P. E. Blue 11 months ago

Alternis🕯️

Crotas, kidnapped by his future self...Crotas was practically skipping down the cobblestone path, despite his long robes.

A smile was plastered on his face. He could not wait to tell her all about it. The night at the King's feast had been full of mirth—wine and cured meat for the more unrefined nobles, and vegetable wraps and honey mead for the pretentious and lily-livered amongst the ton. He hopped past several alleys and stout buildings. Eager to get home, he took a shortcut and rounded up a bend lined on either side by Chadwick bushes.

A force jerked him from behind, yanking him into the bushes. An arm was wrapped around his chest. He thought to shout. A hand clasped his mouth as if gleaning the contents of his mind. He pulled against the fingers, but they would not budge. He stepped on his assailant's boots which elicited a curse from the stranger. A male voice. The grip was loose. Crotas broke free and ran for the street. He barely made it when a hefty object hit the back of his head. He slumped to the ground, descending into pitch-black.********

A cold spray of water assaulted Crotas. He bolted upright, dazed. Water trickled down his expensive amber toga. After a few moments of confusion, the world righted itself. He scanned around, searching for his kidnapper. He was nowhere to be found. Crotas was in an open field, hands and feet tied. A crescent moon trickled metallic light into the dark, starless night. Dots of yellow gleamed in the grand city uphill—Mastiste, replacing the stars. By Crotas' estimate, an hour's walk would get him back into the city. A cold wind blew intermittently. It sent chills through Crotas' wet clothes into his body. 

He shivered. He fiddled with his bonds, trying to undo them. That was when he appeared. His kidnapper. Out of nowhere. A tall shadow. He was draped in a cloak; his face obscured in a hood. He had the bearing of a military captain. The dark figure strode towards Crotas, grass crunching under his hefty boots. Crotas trembled and shuffled backward on the cut grass. He gave up when he noticed he could not get far. His kidnapper crouched in front of him. "Hello, Crotas," The man's voice pierced with authority the unwieldy silence. He grabbed Crotas' chin and assessed him. The man's face was still hidden under his hood. Crotas' blood was starting to froth. How dare he touch him and regard him like a sheep or a goat? Did he know who he was? He was the King's High Steward. Crotas would make sure he lost his hand for this if he made it out alive. And he would survive.

"What do you want?" Crotas frowned. Then he spat on the bandit. "Ah, there it is," The hooded man chuckled, "that razing fire." "What do I want?" The kidnapper tapped his chin from under his hood. "That is a heavy question, young lord. Are you sure you are ready for the answer I give?" Crotas tugged against his bonds. It did not budge. Instead, it chafed his wrists. He grimaced. "You won't escape high steward," The man tapped Crotas' nose, "not until you hear my request." Good. He knew Crotas. He would not dare harm one so close to the King. They would hunt him down and kill him."Spit it out!" Crotas demanded.

The hooded figure brought his face closer to Crotas', their noses almost touching. "What I want," The man's tangy breath warmed Crotas' cheek, "is for you to listen." "Well, I've been doing just that since you rudely doused me with cold water. Tell me, why would I stop now," Crotas said through gritted teeth, "Speak your mind. No more dancing around camp-fires." "I am you." The man said calmly. Crotas snorted, "Just as I am the king hewn over a spit for marshmallows." What sort of game was this lunatic playing with Crotas? If his arms were free, he would have squelched his nose with his fists a thousand times over. "I *am* you," The hooded man's voice shifted to a grave tone, "from another time. A time to come." Before Crotas could retort and tell the bandit how severely insane he was, he took off his hood. Crotas' words caught in his throat. 

Moonlight streamed onto his assailant's face, and it was him. Same yellow eyes, bronze skin, and curly muddy hair. Except, he was more age-worn. A scar ran down his left cheek, and his nose was bent, probably from continuous blows to the organ. He was a smidge glad he had not been able to punch his nose yet. How? Was he some sort of long-lost brother, or did his parents have a twin that they hid from him? Was this the twin's way of getting revenge? 

"I am not your long-lost twin." Scarred Crotas said as if gleaning his thoughts. He pushed his cloak behind his knee to reveal a belt with the hilt of a dagger jutting out from either side. Underneath his disguise, bits of armor were gleaned. "It-It can not be," Crotas said, wide-eyed at the revelation. His mind clawed for some kind of explanation. Any kind of pointer to truth. "So it's...true...then," He picked his words carefully, hoping to draw more clues from Scarred Crotas. "Yes." "Why? How? When?" Crotas said hurriedly, readjusting his uncomfortable sitting posture on the grass. "One question at a time, young man," His bandit self sat, legs crossed, "I came to warn you and prevent a grave future."

