Immortals In Memoriam

Read the outline of this story here.

It had been ages since Tejra had last seen a bed. The last comfortable rest they took, relative to the rest of the journey, had been in the wheat fields from several towns over, when their own friendly crops were fast on their way to becoming their own distant memories. At least, they would be if the young warrior’s last memory in one of their precious fields hadn’t been torn apart by the very beast that sent them on this quest. The young wyvern had been very clear in his mission: find them, tell them there are others like them, and that there was a way to break their collective curse.

With words like those, Tejra had taken only the things on their back, which included a sword, thank Sorin. It didn’t take long to reach the furthest border they had traveled to in their life, and they passed it unflinchingly. They knew exactly where they were heading: Ent territory. Though in the heart of their home village an Ent was only a fantastic rumor, Tejra had deeply intense memories of playing beneath the trees with the creatures, so vivid that they trusted them to be true. Traveling through the cities of the Ents did prove fruitful, but only in further information about the condition they were sought an end to.

Next on their map was the vast caves of dragons, so they made their way there next. They found even more information here, but it was clear that the immortal champion of the dragons was not interested in being found. Tejra was met with either a strict rejection or an amused smile and a quick send-off.

The tombs of the dwarves weren’t far off, some of them actually being connected to the dragon caves, and their vast network of tunnels made for an easy journey to the nobledwarves. Their spotted skin made Tejra wary at first, distant memories of smallpox and measles and leprosy kept them on their toes. The underworld of the Dwarves was incredibly damp and uncomfortable, so when Tejra found themself going nowhere, they simply decided to leave.

The last of the lands, excluding Goblins to the far north, were the Minotaurs–beautiful and powerful people with horns and fur. They were an intimidating and stoic people; Tejra worried mostly of their emotions being perceived as a weakness but quickly discovered that it was mostly an exterior taken on by their warriors and leaders. They were most like humans compared to the rest of the creatures Tejra had come across. They did have an idea of where the immortals lived, pointing the smaller being in the direction of the endless smoke to the south of their borders.

As Tejra finally became alone in the wilderness between the last border of civilization and the mysterious, swirling clouds, they heard a sound behind them where there should’ve been none. Turning around quickly, they thought that for a moment they saw a figure in the corner of their eye. The human’s trusty sword came out of its sheath and they held it so tightly their knuckles turned white. With this new fear, they considered every odd thing that had happened along the journey–too many times, it felt similar to this. Tejra put their head down and ran forward, wasting no more time. When they found the caverns, it was entirely by accident and almost led to their doom.

They were entirely too aware of how much noise they made falling into one of the caves. Not only did they knock every possible stone loose on the way down, but they threw the sword away from them as the ground came up to meet them, both to free their hands for an easier landing and to avoid getting cut along their own blade. The impact was much softer than expected, but it was still unsettling to be face-to-face with perhaps the largest dragon that ever lived, bathed in a crimson red with burgundy accents around the mouth and claws that looked all-too-much like blood in the dark.

Tejra took a chance at look up the way they fell and quickly dismissed it when a dark figure retracted their head at the entrance. They took no comfort in knowing that whoever was following them may have had a chance to attack if the hole in the ground didn’t take them both by surprise. The sword was on the ground near enough to Tejra’s hands that they didn’t hesitate to pick it up and hold it with both hands in the direction of the monstrous beast.

The dark dragon looked down upon them with a small bundle tied up in their mouth. They craned their neck into the center of the cavern and laid the bundle down before retreating and laying down. The creature’s teeth glinted in the dim light. Was it smiling? Tejra didn’t know if it was meant to be comforting or terrifying, but they did not appreciate the sight of the massive beast’s fangs.

“I’m not here to hurt you,” there was a rumble from the dragon’s chest, “There is food in that pack, take what you need. I can also light a fire if you’re not too tense about that.”

Tejra’s rumbling stomach took over the more logical side of them. They rushed the pack and scarfed down the bread and cheeses. Mouth full, Tejra nodded at the dragon to indicate they were fine with the fire. They were still tense, but there was an inherent trust that Tejra gave to people who fed them. The sounds in this cavern must’ve woken whoever was staying with this dragon because three additional figures filtered into the room and sat near the claws of the dragon, which were larger than all but one of the new figures.

With the fire going, Tejra relaxed further. This is where they were supposed to come; there was the Dwarf, the Minotaur, the Ent, the Dragon, but no Goblin. The newcomer guessed that even among immortals, some parties just can’t get along.

“We were waiting for you,” the dragon spoke again, eyes lowering sleepily.

The Dwarf got up and hobbled over, reaching out a freckled hand to the human, “I’m Enki.”

“Roland,” the Ent raised a hand in the background.

