The Story of Tata Chapter 23

An Old Man's Advice

By The Man

    Porre.  The fishing capital of the world and the largest town on the southern continent.  A tranquil place where people come from all over the world to experience the beauty, the wondrous food, and the kind people.  Everyone is at home there, townsfolk and foreigners alike.  Walking down the hilly roads, a person notices the green grass and red orchards of the distant forest.  They hear a quiet murmur form the village and the sounds of wildlife.  They are intermingled, these tones of life, creating a pleasant sound that soothes the soul.  In a few words, the town is beautiful, peaceful, and calm.

    But that is the Porre of 1000 AD, a place where war is but a frightful memory in the minds of those who wish to remember it.  That was not the Epoch’s destination, or rather its passenger’s destination.  Ironic to desire the place of war as opposed to the place of peace, Tata thought idly as his machine parted the clouds ahead and entered the era 600 AD.  Though the war was about a year over (he’d done that on purpose, so people would recognize his age better), the scars it had left behind still marred the world.  As the Epoch flew lower over the village of Truce, he saw an enormous graveyard in the northern hills.  Tata did not want to count them all, for the Epoch at this speed would have been gone before he could complete even a twentieth of it.  That’s too many graves, he thought in astonishment and horror.  Far too many.  He knew that the Mystics did not traditionally bury their dead, but rather purged their bodies, so he saw no graves on the Eastern Continent where the Mystics had reigned.  Rather, the air seemed unnaturally dusty, with many blackened particles slapping the window of the Epoch.  Tata shuddered and pushed the Epoch faster.

     Porre.  The town nearest to the Mystic hordes’ homeland.  A desolate, burned-out town full of sand from the nearby desert with an air that is always humid, cold or hot.  Visitors are looked at with suspicion; the suspicion of a town of people who have seen the mistrust and dishonor war brings on people.  People do not walk in this town; they shuffle, trudging from one place to another with sometimes no sense of where they are going at all.  The ground is hard and the trees are all but gone, replaced by twisted, gnarled shrubs.  The grass is dry and a sickly yellow, like a rotten fruit, and the farmers that tend to it do it with minimal care and interest.  All in all, the town was not pleasant.  In a few words, it is ugly, dry, and depressing. 

     This was Tata’s home.  He made sure to conceal the Epoch enough that the townsfolk wouldn’t notice it.  Heaven knows that it would probably start a riot, Tata thought sadly.  He parked the great vehicle a few miles out of town and put up a ward that would burn anyone who touched it.  He felt cold doing that, but it was necessary. 

     His skin was completely moistened in less than a minute; coming from a land of biting winds and blizzards, his clothing was most unfit for his land.  Undoing his cape, he surveyed his surroundings.  The Cursed Woods lay off to the west about a mile, but the trees were all dry and putrid; Tata could see that even from his current standpoint.  He recognized the area, more or less.  When he had left, winter would have been coming on in a few months, so naturally things had been dying.  But not like this.  The remains of the war lay all around in an unnatural form, twisting the land to death and nothingness.  It made Tata’s skin crawl.

     Now, with his cape over one shoulder, gloves off and his sleeves rolled up, he was still sweating profusely.  The bandana around his head was already damp, and he did not want to tarry any longer near the Epoch.  He walked, unarmed through the land in a strait line.  He was heading to his house, and from there, through town.  To an observer, he was just a young man with muscles more than adequate to get him into Guardia’s army, if not the Knights Square.

But anyone who looked closer would notice the scars on his body, his firm wrists, and they would know that he was a warrior.  A killer.

    But that was not how Tata felt.  He felt weak on his legs as he trudged on his own path to his former home.  He felt like a child, scared and helpless in a world full of horrors with no one to protect him.  But that was fine with him.  At least when he was young, he was happy, and that was what he wanted to feel now.  He wanted to escape this insane world with Grendel and Kane, if only for a week.  He just wanted to be able to not worry anymore.

    An hour more brought him to the front door of his house.  Oddly, no one appeared to live there; the house was dusty and untouched since he had last been there.  Summoning a wind, Tata swept the dust out of the house.  Inside, he saw the bowls and plates of the meal he had had the last morning he had been there.  The morning Minka died.  Looking to his right, he saw the beds where he and Minka had slept, still with the covers kicked back.  He was so exhausted that he simply trudged forward to them and pitched onto the mattress of the nearest bed.  His last thought before drifting off was a memory: this had been the last bed Minka had slept in.

