Gus8205 t1_iuey6wb wrote

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The Ancient Pass

28 hours later

I see Gentor and the High Minister over there, on the cliffs. They're standing far apart as expected....Neighing? There must be a horse nearby. Must be that woman rebel approaching. It must be time.

The harsh, unforgiving winds made it hard to stay balanced, but I was firm, for perhaps the first time in... for the first time. I knew I was right, and if I turned out to be wrong... then I can finally, for the first time, learn to move on.

The winds begin howling.

...It is time.

A lone figure approaches from the cliffs. The shining noon sun blinds him to me, the glow making him look divine. An apt comparison, I suppose.

He slowly descends the cliffs. When he sees me, he pauses, and draws his sword. Even from here, I can make out the stains and residues of crimson left behind. He appears to be limping... and quite weak.

I close my eyes and wait for him to arrive. As his visage becomes clearer, I can't help but smile. Not grimace, not smirk, not scoff, not sneer.

I smile. Properly, from cheek to cheek. I smile, because I know I've been falling behind on smiles for a while now. I go down on one knee, and for the first and last time, I see the hero's face.And as he brings the sword down on my neck, I can't help but smile again at how he looks just like me. I can't help but smile, because as it turns out... I was the hero, after all.

And as I smiled, I drifted off- off into yet another sleep.


Gus8205 t1_iuey114 wrote

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14 hours (of good sleep) later

When I woke up, I felt... different. Not better. Just a little off-kilter. Must have slept into the next day. I gotta find Gentor and the High Minister. I have a few things to say.

As I approached the meeting, I began getting cold feet. Maybe I was being delusional and I just needed to go to the Ancient Pass and end myself. But something in me felt that this, right here, what I was doing, was right. Maybe it was because of what the High Minister said.

I didn't want to admit it, but she was right. Just like Mom was, all the time.
Here's the thing: being right all the time does nothing but make you a Grade-A ass. It just ices everybody else out from you. More often than not, detracting from someone else's point, whether right or wrong, is unhelpful and derogatory to the other person. I should know- I lived through that flame war.

Maybe that's why Dad decided to call it quits.

"-Excellency? Are you alright?" I stared at Gentor. He did the bow and curtsy and such, and said, "Sire, your directions were spot-on. We managed to nab some of the rebels stationed there. Others were... a little too uncooperative."

The High Minister turned in seething disgust. "So you and your cronies saw fit to murder them in cold blood?"
"Better to kill than be killed."
"Such a barbaric notion. I find you unbearably appalling."
"You find everything appalling. No matter what it is, all you do is see fit to hiss and whine until someone bows down to your whim. You'll do anything to create a perfect little haven for you, even if everyone else there is miserable."
"I deserve some compassion, do I not? For decades and decades, I have toiled day and night to ensure nothing but happiness for all the subjects of this kingdom, even at times, putting my person aside for other people. You would do well to consider other perspectives for once."

And we're back to our regularly-scheduled telecast. I raised my hand to quell the raging inferno of a discussion and said, "I would like to meet some of the rebels. Alone. Once I am done, I will send for both of you. There is work to be done at the Ancient Pass."
The High Minister scoffed. "My King. Surely you must condemn the loss of so many lives- innocent or not, they were our own subjects. We were the hands that fed them, not the ones that choked them-"
"My men were merely following orders." I chimed in, bluntly. The High Minister's eyes narrowed as she spoke once more, any courtesy in her tone thrown to the wind.
"Then I see no reason to continue my post as a minister. Not when my so-called superior has chosen to stoop so low. I suppose some souls are destined to be lost forever."

I rose from my seat. "Be that as it may, I make one last request to you. Not as your king, but... as my father's son. The Ancient Pass, at the stroke of high noon tomorrow. Exactly 28 hours away. It's a day's journey."

"I will be there, rest assured. I hope it is a swift execution." I lowered my head as I sat down. do I.
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This is the one. then. This is where they imprisoned that woman rebel.
"What do you want, tyrant?"
"A civilized conversation, if it's possible." I sit down cross-legged outside the cell wall. I know she can't see my face. It's for the best.
"He's coming for you. For your head. For your sins."
"I am well aware."
"Then you're aware of your ultimate fate."
"A swift beheading, after which he will take over as king?" I can't see her expression, but I know it's exactly what she wanted to say.
"...Yes." I laugh. Properly, for the first time in... in a while.

"If you don't mind, I'd like to ask you something: why do you believe in him?"
"Some random peasant nobody from your village decides to take up arms and rebel against the evil tyrannical king. And everybody just falls in line with that? Clue me in: why do you believe in somebody even though you have no reason to?"
She snorts in response. "It's something you wouldn't understand, asshole. It's called... hope. I hope he makes it here in one piece. I hope for a better future, one where good people like him are around. He isn't the best fighter, sure. He certainly isn't a perfect leader. But you know why I follow him? Why everyone in these cells follow his example? Because he has one thing you never will: a good heart."

"...You love him, don't you?" you? Even now? Do you hope?
"What's it matter to you?"

