The Slayer's Dusk

Then it was late afternoon. The day’s heat was past, and the daylight along with it. The shadows lengthened and were beginning to coalesce into the darkness of night. A set of one-storey square structures surrounded an open plaza and faded into the dimness. The buildings themselves were surrounded by rusty metal fencing of linked triangles. Corners seemed rounded, and straight lines curved in the rapidly deepening twilight.

A faintly unpleasant, unidentifiable smell stained the air and the grimy walls of the derelict complex. It was distinct from the musty odor of abandonment and the smell of the garbage liberally strewn about, and somehow was more nauseating than either. There was no wind to carry the smell away. One could imagine it sinking into and permeating the ground.

In the center of the plaza three jug-bearing nymphs curved around a fluted column, the water that used to flow from their shoulders and around their feet long since gone. In its place lay a thick layer of dust, and gently sloping piles of trash, portions of which seemed to quiver and throb. The nymphs’ weathered faces reproached each other for letting this befall them.

Tiny eyes peered out from inside their cramped rubbish-and-cardboard homes, strangely subdued. Usually at this time a few would foray into the buildings and never return. Today though, they all sniffed the air, squirmed, and huddled together. If the rats also gnashed their teeth, they did so without so much as a squeak.

A hush; the silence grew louder. Then the stillness was complete. It rang in the ears.

An infinitesimally thin sliver of light appeared in the air near the column, and sliced a nymph’s arm off as it expanded lazily into a crooked rectangle, a doorway of sorts. The stone arm cracked on the bottom of the fountain basin in a shower of trash and scurrying rats.

An ornately-decorated boot emerged, followed closely by its owner. A young man stood in midair, then descended an invisible staircase as the doorway collapsed into a point and disappeared. He ran his hands through his unruly hair slowly. The battle-worn sword at his belt looked natural on him, despite his age.

“Why must I bring destruction wherever I go?” he whispered half-jokingly to himself. His arm twinged, and he became painfully aware of his battered body.

He limped to the damaged sculpture and brushed a hand over the cut’s perfectly smooth surface. He bent to pick up the nymph’s limb, wincing as a scab broke open, and with a mumbled incantation replaced the detached arm. A thin pale line at the nymph’s shapely shoulder and a small crack at her elbow were the only indications that anything had happened.

The rats grew agitated again, and he stiffened suddenly, as if he only now really saw the ruins that lay around him. He glared at the trash and frowned at his dusty hands. He stepped out of the fountain, wiping his palms on the hem of his badly damaged coat.

“This can’t be. This is Gerana, but… No! He couldn’t have done this. I just saw him die. I just killed him,” he muttered fiercely.

A bright cube appeared in his hand, giving off a surprising amount of illumination. He hurried to the nearest building and peered inside. A faded sign above the doorway might once have depicted a forked road. He found an empty room, and a set of stairs too dilapidated for use. His brow furrowed in concentration, and the steps creaked and groaned in complaint as they were repaired by unseen hands. He ran up the stairs, only to be faced with another empty room with boarded-up windows.

In each building he visited he found more of the same. Emptiness. Dust. Neglect. Ruin. Nothing but his memories populated the complex. The fountain had once seemed to cool the plaza with flowing water. Around it, children were running in circles, to the cheers of their companions. Inside the building with an open book on its sign, people sat reading contentedly, some puffing on pipes. They were nowhere to be found, now.

“This must not be the place,” he decided. He closed his eyes, mumbling unintelligibly, and another doorway appeared. He stepped through.

Then it was late afternoon. The day had been unseasonably cool, and the night appeared set to be even cooler. The shadows lengthened, robbing the air of heat. Slightly frosted-over metal fencing surrounded a set of one-storey structures. The sound of running water came from an open plaza in the center of the complex, along with a low murmuring, as from an expectant crowd.

The buildings were neatly placed, everything intersecting at right angles. The streets that ran between them were clean and in good repair. Carved letters beneath colorful pictures named a few buildings, bigger than the rest: the Library, the Smithy, the Inn, and the Tavern. The doors beneath the signs were closed, as were the windows beside them.

Water gushed out from the jugs on the nymphs’ shoulders. Around them, a group of people stood, most of them wearing coats and shawls against the cold. They looked at each other, and kept glancing at the top of the column in the center of the fountain, though they couldn’t have said why. A wind blew. They shivered. There were no children. Their breaths misted the air.

A doorway opened high in the air, and a young man stepped onto the column’s flat top. A collective gasp rose as he descended slowly on what seemed to be a platform of air. He reached the ground, and tried to dust off his coat and breeches unsuccessfully. Looking around, he met uncertain, wary glances with an uncertain, wary glance of his own. Dirt streaked his face, and wounds peeked through holes in his once-fine clothing.

“Have you come to save us?”

“We have been waiting for so long…”

“Is that a sword at his hip?”

“Are you really going to set us free?”

“Is he the one?”

The crowd pressed around him, and he was inundated with questions and petitions from gaunt-faced men and women. He tried to fend them off. They pressed harder. Until a commanding voice shouted above the rest, “Silence! Calm yourselves!”

