This is an original work of fiction meant for entertainment purposes only.
Adam Winter was an ordinary young man, just turned nineteen, and trying hard to pass his college classes while working part-time, he was also wondering why he was bothering. Even he already had doubts his degree was going to pay off. Halfway through his first year, the nation was falling apart around him, and the very career he planned was looking as if it might not be around much longer.
He sighed as he walked back to the dorm after another long night washing dishes, knowing he had only homework to look forward to, and he'd probably be drinking too much coffee trying to stay awake doing it and making himself lag tomorrow.
Even as he was walking home more on autopilot than not, he belatedly realized he was surrounded by a strange, chilling air as light shimmered around him, and suddenly he was falling. Falling up, down, and sideways all at once as it seemed his very breath was ripped from his lungs before he suddenly slammed into the ground as he stared up at an open sky. He belatedly focused his eyes again to realize everything had changed in that same instant.
He groaned, looked around, and saw a line of men in genuine medieval armor of some kind all facing him. Some with real and very deadly-looking bows and spears at the ready. He frowned, and looked around, and realized behind him was a dark field with bodies and bones that looked as if they had been there a long time. Only some of those bodies looked recent, and very recently at that.
He glanced back at those apparent knights, and saw two of them now moving as a slender, young woman with long silver-blonde hair was now walking toward him. She was wearing a genuine guilt gown of dark purple with a strange scepter in one hand, and even wore a tiara like some kind of princess.
"How regrettable," the woman sighed, and it was shocking he understood her when she looked so alien to his eyes just then. "So young."
"Uh, who are you? What's going on here," he asked as he glanced around anxiously as he pushed to his feet. "Where am I," he asked as he focused more on the men with weapons than the girl daringly walking up to her.
"I will explain as much as you need to know because soon it will not matter. You simply need to know enough to know you are about to die."
"I'm….what," Adam choked, and took an involuntary step back.
"If you run, my father's men will only kill you now. Still, we've learned it helps to prepare the sacrifices so they understand and offer greater mollification to the Dark."
"You know….the only part I understood was being sacrificed, and I didn't like it," he said.
"Then listen, young man, and know you are truly are being honored here."
"Me dying is an honor," he asked in horror.
"Know that by dying here as a sacrifice for us you will be sparing countless lives."
"You know what, why don't you just explain that one? Because you're only confusing me all the more."
"Then listen, and know you will not be dying in vain. You even gain one last wish that may aid those you left behind in your own world if you are wise. Now, hear our tale."
Adam gaped as the woman told him of an ancient ritual that once let the humans of her world summon great heroes to help them push back the power of the Dark. Apparently, demons of some kind lived here on this world. Only one day their newly risen lord somehow altered those rituals so only one hero could be summoned, and he had to be willingly sacrificed or the kingdoms of men died and the demons rose to claim the entire world.
At that point, the humans had shared the habitable world with those monsters and devils, but it was an uneasy détente and could easily shatter. If anything rose to unsettle any truce, the trespassing kingdom had to summon a new hero to sacrifice, or the demons would invade. The princess, for so she named herself, had a foolish uncle that tried to attack the demon realm for reasons of his own. In response, a new sacrifice was demanded or the uncle died, and the kingdom fell with him.
"So, you people just murder innocent people rather than face your own sins," he demanded indignantly.
The blonde sighed.
"In return, the magics loosed by your appearing offer you one wish before you die. So long as you don't wish for escape, which cannot be granted or allowed, that wish will be granted. Most, as I said, ask only those they left behind to be kept safe or provided for after their passing. Most are older heroes, though, and close to their own end. I do regret you are so young. Still, your sacrifice will be saving many lives. So, are you ready to face your time?"
"My time. Time. So, just how do I make this wish," he asked after a long pause as his thoughts roiled madly, and he considered all the woman's words. After all, if he had learned anything from Professor Hamish's English it was language was more than grammar. Implications of meaning could and did change with every word spoken.
