Long ago in the days of monsters and sorcery, there was a lone wander with his enchanted blade. His weapon was not crafted with such magic, for it earned its might over many long and bloody campaigns. The swordmasters of old always foretold that if a hero slew a thousand evil men with his god-given weapon, such a warrior would ascend in blood as well as legend. Such fanciful tales had long crumbled to dust as the wheel of time turned, but the wanderer knew such a tale to be true.
His blade drank the souls of countless heathens and monsters. Long past were the ages of elves and Fae, but evil had seeded and corrupted the hearts of man. As a vassal of his noble lord, the wanderer had ventured forth over many years to slay the monstrous hearts of man. His will was strong, and his blade was fast, leading to the success of the wanderer's mission.
The wanderer returned to his lord after many long battles only to find his homeland sacked and salted by barbarians. His longtime friends and allies, along with his liege, were strung by their innards on the castle walls. The wanderer's heart wept beyond measure, for no peasant or lord could comprehend the scope of his grief. With a heavy heart and a weary pace, the wanderer turned his back on his ancestor's home and never returned. There was naught but death and pain in such a tomb.
As the years progressed, the wanderer's heart grew heavier and heavier. He ventured forth, slaying men and their monsters hearts and protecting the innocent from their unearned wrath. But the dire warnings of sword sages proved to be true. The wanderer could never tire, every wound he received healed before his very eyes, and even plunging his blade into his very heart would not end his tired life.
His sword had torn the lives from men time and time again. Such a prolific warrior had reaped their lives for his own and was now sustained for time immemorial on the lives of the wicked. Place to place, he wandered, never staying in one place for too long. The peasants he would save from brigands questioned why such a courageous hero would have such sad, lonely eyes, but the wanderer could not answer. The courts of kings offered silver and silk for his legendary skill, but long had his sword bathed in the fluids of man. Warriors would come to him after he vanquished many foes, seeking wisdom and guidance to improve their own blade and hearty heart, but the wanderer could not bear the thought of prolonging anyone's suffering, deserving or not.
The wanderer lamented for many days and nights. Every soul his blade stole only lengthened the wanderer's immortality. Days became weeks, weeks became years. Many times, the wanderer attempted to end his own suffering, but no mortal attempt on his life could deprive his eternal agelessness. Wounds healed, bones mended, slashes restitched, sorcerers of barbarian lords could not ease his battle fury, and even the plagues reigning over even the most dystopian of lands refused to touch his shadow. Longer still, he ventured into the black, rescuing the lives of those that could not protect themselves from the horrors across the world, but venturing across the lands only occupied his thoughts, not eased the oppressive weight baring down on his soul.
It was one of those monotonous days that the wanderer heard a glimmer of hope to end his torment. The sages and monks lodged deep into the Iron Hills were heralded as the wisest of all men. Surely if any knew a cure for the immortal's condition, it would be such kind and honest souls. Little did the wanderer know, the monks possessed the fang of a great dragon rumored to be able to slay even the mightiest foe. With renewed hope in his heart and purpose in his step, the wanderer awoke at dawn with his gaze set on the Iron Hills.
The wanderer entered the monastery's ancient walls, but he was not alone. With the monks were three individuals: a peasant, a knight, and a king. One of their ranks beckoned the four visitors to a private room where they could discuss their woes. As all present feared some unseen horror in their own minds, the monk asked the peasant the very first question: "What do you fear?"
"I fear for hearth and home, wise man. Around the dinner table or alongside comrades at the tavern, I hear much of pain and suffering. I fear that I will awaken from the sands of sleep and find all I hold dear taken from me."
"Your fears are justified, peasant, but unneeded. These lands are brutal and merciless, but the dusk is met by the dawn. For every tale of terror, there is a helping hand willing to assist in time of need. For every stuck plow, there is a kind traveler willing to help with his selfless heart and strong back. Fret not, peasant, for the world bears goodwill. You must not falter in the presence of darkness." The peasant smiled and rose, for his heart was lifted with cheer and freedom from worry. The monk asked the knight, "What do you fear?"
"I fear my blade, wise man. Long have I been in the service to my liege and many battles I have bled equal parts I have caused. I know my cause is just and my heart is strong, but I cannot help but ponder the darkness that breeds from fear and war. I fear that I will awaken from the sands of sleep and discover I have become one of the monstrous hearts my blade has often slain."