     Tata stood there, scythe in hand, surveying his surroundings for danger.  Not a sword, but a scythe, one that resembled Janus’ own murderous weapon.  The curved tip dripped with someone’s blood, but Tata did not care who’s it was, for it wasn’t important in the slightest.  About thirty paces away stood Minka in a flowing white gown.  She stared at him solemnly, but said nothing.  He began to run at her, but it was if he waded through molasses, and the faster he tried to go only proved to slow him down further.  Then quite suddenly, he was standing right beside her.  He held out his arm to her and called silently to her, trying to say that he loved her.  She began to cry; thin streams of tears falling from her eyes that made Tata want to cry as well.  She held out her arm as well, but when their fingers touched, her form shattered to a large pile of mirror shards.  Staring down at the fragments of what had supposedly been the girl he loved, he saw images of her on each shard, each one different, yet familiar to him.  Then, slowly but steadily, he began to walk through the shards.  Tata realized that he did not wear any boots or shoes of any kind, but he didn’t care.  Each step cut his feet and screamed pain like a thousand spear wounds, but he still couldn’t bring himself to care about how he felt.  By the time he had crossed the shards his feet were shredded.  Collapsing on his knees, he began to cry silently.  He wasn’t sure why he did.

     Tata looked down and saw himself staring right back.  A heavy broadsword protruded from his chest, casting his face back at him.  He felt no pain from the wound, but then he looked up into the face of the person who held the hilt of the sword and again he saw himself.  His killer looked at him through cold gray eyes, uncaring stones devoid of emotion.  No one could ever love those eyes, no one could hold their own under that gaze, and Tata felt himself tremble.  He tried to scream, but his voice was gone. 

     Then he leapt at his opponent, not knowing that the sword was no longer in his chest.  His opponent now held it, wearing the face of Grendel.  The blade was now his black katana, but Grendel’s blocks barely sufficed to hold off the blows dealt by Tata’s bloody scythe.  Tata slashed under with the endpoint of his weapon and Grendel blocked, but he paid for it with a slash in the arm.  Tata pulled his weapon back to deal the deathblow to his hated foe, but then his eyes fell upon him, and he saw Minka once again standing in front of him.  His arms slackened and he lowered his weapon. 

     Then, just before he would have dropped his murdering weapon and embraced the joy of love, Minka dove at him, transforming into Janus, his blood red eyes staring murder at his son.  Tata’s scythe weakly came up to block the blow, but Janus’ own scythe came up hard and slammed the weapon out of his grasp.  Tata stared at his father as he tried to decide to run or attack.  His fists clenched and he began to close his eyes, before noticing his right hand held something.  He looked down and saw his hand, gloved in black, holding a weapon of the likes he had never seen before.  It was like a sword, yet not quite.  The handle curved a little and had a trigger at the place where the handle and blade joined.  The blade was thick and powerful, but Tata had no idea what it was, much less how to use it.

     He looked up and found himself dressed in black.  No time!  Janus dove at him, scythe hissing through the air as it moved to cut through him like a fruit.  Tata moved his blade to block it and the two weapons connected in a shower of sparks.  The two weapons quivered with their master’s strength, and Tata found himself pushing Glenn back, even if one step at a time.  Glenn?  Tata’s fierce gray eyes met Glenn’s own hazel orbs.  But Tata only pressed down harder, forcing his friend to one knee.  Then, a voice spoke.

     “What is it that you strive for, Tata?”

     Glenn’s mouth had not spoken, but it was his voice.  Then, Glenn’s handsome features melted into that of Grendel.  He looked different; his hair was short and blonde, and he barely resembled Len at all, but Tata knew it was he, the man who had murdered so many.  No one could make his heart boil like Grendel could.

     “We were exiled from the afterlife because we are destined to fight.”

     This time it was Grendel’s voice, but again, his mouth had not budged.  Grendel suddenly pushed his arms forward, unexpectedly throwing Tata back, allowing him to get a good look of Grendel’s new guise.  A long coat the color of dust and dark clothing underneath, but Tata had no time for any more observation.  Grendel moved like a snake and struck upward with his similar weapon.  Tata’s blade stopped it dead at his waist, and momentarily, Tata struck out with his left fist.  His blow connected with Grendel’s jaw.  His foe drew back and stood poised on his toes.

     “What’s the matter Beowulf?  Scared?”  The mysterious voice once again sounded, using Grendel’s voice.  Tata screamed in rage and charged forward.  Exactly one second later, he stopped dead, a look of terror on his face.

     The man before his was no longer the blonde-haired young man with Grendel’s eyes.  He wore a robe of black that did not stir as he lifted his arms to the heavens and laughed a silent laugh.  His face was pale gray, like that of a corpse, except that this corpse was very much alive.  Not enough to be human, though.  His hair was a black mane and his eyes were blackness upon blackness, save for the red slit that ran vertically through the middle of each eye. 

