Something woke Marcus up from a deep sleep, heart racing and sweat covering his face and body. He was dreaming about the actress Arlene Henry and Ali. They were in his office at the LTC office and their heads were in his lap much like Byron and his friends yesterday. Marcus was angry because he didn't get to finish the dream, but his disappointment was a distant thought. He was shaken awake, but he saw nothing when he looked around his bedroom. Curious, Marcus threw back his blanket and swung his feet onto the carpet. That’s when something caught his eye.
He immediately clenched his fist, drawing on the power of the ring and waiting for something to move. After a second of stillness, a white piece of paper caught his eye, tumbling in the air as it fell. When the paper landed on the carpet, Marcus noticed it looked the similar to the one he got last night. Except this time, there was no writing on this page.
Curiosity growing, Marcus bent down to pick up the paper. As soon as his fingers touched the page, it began vibrating. Gold ink began appearing on the page as though being written in front of him in a familiar flowing script.
’There is an old inn with an abnormally large red door on a street with no houses. No soul lives on this street but the area is teeming with life. The street’s name is the same as the street's age and is situated where the city’s heart once beat. I know who you and your uncle are. There are questions you have. There are answers I have. If you wish to perform an exchange, enter the abnormally large red door when the night is brightest.’
Marcus had forgotten about that piece of paper with the surprise appearance of Noch. Thinking on that paper now with this second paper in his hand, Marcus could see that who or whatever this was knew about this ring. This thing that knows about this ring would likely have powers beyond the scope of the ring, but Marcus couldn't even conceive what that kind of power looked like. Rather than bashing his brain on trying to figure out things far beyond his purview, Marcus pulled out his phone and began solving the riddle.
An inn on a street with no houses? Must be some sort of business district or an abandoned residential district and the next line about no souls narrowed the location tremendously. Damokles was huge, every population on the planet was represented somewhere in the city and there weren't many places where no one lived. This knowledge combined with the ‘…city’s heart once beat’ line pointed directly towards Old Town.
Old Town was the section of the city that was once all of Damokles during the turbulent Three Kingdoms era in Iota. The downfall of the Imperial Family and the subsequent Culling of the Lions made living near the Palatial Grounds of the Minos Dynasty a nightmare for the living. All the people in the area, fled to the surrounding towns and the small towns grew, connecting to form today’s city-state region of Damokles, but at the heart of it all was Old Town.
Now that he knew where he was looking, Marcus looked up the street names in Old Town and a quick look at the municipal records had Marcus standing in front of a dilapidated building the following night, the full-mooned night. The street was as deserted and simultaneously teeming as the note indicated. Stray animals and critters of all kinds ran through the alleys, but not a living soul walked the streets. The buildings lining the street had no memory of siding or even a paintbrush of any kind they were so dilapidated. Nearly every streetlight was dead or broken except for one streetlight that flickered a yellow hazy light onto the trash-strewn sidewalk of a certain building.
This particular two-story building had five mud caked windows and an unusually large door that looked to have once been painted red but was now faded into something else entirely. However, when compared to the surrounding buildings, the faded color of the door made the building pop like a red balloon in a blue sky. Marcus found himself walking into this building without even realizing he was moving.
The ‘red’ door creaked open as soon as he got close. Darkness filled the room, but when he walked into the inn, he saw there was small a prick of light holding the darkness at bay. The light flickered weakly and when Marcus’s eyes adjusted, he looked around.
The room was empty, but there was a staircase in the middle of the room with a second candle at the top of the steps. The candle seemed to be inviting him up so Marcus began bounding up the steps. As soon as he was on the second floor, Marcus immediately felt a cold draft blowing in through an open window. The majority of this room was engulfed in darkness like the first, but the moon illuminated a section of the room. There in the light, Marcus saw a hooded person staring out the window as he swayed back and forth in a rocking chair. The light from the moon couldn't illuminated the color of the person’s robe, but Marcus could clearly see mud on the embroidered hem of the robe. The mysterious person wore tattered mud caked construction boots and kept most of their flesh concealed in the folds of their robe. There was a stool beside the rocking chair and the person motioned Marcus to the stool without turning to him.
Marcus slowly walked over, fingering his ring to remind himself that he was the most powerful person on the planet. Therefore he should be safe...right? The reasoning sounded good, but this person filled Marcus with…something. Fear was not the correct word although there was most definitely an aspect of fear to this feeling. There was a physical pressure to this man’s presence that seemed to push down on Marcus’ neck and upper back. Something was trying to force Marcus to his knees, but there was nothing above him.
“Sit down, my child,” a grandfatherly voice said. “That feeling will dissipate after a while.”
Marcus was sitting on the stool before he knew what was happening.
The robed man smiled. “I am glad that this is a reality where you were able to solve the riddles,” he said still staring at the moon.
“I’m the Senior Vice-President of Mergers and Acquisitions for the largest corporation in the world,” Marcus said. “I think I’m smart enough to solve children’s riddles.”
“Come now, Marcus,” the old man said like an admonishing grandfather. “You have met some of those ‘men’ with titles comparable yours. We both know the intellect of a child is actually quite common for men in your position.”
Marcus smiled despite the insult to his profession. He wasn’t wrong.
