GRAZYNTH, GUARDIAN OF THE FAR END (III)
Years passed swiftly... then it was decades... and centuries. In a single mull, a single blend of colors, a single blur, a single blink of an eye, tens of years flashed before Lino’s eyes. It felt both breathtaking and terrifying, how quickly can life escape you unless you pay attention to it. All the while, nothing had changed; Grazynth fought, over and over again, obtaining more and more scars on his quickly aging body.
From robust, black hair, he went wholly gray; from handsome, chiseled face of a middle-aged man he’d become a wrinkled, wholly exhausted elder. From a voice brimming with authority, with defiance, with pure passion and desire, he’d become a silent soul, his words scarce and low. From a warrior hellbent on diving into the fray, cleaving apart his foes with reckless abandon, he’d grown slower, more cautious, meeker, wary of it all.
Lino, however, couldn’t grasp the depth of that change, no matter how hard he tried; what he was witnessing was a wholesome isolation of a man for thousands of years, forever beset on fighting foes and former friends every day, watching the world he was once a part of die out slowly, bit by bit, bleeding like a gashed animal. Just how lonely Grazynth felt? Lino couldn’t say. All he saw was a man slowly waning before his eyes, outliving the tragedy of mankind’s — or, in his case, angelkind’s — existence.
“... hey, little one.” Grazynth suddenly spoke as the wind blew his now waist-long hair sideways.“Yer’ still here, ay?”
“Ay, you are. I can feel ye.” a rare and faint smile crept upon Grazynth’s face as he took a deep breath. “I can’t say what ye shall take from my little story... but, at least, I wish to thank ye. For being here. With me. Sticking it out. Bearing witness to my little story. I have been buried in the sands of time for so long... now, I feel I can finally breathe. ‘Cause of ye, little one. I should be ashamed... ashamed of seeing my successor witness my blade growing duller, my heart meeker, my soul losing its flame. But I ain’t. I’m glad yer here.” Grazynth loosened his muscles, as though he was freeing himself of a burden that had been weighing over him since the dawn of times.
“I’ven’t always been the sharpest of tools,” he said. “And it would always take me a long time to comprehend what Ataxia was teaching me. Chaos... Order... Void... Eldritch Realms... the Beginning... Singularity... these concepts, till this day, elude me. For a long while, both of us knew I ain’t the man to fulfill his dreams. I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t clever enough. I wasn’t driven enough.” I get it now... Lino thought, faintly smiling inwardly. “But... he stuck with me. Through thick and thin. Through the lows and the true rock bottom. He accompanied me all the way here... to stand atop this platform and overlook the Edge of the World. The Far End of it all. Of all our desires, all our dreams.”
“...” Grazynth grunted lowly and slowly got up, barely standing.
“... till the day I died,” he said, his eyes growing slightly moist. “He was here.” he clutched at his left-side chest. “Always. Right here.” he bumped it as his voice grew coarser. “I didn’t care about what he wanted to do with the world. What he wanted to do with Angels, with Gods, Devils, Humans, Dragons, Gaia herself and what have you.” Yes... this is it... “I’d done all he asked not because I believed in what he believed... not because I knew what he knew... not because of any of that crap. I’d done it all... simply for a friend.” Grazynth smiled freely, almost as though he was once again a young man who was cast out of his land and was befriended by an strange entity. “He reached out his arm to me and grabbed me from down below and pulled me up and every time... every time I began falling back down... I’d feel his hand pressing against my back, pushing me up. If you take anything from my little story, Empyrean, take this: what you give him... he’ll repay. More than you can ever imagine.”
Grazynth leapt off the platform one last time as only six people arrived at the far edge of the valley. All six were clad in different armors, yet all seemed as old and as exhausted as Grazynth himself. Four were women and two were men, and they walked slowly as they approached toward the central point where Grazynth was waiting for them.
