After almost eight thousand years of searching, he found her sitting in a rose garden, in front of a small, stoop-shouldered cottage.
The cottage had slate shingles and a red brick chimney, with moss growing up one side, and it sat at the crest of a grassy bluff, where its little garden faced out towards a distant, amethyst sea. She was seated on an old cane chair, with her hands folded neatly in her lap, and her face bore a quiet expression as she stared silently out across the rolling purple waves.
As he approached, she did not look up, or even make any move to acknowledge his presence.
That was unexpected.
He had assumed that, when she saw him coming, she might try to escape, so he had prepared a binding ritual in advance. But, as he drew closer, and she made no effort to repel him, he let the spell slip away, like grains of sand through his fingertips.
He was starting to believe that their reunion might turn out to be more civil than he had anticipated, and, as a reciprocal gesture of respect, he made no effort to hide the faintly-glowing blade that he carried in his left hand.
She did not rise as he drew up next to her, nor offer him any words of greeting. Instead, with a little wave from her hand, a second cane chair appeared on the grass, just a few paces to the side of her own.
After a moment’s hesitation, he nodded his thanks, and he sat.
For a while, they just sat there together in silence, each waiting for the other to make the first move.
Finally, she cleared her throat, and she spoke.
“The sun’s going to set in just about an hour,” she said, gesturing out towards the darkening horizon. “If you can resist the impulse to kill me for that long, then I would suggest doing so, because it really is a remarkable sunset – maybe the best I’ve seen, in fact. It’s like fire on the water.”
Her voice was dry, he thought. Dry, and quiet, and full of cobwebs.
It was the voice of someone who had not spoken in a long, long time.
Smiling, he crossed his arms in front of his chest. He could feel the vibrations from his blade where it rested against his skin.
“I’ve waited this long,” he said. “I suppose I can wait just a little bit longer.”
She did not turn to face him, but he could hear her sigh.
“I was starting to wonder if, maybe, you weren’t ever going to come,” she said. “I was starting to wonder if, maybe, you were dead.”
He grunted in reply.
“You were a lot harder to find that I was expecting,” he said.
From the corner of his eye, he thought he could see her smile. It was faint, but it was there.
“Really?” she said. “I don’t know why that would be. I haven’t been hiding.”
“Maybe not. But I hardly expected to find you here.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“And why is that? I was always very fond of this world. You knew as much.”
“Perhaps,” he said. “Only, I seem to recall that we broke this plane.” He slapped his free hand against his thigh for emphasis. “Smashed it, from the inside out.”
Slowly, she nodded her head.
“We did,” she said. “Just like so many others.”
“So, what, then? You put it back together?”
“Because that’s what I do.”
He scoffed at that.
“That’s not what I recall,” he said. “Really, though – why?”
She looked across at him. Her face was still impossibly young, but her eyes were sad.
“I already told you,” she said. “I always did like it here.”
Then she turned back to face the water again, where the sun was growing deeper and redder as it sank towards the distant horizon.
“Did you ever once stop to think about why we did what we did?” she eventually asked him, without waiting for him to reply. “Did you ever once think to question the rightness of our cause, as we broke whole worlds in two, all in the name of peace, or order?”
There was no point in lying to her. Not anymore, anyway. So he didn’t.
“No,” he said.
“I didn’t think so,” she said, and, for the first time, he detected emotion in her voice, an edge that hadn’t been there before.
“The multiverse needed order,” he said. “It still does.”
“Does it?” she asked. “Look over there.” She pointed towards a nearby rose trellis, where only a few white blooms remained visible beneath a tangle of red and purple vines. “That’s creeping thornbriar – it used to grow wild around here, before I pulled it up to plant my roses. I thought I had gotten rid of it all, but, maybe a year or so back, it started growing on that trellis. Just a runner or two, to begin with, and, at first, I thought that I would pull it up again. Thornbriar is a weed, after all.” She glanced over at him, then back out at the amethyst sea. “Then I asked myself: why? Why is thornbriar a weed? It’s only a ‘weed’ because I didn’t plant it. But it has as much right to be here as my roses do – as I do, for that matter. So I let it grow, and I’m actually coming to like it. It blooms twice each year, you know? Once in the spring, and once after the first frost. Its flowers have these tiny, almost-gold petals, and they’re actually quite lovely.”