     Beowulf was the ultimate warrior of the Light.  He had faced down Grendel countless times, and had done the same to an army that had annihilated a continent, all by himself.  Yet here before him was the only man other than the gray-haired one Tata had seen in his nightmares that sent fear strait into his heart. 

     The former twin of Janus.  Ruling sorcerer of the Black Arts.  The destroyer of worlds.  A man whose eyes had been designed to drain the life from those their gaze touched, and a murderer of millions.  Kane.

     Beowulf had fought Kane before.  He had gotten the better of him more than once and had managed to seal him away in a realm no one could reach.  But that was after Kane had stolen the godly Heartstone Gauntlets; relics than held seniority over time itself and gave the wearer immortality and power beyond human comprehension.  Through this, He had managed to destroy whole continents, millions of people at a time.  His powers were without limits to everyone except Aladren and Beowulf, who finally managed to seal him away.  But it had cost them their lives.

     Now this man that made worlds crack and crumble stood before Tata, the Heartstone Gauntlets on His forearms, laughing silently.  Tata’s trembling hands gripped the handle of his strange weapon and he lunged.  Kane lowered his head and smiled a cold smile.  Tata growled as His eyes touched him, but he continued his charge.  His blade cut through the air towards Kane’s chest, but He parried it with his unbreakable, gauntleted arms.  Tata pulled back and dodged to the right.  He swung his blade to his left, but the blow was parried.  All the while Kane smiled. 

     But Tata already seemed to know how to use his unique weapon, and Kane’s tactics were surprisingly weak.  Tata spun and sliced vertically from ground to Kane’s head.  Kane’s guard flailed to the side slightly and that was all Tata needed.  Spinning again to his left, he swung his blade high.  His eyes caught sight of Kane unaware that the blade was inches from his neck.  There was a sickening sound as Tata felt his sword being slightly resisted.  Then the blade was free and the sound of something heavy hitting earth emitted in Tata’s ears. 

     Tata realized he had his eyes tightly shut.  Upon opening them, he saw Kane’s body lying front first on the ground, his unnaturally colored head a few feet away.  Wait.  Tata looked closer and he saw the hair was different.  Violet, long, but not as long as his former opponents.  The skin was not gray, but tan, and Tata had a sickening feeling about who it was.  Now he was looming over the head, but the head somehow had been moved so it looked up into Tata’s eyes.  Him.  He was staring at his own head.

     It was then that Tata woke up.  His eyes simply opened suddenly, and he was not surprised to find that it had all been a…what?  What was it?  A dream or a premonition?  A vision or a memory?  He could not tell, for already the memories of the dream were fading away.  He sat up and put his head in his hands, trying to call the images back, but to no avail. 

     Abruptly, he heard a squall from upstairs and immediately following it, a small, winged, yellow creature flew down the staircase and into the room.  It circled around the room about five times, crying all the time, before flying right back up the stairs again.  Tata stared in bewilderment, somehow recognizing the creature, yet not quite…

     Tata made a decision, stood up and went up the stairs himself.  He froze suddenly as there was a crashing of glass and a chilling silence.  Tata managed to make the final steps up to his room.  It was evening now, and since his room had no windows, it was dark, but not so dark that Tata could not check out his surroundings.  He saw that his bed was gone and remembered that it was downstairs.  He also saw the limp body of the small, yellow creature lying on the floor in a mess of broken glass shards.  Tata walked over and squatted to check the creatures pulse.  There was none.  Then he noticed something: the “glass shards” did not appear to be glass at all, but a black, crystalline that did not reflect the faint light in the room.  All at once Tata remembered his fourteenth birthday, and his pet Naga-Ette Bromide which he had named after his best friend, and the cryptic black orb, left at his door by a nobody.  In the center of the mess, however, Tata saw something ovular and smooth.  Unlike its broken chamber, however, the object was off-white and smooth.  Tata knew what it was, though he had never seen one before.  Within in its small, compact dimensions, this egg-like object held more power than even Beowulf possessed.  A creation of Geden, or as he was known in this life, Gaspar, one that could alter time forever.

     The Chrono Trigger.

     Tata slowly reached for the object and carefully plucked it from the floor.  He held the small object in his fingertips, examining it, prodding it, feeling its power.  Tata knew that in his hands, he had the power to create time to his wishes, his desires.  In fact, he knew right then how he would use it.  With it, he could bring back everyone who had died because of him, everyone who had suffered because of his battles with Grendel.  He could…

     Tata saw Minka before him, smiling gaily.  Her hair flowed freely in the soothing currents of the wind, and she looked at him and smiled even further.  Tata blinked and found himself staring at the Chrono Trigger.  He knew that the only way to reverse everything that had happened was to go back and kill Len before he had done any damage.  And through this, so would Tata die as well.  He realized as held the egg-shaped object that if he decided to use this thing, he would never see his father before he died and conversely, his father would never be able to make his peace with his son.  He also realized, that no matter what he did to change the past, he would never get to see Minka alive again.

