Amoria never dies.
That was the fairy tale, the children’s rhyme. The story they told in hushed whispers around the campfire. Everyone knew the myth, though the exact origins of her immortality differed from region to region and from person to person.
In the forgotten forests, they say Amoria was a guardian of the grove, the greatest amongst them, who gave her life defending the green. For her loyalty, the Druid Gods gifted her with eternity.
Across the isle, Amoria was a cautionary tale. A thief, drunk on dreams of divinity, that challenged the waters themselves to a game of dice. But the waters need not gold, and the thief foolishly wagered the one thing she held claim to: her death.
Over the thousand stories, Amoria wore a thousand faces and lived a thousand lives. She was a princess in one, and a beggar in the next. The mother of sin, and the angel to bring salvation. The only constant was that one phrase.
Amoria never dies.
“Is it true?” asked the King, sat upon a throne too big for him. He was a decade shy of manhood but his voice filled the lonely hall.
The woman knelt before him, head lowered. When she spoke, her words carried no echo. When she spoke, her words were only meant for him. “Is my word not enough?”
“Charlatans have stood where you stand now. It is not uncommon for a desperate mother to claim herself the immortal, if only to court a few coins for her hungry child.”
“Is there another way to prove myself? Would you not rather see me breathe fire or bend steel?”
“I cannot die, but that does not mean I cannot feel the sensation of death. It is a pain I would rather avoid.”
The King shook his head. “Magicians breathe fire and bend metal, but only Amoria is immortal.”
He tried to sound condescending, as every king should, though underneath, Amoria could hear his subtle zeal. Though he was a king, he was still a boy. He had a curiosity and wonder for the fantastical, as every boy should.
Amoria stood and plucked her sword from its sheath. The white blade sang as she moved it through the air and guided it to her neck. At this point, the boy King could not hide his marvel. He leaned forward, eyes wide, teetering on the throne’s edge.
She pushed the sword inwards; slowly so that there could be no confusion. She felt it carve through her flesh, lodge in her throat like a fishbone, then break through the other side to meet air.
“Is this sufficient?” she asked.
The boy could not stop smiling. “You are Amoria! You are! The deathless, the everlasting!”
“Would his majesty like to see anything else?” She slid the sword out. Muscle and skin moulded over the wound like clay until not even a scar remained. “I can beckon the mountain above us to quiver at your behest, or the passerines to sing for your good health– ”
Her lips froze. The throne was empty and the boy was before her. Even with her slight hunch, he had to tip his head to meet her gaze. Before she could speak, he knelt. One hand rested on her knee and the other raised to cup her chin, though he could not reach it. The pose of supplication. It was meant for beggars and peasants, the ultimate gesture of humility, and bound by the laws of the mountain, she must hear his plea. Even Amoria had made it many times, but for as long as she had lived, never had a king taken the position.
“No,” she said, barely a whisper. “You cannot.”
“I must, and the mountains bid you to hear my request. Even the deathless is subject to this tradition.”
He was right, and so she waited for him to continue.
“My forefathers carved this mountain,” the King said. “Perhaps even before you became immortal. They made it the home of my people and we have stayed here for eons, for the mountain provides for us. But the mountain is dying.”
“The mountain is a beast of its own, like a horse or a wolf. I cannot tame it, and thus, my people suffer. The mountain’s milk runs dry and the fruits of its stone rot. So I beg of you, Amoria.”
He dropped his head and pressed both hands against the cold floor. It was supplication no longer, but rather the pose of worship. “I beg of you. Save us.”
Amoria gripped him by the arm and lifted him before his head could touch the ground. The pose was incomplete.
“Why do you lower yourself so?” she asked.
“Because I am the weakest king of my lineage. I am young and inexperienced and sickly, and this is the only thing I can do to protect my kingdom. I have nothing to offer you but my pride.”
“Then I understand the pose of supplication, but worship and prayer? Though I am deathless and eternal, I am no God. I can breathe fire and bend steel, yet I am still bound by the laws of this world. I cannot bring you good harvest, or bless your soldiers in war. I am flesh and blood.”
“Flesh and blood infinite.”
“But flesh and blood all the same.” Amoria gripped him tighter. “You are better off giving your offerings to the groves or the waters. They can answer your prayer where I cannot, for I am no god.”
She expected him to hesitate, even for a moment, for it was only human to doubt. Instead, he ripped his arm from her grasp and his head pressed into the ground. The pose of worship was complete.
“You are to us,” said the mountain king.
