Al Kristopher

It is said that when a man is nearly ready to face death, he will first see his entire life flash before his eyes. Of course, nobody can say whether or not this is true, seeing as how everyone who may experience this never actually lives long enough to tell about it. That little bit of superstition always intrigued me, even through my years of study and enlightenment. I had to wonder – would I see all my life flash before my eyes when it was my time? And if so, would I remember any of it?

It was a dark and cloudy night, the curtains of storm not yet ready to open, yet there was a ghostly feel in the air and on the ground upon that gloomy eve. There was neither tree nor bush, neither man nor beast around; only the signs of decay, as ancient skeletons of wood sprouted out of the barren, dry earth, their life sucked away long ago. The dust received weight upon its bleak surface when padded feet walked across--a left foot and a right foot, somewhat melodic in its beat. The wind moaned slowly, like the wail of the dead, and the brittle earth beneath snapped and crunched under the weight of the man’s worldly feet.

A peal of lightning shot out from behind the clouds, revealing a light to the path and a stranger before me. He was cloaked, covered up from head to toe; I could only see his bristly mouth. For a moment, I stared at this fellow and wondered who he was, and why he was out in this desolate Nowhere. Lightning flashed again, and I did not recognize him. His cloak parted way for his arms as they protruded out like coils of a squid ready to attack, and when he spoke, the sky rumbled with his voice.

I saw his mouth move and received no words. I understood him perfectly, though--that mouth moved in a violent, questioning manner. Did he recognize me?? Did he know me from some past year? I couldn’t see him; the man was too hidden, and the storm trembling above in black heaven obscured his voice. He appeared to make no sound as he spoke, yet I knew from the rising anger expressed in the small part of his face, that this was a man of hate--potent hate, and all directed towards me.

“What do you care? Huh? Tell me! What do you care! Tell me! All you do around here is mope, and read, and look after that stupid boy! Why can’t you be a real man? Why did I have to marry a lazy fat slob like you? You’re so worthless! You and that ignorant little boy of yours!”

“Dear, you don’t mean that. You’re just inebriated; you’re not thinking straight.”

“So are you calling me a dumb drunk, is that it? Listen, you shiftless bum, I’m ten times better than you and you know it! All I do is work and slave, and for what? So you can laze around here on your bottom, watching the grass grow and your filthy son waste his time playing?”

“Dear, please… don’t spit on me.”

“I can spit wherever I want! This is my house!”

“It’s our house, dear. And I really don’t think it’s fair to say that you do all the work. You know that ever since you got expelled from your last job, nobody’s wanted to take you in. If only you’d stop drinking, maybe--”

“Shut up! Shut up! What do you know, anyway? Worthless husband!”

“Stop! Dear, stop! Please, stop hitting me! Please! I didn’t do--”

“You can’t even defend yourself from your own wife! What kind of spineless man are you, anyway?”

The boy’s dolls were very happy that day, but they had to talk to each other in very low voices so They would not hear. Yes, he had to be a very quiet, very good little boy, who played in a room where the door was always closed so he couldn’t hear Them yelling at each other. He had to be very good and very quiet, and he could only play after he finished all his chores. But sometimes even then, his mother wouldn’t let him play. Even then, she yelled at him, and hit him, and made him do more chores. His father would just sit and wring his hands, so helpless to save his own son. That boy was so pitiable…

“Mama, I wanna play outside!”

“You little brat! How dare you make demands in front of me! I ought to have you whipped for talking like that! You haven’t even finished your chores yet, have you? You worthless, naughty, stupid little boy!”

“But mama, I did all my chores! I cleaned my room and did all the dishes, and I even raked the leaves and swept the floors! I even helped with the trash and papa’s little garden! Please, I did everything you asked, mama!”

“Shut up! Don’t you dare talk back to me, you little freak! I saw your room ten seconds ago! It’s a pigsty! There were clothes and stuff lying around everywhere! You call that clean?”

“But mama, it’s true, honest! I cleaned my room!”

“Don’t you dare lie to me, you stupid little freak!!! Just for that, I’m going to beat you until you beg me to stop!”

“No, please! Mama, please, I didn’t do anything wrong!”

“You liar!!! I’m gonna kill you for that!”

“Mommy! Dad, please help!”

“Son… just clean your room. Do as your mother tells you.”

“But my room is clean! Really!”

“Well… please, just clean it again, son. Please…”


“You stop your whining, boy! Do as I say! And you! Get off that chair and do some real work! No wonder we can’t afford anything! You dirty fat pig…”

“Dear, I had a very rough day at work. All I need is just a few minutes rest…”

“You stinking liar! What you need is a kick in the face!”

