships!
Monday, November 13, 2006
After I left SWG, I went to Everquest 2. Yep, still had faith in SOE.
The first thing I noticed was the lack of customization as compared to SWG. My dark elf looked like many other dark elves and it was next to impossible to create something unique. The whole game was much more scripted and felt more like a single player game to me.
There was lots I liked about the game though. I loved the housing system. Everyone had homes(inn rooms) in the cities that could be visited by other players if you wanted. There was no urban sprawl. Elite addresses cost more, but I rarely saw people in those houses as they were out of the way of the main paths.
The quests were also a strong point. I liked that the website kept track of how many you had done. For a quest junkie like me, it was lots of fun trying to beat the next person on the list, then the next... The dungeons that leveled to match you were also wonderful. No matter your level or size of group, the dungeon would scale to provide an approporiate challenge. Many happy hours were spent there.
All of that wasn't enough to make me stay. I hated that so many quests were group oriented. If you weren't in a guild, much of the content was just not available until you were over level for it. Then there were the Frogs.
I tried it, I appreciated its good qualities, I left and never went back.