Aphelion Issue 241, Volume 23
July 2019
 
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The Weaver of Gossamer Webs

by jaimie l. elliott


The man who stands before you is not an evil man. His knife held to your throat is not an instrument of vengeance. He and the blade function as one, and it is their duty to perpetuate the life and reign of a Tyrant who deserves to breathe his last.

"Save him," says the man, his cold eyes gray and unforgiving. "Save him or die."

You reply that you will do what you can, feigning a calmness that belies your terror. What else can you say?

Your assistants huddle in the corners of the room, their aura of fear cloying, muddling your already distracted mind.

You order them to bring the patient forth.

They pay no heed to your command, stricken with the same dread you hide inside.

Your fašade of calm cracks. Your body trembles. You demand again, this time bellowing. Your deceit lies naked for all to see.

The enchantment that holds them shatters due to the strength of your voice. In a flurry of robes, they open the doors and black clad soldiers carry into view a large man dressed in black steel armor.

Through the dusty blaze of sunlight, you see a face that is craggy yet youthful. How can someone so young carry within him innumerable seasons of malice?

They rest him on one of the tables. Tremors wrack the Tyrant's body, his face twisting, one moment mirthful, the next in agony.

Your people back away, wringing their hands as if rubbing away frost dusted from a devil.

You motion toward the Tyrant, your body still trembling.

Gray Eyes nods and removes his chill blade from your throat.

With tremulous steps, you weave through the mass of strangers and approach this dark man. Your sweaty, nervous hands lock on the side of the table, level with his head.

Hush now. Be serene. Open your mind to listen.

You cannot. You swim in a cacophony of turbulent thoughts. You complain there is too much noise. Too many minds speak. The black-clad soldiers must leave.

Gray Eyes, fast and lethal, darts forth and twists your arm.

You wince, your body doubled over.

"Do your job, mender," he hisses as he pulls his blade.

Your defiant eyes lock upward onto his. If you cannot hear, you cannot mend. Every moment spent arguing for the impossible brings the Tyrant closer to oblivion. You explain that his faint hope lies with you and that it grows dimmer with every trickle of sand cascading down the hourglass.

Gray Eyes pauses.

Your anger wanes to uncertainty as you wonder if you misconstrue his coldness as rationality.

He releases you and sheaths his knife.

Relief washes over you.

He nods to his men who in turn obey with reluctance, their bodies milling out through the door.

You become compliant. You ask Gray Eyes to stay.

"It was always my intention to remain," he says. He hides his anger but cannot secrete it from your prying mind.

Your impudence may result in retribution at a later time. Rubbing your wrist, you turn your attention to your staff. Be at peace, you say to yourself. Be one with tranquility.

You sense the mist clearing. There are thoughts, always churlish thoughts, but they are only faint echoes now. The act of probing is letting one's mind stray, guiding it without its knowledge of guidance...

The Tyrant's thoughts come quicker than you anticipate. You buckle from the onslaught of insanity, of two waves crashing against each other. You grimace and groan, staggering back into a chair, toppling it over.

You gasp at his fractured mind. The two halves of his brain battle with each other, a war that can have no victor. Agog, you stare at Gray Eyes. You ask how this malady was wrought.

"Through the artifices of an assassin," he replies.

You admire the handiwork. The specter of mending such a schism ices your spine, for it is suicide on your part. You consider facing the relatively clean death of Gray Eyes' blade.

The coward that you are takes timid steps toward the Tyrant. You ask for the other table and then direct your assistants to strap down both you and your malevolent burden.

They obey, rolling the table next to him.

You lie down, the Tyrant to your right. Underneath, you feel cold hardness through the thin blanket. The bindings, harsh lovers, fasten your body so that even your head cannot move.

Bitterness stains you as you gaze upward to the ceiling, the grains and patterns of the wood swirling in your vision. You had believed yourself significant, a friend of aristocrats and elite, with a web of connections to call upon for moments trivial and considerable. You realize the web mere gossamer, pretty with the dew of vanity, rent asunder when bulled through by the beast of dark forests. You exist as an insect underfoot.

You know Gray Eyes cares not for your welfare. Nor does anyone else, not really. You rage against the injustice as tears well in your eyes.

Hush now. Be serene. Open your mind to listen.

Unbidden, your people lend their assistance, their minds humming into the vacuum. It is a silent, harmonious wave. You close your eyes and settle within yourself. Your rage leaves you. You wander, this time prepared for the psychotic storm on the horizon.

Even so, there is no easing into this lunacy. It pulls you in and extinguishes your identity. You tumble along as you pitch over a waterfall into the maelstrom of his soul. You pull back but cannot stop your descent.

Through the Tyrant's eyes you see a nobleman, his clothes torn and soiled, trembling at your feet. You scream at this sniveling parasite kowtowing before you. He has failed you. Because of him, your enemy eludes your grasp. His whimpering entreaty only magnifies your ire. You have no patience with incompetent cowards. You raise your steel boot high in the air. Its black polish glistens in the torchlight. With a heavy stomp and a sickening crunch, you end the cretin's life in a gurgling poem. Your men wait in the shadows, emotionless, as you wipe your boot on the dank, stone floor. The cold of the dungeon cuts through the heat of your rage.