I wiped a solitary tear off my cheek. At least it's not too late to admit it out loud. Not optimal timing, but...
"I...I had a wife. We were married for a few years. I first met her at a party. We got to know each other for a considerable while, and got married soon after. Throughout, no matter when or how I faltered, she always had hope, hope for me to be a better version of myself. She always hoped to bring out the good in me, the best in me. It... didn't work out too great." My voice began hitching, the words getting caught in my throat and choking me, but I marched on. "I eventually got scared that I was never going to be good enough for her. And I was right. She left me."

"It turned me bitter. I hated that I was right, and I hated more that I did nothing to change myself. And so, I ran away. Ran as far as I could, until I stopped and made a choice. I took a plunge... and here I am."
She gave no response.

"That's why it matters. Because he gives you that hope. And I realize... maybe, once upon a time, I gave people hope too." I got up and breathed. There was no weight lifted off my shoulders, for the burden of my mistakes was a burden I would bear for all my life.
...I did however, receive the strength to march on while carrying them.

For the first time, with utter clarity in both mind and sight, I said, "In a few minutes, I will be heading to the Ancient Pass, the entryway to my citadel. Your hero will also be there, along with some of my cabinet members. I will unlock the cell door. Should you choose to do so, you may leave on horseback when you please. Your hero and I shall do battle at the stroke of noon."


Gus8205 t1_iuexiq3 wrote

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I was so happy, I could barely hide it. Luckily, I had some practice... in, er... life. Being angry, cold and expressionless, that is. Due to... unfortunate situations that left me in dire straits.

"-possibly up to 500 or even a thousand of our finest soldiers, absolutely flattened. Without those crucial numbers, I fear we no longer control the Southern states. They may very well choose to side with that upstart rebel." Music to my ears, baby.

"It would appear so. If I'm not mistaken, he and his little troupe- a man and a woman, both common workers from his hometown- must be somewhere near the Immigrant Songbird's migration. Send some of our finest cavalry members on our fastest stallions to the Monastery. Apart from our darling little upstart and his little merry band, I want no prisoners."

Gentor silently waited, slowly processing this information dump. "Er... right on all accounts, my king. But is it wise to expose our cavalry members so soon, rather than save our numbers for a possible incursion?"
I raised an eyebrow. The signal was enough. "As you command, sire."
"While you're heading out, fetch me the High Minister." He paused. "The hag? My Lord, not to be blunt, but we know she's a bit of odd egg."
"You are my second-in-command. In a private audience, you may speak freely. Within reason, of course."
"Frankly, Your Majesty, she's fucking stupid and calls me an old fart every time she sees me. I don't like it and tell her to stop, but she doesn't listen, that old b-" I grimaced. "I told you to speak within reason." He immediately went silent.

"Leave." He backed up, bowed and left wordlessly.

...I was projecting. I didn't feel like talking to anyone after what I said, but perhaps her advice might actually help for once.
...and I was doing it again.

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"Your Majesty." An oddly soothing, familiar voice beckoned. It was the High Minister- I didn't feel like looking her in the face. For reasons I was repressing right now, I modeled the character- looks and all- on my mother. This is going to be rough.

I turn to look at her, eye to eye. It's almost too painful, but I march on. She speaks, and every single movement, every twitch, feels exactly like my mother. "What is it you wish to consult me on, O Exalted One?"

"Spare me the titles. I merely request your perspective on a... psychological pondering of mine. It's do with this... rebel situation." Her eyes crinkled mirthfully. "Ah. That Lost Soul, wandering about in search of purpose- is it love, hate, grief? He knows not and cares not, but he marches on- much like Father Time."

"Quite. You were around since my father was ruling. I also understand you were his most trusted advisor until his demise. Would you mind elaborating on his curse?"

"You mean his prophecy."

I snapped. "Must you always correct everybody? Such a pitiful, demeaning habit, that." She retorted, maintaining a courteous, but firm tone. "I inform you of your fallacies not out of any sense of superiority, but because you are responsible for not only yourself, my King. It is by your hands that the masses are fed, and they deserve both- one each for emotional and factual knowledge. Too much of one and life falls into disarray."

I hate how much of a personal attack this is. I hated when I was called out by Mom, when I was a kid, after my divorce, all the hoopla. I hated every second of it.
...because every bit of it was true.

"The pr... curse, if you will."
"As I understand it: With the inevitable passing of Time, at the Ancient Pass, Good and Evil will come to an impasse. One must prevail for all life to continue existing- who this victor is, only the renewed march of Time may reveal."

"Wait. Does the prophecy not dictate who the victor is?"
"I'm afraid that is all he said."
My headache was starting to act up again. "Leave. I seek rest." She made to leave my chambers, but stopped. "Your Highness. Not every Lost Soul is lost forever. Sometimes they choose to wander, but they always come back. When and how they do... that is up to them."
"Duly noted."

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1 hour later

Sleep eluded me. I kept thinking back to what she said.
Not every Lost Soul is lost forever.
Was she talking to me? Or me-me? Alright, Mr. Migraine, I get the message.