“……I’m going…”

I blinked as the thunder flashed again. The man in front of me was now growling ferociously, asking me who I was over and over again. He had a sword out, naked and cold and silver, like the absent moon whose face moans with haunting torture. The man was violently angry now, screaming wildly at me, accusing me, brandishing the sword, ready to use it on me. I just stood there, wondering who he was, and where I had knew him from, and what offense I had caused. The mouth he spoke through was an animated whirlpool; his voice was haunting, quiet, and all that truly spoke were the heavens.

“So Renault, aren’t you ever going to tell me about your childhood?”

“I’d rather not remember that time, Ephidel,” said the young man. Ephidel smiled.

“So did you have a rough start in life?” The young man paused, thinking.

“Rough… would not be the proper word to use. I would describe it with more accuracy if I used the word ‘anarchic’. There were no rules, there was no order, there was only abysmal confusion, and hurt--terror, and fear, and great pains of all kinds. They penetrated my skin, my heart, and my mind, sinking deeper inside of me until youth was expelled and innocence defeated.”


“I wanted to forget that time, Ephidel,” continued the young man, sounding less grave. “I wanted to forget it all, so I did the only thing I could that would best separate me from my own past.”

“You became a mercenary.” The young man nodded.

“That’s right. And here I am, dreaded and feared because of a skill I have. A poet might say that I channel my past fears and experienced through my arms into my weapon, and it is there that my strength comes out. I’m not sure if that’s right, but whatever keeps this unit alive…”

“Understood. Renault, through our oaths, we have kept close in times that would slay other men’s trust. I regret not meeting you earlier, when I could have eased your burden--”

“Yet an eased burden would’ve led me down a different path,” noted the young man. “I never would have joined this unit, Ephidel, and I never would have gained my infamy. All things do happen for a reason, as the Saint Elimine puts it. My reasons brought me here, and now you know a bit about my past, though you had to twist my arm for it.”

Ephidel just laughed. He always was a dear man.

“I did, and I am now satisfied. So I suppose you’ll want to know about my past, eh?”

“You know that if you don’t tell me, I’ll do the same to you. And my hands can twist much tighter than yours.”

“That shows what you know, friend!”

The skies flashed again as the man became silent. It was strange, really, when I looked at him closely in that darkness. Up until a moment ago, he had been agitated, enraged, eager to slay me. But now, he was silent and still, as still as the earth beneath him and just as unsteady. With his dark cloak on, I could almost think he was not there at all; the night truly was black, the very heavens enveloped by wicked clouds, and only the random flash of lightning gave me reason to believe I was not alone.

“Keep your guard up, Wallace. Victory is not ours yet.”

“I, I… yes, sir. I’ll do my best.”

“And you have been, so far.” The young man smiled. He remembered somebody once saying, perhaps writing in a script, that the measure of a man is determined by how great or terrible he performed while living. The young man felt as if what he was doing during the present period made for a contribution towards the betterment of something--even if it was the spirits of a young boy, barely into squiring.

The young boy was akin to a small minnow that had been cast out of the net in favor of a catfish. He was thin, weak, wriggling with excitement and naïveté but possessing not the strength of body or of mind and will to escape from his frail prison. The young man had seen him in Caelin, many times, always pushed and shoved by other boys, as a girl would’ve been bullied. This was a boy who was puny, and weak, so he became a squire--or was forced into it, really--to break out of his mold.

“Don’t worry,” said his mentor to him, suddenly. Somehow, he could always tell what the boy was thinking. The road had fatigued him, the battles wearied him, his burdens had weighed him down, and he had been reflecting upon his past. “Don’t worry, Wallace. You are still young. Young boys who start out small oftentimes grow the largest.”

“I… I know…”

“Don’t cast your face down, Wallace. Look up. No, straight into my eyes, as if I were an equal.”

“But… Sir Renault…”

“No, just--”

Who was this again? The young man? Who was he?

“--to you, Wallace. Now look at me as an equal, right in the eye. There you go. Stand up straight. Take a deep breath and let your shoulders slide back until your chest is raised. Believe that you have deep honor and pride inside of you.” The young boy paused, but his face changed from uncertain to strong quickly.

“I… yes, Sir Renault, I will. I will… try.”

“Good. But I would rather you succeed. You know, Wallace, I have a lesson for you. Our victory is not ours yet, but we have time. Let me tell you something. Now, that you are a small boy, you may think you will stay this way forever, that you will always remain small and wiry, like some thistle in the meadow. But if you desire the might of an oak, to become as a crag for Caelin, you must work tirelessly and have endless enthusiasm for your lord. Furthermore, you must remember what your masters taught you, and never use any skills you gain for the grief of others.” The boy smiled, softly but with great pride and eagerness, and performed his best salute.

