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Prophecy

Born in Korea, Jessica now writes speculative fiction and poetry in New England, where they balance their aversion to cold with the inability to live anywhere without snow. Previous works can be found at Flash Fiction Online, Fireside, Anathema, and others. They blog infrequently at pengolin.wordpress.com and have slightly more frequent feelings and opinions on Twitter @transientj.
"Is it you?" The voice was as dusty and aged as the tower falling to ruin around them, but in it, the Hero could hear the barest sliver of emotion, packed up years ago and locked away where it could do no harm.
Hope.
"It is." The Hero walked with careful measure to the dais where the Adversary sat.
"I was beginning to think you wouldn't come. It's been so long."
"I came when I was ready," the Hero said, with something like apology.
"The others faced me as soon as they came of age."
"The others died."
The Adversary had no response to that.
Slowly, the Hero climbed the steps of the dais and took a cautious seat. The Adversary raised a hand in reflex, but fell back before the motion could be completed, leaving the scent of magic burning in its wake.
"I'm afraid I didn't weather these years as well as you have." Now it was the Adversary's turn to sound apologetic.
"They've not been so kind to me either. But you were old when I was born."
"Had you come when you were eighteen like the others, you would have found me in my prime."
"And I would have met the same end that they did."
It was an inarguable truth. The Adversary changed the subject. "I remember the day you were born."
"I heard that a lot growing up."
"I imagine you did." Again, the faint trace of magic as the Adversary recited the words that both of them had come to know as well as their own names: "On the day when the rivers run gold, when the earth shakes off its slumber, when the stars fall from the heavens, then you shall know the Hero has come into the world--"
"--and when grown into the fullness of adulthood, shall deliver the kingdom from the grip of evil and usher in an age of prosperity hitherto unknown," the Hero finished. "Straightforward, as prophecies go."
"I imagine the king's seer must have grown tired of scribing them after all these years." How many had there been--seven? Eight? A dozen, a hundred? Each born into their own prophecy, each dead at the foot of the same dais on which they now sat.
The Hero's smile was rueful. "Maybe if they had paid more attention, they would only have needed the first one. None of them ever said we had to leave at any particular time."
"How did the King take that?"
A shrug. "Not well. The whole kingdom turned out on my eighteenth birthday to see me off. A royal procession, parades, the works. I'm afraid I embarrassed him."
"I'm surprised he didn't force the issue."
"He tried. But I'd been made to study the prophecy since I could read and no one knew it better. In the end, his seer agreed with me. 'The fullness of adulthood,' it said. I was eighteen. What does an eighteen year old know of being an adult?"
"They were children." The Adversary's voice was quiet. "Youths, all. They were sent here because of words written before they were born, words they had no hand in. And I killed them."
The Hero, equally quiet: "Yes." Then: "What's done is done. Things are different, now."
"How fares the kingdom?"
"Well. Prosperous, as foretold. It's been quiet without you terrorizing the townsfolk."
"They've forgotten me?"
"Not everyone. They still tell stories of you and your tower. But no one's really sure if they're true anymore."
"Hm."
"The king is dead."
"Good."
"Good?"
"I never liked him. Who sends children to save their kingdom when they have an army?"
"Point."
The Hero's next words carried the weight of curiosity, stored and ripened over years. "Why did you stop? When I didn't arrive, you could have come down and slain me at any time and enjoyed another eighteen years of tyranny until the next Hero."
"At first, I thought it was some kind of trick, some new plot. So I waited. I studied. I prepared for every possibility except the one that came. You never showed." A pause. "And then, I suppose, the waiting became a habit. Next I knew, I was old."
"It wasn't a plot, not really. I just knew I wasn't ready, there were things I still wanted to do. Spend time with my family. Read books about something other than prophecy. Learn a trade. Fall in love."
"You married?"
"Yes. He left me, though."
"I'm sorry."
"Thank you. I think it helped. Losing--that's just another part of life."
"I wouldn't know about that."
"Would you like to?"
"What do you mean?"
"You've been in this tower as long as anyone can remember. The townsfolk probably all think you're dead. You don't have to stay here; come back to the village with me. Live a normal life."
"Wh--what would I do?"
"The king's seer is still alive. She's set up a nice little cottage in the woods where she tells fortunes. I'm sure she'd enjoy someone to talk magic with and reminisce about the old days."
"The prophecy--"
"Doesn't say anything more about you dying than it did about me having to face you twenty years ago. The kingdom's at peace, the people are prospering and we're not sending teenagers to their deaths anymore. I'd say that's a prophecy well fulfilled."
Silence. Then: "Why did you come for me? I'm old, I've no magic left, no will to be a threat any longer. You could have carried on and left me here to be forgotten."
"Not much of a hero, am I, if I don't save everyone." The Hero's smile was as warm as was the hand held out in offering. "Shall we?"
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 18th, 2020
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