     It was one of those times when the world seemed to be one sick joke.  Nothing could make things the way they were, and Tata knew that in his death he would only leave behind misery.  And for all his strength and supernatural abilities, there was nothing he could do to save these people whom he cared for.  For all his incurable rage, Tata thrust his the fist that held the Chrono Trigger up in the air and howled a miserable, crushed cry of hatred and despair.  Nothing could change this.  Nothing. 

     Tata found himself trudging down the stairs to the front door.  As he opened it, he stuffed the Chrono Trigger into his belt pouch.  Then he stepped out outside and slammed the door hard enough to rattle the hinges.  Looking around, he saw few people about the streets, and heard even fewer voices.  The air was cooler than when he had first arrived, but his skin was already getting damp.  Dust swirls blew across the town on a slow wind, scraping across the people who walked the desolate city’s streets.  No one seemed to care, though.  None of the dirty, scraggly people in the town seemed to care about anything.

     Tata sighed at the sight of it all, but he hid any emotion that had been on his face behind a mask he had perfectly crafted many millennia before and walked in the direction of the café.  Not much crossed his mind as his feet moved in the same dead beat of those around him.  He just kept saying silently, Nothing. Nothing.  Then he saw the café and his heart sank.  His favorite eating spot as a boy was nothing but a pile of debris, strewn with chairs and empty food sacs.  But the object that caught his eyes was an overturned bed that lacked sheets or even a mattress.  Atop it sat a man Tata knew to be one of the people who had worked there.  Apparently, the chef had finally made it into the kitchens of Guardia, but the man, who sat on the skeleton that had obviously been his bed, head in his hands, had apparently lived there.  Now his home was gone.

     Feeling an emotion that Tata could only remember as being compassion, he walked closer to the large mess of wood.  As he approached, his foot bumped a chair hard enough to send it tumbling a short distance to the ground.  At the sudden sound, the man who had sat so placidly sprung to his feet.  His eyes whipped around to Tata and he quickly snatched up a stick of wood that could have split a man’s skull open.  Tata wore no weapon.

     “Get away!” he shouted in a voice that was laced with despair and insanity.  The man was frail, little more than skin and bones, but his eyes burned with a fierce glow.  Tata recognized the man; he had talked more than a few conversations with him when he had lived in the town, but he stopped when he saw that glow, for he had seen it many times before.  Tata had been in battles where a man, alone and surrounded, would scream at his attackers as he swung whatever weapon he still held to keep them at bay.  Of all the times he had seen this display of total fear, all those people had that glow in their eyes.

     “Get away!” the frail man shouted again, taking a pace toward Tata and swinging his stick in weak arcs.  “I won’t let you take anything!  It’s my house!  Get away!”

     Tata knew that he looked older, but his hair had not changed and even he knew it was an extremely recognizable feature.  But the man he once knew did not recognize him in the slightest.  Teeth bared, snarling like an animal, he suddenly moved forward with a horizontal swing.  Tata jumped back, stumbling away from the pile of rubble.  All he could do is stare in open horror as the man howled a scream that couldn’t be human, and then, spotted a dog that was passing by and gave chase to it. 

     Tata stared for only a moment longer, then turned and quickly walked away to a distance where he was sure the man wouldn’t chase him.  Then he stopped; as he stared off into empty space, he remembered that he didn’t have to walk.  The ability to teleport was a simple trick for him, so why should he walk? 

     Tata looked back at the demolished café and saw the poor, starving, demented man lying face down on a pile of wood, shoulders shaking with silent sobs.  Tata stared at the scene of wretched misery and felt…empty.  He searched and searched, but could not find pity, hate, or even love for the forlorn fellow.  Tata stared then down at his feet and took a step forward.  He looked up and realized that he was facing the Cursed Woods.  Minka’s house.  He took another step forward, and then another and another until he was walking away from the town.  Away from the misery, the pain, and the anguish, to a place where he would find more suffering than this town held.  Some trade, he thought.  Still, he continued on his path.