“Sir Renault… I will do my best to do as you’ve instructed me.”

“Good, good,” smiled the young man. “See to it. Now, for some immediate training. How would you go about ensuring victory for us all? Seriously. I ask you not as a boy, but one who will someday turn into a mighty man. If I treat you as if you have great maturity, then perhaps you will have some in the future…”

Finally, after a few moments of uncertain silence, I spoke. I did not speak long, as he did, nor with great excitement, as he had. My voice was calm and brief. He did not respond, but I saw his mouth curl like a dog’s would when pestered long enough. I felt a sudden sting of wetness fall on my face, and more followed it, each tiny sliver of water finding a new mark, each one shooting from the bleak sky as it began to rain. I looked up into the shower, letting the droplets stain my face.

As the young man looked up, a great shower of arrows fell down from above, sending angels of death scattering everywhere with their scythes and fiery swords. Men screamed in agonizing pain as they were struck. Some fell dead to the ground, others continued to shriek as they beheld their bodies punctured by bolts, still others managed to avoid the slaughter. They knelt on the ground and raised their shields, but he stood up, tall and unwavering like an oak, almost curious as to why this was all happening.

“Renault! Get down, you fool!” The young man turned and saw his dearest friend Ephidel screaming at him. “Get down!” he shouted again, but the young man merely looked at him, almost questioning his order. An arrow whizzed by, whistling a tune of death into the man’s ear as it struck the ground close to him. Finally, the man knelt to the ground, and plucked the arrow from the dirt. He examined it slowly, even as more of his comrades perished around him.

“The man’s gone insane,” grumbled one of his surviving comrades. “Look at him! Just sitting there, looking at that arrow while our friends die!”

“He knows there’s nothing he can do now,” replied Ephidel quietly. “The siege has been going on for three days, and we’ve only managed to get ourselves killed. We can’t keep this up anymore. Believe me, if there was anything we could do, he would’ve done it by now. Renault!!” The young man rose, dropping the arrow as he looked to his friend. “Get over here! I know what you’re thinking, but we don’t need any more casualties!”

“Casualties…” murmured the young man. Ephidel angrily motioned for him to rush over, but the young man merely walked, and a slow pace it was at that. His tentative step was aggravating, and though he and Ephidel were bound forever by many oaths, he was still chastised for his carelessness.

“Don’t do that!” snapped Ephidel once the young man was safe. “You bloody idiot! Standing out there in the middle of the battlefield! You may as well paint a bull’s eye on your coat!”

“Sorry,” grumbled the man, not sounding apologetic. “I was just… curious, that’s all.”

“Curious?! About what?!”

“I was curious…… about what death looked like.”

“Death?” Ephidel paused gravely, looking from one comrade to the next, and finally to his oath-brother, whom he trusted and loved but was now concerned for. “Renault… that’s… very unusual…”

“I know. I was just curious. And I knew I would not die. I’m Impervious, remember?”

“You can’t ever guarantee that, Renault. Your life was nearly forfeit out there. All our lives are.”

“Then why are we here?” Ephidel was silent for awhile as he shook his head.

“We are mere pawns for Caelin. All our lives accumulate to this one point, and as sad as it sounds, we use that life--everything we’ve ever loved, known, hated, and feared--all our lives, whether they be twenty or forty years, as fodder for our lords and masters.”

“But money is no good if you are too dead to use it,” replied the young man. Ephidel frowned but nodded.

“Yes, you’re right. But sometimes even a mercenary must fight for more than gold. I fight for honor, for Caelin--for now.” The young man smiled.

“Ah, yes, honor. Well, I shall fight for that too, and so we’ll fight for the same thing as always. Let us fight and die for honor, and leave the lords of Caelin to pause only for a moment at our funerals as our lives pass by like the wind.” The young man snorted and gave a cruel smile; Ephidel merely frowned, squeezed his friend’s shoulder, and rose to fight so that he could die.