"You simply ask for what you desire most," the blonde told him.
"So, I speak aloud? Pray? What?"
"Just ask in your heart what you desire most, and the magics will hear and heed. When you are done, my men will make your death swift and painless."
"How do you know," he asked bluntly now, glaring at her as he sought a way out of this madness.
"What do you mean?"
"How do you know death is painless," he demanded now. "Have you ever died?"
The woman actually looked sad for a moment, then put her somber mask back on and said, "Make your wish. You die soon," she said and lifted her scepter, and four of the bowman lifted and aimed their weapons. All four pointed unerringly at his heart.
"This is fucked up," he said and closed his eyes.
"How to wish. What to wish. Damn it," he thought frantically, "Why doesn't this damn nightmare come with rules?"
"Simply speak your heart's desire, otherworlder," a faint, lyrical voice murmured, "And all will be performed as you wish before your passing."
It wasn't the princess, who he looked up to see watching him, and then he asked silently, "Who are you?"
"The spirit and will of magic in this world."
"So, you can grant me any wish."
"Any request beyond escape. Regrettably, the rituals that summoned you, otherworlder, bind you to this sacrifice."
"Right. I got that one. So…. What if I asked for….immortality," he asked of that strange lyrical voice calling itself a spirit of magic.
"That could be allowed under certain conditions," the voice declared without hesitation. "May I ask why? Your reason will affect the wish itself."
"I did pay attention here. That girl said only one sacrifice can be summoned at a time. So, if I'm immortal, they can't call any more people here to die. Right?"
"That is a very selfless wish. It is allowed."
"I'm sorry, your time is up. Goodbye, hero," the princess spoke as he focused on that voice that still echoed in his head.
"Then I wish for immortality," he said desperately even as he felt the four arrows slam into his body, and he gave a gasping cry as he fell back, eyes now on the sky overhead as he glanced briefly at the princess who now looked like she was actually crying.
"Tell father next time uncle can be the sacrifice," the blonde said as he lay there, pain filling his body as his vision blurred. "I will not do this again," she said as she walked away, even flinging the silver scepter from her.
One of the men reclaimed the scepter without comment, and all of them turned to march after her. His blurry gaze saw shapes and images as they went to waiting horses, and the girl climbed into a carriage of some kind and they all rode away.
He lay there, still gasping in pain, and yet felt his pierced heart still trying to beat, and his lungs were sucking in air despite the blood flowing from his wounds. He finally gathered enough strength to reach up and pull one of the arrows from his chest, and almost instantly felt a little better.
He wasn't sure how long it took, but he finally pulled the last arrow from his body and lay there staring at the darkening sky as he began to feel stronger and better.
"Well…. That sucked," he finally remarked as he sat up and looked around.
"While you are now immortal, otherworlder, you are not truly invulnerable. Still, as you live, and have been touched by magics now, I can offer you other gifts to aid you if you desire."
"What gifts," he asked, immediately curious.
"Magic itself, obviously. Strength. Knowledge. Anything you desire to better survive your own immortality in this world. For you are now bound to this world, and cannot go anywhere else."
"But no one else can summon another sacrifice," he asked quietly as he sat there plucking at his shredded, bloody shirt, grimacing at the crimson stains still dripping from it.
"No. So long as you exist," the spirit told him earnestly. "Another cannot be summoned."
"Good. Good. Then, I can live with this. It's not like my own life was any great thing back….there," he said, not about to say home. A foster kid, he had never truly had family or home. "So, gifts. I could use a little more strength, obviously. I'll get the feeling it might be handy. And knowledge, especially knowledge of this world, so I don't blunder. Only tell me about magic, too. I think I should be careful, and very prepared before I try to go anywhere, or do….anything."
"As you wish, Otherworlder," she now called him as if a name.
Sometime later, just sitting there listening to all the spirit imparted, and sensing every word of his growing power and ability was something she wasn't just making up, he finally asked, "So, why am I the only one that survived this sick game? Surely someone else came up with a similar request before now."
