The Great Conflict, and the world, has ended. Magic is forbidden so that the world can heal. I believe it’s stolen your memories, too. Which is why you and I are keeping this journal. You, reading this tomorrow, and me, writing this today.
Remember this if you can:
Your name is Carth. You are a warrior, aged boy.
You are in the service to the Warlord’s clan in his mission to restore order to the Realm. Ask daily for your payments. You travel with a woman named Anthea. For an index of items, places, people and locations, refer to the scrolls next to this one.
* * *
Do you remember what happened last night?
I suppose I’ll discover tomorrow if our mind was fixed. But in case it’s not, I should probably explain:
Anthea told you that today was the only day for at least another ten years when she could fix your mind. She explained this to you as you sat in the scattered remnants of the deadciv, chewing dried up, stringy jerky. Anthea would not tell you where she got it from. I’ll spare reminding you what it tasted like.
She had a spell in her bag that she sprinkled on top of a few loose stones she’d gathered into a circle, and sparks splayed across the silvery-white pool that glowed within. You reached for it.
“Don’t touch it,” she snapped. “It would just as soon melt your hand off. But we’ll need you good and healthy if we’re to fix ourselves up tomorrow.”
“Why tomorrow?” you asked her.
She paused, folding her concentration into the task of tearing off a strip of jerky, chewing it. She swallowed audibly, the silverglow bathing her face in light, like a second moon. “It’s the anniversary of this city’s destruction.” She told you. “I wish you could remember. I’ve told you this at least three times already.”
“But how does this relate to me? To us?” you asked.
She was silent for a moment. She knuckled something out of her eye. “You did this,” she told you. “You were chosen for a purpose. The fate of this city was only a part of that purpose…I suppose it doesn’t matter. You failed in the end, anyway.”
“Don’t ask me to tell you any more,” she said. “Please. I have already seen the breadth of your life. I know what you have done, and I will not recount it. Not until you are healed. I have already done this twice now.” She spat a globule of saliva into the white glow. It bubbled, simmered, and then was still.
You reached for it again, but Anthea caught your wrist and held it there, outstretched over the fire.
Her gaze met yours. “I told you not to touch it,” she said.
Your skin prickled against the heat of the spell. Your flexed your hand, as if you could move the pain out of it. “Anthea,” you said.
“I need you to trust me, Carth!”
Your hand felt red-hot, like metal fresh from a forge fire. “Anthea!” She was looking at you, but did not seem to see you. Not truly.
“I have seen you lain low, Carth. I have seen you from the moment you were born to the moment I stumbled into you. I know what this world has done to you and I know how to fix it. We can make things as they should be. We can fix it–“
“–But in order to do that I need you to listen to me so that we can get you back to the way you were before this. I can fix you, and I can fix myself, but first you need to listen to me–“
You pulled your hand free, falling back onto the uneven cobblestones behind you. The deadciv was spinning around you. You could hear the spell bubbling, distantly. It was dimmer now, and you felt a little colder. Anthea hadn’t moved. Her hand was stretched to a finger’s point over the silver-white pool.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
You propped yourself up on one elbow. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I don’t ever want you to get hurt. You know that, yes?”
“Of course,” you lied said.
“I’m your Mother,” she said. “Sort of,” she added. “In a sense.” She shrugged.
You tilted your head at her. “Are you my friend?”
Anthea pinched her eyes between two fingers. She looked at you for a while, squinting. She was silent, for a while then. “What am I doing?” she asked, and lowered her gaze to the ground. “To…to have friendship, Carth…you’d need to love someone. You’d have to be invested in making them happy. And these things. These emotions..friendship and love and happiness. It’s all so small. It lasts less than a second. A momentary pause. An momentary ideation in the mind of a chess player. Friendship? No…that’s not the right word for it. That doesn’t quite get across our…” she steeped her fingers, stared off into the distance for a moment. “…connection,” she finished.
“Connection,” you said. “Right.” And then: “I’m sorry?”
She blinked her surprise. “Let me try this: what brings you joy, Carth?”
You reeled a moment from that. Vertigo overtook you from the breadth of that question. You couldn’t even remember who you were. You couldn’t remember even yesterday.
And then something happened.
At was only two words, but across the empty canvas of memories, those two words sank into your mind, nestled there. Some long-forgotten woman’s voice. Not Anthea’s. Aos’s, mayhaps? She had whispered it to you, softly. Conspiratorially. Help me.
“Help…” you began. But that wasn’t quite the right word, in the same sense that quiet isn’t quite the same thing as silence. “Changing things. People.” You paused. “Finding joy,” you answered. “No matter how many days I live my life for the first time ever, I need to find joy. I need to find joy in life. It’s always a choice.”
You opened your journal and began leafing through the pages. “No matter how many deadcivs you camp out in…how many friends perish, in the end…how many times you visit a town full of cannibals…you need to find joy. The warm featherbed before the cannibal strolls through. Eating ashen corn with your friends, sharing it with a one legged boy.” You laughed. “Taunting yourself over your own stupid, stupid memory. Joy’s all I have. It’s all I have.”
She didn’t speak for some time. She simply stared at you, eyes wet and glistening glistening, but not quite crying. “You’re beautiful,” she managed to choke out. “I’ve missed you,” she said. “I spent so long looking for you and I just…I feel as though you’re remembering.” The contours of her headscarf hardened and she straightened her back. “What am I saying? The anniversary’s tomorrow. We ought to get some sleep. You must, leastways.”
“What about you?” you asked her.
“Do you remember what I said about us being followed?” she asked you. And when you told her that you didn’t, she explained it all to you. “I need to keep watch,” she explained. “The captain of the regiment sent out to hunt us has survived my avalanche. He searches for you, dogged as a hound.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I’ve met him before,” she said. “Same as you.”
Special thanks to my patron on Patreon, Alicia Cameron