Die he did. I remember that. No matter where the rest of my identity goes, I distinctly remembered Ephidel dying. He rushed out and distracted those archers, and in return, was filled to the brim with arrows. His body was punctured everywhere; even his eyes and hands had bolts in them. He was dead instantly, but I was left alive to run after his useless body. It was so sad… All I could do was hold that corpse, and let the blood spill out on my hands. I screamed too--I screamed long and hard, and even cried. I then abandoned the mercenaries, and… after that… I do not know…

Except… I do know that… after he died, I cast away my weapons and knelt for the first time in my life. That’s all I remember. The man before me seems impatient, like he’s waiting for something to happen. I ask him. He sounds awfully hateful, from what I can tell. His mouth is moving in a bitter fashion; I can hear no words, yet I understand him clearly. Clearly, yes, I think this man is angry at me for some reason. Perhaps, in those forgotten days, I killed someone he knew. It’s possible. The only thing I knew how to do was bash another man’s skull…

Rage. That was all there was to it. The young man had rage in his body now; he was consumed by it. It was as if a lion had swallowed him up, and he was now inside the pit of hate, lost and tumbling til’ he ended up with self-destruction. Ah, yes. What a stumbling, hateful fool. Too consumed by anger over the loss of his own friend to care for any other lives. Death… pah! What was it, anyway? What rights did it have? Why did so many doddering lords and incompetent nobles play with it like a toy? Men’s lives were just playthings to them, little more than matches to light for fires, then tossed away and forgotten once their flair burned out.

But he was so corrupted with hate! The man seethed with powerful emotions; he was lost in the winds, doomed to roam, to abandon his life as a killer for hire--ah, a bringer of death to others, a man who causes so many to believe that Death itself is no fair--he is doomed, doomed to an irony which will eat at him like a starving lion. His only indication of his humanity are his doubts and his hate, his feelings of injustice, his slippery reasoning, and the pain his body felt when it stumbled to the ground.

Ah, yes. His doubts. He had them before, but he had been Impervious back then. Now he was just as vulnerable as any other man. What a stumbling, clumsy young fool of a man… All he could do was plow his way through thickets of brambles and thorns, causing his hands to bleed--not that they were not covered with blood already. And where was “god” in all this turmoil? St. Elimine was no god; she had been as mortal as Roland, and Athos, and all the others. Why did he bother praying to a mortal, anyway? Why did he bother taking steps forward?

What was he thinking during that time? Kill others? Take other lives? He allowed himself to be lost, like an aimless breeze that carries nothing and goes into meaningless destinations. He was forced to live with the many conflicting emotions that tore into his soul--all of it was his, his only possession, the only thing that kept him fully human. What savagery would he have done to reverse everything and to have his only joy, his only joy in that dark world back to life with him? Would he kill? Would he die? Would he stop moving and abandon all?

Who was this man? Who was this cloaked man, standing alone in the rain, shrouded beneath his hood and the dark clouds above? I didn’t know him. I didn’t even recognize his soundless voice. But he seemed to know me very well, even though I can’t say the same. Yes… I do know some things. I know my own doubts about myself keep me from slipping into total madness. I know my faith keeps me within bounds. My pulse, my breath, they keep me with the knowledge that I live. And I know I have a name. So who am I? Who is he?

Who is this young man that staggers so in the darkness? Who is he, that lost so much--that lost a great friend through tragedy, because he dared to look death in the face? Who is this man whose past was ripped by abuse, and whose life led him away from one torment into another? Did he have to kill? Were people’s lives merely straw figurines to cut down in exchange for gold? He was so cloaked in darkness back then, I know. And this man… that man… If I squint just right, I can see a similarity. Perhaps…

He speaks again, and the skies grumble with anger. I clench my fists, tighten my jaw, and remember a time so hazy, I’m sure it’s not my own memory or some nightmare given to me by the spirits of those I helped slay.

“So you would become a homunculus for my morphs? You know what this would lead to, correct? You would be… less of who you are now, or perhaps… more. I don’t know. The dark arts are hard to control; their tomes are being lost, whether by accident or intention; their skills are limited to fewer and fewer people. This incantation is the most dangerous; were I to not use a prototype body…”

“I know,” said the young man, his voice as dead as he felt. “It doesn’t matter. I give myself to you freely. I only ask of one thing.”

“Oh, yes, that. Well, it’s a difficult request. If I bring him back somehow, back from your memories… yes, that would be difficult. A nearly impossible burden for you, and even myself. But I’ve studied, and I have my host body here. Well, if it fails, you will just… not exist.”

“I would not worry about that. I’m Impervious, remember? Besides, even if this does kill me, it will be for the better.”

“…Hmph. How sentimental. Ha, what rubbish. Well, enough of that. I shall begin the incantation. Just think of your friend, and he will be there. He will ‘Become’. He will undergo a metamorphic transformation, from your very thoughts into this host magic body. Yes… a true ‘morph’…”

“So be it. I care not what happens to me. Just… bring back… Ephidel…”

I wanted to keep that part of my life hidden from all. I don’t remember when I joined the clergy, but I do know that I entered in secret, that I lied about my past under oath, and that I swore I had never taken a life in vain before. Lies. Treacherous lies. What blasphemy! I stained the church of St. Elimine red with my false oaths, my pseudo-truths, and my hands of death. What godlessness! The hands I used to slay people were also used to swear sacred testaments on their scrolls. The mouth I used to curse god was used to swear allegiance to him, or her, or it. Ha. What a miserable way to enter into the clergy! I was such a fraud.