"None ever have in five generations of sacrifices," the spirit told him.
"Five generations? God, how many have died…."
"Almost twenty thousand souls have died on this dark plain. So many it has been renamed the Valley of Bones."
He finally stood, and looked out at the bodies and bones of all those countless sacrifices torn from their world, or maybe worlds, and brought here just to die. For selfishness as far as he could tell.
"So, all these people died because these demons and humans can't get along?"
"That is true. Once, they warred constantly. Then, when they grew too evenly matched, humans used magic to summon heroes to once more tip the scales of balance. The heroes drove back the demons, slew their mightiest lords, and almost extinguished their race. As you now know, that was when a new demon-lord with uncanny slyness rose to forever change the summoning rites to bind the hero, a single hero, to sacrifice."
"So, does my living stop all that? What about the truce," he asked.
"By all accounts, you did die, Otherworlder. You just did not stay dead. Just as you will always recover no matter the injury you suffer. As I said, immortality is not invulnerability."
"True. True. But the demons won't be starting trouble because I'm not dead? Or stayed dead?"
"All both sides currently know is you were summoned, and you died."
"Right. Only if anyone tries to summon another sacrifice…."
"They will be unable to do so since you still exist on this plane."
"Well, I sure didn't want to die for so stupid a reason, but at least I finally serve a purpose beyond washing dishes."
"And what will you do now, Otherworlder?"
"I don't really know yet. Still, maybe I should do something that might help end this….animosity. Maybe then war and sacrifices wouldn't be necessary at all."
"Even I don't know the cause or the fuel for this ire," the spirit told him. "Only the oldest of mages or demons might. Only a few mages mix with the common people of this realm, though, so you would be hard-pressed to find them. Easier to find the demon elders at this point."
"Right. It probably makes sense to get both sides of the story anyway. Can you point the way, Spirit," he asked.
"Of course. Due North," the spirit told him.
"So, do you have a name? I'm Adam. Adam Winter."
"Ah, a potent name."
"It is," he frowned.
"Oh, yes. Adam is said to be the first man made by the Mother Goddess of All. Winter is the season of rest before rebirth. You are well named, Otherworlder. As to myself, I am but the manifestation of the spirit of magic on this world. I have never had a name as you understand them."
"Oh. Well, I still feel….weird talking to you without a name. Could I call you something?"
"If you wish," the spirit replied.
"Okay, so…. How about Gaia?"
"On my world, it was the name for a spirit of Nature and a goddess who gave life to the world in some of our old myths. I think it fits. You certainly gave life back to me."
"Then I am honored to be named so, Adam Winter. Call on me whenever you wish," the spirit told him. "I shall answer," the spirit promised as it seemed to fade now and he sensed 'she' had gone elsewhere. Whenever spirits of magic went when not busy, he supposed.
He stood there eyeing the field again and felt horrified by all those bodies and bones left lay. Then something surged in him, and he felt the magic, his Will as Gaia explained it, forge an image, and he lifted his hands as he unleashed his first real magic spell in this very weird world that had summoned drawn him.
The glowing, misty blue energies erupted out of and around him, and almost instantly the macabre grim scene changed.
"Maybe they can rest in peace at the least," he said as the dark valley of death and bones was now suddenly a pastoral graveyard filled with countless graves, and covered in lush grass and flowers rather than dead, bloody earth.
"Now," he murmured, turning unerringly in the direction he wanted, "North, is it?"
He started walking and stopped to drop his bloody shirt atop the marker that indicated his own grave. Apparently, the spirit of magic was right. His spell supplied a grave with his own name on it, indicating that to the magic he had died.
Only he was alive and staying that way now.
He smirked, and said, "Did not expect this one when I woke up this morning," with a sudden laugh. Then leaving his bloody shirt behind, he headed north.
To Be Continued….