My mother... she was complicated. She always pulled in all the work and did it... well, not without complaint, but she certainly did the heavy-duty work for the family. When you're a child, you don't notice the dysfunction around you, maybe because you're too innocent. Or in my case, because your parents go to such efforts to hide it from you.
My mother wasn't ever the subtle kind, though. She was loud, tough and hardworking. She always wanted to impart the best life lessons to me, no matter the time, place or cost. Usually by taking digs at my father, who responded in kind. Later on. In private. Or when he thought nobody else was nearby.

Somehow, despite noticing the obvious dysfunction as I got older, nobody said anything, and most times, after a huge row, Mom and Dad just woke up the next day and marched on, like Father Time. I never did figure out the whole 'moving on' thing.
It was only then that I noticed how much I was sweating. I drank some more water from the pitcher, seeing my face stare back at me as I cooled off.
Instinctively, I grimaced.


Gus8205 t1_iuex3tj wrote

I woke up in a daze. Did... did I drift off to sleep or something?

The last thing I remembered was closing my eyes as I took the plunge. The ice-cold water stabbing into my skin like serrated steel.

I wasn't supposed to be... here? Where is here, though? The surrounding landscape looked nigh-barren- mostly just a large chamber with stained-glass windows and ornate gray walls, with finicky little details on them that I wasn't able to make out. Very Bowser's Castle-ish. "Still need new glasses. Damn it." I attempted to remove them, but... no cigar. Or in this case, no glasses.

It isn't a problem-problem, if I'm being honest. I can see- just not like, very well. I have presbyopia- or in regular terms, I have shitty eyes. Well, they didn't used to be shitty all the time. Just became rusty with age.

Like me, in that regard.

In the midst of my inner ramblings, a strange gray man appeared in front of me. I couldn't make out any good details- partly because I was having a mental breakdown, plus my damn eyes- He stood absolutely motionless for a good two or three seconds, before kneeling and placing a hand to his heart. He then spoke, but this frickin' migraine made it damn near impossible to focus on anything right now.

"My liege, I bring grave news. Our troops guarding a remote cluster of settlements down South have been slaughtered. Not a single one left alive. I fear your father's curse may be coming true."


The man immediately recoiled, as if I was pointing a gun at him. "A-Apologies, your Excellency. I did not mean to speak out of turn. I beseech Thy forgiveness."

"I don't mean to be rude, but... who the hell are you?" The man cautiously rose to his feet. "Your Highness? It is I, General Gentor. Your sworn second-in-command." I wanted to laugh at how absolutely ridiculous that name sounded, but the guy seemed to be 6'9" or 6'10". I know from experience not to screw with a bigger guy.

The man placed an arm on my shoulder. A very heavy, ice-cold hand covered in black armor. "My king, it was you who anointed me the Phantom of the Setting Sun. I led Thy armies to several fruitful victories in all the wars we waged. I-" I honestly stopped listening to all the things he said, but something stuck with me.

This all seemed so familiar. But I wanted to make sure... just in case.

"Say my name."

He looked terrified. "But, sire, that is forbidden by law. I am but your servant."

"I, uh... as your king, I... command you to speak my name."

He turned around, I guess to make sure nobody else was listening, gulped and said...

"Lord Fred-"


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5 hours later

This has to be a joke.

Some sick joke that some higher power decided to play on me. I'm not giving them any credit by calling them God, or whatever the hell else. They can take that moniker once they unscrew the last 25 years of my life.

I repeatedly took a chug out of the gold-plated- nope, wait- solid gold pitcher of water, with... my face...? Etched on the handle?

That flashing thought dredged up some painful memories. I put that on the back burner for a while. I needed to remember what the hell this story was even about. It was a lot more difficult than I expected, partly because I trashed it not long after finishing it. Uhh... drawing a blank... no, not right now, brain, don't do this to me... hold on, yeah- yeah, I got it.

So, right about now, someone should-

"MY LORD! IT'S A TRAVESTY! Our troops in the Messina Desert have been slain! All 300 of them!"

I immediately got into character. I snarled, "How?"

The now-mortified messenger began backing up. "There... there was... this man. We cannot even call him a normal man. He moved like a beast, swifter than a cheetah, stronger than a rhino. That sword of his tore through our troops like they were made of paltry paper. I fear he may be the Chosen One."

"Yes, yes, and then he slayed the Jabberwocky and saved Narnia. Spare me the trite analogies and bring me the general." My eyes narrowed. "Now." He scurried away in an instant. It doesn't help this is the biggest cliche of the millennium. I have the vaguest of ideas how this plays out, and it sounds a lot like 'dead'.

Then it struck me. Two more days of putting up with this bull. I remembered the climax of the story. At the Ancient Pass, where Good and Evil would clash, the Chosen One would behead me, Evil itself, and save the world. Because the story said so, and that was the bottom line.

He was literally going to kill me. It was the perfect plan.

You can't fuck with me if I play 4D chess and... murder? Suicide? Blackmail? No, not blackmail... myself.

"I am so glad I'm such a shitty writer." Clanking metal footsteps shook me out of my thoughts, though. Gentor was here, and I have a feeling he was going to give me some wonderful news.

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