"Your fears are justified, knight, but your heart is strong enough to overcome such despair. Have a steadfast faith in your noble cause, faithful knight. Know that you protect the lives of innocents with the virtuousness of hope and the blessing of kings. You fight for divine hope. Know that your fellow heroes will aid you in your darkest hours." The knight smiled and rose, his his heart was renewed with a sense of purpose. The monk asked the king, "What do you fear?"
"I fear for my subjects, wise man. Their vexation and misery weighs on my mind and I cannot help but doubt myself. Wars are waged for these land's precious resources. Kingdoms fall and misery reigns. I fear that I will awaken from the sand of sleep and discover I have failed those that need me most."
"Your fears are justified, king, but your confidence wanes when it needs not. People wish for paradigms to admire and respect, for if they believe that there is something greater than themself, they believe they can be protected when shadows linger close behind. Know that despite their worry and fear, despite the chains restricting your own self-worth, you are a grand king and responsible for many lives. Your underlings see you as more than a leader. In their eyes, you are a hero." The king smiled and rose, for his heart was strengthened by the monk's kind words. The monk asked the immortal, "What do you fear?"
The immortal pondered what to say to the monk. He feared no man or blade. The pain and fears that plagued the trio did not daunt him in the slightest. He had no ties to the world, and no longer feared what walked the soil. Nevertheless, the wanderer had an answer.
"I have seen these lands over many years, seen the trials and tribulations suffered by many, but after each passing day, the pain I see no longer tugs on my heart as it had the previous. I bear no love for family, honor, or land. I walk the earth, lamenting what was lost. I already fear nothing, as there is nothing for me to avenge, and nothing I care to lose to the sands of time. I am a shell of a man, and I fear only myself."
The monk understood the wanderer's words and knew him for what he truly was. The monk feared the wanderer, for he had endured much. "We have here a fang of a great dragon, divine warrior. Plunge the fang into your heart and it will ease your eternal misery."
The wanderer was excited by such news, for he had acquired the means to end his everlasting journey. He rose and prepared to bid farewell to the the peasant, the knight, and the king. Their words came to mind, however, and the wanderer halted. He recalled his past exploits across both barren and fruitful lands. Many years had he spent slaying the wicked and protecting the innocent. Their hopeful smiles upon seeing his majestic blade and crestfallen sadness at his departures plagued him. He recalled the same, senile fears that he would devolve into one of the same monsters that he was renowned for slaying. The weight of eternity weighed heavily on his mind several times, and not once did he ever forget the pain such a gift incurred. The price was not paid lightly.
Those smiles, as brief and ephemeral as they may be, were not forgotten on the wanderer. Sons rescued, ransoms paid, villains slain, hearts won, daughters cherished; from king, to peasant, from knight to cur, his exploits have changed lives for the better.
"I deny your offer, wise man. Many long years have crossed my eyes, but I had not truly seen the beauty that accompanied the torture. My blade has taken many lives, but I have used it to preserve the sanctity of love and family. I have fostered love over ages, but I was too blind to see it. I was pitiful in my selfishness, not capable of understanding how great my deeds truly became. I am not an avenger or a protector, I am a survivor. I survive through trials and tribulations in order to pass on my experiences to the next generation to learn from and grow."
The monk saw the wisdom in the wanderer's words, but he needed to be certain of his choice. "Are you certain you no longer wish for death, immortal?"
"I do not. I live and survive. I learn and grow. My days will be filled with misery and blood, but I now have a purpose to guide my soul and forsaken blade. Such ill will no longer shields my eyes from truth. I feel invigorated, as I have a sense of self-granted purpose. No longer will I fear what tomorrow brings, for I will seize my fate and make it my own. These lives I live and the lives I save have a meaning now. I came to this monastery for peace of mind and I have unearthed the blessing with my own hands. My days will be filled with death, but I no longer deal it so willingly or seek it for my own. These smiles warm the frozen chains binding my heart; I see that now. Death would be the easy way out of my misery, but I have found a far more rewarding task. I will live, wise man. I will live, because I have discovered truth."
"Death is an escape, but it is not a cure. It is easy to take a life, but it is difficult to live it. That, monk, is the true test."
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