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The Warden

June 2, 2017

           His feet throbbed within their tight boots as he walked across the sand. Orange light from the horizon slowly peeled back the darkness of the early morning. He stopped ten yards short of the water-line. Knees aching, he set down the green folding chair then lowered himself into it with a grunt of exertion. His left hand clutched tightly to the four-foot-tall walking stick. The chair sunk beneath his weight, age had already caused the fabric to stretch and tear from constant use.

              Time passed, the water began to sparkle beneath the might of the sun. Muffled voices soon reached his dulled hearing. Others had arrived, their joy and excitement apparent despite his struggle to pick out certain words. He didn’t dare take his eyes off the sight before him to glance at those that passed near him.  Massive evergreen trees surrounded the lake, he still remembered the day those had been planted. They’d been barely taller than shrubs, now they cast shadows over sections of the pristine surface.

              The atrophied muscles in his back began to ache, he flexed his shoulder-blades to loosen them up. A deep breath caused his lungs to tingle, eliciting a cough that left him gasping for air. A young couple stopped in front of him and inquired about his health. He smiled reassuringly and waved them off. They hesitated for a moment until it was clear he’d recovered from his coughing fit, then went on their way.

              More time passed there were now people playing in the water. They splashed and swam to their hearts content, completely unconcerned with what lay beneath the glittering surface. That was the problem with lakes, they lacked circulation. It was largely the same stagnant water that existed when he’d first moved out here, and had been that way for a very long time. It served as both a water trough and bathroom for people and animals alike. The thought had always made him a bit uneasy. Yet, seeing the joy as a couple children raced to the shore laughing and cheering with their heads held as high out of the water as possible brought a wrinkle to the creased corners of his lips.

              Sweat formed on his brow, and trickled down the back of his neck as the sun grew ever higher in the sky. His hand shook slightly as he opened the canteen he brought with him. Cool, refreshing liquid passed over his dry lips, and soothed his throat. A sigh of contentment escaped from him as he resealed the container. The bark of a dog caught his attention, but once again he didn’t take his eyes off the lake.

              Soon, the sky had begun to darken once more. A bit of sadness welled within him. The corners of his mouth began feel heavy. He sighed as one by one those around him left the sandy shore. He knew the park personnel would soon stop by to urge him to return home. His eyes felt sore, but he convinced himself to wait just a little bit longer.

              Then, as the last vestiges of orange tendrils cast his shadow before him, a green flash washed over the lake. He shot out of the chair, with a youthful reaction speed he thought had long since abandoned him. His left hand curled tighter around the walking stick. His knees buckled slightly, but he remained standing. Voices nearby exclaimed in surprise. In the dying light, he could just barely make out the ripples forming in the lake. His heart thumped in his chest. Excitement renewed his energy, though he had no idea how long that would last.

              A figure emerged from the water, she was beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Her silver hair flowed behind her, adding to her perceived elegance as she stalked towards him. Her skin was the color of moonlight; her eyes were completely red. Her dress absorbed the little light that was left. When she stopped in front of him the crisp summer air turned frigid. He willfully fought the urge to shiver in her presence.

              “Warden,” she stated venomously. “Time hasn’t been good to you.”

              Her lips curled in amusement. “Any chance I have time taken off my sentence?” Her delicate fingers and icy blue nails caressed his weathered cheeks.

              He remained silent, his eyes locked on her.

              “No, but I’ve been on such good behavior.”

              His heart beat faster.

              “I won’t let you hurt anyone else,” he said calmly.

              Her face contorted with anger.

“I don’t think you have a choice. As you grow weaker, the shackles on me fade. When that happens there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”

              “Maybe, but today is not that day,” he announced.

              “Let’s see about that,” she replied smugly. Her hand raised to strike him, carved runes in his staff flared white. A wave of light magic knocks her to the ground.

              She landed in the sand, a wicked grin on her face as she climbed to her feet.  “I bet you don’t have the power to do that again.”

              She charged towards him once more. The staff glowed again, another wave forced her backwards.

              “What did I ever do to you?!” she shouted in frustration.

              “You seek to bring chaos to this world,” he replied. His limbs began to feel heavy.

              “I will bring it freedom!” She fired back. “My people have suffered enough in that hell you trapped us in. In this land, we could live as gods.”

              Suddenly, his breath caught in his chest. A coughing fit wracked his body, he doubled over, the staff dropped to the ground. Fear surged through him as he gasped for air. He reached out for the staff when suddenly he felt as if he’d been dropped into a pool of ice water.

              He was hoisted off the ground by an invisible force, he couldn’t move, he could only watch as his enemy drifted closer towards him. The lake had begun to freeze, snowflakes gradually drifted all around him with increasing frequency.

              “The Great Frost, will come. I only regret you will not be around to witness its beauty.”

              His body began to go numb, he could feel his strength fading. Suddenly, there’s a flash of light and he’s dropped to the ground. His eyes searched for his opponent’s whereabouts. He noticed she was slowly getting to her feet when a hand reached down to him. He grasped it without a second thought, then tried to get to his feet. His legs refused to cooperate and he was dragged back to the earth. His eyes refocused and saw the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen.

              Soft, amber eyes, and a warm smile filled his vision. “You were supposed to close the gate,” she said worriedly.

              “I know I just, I wanted to see you, one last time,” he said, his voice a harsh whisper.

              “You were always such a softy,” she smiled. Her cheeks flushed slightly red in color. Her hair was the color of the sun, the touch of her skin brought a modicum of heat to his frozen body.

 The surrounding area was now covered in snow. She handed him the staff, the magical energy boosted him enough to regain his strength.

            “Start the ritual, I’ll deal with her.”

            He nodded understandingly, then set to work tracing the glyphs into the sand. Fire and ice collided on the shore. Flashes of magic illuminated the night. Cries of pain and shouts of rage played in the background as the two women clashed amongst the wintry lakeside. Then everything went silent. He rushed to finish the last glyph. He was halfway through it when a sharp, icy pain shot through his body. He could feel the magic working its way through his body slowly.

           His knees shuddered as he dropped to the surprisingly hard sand.. Breathing slowly, in and out. He inched the bottom of the staff towards the last glyph. A wave of heat passed over him, two warm hands grasped his shoulders steering him upright. The icy sensation faded momentarily.

          “I’m sorry,” she replied.

          “It’s not, your fault. You tried, to fight her,” he replied.

         “That’s not what I meant.”

          He smiled, it was the first time he'd felt happiness in years. then with all the strength he could muster he finished the glyph. A curse of vengeance pierced the night, then everything went silent.

         “I don’t have much longer,” she said.

         “That’s okay, neither, do I,” he wheezed with a smile. He could feel the warmth fading from his body.  They simply sat there, on the snowy ground, with his head resting against her shoulder. His breaths grew weaker and weaker until suddenly they stopped all together.

         She looked down at him, tears running down her face as the thoughts of all the time they’d lost hit her. She picked up the staff and planted it into the sand. Whoever it chose as the guardian of this gate would know what to do, and hopefully their life would be less filled with sorrow. She lifted him into her arms, his once strong frame now weak and withered, and walked towards the gateway that would take them to another world.

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