     It was late afternoon by the time he finally saw Minka’s house on the horizon, barely visible in the shade of the forbidding Cursed Woods.  Tata had covered well over a hundred miles, running and walking in irregular intervals, and his legs were on the verge of giving out under the strain.  Tata barely felt the pain; rather, he was simply aware of it, like hearing a far-off cry from somewhere else.  Tata stood for a minute on the grassy hill and saw the dark shadow looming within the trees of the forest.  Then he began to walk.  He was surprised that there was anything left of it, after the fire he set.  He had originally burned it as a way of putting the past behind him, but like the house, there was still a fragment of the past that still lingered in his mind.  Beautiful spring days on the plains of the Porre, when he and Minka would discard their boots and run through the grass as free as the animals filled his mind.  Each blade would tickle their feet as they ran, and the dew from the morning would eventually cause them to slip and fall happily into each other’s arms, with hardly a care of any bruises they may sustain.  Warm, sunny summer evenings when Minka and he would sit on the southern peninsula, basking in the impossibly beautiful yet fading sunlight, listening to the gentle sound of the waves dashing the shores with its cool wetness.  He remembered the touch of her face as it caressed his, her soft lips, her hair that smell more pure than the ripest flower, and the way her head always rested so easily on his shoulders.  The memories filled his senses so vividly he thought he might drown in them forever.  They covered him like a blanket of warmth, an ocean seeping in his every pore, holding him gently with the sounds of the world filtered to nothingness.  It had been so beautiful…

     Tata looked up and saw the impression his face had left in the dry ground.  His nose dripped a few drops of blood where his left cheek had been.  Twisting around on his hip, he looked back on his fallen form and saw that the rock had rolled out of its current resting spot and rolled down to his left leg, as if to curse the one who had dislodged it.  Sitting up, Tata grabbed the rabbit-sized rock and stood up with it in his hands.  With care, he put the rock back where it had rested beforehand. 

     The house, or rather the woods were no more than a few yards away.  He could clearly see its charred shape through the few trees that shielded it from the world as he neared it.  None of the trees around it had been more than singed; Tata knew that the Cursed Woods wouldn’t burn from anything short of a massive firestorm.  Tata approached the house warily as memories of that doomed home flashed like lightning in his mind.  He quickly shut the visions out in one swift stroke at the sound of someone sneezing.  It hadn’t been him, that he was sure.  More over, it had come from inside the blackened walls.  Tata knew that if he readied any sort of magic, if that was Grendel hiding within those walls, he would be detected as easily as a bonfire burning in a field at night.  Moving on his toes, Tata crept silently around the side of the wall the sneeze had come from.  Placing one of his hands to steady himself on the wall, he slowly leaned forward to peer in through a window nearby.  Tata stopped then and silently uttered a curse just before the wall gave out and he pitched forward through the wall onto the ground.  Tata used his momentum to roll to his feet and ready a healthy blast of magic.  However…

     “Well, hello,” said the dark-skinned man who sat peacefully against the wall Tata had just came though.  “Lookin’ for a place to rest?  Can’t promise you much in the way of beds, but it is quiet.”

     Tata looked at the man through quizzical eyes.  He looked to be in his sixties at least, yet a certain look in his eyes made him realize that the man couldn’t be older than forty.  Still, he was a weathered man, with rough skin and wrinkles to match, bags under his eyes and graying hair that gave him the look of a traveler.  His wrinkled clothing said the same thing.  He held a flask in his left hand while his right rested on a burlap bag.  Tata knew that Grendel could weave disguises as easily as stand on his feet, but something about how the man smiled, how laid-back and warm it was convinced Tata to release the flows of magic. 

     The man chuckled.  “You always make an entrance like that?”

     Tata’s face didn’t budge.  “Only when I feel a life is being endangered.”  He replied sternly. 

     The man smiled again.  “I can tell you like to fight.  You hate killin’, but…” He repositioned himself on his bottom with a grunt.  “Forgive me, warrior.  Would you like to take a load off here for a while?  I swear that I will not attack you.  Believe me, the last thing a tired bum like me wants is a fight with someone so heavily built as you.”

     It was true; the man, even in his clothes, looked as frail as the raving madman from the café.   “Appearances mean little.” He said gruffly.  “What are you doing here anyhow?

     The man chuckled wryly.  “Don’t even need my name, eh?  I suppose you have a good reason for being here too?”

     Tata replied.  “This is where my soul died.”

     The wrinkled man whistled softly, but his mood didn’t seem to change.  “Did it die in the fire that took this place?”


     Tata stared at the man.  He couldn’t believe how casual the frail, wrinkled man was, even despite what Tata had just told him.  “Again, what are you doing here?”

     The small man shrugged.  “Just thought it was so quiet and peaceful that I should spend a little time enjoyin’ it.  Unless you would object to that?  I can tell that this place is sacred to you.”

     Tata lowered his head, knowing that this man probably wouldn’t leave even if he told him to.  “No, I don’t mind.”  Then Tata raised his head, his mouth becoming slightly dry as he spoke the words he almost never spoke.  “May I stay a while?”

