The two of them stood across from one another, in the upper courtyard of the castle—in one final duel for the fate of this world. Down below, blood ran like water down the streets of the capital, black and red alike—the blood of demons and man, alike only in death. The smell of burnt offerings filled the air around them, the smell of the apocalypse.
Only one human was still alive here. He, the Hero of this world, was the last to stand against the darkness that had befallen this world. He had only barely enough energy to haul himself to a standing position—angry red cuts riddled his body, his vision swam, his legs threatened to give out at any moment...yet he held up his sword in both hands, gripping it as tightly as he could.
In front of him, stood a minotaur, huffing black smoke...the Demon King. The fabled Demon King, whom the Hero had been summoned to this world to kill. To wipe off the face of this earth, and bring everlasting peace...
“...I can see that look in your eyes. Ah, how grand...” the Demon King said, his growl causing the very air to tremble. “You finally understand what I meant...”
The Hero only glared at the King. Evil deserves no response.
“...hatred fuels anger,” the King said, as he withdrew his greatsword from the fresh corpse at his feet, “and anger fuels strength.”
That corpse was of the second to last human left alive in this hellish scene. She had survived until almost the very end.
The Hero fought with everything he had to keep his eyes focused on the King. Fought to keep his gaze up, fought to keep his eyes away from the corpse.
But his eyes flicked down, for only a moment...and that image was burned into his mind forevermore.
Something deep within him snapped, then. A rush of power overtook him, rushing down invisible arteries and through his hands, wrapping him in a cloak of pulsing crimson magic. He felt power overwhelming him like never before—unlike the power given to him from years of training, of traveling, learning everything he could...this was a wild, raw power borne of desperation. Borne of anger.
“...ah, what’s this? This incredible strength—it only arose after this one’s death. ...did you not care about your other companions, then? About those below you in this great capital, that you failed equally so?”
“Shut up. Shut the hell up...!”
The King straightened, and stepped over the corpse, and drew closer. The Hero didn’t move, and only stood his ground.
Upon the King’s minotaur snout, a smile appeared.
“...I will lose this fight,” the King said, upon seeing this newfound power surging through the Hero. “I will die on this day, and my kingdom will crumble...” he sighed, and lowered his head, shaking it. After a moment of silence, he rose it again, and resumed his fated standoff with the Hero. “No matter. I welcome it. ...Salvia, consider this your eternal victory...”
And as an updraft from the burning town below them blew through, it caught the King’s cloak and let it flutter behind him—as he ripped it from his body and threw it away, the lead weights sewed into it crashing into the ground with a heavy thunk. And as the Hero watched in silence, crimson power still rushing through his body, the King took his greatsword and threw it away, wherein it hit one of the stone walls of the castle keep and buried itself four feet into the stone.
And the King smirked one final time, crouched into a fighting stance, and lowered his head as his own magic power oozed from him, painting his aura a dark purple. The Hero’s crimson aura billowed out and strengthened in response...
Preparing for one final charge each, in the eye of this apocalypse, each stepped forward,
And they disappeared.
A moment later, they both stood, near frozen, in the center of their arena. The Hero had driven his sword straight into the Demon King’s chest, impaling him. The King’s claws were mere inches from the Hero’s face, inches away from tearing it to shreds.
The King stumbled for a moment, and pressed a hand to the sword where it entered his chest. A small, purple magic circle surrounded his hand and blinked into and out of existence for a mere moment—and the Hero took a step and drove his sword further through the King’s chest. The King still smiled, as he opened his mouth, only for his words to disappear into a fount of black blood.
Through it, though, the King said his final words.
The Hero realized the King’s intent a moment too late, as that purple aura continued drawing power even as the Hero kept his sword buried in the King’s chest, and began to decay. All he could do was raise his hands from his sword, and stumble backwards, as the King’s self-destruction magic primed itself, turning all the energy it had parasitized from the King into the explosive charge.
As the Hero closed his eyes and covered his face, all the energy the magic had gathered flashed to existence all at once, and from the body of the King, a wave of complete darkness slammed into the Hero, throwing him backwards,
And the Demon King was no more.
13,547 years after the defeat of the Demon King.
