“They were nothing more than men. Well, elves, I suppose,” Finton Merrybrook said, sipping from his chalice.
The only reply the storyteller received was the crackling of logs in the nearby fire. His eyes followed the dancing shadows on the wall as he took another sip from his chalice, falling deeper into a peaceful stupor.
“Why do you love hearing this story? It doesn’t end well for you.”
The storyteller was once again met with silence. Finton walked over to the mantle of his fireplace and plucked a metal sphere from the surface.
“Silly elves, fate is not one to be trifled with.”
A phantom gust of icy wind passed through the hearth, threatening to snuff out the fire.
“I know, I know. I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.”
Felwyn Sagestar stood chained to the flesh of the World Tree, his restraints grown from the ground beneath his feet—wood but stronger than steel. Across from him, the Galad Council regarded him with silent contempt.
Separating him from their gaze was Talia Asterborn, wielder of the Chronoscepter and enforcer of the Galad Council.
“Felwyn Sagestar, you stand accused of failing to stop the spread of the Rot. How do you plead?” she asked.
Felwyn’s gaze remained fixed on the ground beneath his feet.
“I am guilty of nothing, for there was no duty to fulfill.”
Talia gripped the staff of the Chronoscepter. An intricately carved piece, upon which sat the most treasured possession of the elves.
“It would be merciful to end your life here and now,” Talia said.
“Then let us be done with it. I have nothing more to say.”
Talia slammed the staff onto the surface of the World Tree below. Cracks emerged across the sphere's surface at its peak, releasing a sharp blue light from within.
“You know the power I wield?” she asked.
“Not power, a curse. It will lead our people to ruin.” Felwyn replied.
Talia shook her head. “You have done that already, Felwyn, but now you can redeem yourself. I suggest you take this chance.”
The sphere blossomed like a flower, unleashing an arc of pure energy that closed the distance between it and Felwyn in the blink of an eye. It struck the center of his forehead.
His eyes burned with a matching color as his head fell back, and the Chronoscepter sent him back in time to that fateful moment.
Felwyn found himself once again standing in the heart of the forest. He had lived this moment repeatedly in his head, but to be there again. It was overwhelming.
His cracked heart shattered once more at the sight of his everything, her body blasphemed by the wretched Rot.
“Felwyn, is that you, my love?” her words tumbled from her lips.
Felwyn closed the distance between them, kneeling at her side. Black tendrils weaved like ethereal worms in and out of her skin, leaving no trace of color behind. She was a living ghost.
“I am here, but how is this possible?” he asked.
“I tried to stop it, Felwyn. I tried to save everyone.”
Felwyn gripped her hands and felt a weak response as she struggled to hang on. Tears escaped from his tightly shut eyelids.
“I know you did. I’m here now,” he whispered.
“You must end this before it spreads into the heart. There’s not much time, my love, for I fear it has almost had its fill of me.”
Felwyn shook his head. “I cannot. I will not.” He stood up and threw his fists to the canopy above.
“Do you hear me? I will not satisfy your desire to see fate undone!” Felwyn shouted. A flash of light took Elwyn back from that moment and into the present.
He was almost happy to feel the taut grip of his restraints. Even the sight of Talia’s clenched jaw brought him some measure of relief.
“Do you not understand what is at stake here? You would shatter our home and sacrifice our people to the Rot, simply to spare yourself the guilt of ending her life?”
“I would. You can send me back to that moment with your cursed artifact as many times as you like, but I will not do it,” Felwyn said.
“So be it.”
Talia made good on her promise. Felwyn lived that moment again and again. He went back so many times that he noticed minuscule shifts in the threads of time. Sometimes, his love was forlorn; other times, she begged him for mercy; other times, she cursed him for her impending doom.
Felwyn remained resolute in his decision. He would stay his blade. Every time. He had lost count of how many times Talia had sent him back.
When he returned to the present, his body was weak. He could barely stand on his shaking legs.
“This artifact takes a toll with every voyage, Felwyn! Can you not feel it eating away at your immortal soul?” Talia asked.
“Of course, I can feel it, but pain has lost all meaning.”
“You are a fool, Felwyn. No woman is worth this torture, this sacrifice, this madness!”
Talia pressed the tip of the Chronoscepter against Felwyn’s head. The energy sparked against his skin. He felt its hunger. He knew this would be the last time.
Once more into that moment. Once more, he gazed into her eyes as the Rot devoured her flesh and her spirit in equal measure.
“It’s okay, my love. I know you resist, but it must be done.”
Felwyn snapped to the present. “What must be done?”
“I can see the demons that wage war behind your eyes. You struggle against an impossible task. I am telling you to cease your suffering.” she said.
“How is this possible? No, it’s a trick of that cursed artifact. I will not give in to their demands. I will not lose you.”
“My love, I am already lost.”
Felwyn sobbed at her side, crying into her open palm. His tears splashed against her skin and cascaded to the ground below.
“Look at me,” she whispered.
Felwyn did as she asked. He looked into her eyes. The eyes of his world. The eyes that reflect his purpose, his desire, his entire being.
“What do you see?” she asked.
A cold numbness swept over him. The answer came swiftly.
“Now you see, broken warrior. She is not your love. Her soul has departed. She is but a puppet. My puppet,” she said.
Rage took Felwyn’s will from him. He brandished his sword and dragged it across her exposed neck. A gushing torrent of writhing black maggots poured from the wound. They leaped from her chest and onto Felwyn’s body.
He struggled to throw them off as they crawled up towards his head. Just as they dove into his ears, mouth, and eyes, a flash of light brought him back to the present.
Felwyn was silent. His body was rigid. The Galad Council whispered amongst themselves as Talia grinned.
“We’re getting reports that the forest is healing. See Felwyn? That wasn’t so hard. Too bad you won’t live to see this prosperous new era for our people.”
The light emanating from the Chronoscepter turned from blue to a bright red. It crackled with energy as she approached, but Felwyn remained silent. Talia raised the staff above her head, and the sphere bloomed again.
Felwyn’s arms shot upward, shattering the wood restraints that had grown around his wrists. Talia stumbled backward, interrupting her ritual.
“No, how is this possible?”
Felwyn raised his eyes. Talia gasped at the sight of black tendril racing between his irises.
“You act above your station, elf! The power to change the past. To rewrite history. You were foolish to think you could wield it like any other weapon you possess. You haven’t freed your people. You’ve merely brought them to me.”
Felwyn’s arms stretched out, and his skin tore open like fabric. A thick river of writhing insects, all black as night, poured out from within him. They left nothing, not even bone, as they swarmed over the World Tree.
Talia and the Galad council were naught but appetizers as The Rot swept like a noxious wave across the forest of Avondale, devouring all in its wake.
Finton’s chuckle filled the silence as he finished his tale. He poured another glass of wine and walked to a window overlooking the valley below. In the distance, a dead forest stood like a graveyard.
Gnarled branches and ashen ground were all that was left of Avondale, a place that once housed the elves of D’veen.
“Did you think something would change this time?” Finton asked.
Silence, but Finton chuckled.
“Keep trying, my friend. I do not envy your struggle, but I do find it admirable. Free of time, you have an eternity to change your fate. For what it’s worth, I hope you find the peace you’re looking for, wherever it may be.”
Finton finished the last drops of wine in his chalice and laid the metal sphere back onto his mantle.
“Until next time, my friend.”
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About the Creator
Lover of dogs, gaming, and long walks on the beach. Content Marketing Manager by day, aspiring writer by night. Long time ghostwriter, finally stepping into the light. Alone, we cannot change this world, but we can create better ones.