Snarling, you command the soldiers to slaughter the dead man's family and closest friends. Spare not the women, the children. Leave nary a soul untouched.

Again, you fall. Now you grasp the handle of the heavy oaken door, thrust it open, and march out from under the cover of your mother's thick coat. She yells at you to return to her. Panic chokes you as you glance around, your child's senses overwhelmed by the carnage around you, the smoke from the fires, the screams of dying innocents, the roar of blood-maddened raiders. You stumble over rubble, your wails unheard yet answered. Your mother beckons to you, stumbles after you.

Into a small crevice you collapse, the harsh womb created from the wreckage of someone's house. You turn to your mother. You lock eyes with her one final time as a sword caves in the side of her head. As tears stream down your face, you begin to cackle. Your face contorts as sobbing chuckles escape through your clenched teeth. You hug your knees, rocking back and forth in your tiny alcove, and the world twists and contorts while you laugh.

with the only woman you will ever love and will never admit. You see past the exterior of a whore, beyond her curly brunette locks. Her smile. It is her smile that captures your breath. You bury the hurt that gnaws within you, treating her as a queen, even as you acknowledge the fear in her deep, ebon eyes. You ignore the tension in her body as you roll her on her back. You lay on top of her, believing a fool's hope that she reciprocates your desires. Your tender fingers

claw away at her clothes. You slake your thirst with her screams, her blonde hair a tangled mess in your hand. Her brother, a dispirited, bloody shell now, watches bound nearby. As your revulsion grows with your actions, so does your determination. You will not be swayed. One day you will be king, and through these souls will you march. You raise your bloody fist

in triumph. The people of the Long Frost cheer you. The Savior! You have delivered them from destruction. The young ones, faces dirty, eyes wide, gaze up in wonder at you. You see yourself long ago in their eyes. A fleeting vision of your mother. For the first time that season, you feel

alone, in the darkness. You see a light in the distance. Will you escape your enemies this time? You run

across a bridge. The icy river below churns, a roaring

lion pacing the bloody sands of the arena where

crimson stained swords, crossed

overhead as a

signal

an ambush

wails

endless

mem...or...ies

overwhelming all

at once

all

each

you

him

mi...

nds ten

...uo

...us

snap snapping

is

thi...

s

death?

no

no!

wha...

t litt...

le remains

your essence pulls

the halves

together against the

gravity. You recall who you

are. Remember who you are not. You saw

with the Tyrant's eye. You are not him. You are not him. You are

you once more, whole again.

Yet your triumph is short lived. Your identity blurs once more as the Tyrant's mind crumbles. Only your resolve holds together the slipping fragments. The entropy increases. Your ethereal fingers fail. There shall be no saving him. You know death awaits your failure, yet you cannot fight the instinct to survive. Better to die by the blade than to lose one's soul. You thrash about, a drowning man gasping for air. You lunge, disoriented, unsure of ascent or descent, port or starboard. A painful kaleidoscope hammers your vision.

Consciousness collapses.

Grayness. Darkness. Only breathing now.

####

You listen to the wonderful sound, the rush of air in and out of your lungs. With fluttering eyelids, you awake. The grains of the ceiling come into focus. Your head is still bound. With a raspy voice, you whisper to be unloosened. To your surprise, Gray Eyes looms, his worried face hovering above you.

He forgoes unbuckling, instead slicing away your restraints with his knife. Your head flops to the right for a glimpse the Tyrant, to see your failure, to acknowledge your doom.

You see a wall.

Confused, you swivel to the left and see not the Tyrant, but yourself.

You sit up. In a fugue, you look upon the black armor encasing you. You flex your powerful hands. These are not the fingers of a mender, slender but callused from countless hours with mortar and pestle, grinding herbs and roots for poultices and philters. These are the appendages of a killer.

Gray Eyes awaits your command. His brow creases with concern.

You look down upon your former body. You seem so peaceful, so fragile.

You take Gray Eyes' knife from him. Apprehension gleams in his eyes. With the Tyrant's memory, you know he should fear. He does not move. He accepts his fate. For the first time, you are that beast wandering dark forests.

Raising the knife, you plunge down, down into the chest.

Your former body shudders as blood erupts from the mouth. Your former assistants, unaware of the exchange of souls, shriek and moan.

You say the mender knows too much, pointing to your head. Gray Eyes nods. He accepts your behavior as proper.

You walk out, your guards falling into formation around you. You leave the knife behind, impaled in your previous self. With the Tyrant's memories, you can act this false play to its final scene.

Yours will be a sad life, a lonely life. It will be endless days of fearing shadows, of striking foes both real and suspected. Some would argue it is the false memories that corrupt you. Others would rationalize your behavior on the need to survive, as the only option available to you.

However, in the end, the truth is that you, the weaver of gossamer webs, were never so good to begin with.

THE END


© 2010 jaimie l. elliott

Bio: Mr. Elliott currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia, where he spends much of his time working as a project manager for IBM. His first love is fantasy, although he dabbles in poetry and literary fiction as well. He won first prize in the short fiction category in the Georgia Writers Association yearly contest and has been published in Aphelion (most recently Blue Sky, April 2009, and the Mare Inebrium story Midlife Crisis, written for the February 2009 Aphelion Forum Flash Challenge) and Swords Edge.

E-mail: jaimie l. elliott

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