Scarred Crotas paused, waiting for his response but resumed his address, "I don't have much time, not since I told you who I am. So listen." Crotas was wide-alert, though his wrists ached and his bones burned with an uncomfortable pain. "You were just appointed Head Steward, or am I too late? How long has it been?" Scarred Crotas asked with urgency. "Just tonight." He said. "Bless Ruma!" His counterpart sighed in relief." That makes it easier." "To do what exactly?" "Forfeit your position."

"No. No." Crotas shook his head. Not after all he had done to get the position. All his tireless hard work and priceless sacrifice. The feast he had prepared was the most ambitious ever done in a century. The King had invited high dignitaries from the seven inner kingdoms. He had called in favors, even from the far lands, just to ensure a seamless and impeccable presentation of banquet finesse. It required him to assemble a range of culinary dishes from various cultures. He brought in chefs and different attendants, and translators to suit and interface with the different backgrounds of the guests. It was no wonder the former head steward had quit. The sheer scale of it was impossible. Yet, he, Crotas, had succeeded. "I will not!" Crotas frowned."Not even if Ruma herself tells me to."

"Blasphemy, be careful how you invoke her name. You walk a thin line, steward," Future Crotas pointed a warning finger, "You have to." Crotas had never been a devout Rumian. He was suspicious of the man's outburst. "Why should I?" Crotas spat. Did he really believe this man? This must be some sort of elaborate well-thought trick by his lowers to get him out of his new office. Some strange enchantment or hypnosis. It was not unheard of. "If you want to save Eila." "Who's Eila?" Crotas arched his eyebrow. "Your wife is pregnant with your daughter. Judging by recent events, she will tell you before the weekend. You'll think you are on a winning streak. Until it happens." "Until what happens?" Scarred Crotas frowned, "The King dies, and you are framed for his murder." "I would never hurt the king," Crotas slouched his shoulders. "I know." Scarred Crotas tapped his nose, thinking. "I take it Bon Sheigh Rushah has resigned?" "Yes." Crotas shivered as another gust of wind blew through the field.

"Listen." Old Crotas gripped Crotas' shoulder, "A band of men, powerful men, connive to kill the King. They want to wage war against the Borazians with the King's treasury." "The Brazilians?" Crotas scoffed. "The Borazians have stumbled upon several mines that extend between the Borazian border and the Mastistian Border. They are filled with Yddrasil crystals." "Yddrasil crystals?" Crotas' eyes threatened to pop. "A single one can feed an entire nation for five years!" "So you understand." "War," Crotas said, lips quivering.

"Six months from today, they hang your wife and your unborn daughter first. Then they cast you into a stigging cold and dark prison cell, trenches deep in the earth." "No. No. No," Crotas mumbled, shaking his head, his mind struggling to accept the new information. "What do I have to do with all this?" "Excellent question," The man rose to his feet, metal clanking underneath his cloak, "They come to you to poison the King's cup. You refuse. Then they do it and get you framed." "What if I say yes?" Crotas asked in desperation. 

"And you kill the king?" Older Crotas scoffed and turned his back to him, cape billowing in the breeze. "What do you think?" "They still need someone to take the fall. And they'll undoubtedly choose me." Crotas said, the realization dawning on him. "My time's almost up." "Say I forfeit my position; what do I do? Where do I go? How do I guarantee my wife's safety?" "My advice," Back still turned to Crotas; he folded his arm, "Get out of this doomed Ruma-forsaken Kingdom while you can. Live out the rest of your days in the outer kingdoms." "Those kingdoms are primitive," Crotas complained. "But you'll live in peace," The man faced Crotas once more, "and your daughter will grow up before your eyes."

The man smiled; his scars crinkled along his face and his dimple. He vanished. And Crotas' bonds vanished along with him. Crotas crashed to the floor, unable to feel his legs. He lay there a moment, dazed. He would quit his job first thing tomorrow morning. But for now, he needed to hug his wife. Sensation returned to his feet. He hobbled into the city. An hour later, Crotas made it to Mastiste. The lights of the city were already waning. Only a few were on. Judging by the scanty passers-by on the streets, Crotas guessed it was around midnight. He strode through the dimly lit cobblestone roads of the city with marked solemnity. He passed by closed shops, brightly-lit and rowdy taverns, and stone-cut homes, avoiding, for a good reason, bends and shortcuts.

Lost in thought of recent events, he didn't notice when a man speared him into an alley. Frustrated and sore, Crotas groaned. Quickly realizing what had happened, Crotas scrambled to his feet. Another tall, dark figure. Typical. Ruma was having a laugh in the heavenly halls, no doubt. Crotas took a fighting stance, feet apart, fists in front of each other. The strange man drew nearer. A frustrated Crotas charged him and aimed a punch at his gut. The figure simply side-stepped. Off-balance, Crotas crashed to the floor, rocks scraping his arm. 