The Hero blinked, and he roused slumped against a tree.
His vision was blurred for a second, but he soon blinked it away only to be greeted by forest. He sighed, and laid his head back, against the bark of the tree, and glanced upwards.
This was a forest of redwoods. Hundred-foot tall old-growth trees surrounded him, only their tops adorned with branches and leaves. A humid smell hung heavy in the air, perhaps the remnants of last night’s rain—either way, it didn’t stop the birds from singing and prancing about in the air...
He smiled a bit, at the air come alive above him. Amongst the redwoods, life flourished. Ferns and small shrubs ruled the ground, the trees the top, and the birds the middle. His memory switched on, then, and conjured up a scene from at least ten lifetimes ago...
A thousand years. A thousand years ago, the land was a barren wasteland—stumps of even older, even greater redwoods dotted the rolling hills. A faint smell of horses and men and toil lingered in the air; he remembered the scene painted in his mind from the top of a hill, looking down over this land...
Once the lumberjacks had left this place the first time, there was only silence.
“...a thousand...years...” he said, his voice hoarse and whisper quiet from disuse. It used to annoy him to no end when he’d open his mouth to speak to a traveler, only to find his throat just spasming the moment he tried to speak, so he’d taken to practicing every once in awhile. So as to keep that memory of language fresh. “A thousand...years, these trees have lived... A thousand years...” he repeated. “But, to me...”
He tried to never forget the weight of a thousand years. He’d promised himself that after his first millennium spent alive, that he’d never forget the enormity of that time scale. The weight, the significance of a thousand years, of ten centuries put together... But no matter how many times he reminded himself of it, and thought about the scale of it... It still ultimately meant little to him, compared to the 12 others he’d lived.
But being long-lived did allow some benefits...namely, watching an ancient forest grow up before his very own eyes. He smiled wistfully at that. Yes, his brain said to him in praise, look for the positives...
As his brain then conjured images of the memory he’d just dreamt of.
...come to think of it, why did he remember that time, of all times? Out of all the redwood forests of his memories, why had his mind instead decided to dredge up the earliest memory he had, and show it to him again? Maybe it was just to mock him...
Memory had replaced dreams long ago for him; perhaps the depths of his memory was deeper than any dream his mind could conjure up. At first, he would be whisked back to some point far, far in the past, looking down at his past self as he did irresponsible things. Strange things would still happen in those though, so they would still end up as hybrids of memory and dreams...
But now, two thousand years after his mind had run out of dreams to dream, his memory was all that was left. And all his mind could think to give him were perfect recreations of what he remembered. Even if those perfect recreations were more painful than pleasant—one lifetime spent floating in an ocean current was not exactly pleasant, nor were the few years buried under a collapsed glacier before he managed to melt his way out without dying in the process, or even the 186 years he’d spent as the patron saint of a shrine—countless memories, even as long and as large as those, would return to him in the nighttime.
But overall, he liked those memories. Found solace in them. Even in the awful ones, the painful ones, the violent ones, he still liked them—spinning the roulette of memory made the chore of sleeping interesting.
Ultimately, part of that roulette was that occasionally, it landed on something painful. The horrible, creeping pain he felt in his stomach as the memory was brought to the forefront of his mind—however detached his mind was from it now, it was still there.
He pondered that idly as he rose, groaning as his body creaked and aches shot through him from sitting scrunched up against a tree all night. From the damp of his tunic, he figured it’d rained during the night—not enough to soak it through, but enough to change the smell of the air.
He rooted around behind him with one hand, drew his sack onto his lap, and rooted around amongst the contents. He soon produced a piece of bread—it was once a roll of some sort, but as of last night, time and air had nearly turned it into hardtack...
So perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that it was now damp and spongy, as it made the eating situation easier for him.
Without so much as a moment of hesitation, he bit it, ripped off a piece, and went through the motions of eating required for his body to stay alive. It tasted soggy, musty, and slightly sharp, but it was better to eat it unmolded and gross now as opposed to molded and even grosser later.
And so, with that weary conviction as strength, he ripped off another piece and wolfed it down as he tied the ends of his sack together so it was slung over his shoulder, and he continued onwards, admiring the birds.