     The man smiled his kind, casual smile.  “I see.  Now you’re the one asking to stay.”  He laughed abruptly and smiled a toothy smile.  “’Course you may.  My home is yours.”

     Tata sat down about a foot away from the man and leaned back against the hard, cold walls.  He could feel the eyes of the dark man on him, but they didn’t probe.  They simply tried to see him for himself, nothing more or less.  Tata looked back at the man, and then at the leather water pouch. 

     “Thirsty?” the man asked, reading Tata’s eyes as a person would read a book.

     “Thank you.” Tata said as the pouch was handed to him.  He drank slowly, savoring every drop of that cool substance that gives life to all things.

     “So then,” the wrinkled man said as he took a drink from his own flask.  “What happened here?”

     Tata put the water pouch down and sighed.  “A fire.  You knew that though, right?”

     The man chuckled slightly in his ease.  “No, I mean, what really happened here?  Fires don’t kill souls, man.  Only three things do that: love, tragedy, and despair.  Which were you?”

     Tata lightly kicked a nearby pebble with the toe of his boot.  “You need to know that?”

     The wrinkled man nodded.  “I like to know where I sleep every night.  Come on, what’s the problem?”

     Tata turned and stared at the man.  “You really don’t want to know.  Believe me.”

     “Y’know, they say to spread your knowledge ‘cause it’s a way of achievin’ immortality.”  The man replied.

     Tata gave a bitter laugh at that and looked back at the forlorn house.  “I’ve already got that, and it sure as blood is not all it’s polished up to be.”

     The wrinkled man chuckled at that, which annoyed Tata.  “You always this cheerful?” he asked.

     “I try to be.” He said and took another swig of his drink.  “Laughter is the secret to love.”

     Tata kicked another stone.  “Yeah, that’s what I used to think.”

     “Ah.” Said the man with a note of satisfaction.  “So this is about a woman, huh?”

     Tata sighed and leaned his head back against the wall.  “Damn.  You just aren’t going to let this go.  Fine,” he said and took a drink from his water bottle.  “I’ll tell you.  The house we’re sitting in so casually used to be the house of a girl I knew.  Her name was Minka Soresta and she was a Mystic.  Actually, her father was a human, her mother a Mystic, so no one could really tell she was partially non-human unless they noticed her elongated ears.  But that is enough for anyone in this age, isn’t it?”

     The old man shrugged and sipped his drink.  “Tell me somethin’, warrior; when you first knew met this here Minka, were you uncomfortable ‘cause of them ears of hers?”

     Tata opened his mouth immediately to say something noble about his unconditional love for Minka, but then stopped himself.  Yes, he had, at first.  The day they had met, he had gotten mad at her for bumping into him, but mostly because of her ears, which marked her as a Mystic.  He may have been only six years old, but still, he had immediately judged her on her bloody ears.  “Yes.”

     The man motioned with his hand for Tata to continue.

     “There was this group of boys, too.  Dip, Jake, Clem, and Len; total bastards, all of them.  They picked on me constantly, probably because they didn’t have the capacity for much else.  On the times when I was able to beat them enough to make them leave me alone, they would pick on my friends, most often on Minka.  They used to laugh at her ears, pluck at them, and casually hit her whenever they felt like it.  And that was when they were in a good mood.  It was when they saw her on days that weren’t going their way that they used to follow her, hounding her, cursing her in loud, angry voices.  If she ignored them on those days she would have to face their beatings.  She would come to me on some days when she was nearby with bruises and cuts all over her body, just begging me for someone to help her.”

     The old man nodded, his complexion a little less cheerful than before.  “So you did somethin’, huh?”

     Tata nodded grimly.  “One day, Minka, Len and his pals, and I all happened to go to the café at the same time.  I was the last one to arrive, but I was just in time to see them half-dragging her out the back door of the restaurant.  She had said something that had made them mad as a hornet’s nest, because when I got out to where they had gone, they were laying into her hard.  I really thought they were going to kill her, and so I acted accordingly.  Len was the only one who got away.”

     Tata took a long drink from his drink while the old man pondered that.  “That boy got back at you, didn’t he?”

     Tata grimaced, his eyes burning with hate.  “Len knew I could kill him.  I had nearly done it too.  The son of a whore didn’t even have the guts, the decency to exact his revenge on me alone.”  Tata shook his head as though he couldn’t believe he was telling the truth.  “He killed her.”  He said simply, in a voice he himself could barely hear.