The shadow man shoved him by the shoulders by his garments and thudded him against the bricked alley wall. Crotas groaned. The stranger pushed him against the wall and removed his hood. It was him again. The old him. Except this version had an additional eye patch. "I thought you'd left." Crotas frowned. "I'm not him." Eye patch Crotas growled, "I've come to rectify his errors." "I take it your mind is set to give up your post as high steward?" "Yes." Crotas nodded, sullen. "Don't. When the traitors come to you, say yes." "What? But he said—" "I know what he said. He told me."

Crotas scanned Eyepatch'sEyepatch's eyes. It was a storm churning with pain and loss. Even worse than that of his predecessor. "Look, I don't have much time. He lied to you. It didn't work. Dilas still dies." "Dilas? I thought her name was Eila." "Well, excuse me if I did not give my daughter the name a madman claimed I would." Crotas finally understood, "You are me; that happens if I forfeit my position." "I thought I could change her fate by changing her name." EyepatchEyepatch Crotas sobbed. "Listen to me carefully; the war still happens. The Borazians win. They become power-hungry for conquest and slaughter the outer kingdoms." "That's where I would have run to with my wife."

"Exactly," He frowned. It was twice as menacing with the eye patch. "Your wife and your 5-year-old daughter are slaughtered like sheep before your eyes by vile barbarians who later gouge out one of your eyes as a prize. So, Don't do it. "Stay. Say yes. But secretly warn the King about the bastards who intend to take his life." "But—" EyepatchEyepatch Crotas vanished. Stigs!

Crotas was torn between two decisions. Was his life this doomed to tragedy? And to think hours ago, he had no knowledge of all this hogfink. He crumbled to the floor, sobbing. The future held no bright skies for Crotas. To quit or not to quit? Damn, Ruma. Damn, Ruma! Was his life a chew toy that she chose to discard to her dogs? Was it a thread that she chose to weave in a jumbled mess just because she could? Was he really that abominable to her? Why did she not take him both times? Why harm his wife and innocent daughter? He was the one who spat her name. Who didn't believe in her existence? He would follow the more experienced Crotas' advice and hope for the best outcome. 

He trudged homeward. He walked past the city's meadow. Flowers glistened under the moonlight and danced in the night air. His garment was now dry. The door to his home stood at a distance. Candlelight flickered by the window, compliments of his wife, no doubt. Another tall, dark figure sat silently on a rock along the path he took. Crotas, in resignation and tired of being hurled about, plopped down by his side and sighed. "Does it get better?" "No," the hooded man said. He brought his hand to his hood to take it off. "There's no need," Crotas assured. "Hide your face." Crotas had beheld enough horrors bearing his face in one night. 

The hooded man grunted in agreement. "What happens?" Crotas fiddled with the fringes of his toga. "Rumi grows up to be 12 this time." "Until?" "The prince rapes her and kills her. The King and his Kingdom, which you saved, will opt to burn you and your wife to prevent you from tarnishing their royal name." The third Crotas shivered as a cold breeze whizzed past. Crotas noticed the burn marks in the space between his gloves and the long arm of the man's jacket. "How are you here?"

Burnt Crotas glanced towards him.``I narrowly escaped to Borazia. I aided their King in acquiring the yddrasil mines in Mastiste as vengeance. I saw our King burn. I slit the throat of his prince." "Did it help?"

"No," Burnt Crotas whispered, "The emptiness still eats at me like the stigging fires that burnt on that wretched day." "What would you have me do?" "Leave. Do not open that door." "I fear I cannot." Crotas croaked, "I love her so." "I know." There was a silence in-between the two Crotas. An understanding. One that transcended time, pain, joy, and uncertainty. A love they both shared and would readily die for. "I don't have much time left." Burnt Crotas said, his voice husky, "If you love her, you'll let her live." The sorrow in his voice stabbed Crotas like daggers as if it were his. It was his. Just not yet. "If you open that door, you'll never be able to leave. The future will be set. But I will not force you."

He tapped Crotas' shoulders endearingly. Then he was not. Crotas sighed. Then he cried. Then he left. On his way out of the city, he hoped he would meet more Crotas' to toss him about and tell him he was making a grave mistake or doing the right thing. Anything. None surfaced. That's how he knew. He was doing the right thing. His wife would be forced to live on her own. With a daughter. Without him. His daughter would never know him. And he would never know her name. It was probably for the best. Better he took his tragedy far away from both of them. He trudged out of the gates. Only once, when he was far off, did he look back. The last lamplight of Mastiste blinked. Then there was total darkness.

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