Of course, there was a time before that when I remember my humanity waning back and forth. I lost myself for ages, perhaps eons and eons, or maybe but a single day. Even now, I may be incorrect in my thinking--or these images I see may not be what was real. This young man… and the man before me… I could say that they were the same. There is a name to both their identities that has been successful in eluding my every examination. I can’t find it; I don’t know any of them, but I do know their memories. Oh, yes. I do remember killing people in my past.

I do distinctly remember invading a house one night, while my madness was at an apex. I broke through the window with a stone, and smashed the glass through so that I could slip in easily. I was only stopped by one man, and he was certainly no match for me, whoever I was. I seemed… unable to be hurt by him. Yes. This body of mine was unable to be pierced, but his was. I thrust a dagger into his chest, and stared down at the only witness.

Boy. Child. So young. I hated him so much. Look well, young child, for this is what death looks like. I have seen it before, many times in my life; I’ve brought it to many people as well, and perhaps once I was two-faced when I instructed others to not use their power for villainy. It was poisonously hypocritical of me to do all that, wasn’t it? But your father was still dead; I killed him, and that was all. My mind was never there, though; I had not the power of thought, until I collapsed and accepted my fate. It was there that, since learning to doubt myself--who I was, where I came from, what I did--I knew that I had woken up, and that I had to atone for all my sins.

The church of St. Eliminie, who I had once cursed and forgotten about, seemed the best place for a damned soul to go. If they could not accept me, then…this world truly had become unfit for life. But they did, and… my life has been powered by my doubts and my shame ever since, and not by faith. Forgive me, all. Forgive me.

“Forgive me.”

He could not. The cloaked man could not forgive me. I didn’t blame him. I couldn’t even forgive myself. He brought his sword out again and spoke to me in wordless dialogue. Thunder lit the black skies and dust flew across the naked wasteland, whistling past the dead trees. He could not forgive me, so the only thing left to do would be to kill me. So. He would kill a “holy” bishop, eh? But I cannot judge him. I have done worse, or so I believe. St. Elimine, I don’t even know anymore. Piercing through the Impervious would be such a relief… It would be such a great answer to all…

The last thing I remember was receiving a vision of St. Elimine as I slept one night. I don’t know why the woman so many people pray to would ever choose me as her nightly companion--me, out of all the other good people in this world--but I suppose indeed that “god” works in mysterious ways. But now that it was on my mind, I had to wonder absently. When Elimine was alive, back many centuries ago, which “god” did she pray to? Who did her generation look to for guidance? Was there a “God” above all other gods, or… No, no, I had to forget it. I had to forget my thoughts and listen. My wretched mind could not comprehend all of that, anyway.

Now--as I slept, I received a vision of St. Elimine, and in this vision, she spoke to me.

“Renault,” she said, “you must go back to the Dread Isle and wait. There you will find many answers, and you will also discover many more questions as well. Return to the Dread Isle, and wait.”

Return? Go back? I didn’t know what this meant. Had I been there before? Was I born there, raised there? Did I visit in some previous life, one of the many that I had forgotten? Well, it was too big for my mind to understand, and besides, one does not argue with a vision from the Saint Elimine, even though I wanted to. I packed a small luggage, found a ship full of brave sailors, and journeyed off to my destiny. …No, no, that can’t be right. Did I not journey with that dragon-girl, and stay with her briefly on the Isle? I don’t know. Elimine help me, I don’t know anymore. The dragon-girl… the sailors… the Dread Isle… I just… did not… know… anymore…

And so, my doubts keep me alive. Briefly. That man looks intent on killing me. Could he really end the life of the Impervious one? Could he answer my questions? Could he do what I could not? Or is this man really that young man? And if so, who am I? I don’t know. The rain doesn’t stop, and the world stays dark, and I speak once more as I look at his sword.

“Friend,” I said, “do what you came here for.” I closed my eyes and waited for the sword to enter my body. I felt pain, but I didn’t revile in it. I just accepted it and believed I had been pierced after all. I had seen death many times, but it is the destiny of all men to taste of it once. And now that life ebbs away from me, I can truly attest that men do see their lives pass before them in their waning moments, though I know not whether these visions I see really belong to me. I suppose… all that’s really mine… are my doubts…

No one knew the old him. No one know what became of him. He vanished as though he never existed.

The End