He sighed, and shook his head.
“Am I supposed to take something away from all that?” he said, and he could hear the frustration creeping into his own voice.
“Not really,” she said. “It’s just an observation. The multiverse is a disorderly place. That’s its nature. Order was our conceit. We weren’t mending a broken reality. We were flattering ourselves, indulging our own vanities, making believe that we could fix worlds that didn’t need fixing.”
Just listening to her speak, he could feel an old pain returning, just about an inch above his left eye. He kneaded his forehead.
Eight thousand years, and it was still the same old argument.
His patience was remarkable, but it was not infinite. So he decided to come to the point.
“You know what I want,” he said.
“I don’t have it,” she said.
He could feel his fingers tighten around the hilt of his blade.
“Don’t lie to me,” he said. “I know that he broke the codex into six pieces, that he hid them inside the six volumes. I know that he gave one to you.” He shifted his grip on the blade. “Are you trying to deny it?”
“No,” she said. Then she laughed, and the sound startled him. “But I still don’t have it.”
“Where is it, then?” he demanded. Then his mind raced ahead, and he felt his heart skip a beat. “Who did you give it to?”
“No one,” she said. “I burned my copy years ago.”
He had to close his eyes, and take a deep breath. That helped him to resist the sudden impulse to kill her – but only just.
“You’re lying,” he said. “You wouldn’t have.”
“And why not?” She laughed again. “I gave up any interest in that sort of power long ago. I’m wise enough now to know that I would not be fit to wield it.” She shot him a barbed look. “I’m wise enough to know that no one is – least of all, you.”
He stood up, knocking his chair over in the process. His blade was at the ready – the time for civility had passed.
“Are you even going to try to fight me?” he asked, as he pressed the blade’s glowing edge against her neck. “Or are you wise enough to see that there’s no point in trying?”
“I’m not going to fight you,” she said. “But, before you kill me, there’s something you ought to know.”
And, suddenly, before his very eyes, she began to glow. In the gathering twilight, he could see her mana – he could see it in the air all around her, like a faint, green aura, and he could see it flowing through her body, like sap in a tree. More than that, though, he could see it flowing out from her body, and down into the land all around her, where it ran like roots through the once-broken ground, before flowing back up into her again.
“There was a time when I could have mended this world, well and truly,” she said. “Now, the best I can do is to hold it together, to keep it from sinking even deeper into the chaos of the Eternities. The land sustains me, and I sustain it. If I die, this plane dies with me, and you die with it.” She looked up at him, and she smiled. “You might be able to escape, before the world collapses. You always were fast – I’ll give you that much. But there’s really only one way to find out. After all these years, do you want to take that chance?”
For what felt like the longest time, he stood over her, with his blade against her throat, while she stared up at him with her sad, sad eyes. Then, slowly, he lowered his arm, and he took a step away.
“I can’t even remember why we broke this world in the first place,” he grumbled, his voice bitter. “Can you?”
“No,” she said. “I can’t.”
“I suppose it hardly matters, now.”
“It didn’t matter then, either.”
“Of course it did,” he said. “We always had a reason.”
“We always had a reason,” she agreed, before shooting him look of reproach. “Just never a good one.”
He gave one last thought to killing her, then, but, instead, he sheathed his blade. The bond between her and the land which meant that he could not kill her also meant that she could not follow him without dooming the world that she professed to care about. And he did not think she would do that.
Besides, she had no copy of the Arcanum anymore. He, on the other hand, had three.
If he could acquire the remaining two, he might still be able to reconstruct the codex, even without the sixth volume. Especially if he could find the Translator – assuming that the Translator wasn't already dead, anyway.
“Enjoy your sunset,” he said to her at last, before ‘walking away.
“I will,” she said, just a little too late for him to catch her reply.
The Mender is an original character created by Tevish Szat for the Expanded Multiverse.
Magic: Expanded Multiverse is not associated with Wizards of the Coast. This is a transformative work of fanfiction, protected in the United States under the laws of Fair Use.
All works copyright their respective creators.