“So, you think she’s still down there?” he asked over his shoulder, wiping the sweat from his brow. His companion, as usual, said nothing; at least nothing anyone around him seemed to hear.
In fairness, it was difficult for them to hear anything his companion may have had to say as the small crowd in the small Cairo watering hole were giving the stranger a wide berth. They did this for a number of reasons. The first was the man’s weapons. Strapped to his person in a very clever and useful array were a number of blades, each easily two handed affairs, from long swords to executioner’s axes. Second was the fact that the man clearly knew how to use these weapons and that he had in the very recent past as one of the axes was still dripping blood. The third was that the man was not from around here, or so it seemed. It seemed to anyone who looked at him that he could be from somewhere further north – tanned skin, but not the natural swarthy complexion of someone who lived his whole life in the desert, blue eyes, lots of scars, dark jeans, coat, boots, equally covered with fresh blood – but his accent suggested American. Whoever this man was, he’d lived a lot of life, and most of it had clearly been cruel and hard, particularly of late. The last thing that made the usually fearless crowd was that the companion of the man was a large, hulking corpse of some kind, and clearly not human. It had putrid, rotting red flesh that was hanging loosely off of most of its decrepit body, horns protruding from its head, elbows, knees and shoulders, and a decidedly reptilian, demonic face. Flies wafted lazily about its sightless eyes as the stranger stared at it, awaiting a response. Finally, the stranger laughed.
“Well, that’s cause you’re a pessimist,” the stranger drawled, chuckling and finishing his whiskey. “Me? Nah. I’m a realist, see? I ain’t been sleeping for the last 1000 years like some people. Time’s come though.”
The stranger stood, his leather duster, made for someone of average height, came just to his knees, putting him at nearly 7 feet tall. The shoulders, made to keep away dust and rain, made his already impressive frame seem even more intimidating. He tossed several strange coins at the bartender, telling him to keep the change, and turned to walk out. He stopped a moment, then grabbed another shot. He raised it high in the air, his eyes suddenly dark.
“To you, Rain. I miss all of them, but you lady, I miss the most,” he slugged the whiskey down, set the glass gently on the table. “Rest in peace. You deserve peace…”
Shaking off the nostalgia, the man picked up his companion and walked out into the blazing heat of the outside world. He walked as so many strangers before him had; straight out into the desert as though it were nothing more than a small beach with vendors and supplies just over the horizon. Most mocked those who ventured into the desert alone and without proper protection. This stranger, this odd man, they did not mock. For once they prayed the desert to keep its secrets.
The heat affected him as it would most people. He was hot, and sweat beaded and dripped into his eyes. Unlike other people, he was simply able to ignore it. Sometimes his seeming inability to die bothered him. He should have died several thousand times, in fact trying on some occasions despite his religious views. Yet he stood, relatively unscathed and walking with a smile on his face to his final destination. He laughed again, shaking his head. All that he’d seen and done, all that he’d lived through and the thing that was to kill him was, in essence, opening a door for a wakeup call. He stood while the others had died. The better ones. Xandrous had taken them all. One out of six still stood. He’d make certain that his death would be on his own terms, and that it would hurt Xandrous, cripple him if he’d understood any of the journals.
“No, I won’t wake Morganna, you smelly bastard,” he said to the corpse slung over his shoulders. “Different ritual to wake her.” He paused, thinking a moment. “Well, it might be a different ritual. Magic was David’s specialty. Not mine. I’m working with what I got. It would help if Arus was around, that featherbrained bastard.”
The corpse said nothing.
“I doubt you even know my mother,” the man responded to the silence.
The corpse again said nothing.
“Cause I need your blood. My blood, your blood, and the blade. Why do you think I left just enough life in you to drag your sorry ass with me? I guarantee it’s not for witty conversation about Sartre.”
One of the corpse’s limbs fell from its torso to the desert sand.
“Now you’re just being stubborn.”
The man walked on, all day without stopping for food or water. He knew he didn’t need it. His old body would hold out, as it had so many times before. He was the strong one. He was the fighter, the leader. He was the one who could take a beating, take the damage, take the pain. That’s why Xandrous and Bell had gone for the others. That’s why they’d destroyed his allies, leaving him alone, angry, and seemingly immortal. They sought to break him, to make him one of their puppets as they had so many others. He chuckled again. They made him stronger. He might not win, but he knew who would stop them. He knew who would make them pay for their sins.
Finally, as his shadow stretched in the distance before him, he stopped, dropping his companion in the dust. He had arrived.
Few people would have noticed it. Unless one stood directly in front of it, the thing appeared to be no more than a small outcropping of stone. From the front one could see it was a stairwell made of granite, once part of a larger structure, that descended under the sands. He ran his beaten, weathered hands over the glyphs that had been carefully engraved above the stairs. He knew only bits and pieces of what they meant, but Knight of Shadow, Scion of Blood, Mortal Guard, those he knew. Those symbols stood next to each other, along with several others he would never know. However, one line translated itself for him. He smiled as he read the words aloud.
“Here lies the first Knight of Shadow. Raithal loves you, whether you know it or not. We will all join you in Heaven. Rest well friend.”
He chuckled, turning to the corpse. “She’s gonna hate it when she finds out someone called her a friend.”
It was finally his time, yet, he waited a moment. Digging through a bad slung over his back he brought out a bottle of red wine. He looked at it a long moment, twisting it slowly in his hands, watching the light dance through the liquid inside and cast brilliant rainbows on the ground.
“Should be just good enough now,” he smiles, “Good enough to say goodbye.”
He sat, drinking slowly, quietly, reminiscing about those he met. It seemed so long ago, and yet, it had only been three years, three short years he’d spent with them. He drank to each fallen ally, raising the bottle high, and saluting. Finally. as the sun was fast becoming a wavering amber fading behind distant mountains he knew it was time. With a gesture and a word the massive granite door before him slid open, torches ensconced along the tunnel lighting themselves soon after. Hefting his corpse once more, he smiled.
“I know you’re only here by accident, Talon, but I have seen the future. We’ve lost one Lightseeker without you. I won’t lose the next one. It’s time for you to get your lazy ass up.”
He began his long decent to his final rest. “Time to show them why they locked you away in the first place…”