     The man nodded slightly and drank another swallow of water.  “This house is a burial, then, huh?  Some place you’d like to forget forever, yet also a place you can’t help rememberin’ constantly.  You think about this here girl of yours and you find yourself always comin’ back to this place, and this here boy who killed her, like you’re caught in a whirlwind or somethin’ that you can’t get out of.  Am I right?”

     Tata nodded shakily.  “He’s still out there, too.  I haven’t killed him yet, and in the time between his murder on the woman I loved, he has killed many others.  With each death, he is laughing at me, taunting me to try killing him.  Nothing would please him more than one great showdown with me, one more fight that will give him the chance to spill my blood.”

     “He got stronger, didn’t he?” asked the old man.

     Tata looked at him quizzically.  “What is with you?  Are you always this perceptive, or do you already know this story?”

     Quite unexpectedly, the man gave a small chuckle.  “Pardon me, Tata, but in fact, I do somewhat know this tale.  My name is Edgar McCree.  I was there the day you slew those boys in the defense of the woman you loved.”

     Tata tried to recall the name.  “I…don’t remember you.”

     The man smiled.  “That’s okay Tata, not many people do.  I was sitting smack in that café, watching the whole scene.  I was pretty damn racist at that time, and even insulted you a bit.  I was one of the prosecuting witnesses at the trial for those boys’ deaths.”

     Tata nodded as the grim memories of the trial played back into his mind.  “You lost weight.”

     The man and Tata chuckled crazily; it was the sort of crazy laugh that came from men who knew that they only laughed because the alternative was worse.  Tata was the first to stop laughing, and the other man followed suit.  “I’m deeply sorry about Mr. Ericson, Tata.  He shouldn’t have died like he did.”

     Tata wanted to start yelling at him, to blame Jacob’s death on him, but he just didn’t have the heart.  “It…wasn’t your fault.  That blame goes to Len.”  Then Tata looked at Edgar, trying to pull his mind off of the memories.  Tata could now remember the man from before; he had been heavy-set, reasonably wealthy in appearance.  The man that now sat beside him was frail, wearing tatters, and making a home out of a corner of wall, yet he seemed to vibrate with energy.  “You have changed, though, Edgar.  I’d…like to hear how that happened.”

     Edgar smiled and Tata made a small smile back.  “Fair enough.  Well, I guess you could’ve called it all an accident.”  He took a small drink of water.  “The trial had helped me pretty well financially.  Ebens was a dirty lawyer, y’see, and used bribes to get my story out in the way he wanted it.  But one day, I was robbed in my sleep.  I was a heavy sleeper then, too.  Anyway, I woke up to find my house mostly bare, and whatever was left was in ruins.  Everythin’ was gone; my money, my family heirlooms, even my clothes.  But my heart was not truly broken until I found my wife, lying naked in the living room with her throat destroyed.  She must have tried to stop whoever it was, but…” he cut himself short with another drink.  When he was done, he continued.

     “I never found out who had done this horrible thing.  But all I could do was bury my wife and try to start anew.  I traveled around, playing music on the streets mostly, and occasionally in bars.  It kept me fed and reasonably clean, but mostly it helped me forget where I was comin’ from.  The music soundin’ from my instruments, the applause of the people who cared enough to listen all helped me forget about my sadness and self-pity.  All I had to do was play that ol’ ocarina of mine, and I could sometimes even forget I really existed at all.”

     Edgar smiled and took another drink while Tata looked at him with an unreadable expression.  “You never looked for the killer?” he asked.

     Edgar nodded a little with the grin still on his face and gave a small shrug.  “One more death wasn’t going to help anythin’.  It’s one of those things you probably know somethin’ about.  Killin’ is destructive, plain and simple.  You kill someone and a little hair of your soul goes into it.  I had already lost my wife, and I sure as hell didn’t need to lose my soul as well.  In a way, her death made me realize how precious life was, how quickly it can end, and what my life was all about.  I honored her death and moved on, and when you get down to it, that’s just all you can do.”

     Tata looked around at the ruined house.  He had tried to put Minka behind him, but he had succumbed to Grendel’s mocking laughter.  “You found good in the worst of events.  I admire that.”

     Edgar nodded a little nod of thanks.  “So did this here boy burn this place down to kill ‘er, then?”

     “No.” Tata answered softly.

     Edgar hesitated.  “You…?”

     Tata didn’t answer.  Visions of that nightmare lingered in his head like an awful headache.  He could still see, on a wall that had not burned all the way through, dried bloodstains that still spoke of the hideous murder the house had beheld. 

     “Did you ever see it comin’, Tata?”  Edgar asked quietly.

     “Yes.”  Tata answered just as softly.  Shifting in his sitting position, Tata felt something pressing against his back.  He leaned forward and grabbed at the object behind him.  His hand found something smooth and rounded, and upon presenting it in front of his face, he saw that it was the Chrono Trigger.