“There are some truly amazing children in this world too,” the old man said. “There is one in southeast Gamma that has a mind capable of solving mathematical paradoxes and another in remains of Alpha that can…” the old man trailed off and chuckled softly. “I will ramble or get to preaching if you let me. Suffice it to say I’m glad to see you here.”
“You told me you could tell me about this ring, how could I resist?” Marcus asked.
The old man shrugged. “You could not,” he said, still facing the window.
“And so I am here.”
“And so you are here.”
Silence reigned for a minute before Marcus smacked his lips and sighed. “So what is it that you had to tell me?” Marcus asked.
“Straight to the point,” the man said chuckling. “You are just like them. By my theoretical left sack, all of you take after Nephthys. She had absolutely no patience.”
“Excuse me?” Marcus asked cocking his head. His theoretical left…what? “Who is them? What are you talking about?”
“Your ancestors,” the old man said. “Every single one of them had little patience in certain areas.”
Marcus’s head tilted in a new direction as he tried understand what he was hearing. His…ancestors?
“I’m not understanding,” Marcus said shaking his head. “I think I’m missing something.”
“You would not believe me if I only explained it.”
“Try me.” Marcus said leaning forward on the stool.
The old man finally turned and Marcus flinched when the old man faced him. The hood was much deeper than Marcus expected and from those depths, the eyes he saw staring at him had eyes of gold that radiated light. Marcus flinched when the light blinded him for a second, but his eyes soon grew adjusted and he saw the face of the mysterious man. The old man’s eyes bored into Marcus though he had a kindly tint to his stare, but the rest of his face was covered in a thick white beard that twinkled as though his hairs were made of diamonds.
“I spoke with them just like I am speaking to you now,” the old man said once the two made eye contact.
Marcus's eyebrows furrowed in his confusion. “I don’t follow,” he said. “How did you speak to dead men and women?”
“That is exactly what each of your ancestors said when I told them that,” the old man said chuckling as he pointed at Marcus.
The man’s hand had an opaque colorlessness. Looking at his skin, Marcus could see a blurred version of what was on the other side of the man’s hand, but there were veins of gold running through the man’s hands and blocking the view.
“Who are you?” Marcus asked quietly. He was finally able to sit upright comfortably after feeling the pressure on his neck and shoulders dissipate, but he was still awed by man said.
“I am the Divine Everlasting, my child.”
“Oh?” Marcus said as he got ready to get to his feet. “So you’re insane.”
“Am I?” the old man asked extending his opaque gold-veined hand outside the window.
Marcus froze and turned to look outside. Usually, seeing more than a few stars was impossible within a fifty mile of Damokles, but somehow the constellations were on full display tonight. He was astounded by astral clouds he never knew existed before that moment. These clouds were made up of glimmering hues of violet and blue and were a beautiful backdrop to the more traditional stars he was used to. Comets and meteors streaked across the sky before burning out in a few seconds. Marcus swore he could even make out some of the other planets, but for some reason, Marcus’ eyes kept drifting back to the moon despite his best efforts to look at the unfamiliar night sky. Rather than fight the pull, Marcus kept his eyes locked on the guardian of the night.
As he watched, he noticed shadow appear on the top section of the moon. Marcus frowned at the dark spot, but his jaw loosened when he saw that shadow creep over the moon’s luminescence like thick motor oil spilling into a white ceramic dish. Only seconds passed before the ancient guardian of the night was covered in this shadowed illness, the entire city cast into complete darkness save for the brightness of the sky. In the pitch black of the night, the light from the stars increased. The stars began shining brighter and brighter, becoming as bright as the now darkened moon once was, bright enough to make the astral clouds disappear. Marcus watched the sky in amazement, stupefied at what he was seeing.
Then his stomach dropped. As though lashed to an immense weight, the brightly glowing stars began streaking through the darkness, falling into oblivion one by one. The stars raced to reach the horizon and the darkness became more complete with each loss. Before the final star fell from the sky, thick trails of red and blue began streaking through the sky as comets and meteorites fell from every conceivable direction. Marcus believed Armageddon had started and he fell off his stool in terror.
“I get it,” Marcus said, still unable to turn away from the sky. “I get it. You can stop now. Please stop.”
The fear that ran through Marcus’ body was something he had never known existed. This wasn't the fear of imminent danger, but rather the feel of inevitable danger. The feeling a person must get when standing on the ledge of a skyscraper on a particularly windy day. You would be safe, but only for so long.
The old man smirked and gently shifted his fingers. A point of light flashed in the darkness and a pin of light poked out. Like a prick in an over inflated balloon, the pinpoint grew larger and larger until the surface of the moon could be distinguished from the darkness around the glowing globe. As the circle of clarity grew, the comets and meteorites stopped appearing, but neither the stars nor the astral clouds appeared again. Marcus stared for a long while, hoping to see the starry clouds once more, but he soon realized he recognized this night sky. This was the Damokles night sky, bereft of everything except helicopters, planes and the occasional satellite. The old man flexed his fingers muttering about remembering why he'd stopped doing that. Once his hand was apparently feeling normal, whatever normal was for a person…a thing like him, the old ‘man’ looked at Marcus with an amused face.
“So am I insane?” the man asked.
“You’re not anything I can fully understand,” Marcus whispered.
The old man chuckled. “Now you are starting to get it,” he said getting up to help Marcus to his feet.