[Valcrest Forest | Inviditas 10th, 2526 | Early Evening]
Sebastian hated this safehouse. How cramped it felt. How it creaked even with the softest breeze. How it smelled of dust and rotten wood; no matter how much he tried to air it out. He especially hated that damn window that still wouldn’t budge.
Most of all he hated the silence.
It wasn’t the same kind of silence he felt when Jo used her enlightenment. It wasn’t absolute emptiness. Not a vacuum. Outside the breeze still whispered, birds still chirped. Inside the house, his restless footsteps bounced off the dilapidated walls and echoed in his ears. It was almost deafening; how the world remained unchanged, how the forest remained alive, how time refused to stop. And yet, the silence rang louder still. A void where something used to be—should be. The absence of life.
That silence screamed.
“This is our last candle,” he announced.
He spoke to fill the silence. As much as the sound of his own voice made him feel even more alone, he couldn’t help himself.
“This one’s got a couple hours left in it, I should put it out soon, maybe try to sleep, but…” He forced a half smile and carefully sat on the edge of the bed beside her. “I don’t think I want to be in the dark quite yet.”
Sebastian allowed the silence to linger, just for a few moments, staring ahead at the same wall, hesitantly leaning closer and resting his head against her shoulder.
“Do you remember when I asked you if shadows are real?” He glanced at her, then back to the wall. “When I took that arrow to the gut, I guess I was fever dreaming. I dreamt about my sister. I don’t remember a lot of it anymore. It faded, like dreams do. That question is all I have left and I can’t stop thinking about it like I can find an answer. Even though I know it wasn’t even really her. It was just me. Talking to myself. In my own head.”
Sebastian sighed softly, watching the shadows cast across the walls by the gentle flicker of candlelight. Silhouettes danced on every surface. And when he looked at them, they seemed alive. Deep down he knew they couldn’t be. Fire contained life. It breathed—required sustenance—but the shadows it created were nothing more than projections. Ghosts. Imitations of life.
“You know, I’ve read every book we own already. Anything about the Twins, I’ve read two or three times over. Anything involving Time? At least four. It’s surprising how much of it involves the concept of life passing you by. Of failing to seize moments, or wasting them with thoughts of what you could or should have done, as if the past can ever be rewritten.” He sighed. “Okay, maybe it’s not that surprising. It’s literally his one and only point: that even thinking about how you waste time is in itself a waste of time.”
The more the candle burned, the more the flame swayed, the more erratically the shadows moved. Looming specters, silently skittering across the walls.
“Time’s First Son—I think the book I read named him Orazio—he took that idea to such extremes that to him, it felt as though there was no such thing as living a moment to the fullest. There was no such notion as ‘fullest’ to someone whose concept of time was so detached from simple mortal comprehension. There was always a gap to be filled. An empty crevice. A blank space in the fabric of reality. A persistent dullness that could never be permanently kept at bay. See, Time’s gift affected our world in many ways; probably more than that of any other Twin. It gave us, as well as the world around us, the ability to grow, to change, but more importantly; to do it at our individual pace. And to Orazio, the pace of the world was too sluggish. Too lazy.”
Sebastian paused as he felt Jo’s head resting against his. It wasn’t the first time it happened, although, if it was a voluntary action or just exhaustion beginning to set it, but it was nice regardless. Just a gentle reminder that there was something there. A sign of life.
“So,” he continued, “Orazio traveled the lengths and depths of Valcrest in search of something that could potentially bring a spark of excitement to the stillness he felt in the world. He sought, and he searched, and one day; within the deepest recesses of the forest he came across a group of mercenaries. And at first, to him, their way of life felt like just the right fit. And, of course, they saw great potential in him. They took Orazio in. They were welcoming and cheerful and for a time; for a collection of moments, he was content in their midst. However, over time he would grow impatient, and as he did, the group’s leader started to see him less as an asset, more as a liability. He would tell Orazio to slow down, take caution, assess situations better. He was unable to comprehend that to the son of Time, their idea of ‘taking a moment’, their considerate pauses, felt to him like excruciating, torturous, unending boredom. It was the very thing he’d gone there hoping to escape.”
Another pause, this time to the sound of branches whooshing as they swayed above the roof. The nightly breezes were pleasant. It would be nice to allow some of it in. If he could only get that window open. Maybe then the walls wouldn’t echo so much with the sound of his own voice. Across them, shadows crept; ever restless as the candlelight trembled from its perch on the tabletop. The wax continued to melt away, spilling from the candle holder onto the tabletop. Time hadn’t stopped to listen to his ramblings; time didn’t care, but Sebastian started the story, he might as well finish.