“Petia,” the minotaur crossed her arms across her slender chest.

“And Thyra,” the dragon finally gave her name, a puff of smoke billowing from her mouth as she opened it this time.

“Happy to have finally met you!” Enki’s hand was still reached out to Tejra. They took it timidly, still startled.

“I’m Tejra. I’ve been searching for you all for months,” they began. It sounded like whining in their ears, which promptly became red; they wanted to make a better impression.

“Yeah, we’re pretty solidly hidden here,” Roland said in the background, his voice sounding more like the creaking trees with each syllable.

“It’s–” Tejra looked for the right word. To no avail, but it felt rude to pause much longer than they already had, “–nice?”

“No one is here for the imagery, though there is some nice mining the further back you go,” Enki threw a thumb behind him, “What brings you here?”

“I may have some information of interest to you, but I’m curious, first about what’s going on,” Tejra was becoming warm near the fire, “Can someone explain to me what we are?”

“I’m not sure that’s an easy question to answer,” Petia uncrossed her arms and started walking over to Tejra, her hooves clicking against the hard floor, “But I can assure you that your experiences are shared. We’ve met to– well, mostly to help each other. We don’t have much else we can do.”

“Young Tejra,” Thyra breathed out, still filling the massive cavern with her echoing voice, “Do you know the story of the eternal strings?”

“It’s what people say our souls are made of,” Tejra heard this story recently, “Instead of taking a core of gold, ours has been threaded out into string to span the expanse of time.”

“Good. That is true.”

Tejra still could quite wrap their head around the concept, “How do you know? How did you come to discover this?”

The glint in Thyra’s eye grew with her smile, “The gods told me themselves. As for me, this is my third life. The other two were short-lived.”

Everyone glanced meaningfully at her.

“For a dragon, I mean! I’ve been alive since the gods decided to give intelligent thought to six species. I’m as old as I can be. I’m never quite going to experience this strange power in the way that you will. I never questioned my connectedness with my future and my past. I haven’t lived long enough, relatively, for it to have ever come up,” she shrugged, “My life already spans thousands of your own. When you’re 12,000 years old–in this lifetime–you stop thinking about living forever.”

“And we’re not so lucky,” Roland began.

“I’m on my–” he counts on extraordinarily long fingers, “–eh, I’ve lost count. I’m pretty far in. I first realized that this wasn’t a common experience when I tried to speak to a brother from my second life in my fifth. He looked different, sure, but I was so convinced it was him. His soul was the same. He didn’t recognize me. I took my life for the first time less than a year later.”

“How many times did you do that?” Enki asked, reminiscing.

“Must’ve been 12,” Roland was able to count this one out easily. Tejra thought of the many times to themself–they could probably also count into the double-digits.

“I feel like I’ve always known,” Enki began to share, “I could tolerate it until I just couldn’t. The generations I’ve outlived. Partners I’ve had to pass on the streets, in the arms of new lovers.”

He unbuttoned his shirt down past his chest and opened for Tejra to see. The skin was covered in tattoos, “One for each marriage. Each love I’ve ever had is etched upon my skin.”

Petia walked over to the stout man and, with a strength that was not visible in her arms, picked him up. She sat down with him in her lap and cradled him like a child. Tejra could see a few tears on his aged face.

“Enki and I have been best friends since time began. Since the race of Minotaurs and Dwarves arrived around the same time, we’ve always had each other to turn to. I haven’t had the strength he has. I mostly cut myself off. I realized in the midst of war that I had this power. Not only did I have flashbacks and terrors almost right out of the womb, I began recognizing friends, lovers–” she glanced down at Enki, “–family in the new faces around me. I retreated to solitude after it was over. Did nothing but pray to the gods for years at a time. Every once in a while, I would die from starvation. As soon as I was strong to leave my mother, I’d find my hideout. I spent decades there, locked in prayer.”

She had tears to join Enki’s now. Roland wrapped his long arms around the couple and Thyra reached out a claw to pet the top of Petia’s head with the flat side of the blade. Tejra would feel compelled to join in the embrace had they not just met the four. They fell apart after only a moment, each lowering their arms to step away. They met Tejra’s gaze with no hint of shame.

“You must pardon the absence of Ereshkigal,” Thyra lifted her head up, “She is the only one that has taken advantage of this curse. I’m sure a Goblin would’ve sent you running, in any case.”

Tejra bared their teeth and lifted the sword, “I can take a Goblin.”

“That’s not why you’re here, though. You said you had some information?”

“Oh! Oh, yes,” Tejra was suddenly nervous, “I have been told a possible means to end our lives. Permanently.”

Click here to read the foreword to this story. Click to here read the endnotes.