I awaken. Or, whatever the true term may be when I arrive in my conscious form here on Mystix.
Here, deep in the catacombs of North Spire. Here, within the Tomb of Eryk Solbourne. Where I was laid to rest, and where I am now a ghost.
It’s been a day since I last arrived here in my tomb, and I expected a continuation of the same chaotic events that filled my previous dream.
Instead, this place is just as empty as it was before. Moreso, considering that two of my three companions are now gone—Miss M is missing, and Rare is gone.
Only Malia, my one-time lover, aged well into her hundreds, faces me with that wrinkled, beautiful face of hers.
A beautiful, wonderful liar whose entire life was dedicated to deceiving me.
“Eryk,” she says when she notices me.
“You’re the one on guard duty?” I ask.
“Someone has to make sure you’re safe,” Malia tells me.
“I’m dead, you know.”
We look at each other for a while, just trying to understand the other through expression alone. We spent years together. We should be able to know everything the other is ever thinking. But I realize that my assumption here is almost completely flawed. I know less than nothing about Malia, about what she truly may be feeling at this very moment.
She has lived four of my lifetimes. She has had many lovers, many companions, many roles in society. I cannot fathom her, cannot understand the things that surely must be swirling in her head right now.
And yet, despite all of that, I am left with absolutely no surprise when the first thing out of Malia’s mouth is, “I’m sorry, Eryk. I should have been better.”
“I cannot forgive you,” I say, “but I can sympathize for your guilt.” I look around the Tomb of Eryk Solbourne, and ask, “Where are the others?”
“Fighting the New Slayers,” she tells me. “They are giving everything they’ve got to preserve your existence.”
“But only because Rare wants me for their insidious plans to overthrow The Goddess?”
Malia shakes her head. “Because they love you. You’re their brother.”
“I’ve known Rare for many years, and I cannot gain such a sense from them,” I say. “They are far too focused on their plans to understand something as unproductive as love.”
“You are foolish indeed, Eryk Solbourne.” Malia laughs in that way only someone who has lived the aged existence of countless decades can. “That must be why I loved you so.”
A silence sets over us the moment after she lets those words loose from her lips.
“You truly loved me,” I say. “It wasn’t merely an illusion.”
Malia scoffs. “I wasn’t given a task to seduce you, if that’s what you mean! I fell for you of my own accord. You were simply that charming. And yet… I regret it.”
“Not because of you,” she says. “Because of me. Because of our power imbalance. I knew your secret past, and I used that to gain your heart. I had a lifetime of experience in age while you were a young, memory-free [Adventurer] with a pure heart. I took advantage of you. Our relationship revealed the depths to which I could sink.”
“All of that is true. Except for one thing—you have sunken to no depths at all.”
“I am a monster,” she says.
“You’re wrong,” I say. “You’re wrong. An amazing woman like you shouldn’t be so wrong.”
Malia mutters something in that Ancient Elven tongue that I can only partially parse. She mutters swears at herself, and then says something disparaging to me. I take it in stride. “I’m not worth loving anymore, Eryk.”
“I never said I still loved you.”
“Yes you did. you said it with your eyes.”
I blink a few times, or whatever the ghostly approximation of such a reflex may be. “I…”
“I don’t love you anymore, Eryk. You may be the same man you were when you died, but I have lived another eighty years. I’ve been married since then. I’ve had children. Grandchildren. You and I were together only a few cycles of our world around its sun. It was good while it lasted, but it was not an everlasting love.”
At this, Malia blushes.
“Perhaps I don’t love you anymore, either,” I say. “Perhaps there is someone on Earth who is more worth loving. Someone who I can spend the rest of my mortal life with.” There is not, but I want to make her jealous just by insinuating that notion.
“Then be with them,” she says. “We need nothing more than to be comrades in this final task.”
One more utterance, and she’s back to her normal self. Eighty years older, and she’s just as ravishing as ever.
“Malia, shall we make love one last time? A keepsake of our time together?”
My proposition succeeds. “Eryk, I would like nothing more,” she says.
“There is only one problem,” I say.
“I’m a ghost.”
“No matter. We shall make it work anyway.”
Her clothes are on the dusty floor by the time I can truly even consider this notion.
We do, in fact, make it work.
This will be our last time together, I already know. But I am simply glad to be with a friend I used to love.