There were a thousand things she might have told him. He was still a child and a particularly foolish one at that. Only foolish children still believed in the myth of Amoria, and only the most foolish amongst them would entrust the fate of thousands to a fairy tale. How could he be so stupid?
Amoria’s lips parted to speak those angry words. She wanted to see him hurt, to show him the pain of reality. As a burnt child fears fire, perhaps he would be a better king for it.
But when she tried to talk, she found that she could not. His body was shivering, and his chest rose and fell shallowly with every breath. The journey from the throne to her was enough to exhaust him, and the cold of the ground was enough to leave him freezing.
He was a boy as much as he was a king, and should she not expect a boy to be naive? Should she not expect a boy to believe in fragile things like fairy tales and miracles? As much as she hated it, she did not wish to see his innocence stolen, and especially not to be the one to steal it.
Something shifted in her then, like a thawing river in spring.
“Do you not bring offerings when you pray?” she questioned.
“If my pride is not enough,” he said, “you may ask anything of me. If it is within my power, it is yours.”
“Gods are arrogant creatures. Even the god of harvest is rarely satisfied with an offering of fruit, and to be deathless is a dark magic. If I was a god, would I not be the cruellest and most vile of them all?”
She pulled at his chin, tugging his face to hers. He did not resist.
“What would you say,” she proposed. “If I demanded to quench my thirst with the blood of mountain kings?”
Finally, Amoria saw the precipice of panic in his eyes. He was old enough to understand his mortality and young enough to fear it.
“You asked me to save your people,” the immortal said. “So you must understand: giving life is the most arcane and powerful of all magic because it is the progenitor. Only death is its equal. That is why you must die.
“However, your death cannot be quick either. Death may be the equal of life, but pain is its antithesis. Tell me, how old are you?”
The boy struggled to get his words out. “Ten.”
“Ten years of life you were gifted.” Amoria lifted her sword and rested it on his shoulder. “So not only must you die, your death must be most torturous. A pain so great, it encompasses a decade’s worth of existence.”
“Is…is it bearable?”
She smiled. “Not for a mortal.”
He did not blink. “And my kingdom will be saved? You swear by it?”
“Of course not.” She watched the boy’s despair grow. “If a god granted every wish, we would have no famine and war.”
He closed his eyes. “But it will help?”
“A worthy offering may sway the odds in your favour, though it is never absolute.”
“I understand.” His expression was so genuine, she could easily read his thoughts: if it helps my people, that is all that matters. “If the cost is my life, then it is a bargain. Do it. Strike me.”
“No. You must do it yourself.”
Immediately, the King wrapped his fingers around the width of the sword. He dug deep, as much as his delicate frame would allow him, and Amoria’s white blade leaked crimson. Slowly, he wrenched it until the sword-point was at his neck, the same spot Amoria had stabbed herself.
The King took one long final look at his mountain hall. Crystal lamp hung high from the rocky ceiling. Against the dark stone, gaping at their yellow lights was like stargazing in the open plains. Even thirty thousand feet of stone could not stop one from witnessing the beauty of the night sky.
He breathed deeply and pulled.
There was no pain. No wound, other than the ones on his palms. The sword was gone from his hands.
“It is done,” said Amoria, sheathing her weapon.
He blinked. “I do not understand.”
“I have told you already. I am no god. I have no power beyond the simple magics, no domain to call my own except the salt that belongs to all men. I take no offerings as I can fulfil no prayers.”
“But…death and pain. The magic of life. Were they lies?”
“They are truth. There is powerful magic in death and pain, but as I possess no divinity, I have not the capacity to harness them.” She pulled out bandages from her coat pocket. “I only sought to test your sovereignty.”
Amoria held his hands with all the grace one would use when caressing rose petals. She began to apply the bandages to his wounds. “To the east, the Great East, where is a winter that never ceases. There, where no other life grows, blooms a single flower once a year: a peony, said to bring reclamation. I will help you find it.”
“So you’ll help us?” beamed the boy.
“You are still better off praying to real gods, but if you insist on the assistance of an old woman, I will grant you it. Remember though, I can give you no guarantee and for that I am sorry.”
He shook his head. “No, that is more than enough. You have brought hope.”
When she finished bandaging his hands, she said, “there is another thing I must tell you.”
“Speak,” said the King. It was a request and not an order.
“You may be young and inexperienced.” Amoria the deathless knelt before him, one arm across her chest. “But you are the greatest king I have ever known. Do not let another soul tell you otherwise.”
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