“Yer’ came.” Grazynth said with a faint smile, rising up his ax which by now had one blade entirely gone, the other being clipped in half. “Ye all look like shite.”
“You don’t look much better yourself, old fart.” a woman replied, stepping forth. Though Lino was unable to distinguish any of the facial features of six, for some reason he was fairly certain this woman was Elana that Grazynth mentioned.
“Ha ha, always with the flowery tongue,” Grazynth laughed innocently. “I’m goin’ to miss you the most.”
“You don’t have to.” Elana said, drawing back slightly.
“... but I do,” Grazynth grinned. He reminded Lino very much of Q’vil when the latter was at the far end of his own life as well. Both... so readily accepted their reality without showing a shred of doubt in their choice. “I was bested... but time shall come... it shall come...”
“Every one of you says the exact same thing.”
“And by gods do we all mean it! Ha ha ha!”
“Cheer up lads,” Grazynth said, taking a battle stance. “How many times in yer lives will you get to say ye felled an Empyrean?! Once, ay... once is more than enough.”
The battle did not last long; rather, it was better to say that there was no battle. Unlike Q’vil, Grazynth didn’t go out like a dying star, in one final blaze. He barely managed to stand on his own two feet before Elana slowly walked over and stuck a sword through his heart. He fell down, by all accounts looking like an old, enfeebled man, onto his knees. Yet, he was smiling. Broadly. Wholly. Innocently.
“... isn’t it beautiful, Empyrean?” he mumbled meekly into his jaw, drawing one last, final breath. “To be able... to die... for a friend...”
With his fall, Lino felt as though a strange arm reached from the nether and grasped at him, pulling him back from the dream into reality. He once again found himself back in the familiar tunnel, surrounded by ghastly things trying to eat away at his mind. He felt slightly dulled for a moment as he tried to recollect himself. He then smiled bitterly and shook his head. That sort of heroism while standing in the face of death... Lino was certain he didn’t have it. He very much feared death, though he never openly admitted it; there was an ocean of difference between braving a front... and being brave.
Both Grazynth and Q’vil were simply two brave men who faced death in the eye and then welcomed it with smiles of readiness and acceptance. Lino didn’t believe for a second that it was because the two of them had nothing worth living for any longer. It was simply that their Wills were strong enough to overcome the fear of death. Lino’s... wasn’t. Not yet, at least, he thought.
“Master?” Felix’s voice jolted him from his brief dream as Lino looked sideways at the curious expression of this youngster. “Why’d you suddenly stopped?” he asked.
“... just remembered something.” Lino said, smiling lightly. “Sorry, let’s move on.”
“What did you remember?” Felix asked, still curious.
“... an old friend,” Lino said. “And how he died.”
“... oh. Sorry.” Felix said, feeling guilty over asking. “I didn’t know...”
“Don’t worry about it. He died... happy, I suppose.”
“Eh? Is... is that even possible?”
“Apparently,” Lino shrugged. “If you’re dying for a friend.”
“Eh, his friend’s kind of a dick, though.” Lino added with a faint grin.
“You really need to take that stick out of your ass.” Lino said, rolling his eyes. “You take everything too seriously.”
“Or maybe it’s actually me, making jokes out of anything and everything?! No, it’s the young that are wrong!”
“You were having a moment, Master...” Felix said, sighing.
“What do you mean? I’m having a moment right now. And now. And what do you know, even now! Moments are everywhere and everytime!”
“What? I think it’s funny. Laugh you bastard!”
“Yeah, no wonder you couldn’t make it as a proper Noble,” Lino said. “You suck at small talk. You should learn a thing or two from your Master. As the matter of fact, while these ghastly morons are trying to scare us, let your Master teach you the art of tongue-lashing, the art so beautiful there are no official books to teach you because it needs to be acquired via, you guessed it, tongue-lashing! Isn’t that just a beauty? Anyway, so, it goes like this...” and thus, in less than two hours, Felix would come to know that his Master... really liked tongue-lashing.