January 20th, 2005

Mask

The Duelists

Vindici paced in front of the tunnel opening, watching the young man approach on the road. Sliding the nictitating membranes back from his eyes to adjust for the darkness he studied the swaying figure as it wearily trod closer toward his post. Vindici amused himself in the usual way; standing on one foot and balancing, stretching his limbs impossibly far and leaping from stone to stone in front of the Gate. The young man was moving slower still on the one path through the dark illusory forest. He could probably hear the cackles of his past calling him, sour voices, tiny lights in the underbrush beckoning. Vindici sighed for him. It would be hours before he got to the entrance, and it was beginning to look more likely that he would drop from exhaustion or be seduced by the call of the forest.

Vindici rolled his eyes in exasperation. Sunrise was quickly approaching and another night threatened to pass without event. Vindici silently cheered the youth on, his eyes focusing on the warm human outline that was swaying forward, step after unsteady step. Vindici tapped his fingers on the stone entrance, whose every crag he had memorized in subtle detail. He recalled the lyrics of a song he didn’t like and sang them, crooning to the unhappy forest.

Just as the boy neared the brink of human perception where he might see his destination and take heart, he swayed precariously and fell forward onto the stone-encrusted road. Vindici frowned and threw his hands up in frustration. Humans were so weak. He took off at a brisk jog, his beaded dreadlocks swaying behind him as he ran along the path. The boy was moaning, crawling forward while the creatures of the wood tittered with excitement. The aqua moon had risen before Vindici reached the swooning youth. Already, a harfax bird was tapping on the boy’s forehead, making black bloody lines drip slowly down his cheek. Vindici shooed the creature away and lifted the boy effortlessly in his arms, running back to his post at the Gate.

He couldn’t resist licking the boy’s cheek. It wasn’t entirely honorable, but he had just saved the young mans life (not to mention the future of his immortal spirit) and could hardly be blamed for taking a taste of what was already lost.

There was water and food at the cave entrance, and Vindici plundered his substantial stash. He supported the boy’s neck with his hand and poured water down his throat, and to his delight, the boy swallowed and sputtered, waking to stare at the green eyed Guardian. Vindici smiled, knowing that it was unnerving to humans. The boy gasped and searched his belt awkwardly for his sword. Vindici offered him bread.

“I assume you are hungry, since your pack is empty and the journey is long.”

The boy held his breath and examined the creature in front of him with curious fear. He had the outline of a man, but what filled the interior of his figure was alien. His mouth seemed small when still, but when he spoke it was obvious that it extended from ear to ear hiding glorious white teeth. His hair was black, beads and small skulls tethered in the mass of dreadlocks. He was dressed in leather; dark brown and worn soft. His arms were exposed, revealing tight alien musculature. Each of his three belts appeared to be missing weaponry, an empty scabbard or hinge dangling uselessly on his hip. As the sun rose, a dark membrane slid over his green eyes, turning them black and glossy. The youth steadied himself, and shaking, took the bread from Vindicis clawed hand.

“You’re the Guardian.”

“I am Vindici.”



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