     “That your lunch there, Tata?”  Edgar laughed, obviously trying to lighten the mood.

     Tata kept his eyes on the egg-shaped object and he turned it on his fingers.  “If every lunch were like this,” he said.  “Chickens would be revered as gods.”

     Edgar chuckled at that and Tata found himself laughing lightly too.  “Seriously though,” Edgar asked.  “What is it?”

     Tata could feel sheer power within the small object.  He could almost hear it vibrating with energy.  “Everyone who knows about it calls it the Chrono Trigger.  A man of infinite wisdom, who lives in a place where time has no meaning, made it.  It contains more power than any living thing has ever beheld, and it has the power to alter time.”

     Edgar smiled and said, “Hot stuff.”  Then; “You tryin’ to save that girl of yours with that, right?” 

     Tata nodded slowly.  “Yeah.”  He turned his head to look at the older man.  “She was all I had.  She died and I lost all my sense of wrong and right.  I mean, what am I supposed to do?  I was only fourteen…” Tata looked away from Edgar’s gaze and looked around at what was left of Minka’s house.  “Maybe I deserved it, somehow.  Maybe I did something and my punishment was all of this…” He lost his voice and it became quiet.

     A silence now spoke a low speech as Tata’s words echoed on the broken-down walls of the burned house, a speech of fairy tales mixed in with reality telling of events that were real and events that never would be.  Each man knew the question that the small, egg-shaped device held the answer to, and what going through with the deed may mean to the entire world, all for one man’s dream to come true again.

     Edgar silenced the speaker first.  “Hard to imagine how many things you could change in one single moment.  Hell only knows, you could save more than just her.  You could utterly rewrite history as we know it.  This girl Minka comes back to life and you two ride off into the sunset together and so forth.  Maybe you build a family and you never have to fight again.  Maybe Jacob comes back too, maybe others that Len killed.  Maybe I never lose my wife and we never even have this conversation.  But all it boils down to is you and this choice you have before you.  You can rewrite history to your own likin’.  You bein’ once just a character in a story have been given a quill and a fresh piece of paper to write on.  This choice you have before you, Tata, is one that can infinitely benefit you, and in that it makes it a choice of an immature man.  But it is also a very noble choice, Tata, because all the people that may come back will live lives that together will most likely be greater than any one man could live alone.  From this choice, Tata, life will flourish.”

    Tata looked at the man, nodded a little and smiled a lonely, sad grin.  “I forgot to tell you.  If this plan works, I die.”

     Edgar smiled and patted Tata on the shoulder.  “Then that will be your saving grace.”

     Tata left after that, his problem resolved.  Walking on the dusty road with the light of the afternoon fading away to the quiet, serene darkness of night, he pondered the skinny old man’s advice.  Nothing more could be said about it, yet Tata did feel like there was more to it that just one person’s choice.  The words were beyond him, though, and slowly his mind gave way to other thoughts.

     The struggle between Grendel and Beowulf had lasted many millennia.  No one knew precisely how long, not even the combatants themselves.  Probably a sign of how meaningless their eternal fight was.  They had outlived their purpose, like some incredible obsolete machine, and now simply fought for their own purposes and their never-ending hatred for one another.  A sign of outright selfishness and immaturity if anyone ever saw it, Tata thought to himself.  He did know of Beowulf’s doom to always fight and thought of how cold and indifferent a being would have to be to condemn a soul to that kind of endless agony.  “When a person dies and is given the choice to reincarnate or to go to the afterlife, many will choose to reincarnate.  It is only when they have achieved a level of…enlightenment, I guess we should say, do they enter their afterlife.  It is when they know what is right and how to love and to live without love, and to cherish life…”

     Tata realized that he was speaking aloud and let the words die.  Edgar McCree had undergone that change in one lifetime.  Was Beowulf ready for the afterlife?  Was Janus?  Was Minka?  The people who had died in this lifetime fighting Grendel?  Who thought life was worth living, and who sought death as their savior?  Tata looked at the distant town of Porre, his hometown, and thought of the people of that dried up, broken town.  How could anyone live in that kind of misery?  How did they find the courage each day to rise and walk again? 

     “Life,” Tata said to himself, coincidentally as a merchant was passing by, riding tall on his cart.  “Hope, always goes on.”

     The merchant heard the small passage and turned to Tata.  Their eyes met, Tata’s suddenly strong and hopeful, his old and happy, and the old merchant nodded.  Tata smiled, turned, and broke into a run.  His cry of joy echoed over the land; carried by the wind it reached the farthest corners of the earth and rattled it with the force of a hurricane.


End of Chapter 23


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