“With the mercenaries’ every attempt to slow Orazio down, he only grew more restless, more impatient, the more tension grew between himself and the leader. Until, at last, it came to a head. The Child God was denied his place amongst their ranks. Even with all the power he possessed, Orazio wasn’t deemed worthy by a group of mere mortals. They would reject every gift he had to offer, all the ways he could be an asset, for no other reason other than his refusal of their way of doing things. And in the aftermath of that rejection, for once, he did what they wanted. Orazio stopped. He stopped and sat with his anger. He seethed for countless, endless moments. And he pondered what the cost should be for their offense.”
The house creaked. Candle wax melted and dripped onto the tabletop. He was going to put out that candle, save the rest of it for tomorrow. Part of him knew that’d be the sensible thing to do. The rest of him was content to just… Let it burn. So he did.
“Some people aren’t meant to sit with their thoughts for too long. Stew in their resentment. Least of all someone with the power of a God at the tips of their fingers. And the son of Time, in all his anger and disdain, decided that if those people cherished stillness and reflection so dearly, he would give them ample time to reflect. So, that night, when the entire group gathered for a moment of silent meditation, Orazio drew upon his powers. And without their knowledge, he slowed the flow of time to a crawl; a near halt. And around them—outside of the lot of them—the world continued as it always had, moving at its usual pace without them. They sat, in their meditative state, their silent reflection, in ignorant bliss. Each breath coursed through their lungs over the span of days. Every thought extended over the course of weeks and months. And to the eyes of the world; they sat still. Frozen. Their endless night spanned across the lives of those who loved them. The ones who mourned them. And mourn them, they had. Until their grief, once violent; raw and hot as burning embers, turned cold, dull, and bittersweet. Until those men and women they’d loved, and missed, became nothing more than memory. Until those memories, chipped away by the merciful hand of Time, began to fade; deteriorate. Like a painting left to the elements.”
Sebastian momentarily thought back to the portrait of their family he still kept in their room in the Outpost. Of all the times he thought of throwing it away, but couldn’t bring himself to actually do it. He sighed.
“Those mercenaries were none the wiser. They awoke, after decades, believing only a single night had passed. Only to find the world they knew replaced with overgrown grass and dilapidated houses forsaken by loved ones who’d grown tired of waiting. Their spouses had long since moved on, some even deceased. The children they recalled seeing just a day before were now grown. Parents in their own rights, to offspring who knew of their grandparents as faceless names. Bedtime stories. A monument to lives considered long lost to the world. To say it was a jarring awakening, would be an understatement.
“The disconnect they felt, their inability to envision, even less accept, the world for what it really was, rather than the painting they still held so fresh within their minds, weighed on them like rocks at the bottom of a lake. To those around them, they remained relics, unwilling to forsake the past. To the mercenaries’ perception, however, they had awoken, alive but no longer of this world. Ghosts, aimlessly roaming without purpose. Mourning the lives they’d lost. Their friends and families, now turned strangers. Until, eventually, they returned to the forest. To their isolation. Waiting for Time to catch up to them. For the sand to drop to the bottom of the hourglass. For the gentle touch of Death.”
As if on cue, the flame consumed the final remnants of candle wick and fizzled out, giving way to complete darkness. Sebastian let out a breathy chuckle. Time really did not care.
“Well, we’re officially out of candles. Guess that’s one way to put an end to my bleak ramblings, isn’t it?” he asked, gently bumping Jo’s shoulder as though that’d make her answer him. “I don’t know why… Well, I know why it came to mind, but also I always found it interesting that the only mentions of ghosts I could find in the Myths are in relation to Time. You’d think Death would be more fitting, but I guess it makes sense. Ghosts are souls who refuse to move on, who cling to the memories of what they once had. No one said you gotta be dead to do that, right? We do it every day. Some people really aren’t meant to sit with their thoughts. With their resentment. Their gui—” He broke into another chuckle and shook his head. “Here’s a new riddle, between you and me; you can try and answer it when you wake up, I’ll wait. If all light’s gone out, and darkness is all there is… Does that mean the absence of shadows? Or does that mean shadows are all that’s left?”
As expected, there was no answer, but for the first time in days, the silence that followed felt comfortable. Familiar. Even in the darkness, even engulfed in shadows. He could tell himself they weren’t alone. They hadn’t been forgotten. This wait wouldn’t have to last forever.
Hey, peeps! Blackbird here. If you liked the story Sebastian told here and you’d like to read the original version written by my co-writer, Plotstains… It’ll be up on our Patreon on Halloween night. So consider a $1 pledge if you’d like to see that, the original myth from last year’s Halloween and some other exclusive posts. Happy Halloween. 😉
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