“A boxer would at least try to stand up.” I flinched as someone touched my shoulder. The person who was standing before me was smiling, and he extended a hand as he saw my puzzlement. He was wearing a pointed cap on his face that hid most of his features in shadow. He was short but slender, and the twig-like hand he extended to me spoke of malnourishment.
“er… I am not sure I understand…”
“That is perfectly normal, for a while at least.”
“I see… Who are you, if I may ask?”
“Uh, oh… Where are my manners,” he chuckled. “I have many names.”
I sighed. “Could you mention just one, at least?”
A sigh matching mine escaped his lips. “Here we go. Do we have to do this again?”
“Do what again?” I ask, dreading the answer before it came. I somehow knew it.
“This pointless meet-up and greeting and things. I honestly don’t know what you people are doing. Do you not know me, Truthbringer?”
A chill the likes of which I had never felt before felt its way down my spine, like the fingertip of a lover. Teasing, slow, strange. But something was different: it filled me with dread.
Should I know him? Who was he? Who was Truthbringer?
But this was not the reason for my dread.
I knew Truthbringer.
It was me.
I shivered uncontrollably. My brain was threatening to burst through my head. Just yesterday, I had been a lawyer, a lawyer like many others. And now, in an instant, it was like my feet were pulled from under me. It was like I had crashed down, and my limbs weren’t responding to my brain.
His hand dropped by his side. “You do not remember, do you?” He said, a look of sorrow coming over his face, but instantly being replaced by that empty expression; the expression of having no expression. I hated this. I hated being in the dark.
“I almost do,” I bluffed. “At least, the part about me and Aldrin. About Lornath.”
He reeled back, as if I had slapped him. For the first and last time in that cursed day, I felt pleasure unfurling deep in my guts.
“Well, well,” he said, as if nonplussed. “That is actually not in the past.”
The finger of my lover traced its way up my spine, slowly making its way up to the nape of my neck. “What… do you mean?”
“You will know soon,” he said, grinning. “In fact, you weren’t supposed to remember anything about me. We haven’t met before. I just did that to see if you had seen what I hoped you would.”
Questions flipped through my mind, like pages going too fast to follow. I picked the most valuable one, and asked it.
“What have I seen?”
“The fu– As I said, you’ll know.”
But I caught it. The fu… what was the fu?
This time, every single hair on my body stood on end.
“The future,” I whispered. The way he bent his head down told me that he heard it.
“You’re sharp! I like you already!” He said cheerfully, extending his hand again.
“It wasn’t a slip?” I said, terrified. My hand seemed to act of its own accord, going toward his to shake it.
“Nah, Gods don’t let anything slip. I was just testing you.” He said it so matter-of-factly, so easily, that it threatened to send me over the edge to madness. But I held on, with all my mental capacity, like a man holding to the edge of a cliff. I didn’t want to be weak. I didn’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing me break. As I thought these thoughts, I could feel my face muscles clench, I could feel my jaw tighten. I knew an expression of resolve had replaced my confused expression. I loved myself for it. Secretly, I applauded myself inside.
I smiled with pride.
He smiled with a hint of something strange gleaming in his eyes. Glee, perhaps?
Then our hands clasped together.
“Did I pass?” I asked. But at this moment, his answer was not important at all. At this moment, I breathed the universe in, and out. Just like a gulp of air: in, out, in, out.
He glanced at me, sideways.
“What do you think? Honestly?”
“Does it matter…”
“Yes, it does. So?”
“No, really. That is what I think.”
“And what if I had told you that it does?”
I smiled. “Then, I would say yes. With every bit of my will.”
He looked at me, again. But this time, the cheerfulness escaped his gaze.
“Remember that then, Truthbringer. Things can deceive you.”
“Like you?” I grinned. He took in a sharp breath, let go of my hand, and then raised both hands, palms facing me.
“Now I am offended. I am not a… thing, as you so eloquently said. But let here be magic, which shall answer your question, and lead you on your way.” He paused, as though he was a father, trying to give his son a painful injection. I had only a second to ponder this before it came. “Lornath!”
I sat there, the grin frozen on my face. I had no chance, but to die. This time, for real. And it came, on fiery wings, embracing me, burning me, my trial, my dreams, my life… The countdown had reached one. The bell rang. And I was lying, lying on the ground. Darkness had won, And I had lost the single word I had carried into the ring: lornath.