Reluctantly, people backed away, as an old man pushed his way through to the front. He cleared his throat, and addressed the harassed young man in a no-nonsense tone that he couldn’t fully prevent from quavering.

“What is your purpose in coming here? Who are you? Understand, we don’t take kindly to strangers, especially those arriving through such,” he fumbled, “unorthodox methods.”

The young man seemed to regain his composure, and replied, “Do none of you recognize me?” Mutters and head-shaking. He murmured softly, in a whisper meant only for himself, “This is still the wrong place. What is happening?” He absently fingered the hilt of his sword.

“Young man, whoever you are, you and your sword are not welcome here. Begone! Leave us peaceful folk alone!” the old man railed, spitting his contempt for the bladed weapon.

The young man sighed, opened another doorway and stepped through, to the astonishment of the crowd. Even the old man stopped in his tirade.

Always, it was late afternoon. Always, it took just a little more effort to create that doorway.

The buildings shifted from burnt-down rubble to gaudily-painted structures in fanciful, frail-looking shapes. The fountain ran dry, ran more forcefully, ran with blood. There were no people. People recognized him, but not as whom he was. Nobody recognized him. They loved him. They wanted to kill him. They worshipped him. There had been a lot of narrow escapes.

It was never the same. And it was never home.

Though it threatened to exhaust his magical ability forever, he created one last doorway. Rubbing his tired eyes, he walked through.

Then it was late afternoon, and though women were already bringing in their pies that they had allowed to cool, the salivating scent still lingered. This time the doorway had appeared in a secluded spot, and he arrived without causing a commotion. He hesitated before stepping out of the alley, dreading to find out that, once again, this place was not home. But it did smell like home, pies and dust and spices and all.

It also looked and sounded and felt like home to him, though he suspected wishful thinking was a part of it. Were those really the same vendors sitting around the fountain, beginning to pack up for the day? Was that the same group of children he had so hated watching over? Were those laughing young men with the glint of mischief in their eyes his friends? Would they recognize him, or threaten to lynch him?

He took a deep breath. He started walking toward the fountain. And he hit an invisible barrier right before the alley opening. It was smooth to the touch, and unyielding. He could not sense it even with his ability. Puzzlingly, it seemed to not be magical at all. Blows, either with his fists or the last dregs of his magic, did not affect the mysterious walls.

Setting his teeth determinedly, he reversed direction, and tried another, more indirect route toward the central plaza. To no avail. At every turning he was blocked by more of those invisible walls, and slowly he was herded toward some unknown destination, farther and farther away from his original one.

No one appeared to notice him waving at them from behind the apparently transparent walls. He couldn’t even approach any of the building entrances without running into one of those barriers. He had no choice but to let himself be guided along the empty back alleys of Gerana.

He was tired, angry, and frustrated. He had been lucky enough getting here without any further serious harm to his already damaged body, but he was tempted to just try and open another doorway, though he knew it would burn his ability out at the very least, and could very well kill him instantly. He was ready to give up.

But the image of his little sister sick with worry about him, biting her lower lip in that petulant way that she did, flashed in his mind unbidden. And his mother, quietly soothing everyone else in the family, comforting them with words that she herself found difficult to believe: “He’ll come back to us.”

He grinned as he imagined his sister, all of five years old, wanting to thump him with that stick she had taken to carrying around and at the same time wanting to jump into his arms. Though he had saved them all from horrible fates at the hands of the Black Lord, they would certainly not forgive his not returning to them.

At that thought, he felt a strange pull, a strong compulsion to suddenly be somewhere else. He ran, and ran, ignoring his mind’s protests that he was going the wrong way. He couldn’t have stopped his legs, had he wanted to. The invisible walls seemed to acquiesce, or maybe agree with his new course: he didn’t encounter any resistance as he ran.

His lungs burned as he pushed his worn-out body forward. Step after agonizing step. But he didn’t feel his body’s complaints, and his mind had already given up, and was gibbering madly in a corner of his skull. He slipped between buildings effortlessly, as if from muscle memory.

He stopped beneath an open window, gasping for breath. He slumped, and as he did, the sword that had become so much a part of him detached from his belt and clattered to the ground. He smiled tiredly, and reached for the sword that had pierced the Black Lord’s side, and eventually caused his demise in that battle that seemed so long ago. He couldn’t believe it had only been yesterday.

His vision blurred, and once again he felt that pull, much stronger than before. With his final breath, he felt himself being drawn upward, inside the building. It was all strangely familiar.

His last memory was of a baby crying, and a kind, smiling face silhouetted by the light of the setting sun. “Mother, you look so young,” he thought.

They found the sword shortly after. Being a superstitious lot, they believed the sword somehow linked to the newborn child. They decided to name him Grynthel, ‘the blade of the dusk.’ Grynthel only gurgled happily upon being told of his new name, and clutched the sword possessively in his stubby hands.

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to these forums, and I’m jumpstarting my return with this story! Yeah. Tell me what you think.