The shine lizards had no tails anymore, and instead of sunning themselves on the rocks, they hid in their burrows, peering out at the boy who had been chasing them for the past several days.
They had not known to be afraid of him, for he had visited them often in the past. He did not smell like a predator. His scent was that of the desert wind, and why should they have feared the wind?
And then, three days ago, something had changed. The wind had come for them. Clumsy at first, he had grabbed and pawed at them, catching one or two of the slowest. Ripping their tails from their bodies. The lizards learned to fear him. They ran.
The wind ran faster.
He ran until he caught them all. Every last one of them. And then he released them, tailless.
The thoughts of the wind were unfathomable. His next actions were beyond their ken.
So they trembled in their burrows, watching with nervous yellow eyes as he dried their stolen tails on one of their favorite sunning rocks.
He sat by the stream, toes dug into the mud as always, and when the night came this time, he did not leave. He did not sleep. He only stared off into the desert or up into the vastness of the night sky.
When morning arrived, the lizards watched him collect their silver tails one by one from the rock. He swallowed them whole.
Elph took off his clothes and lay on his back in the stream. It was just deep enough for the sluggish, warm water to run into his ears. Not unpleasant. It deafened him in a way that made him feel almost calm.
The sun, arcing toward noon, shone down on his face. He closed his eyes. Then, he lay the damp straw doll on top of his chest, crossed his arms over it protectively, and waited to die.
He had lived for months alone in the ruins of his house with no memories. A few days ago, that had begun to change.
He had started to know all the things he didn’t want to know. He had started to feel all the pains he didn’t want to feel. He had suddenly understood so much about himself, and all of it was unbearable.
His greatest fear was waking up every morning and knowing a few more terrible truths.
Elph was not a brave boy. He did not want to be. He wanted to be erased.
The flesh of the shine lizard was deadly poisonous. Maybe there was a reason that was one of the first things he'd been sure of after he'd...
Maybe knowing about the lizards before he knew anything else was a sign. But Elph couldn’t bring himself to kill the creatures. His hands shook, and he vomited when he thought of doing it. Nothing else could die because of him.
Then, a few days after the memories began their torturous return, a lone welcome one appeared in his mind. A man with a thick black beard and kind, bright eyes smiled down at a group of children sitting by the fire in the village center. He told them a story about the lizard god who lived on Mount Sayar in the distant heart of the Erberen.
“To become one of the gods a soul must escape the death fate intends for you twelve times,” said the man. “No one is meant to be an immortal. To defy the natural order, you must be willing to suffer greatly. The lizard knew all of this, for she was the cleverest of reptiles. And so, each time the death god found her and struck with his terrible golden blades, the lizard sacrificed her tail. She’d magicked it to twitch, like a snake in its final throes, and the god of death was tricked just long enough for the swift lizard to make her escape.”
Eventually the lizard in the story escaped death so many times that she became a god herself. She lived on Mount Sayar now, and the death god had fallen in love with her. The shine lizards were their offspring.
A solution to Elph’s problem had presented itself.
He’d originally intended to eat only a single tail, but then he worried it might not be enough. Perhaps he deserved to suffer a long and painful death, but he didn’t want to. He wanted the death god to come for him as quickly as possible. And maybe, just maybe, since he had spared the lizards’ lives he would be taken away to the place where the others had gone.
Elph remembered the others now.
His mother, with her gentle, calloused hands.
His father, who laughed more than any man in the village.
His sister. Fanna. She was eight. Less than a year younger than Elph.
He had tried so hard.
He had tried to protect her. And because he had tried to protect her, she had died last and worst.
Something monstrous was inside him. Elph hoped that when the god of death came for him, the god’s golden blades, those razor-sharp circles, would kill the monster, too.
He trembled a little, his breath coming faster at the thought of dying even though he had chosen it.
For a long while, nothing happened.
Then, the first pain struck. It was a vicious cramp in one thigh, so agonizing that Elph’s eyes snapped open and he screamed, floundering in the muddy water. He sat up and beat on his leg with both fists, gasping, willing it to stop.
“No, no, no!” he cried out in wild panic.
He hadn’t known it would hurt this much. His parents and the other adults had never described the death the poison would bring to its victim. They had only assured him that it was certain for anyone who ate one of the lizards.
Before he had mastered the first pain, the second and third came. His feet spasmed, one right after the other. He shrieked and stared at them in horror as they twisted, the toes and arches curving gruesomely.
“Stop!” he screamed in terror. “Stop it!”
Nobody can hear you.
“Daddy! Mother! Please.”
“Help me! Help!”
You killed them.
A strange wind howled over the sands of the Erberen for most of the afternoon, carrying the dying boy’s screams for miles. But the village was an isolated one. There was no help to be had.
“Gods of the third heaven,” Megimon said hoarsely. He stared down at the twisted body of the young boy. “He’s still alive.”
When Megimon first found him, he was sure the child was a corpse. Then he heard the faint, pained wheeze of a breath.
He had no idea what to do.
Megimon had come here to collect a wandering soul. He was not in the business of stealing the spirits of the living. Besides that, the Disc of the Sacred Fate had been set to very specific parameters. That it had found this poor child meant something was wrong with the device. It was likely his soul wasn’t even the right type for the rehoming process.
That damnable pixie. Lutcha must have done something to the Disc besides throwing it in the pond.
The child needed healing, but Megimon was no healer. He was a scholar of spatial magic, especially portals and locator spells. He could mend a skinned knee, but this was far beyond him. It looked like Kashwini’s Sting, and from what he knew of the infamous poison, there was no cure.
The gods of luck had obviously forsaken this boy. If he’d only fallen with his face in the shallow water, he would have drowned before suffering such a gruesome death. And if a sorcerer skilled in the life arts had found him, instead of Megimon, he might have been saved.
Had he stumbled upon a dying boy fifty years ago, Megimon would have known who to take him to at least. However, he wasn’t sure if there even was a healer powerful enough to reverse this much damage in the first world at present.
That left only…
Well, perhaps it wasn’t such a bad option. He looked around at the vacant desert. The villagers from the ruin nearby appeared to have been dead for months, and there weren’t any other settlements in the area. Not within a few leagues certainly. And there was hardly any plant life to speak of, so he wouldn’t need to worry about the taint spreading.
“Hold on, boy,” said Megimon, pulling a long strand of misshapen crystals out of his robes. “If you can live a little longer, you might yet grow up. And you’ll get to meet a pixie, too. You'll have a frightening story for your grandchildren to disbelieve one day.”
The sorcerer muttered curses to himself while he set up the summoning circle, wincing every time the child let out a weak sound of pain.
Lutcha had placed Megimon in this dreadful predicament. She could be the one to get him out of it.