The trail of blood was not difficult to follow in the abandoned Legion camp. From one soldier to the next, slain in the line of duty at his outpost, it blotted the ground like a spilled inkwell. They rested peacefully in their chain mail and leather, but unarmed, as if they had not a chance to react, or their movements manipulated to keep them from drawing weapons. Stillness ran rampant; time had no place in this location.
The Blind Prophet stepped over their bodies, pausing briefly to offer them blessings in the afterlife, and continued on his way. He was on a much more important journey than absolving the minor sins of fallen men, for he hunted the very source of this destruction: the monster Chronos, he who dwelt nowhere and, seemingly, at no stationary point in history. The Curse of Ages possessed by a daemonic soul who lived between ticks of the clock on borrowed time.
Chronos, however, was well aware he was being tracked, and had spotted the Blind Prophet as soon as he entered the central camp area. Chronos instantly dashed away to avoid unnecessary confrontation. It was unwise to battle those who did not keep him from his desires, especially mages, who had a tendency to be even trickier than he was. To be sure he was hidden from view, Chronos made another dash to an adjacent side of the camp.
Looking behind, he saw that the Blind Prophet was no further than he had been just seconds ago. Odd, he thought. Chronos dashed again, this time outside the walls of the camp. When he looked back the Blind Prophet was even closer, standing next to the door shattered by Chronos when he stormed the camp. He became confused and enraged. How could a man travel as fast as he? Chronos braced himself, then leapt forward in time, down a dirt path and around a tree, through a small patch of weeds, and finally stopped in a clearing almost a mile from the camp. He turned around rapidly to see nothing but the settling dirt and was relieved.
But as he turned to face forward, he was startled by the vision of the Blind Prophet standing several feet in front of him. It was enough to set him off and, sensing that battle was inevitable, Chronos tightened his grip on his axe. He threw his hand up and cast a large Chronosphere, distorting the time in a large radius around himself, then dashed at the Blind Prophet with bared teeth. Much to his surprise, he became stuck midway through. Had something gone awry? Did this mage possess powers even mightier than his own?
“Patience, my son,” the Blind Prophet whispered. “I must speak to you without interference.”
Chronos struggled to attack, but was unable to move his body. He was frozen in place as time around him continued to advance, only capable of shifting his eyes from one target to another. A sense of panic shot through him immediately. His brain screamed to be released, banging against the walls of his skull, though no one could hear. The Blind Prophet stood across from him and peered calmly into his eyes. Chronos had hardly noticed the thin line of blood that stained the bottom of the Blind Prophet’s robe.
“Those who seek the light of Sol are granted eternal life,” the Blind Prophet said. “The virtuous are allowed a place in his kingdom, so long as they abide by the commandments he has set forth. For as much as Sol is a righteous god, He is also just, and He must judge the souls of men on how well they have used the gift of consciousness. Does a man foul his god-given soul with worldly impurities, reveling in the sins to which he is led by temptation? Or does he strive for goodness, bestowing on his fellow man the glory that has been given to him?
“But because you are born of man, your soul is not your own; you have been imbued with false promises from daemons. When you die, you shall return once more to the earth; your flesh and blood will become part of the soil and your actions lost to time itself, meaningless to those who walked in Sol’s presence before and after your existence. Your words will be erased from the pages of history, blown away like sand in a broken hourglass.
“So, as man is given the freedom to choose, you, Chronos, must also make a choice: a great punishment or a great reward.”
The Blind Prophet held out both of his hands, palms facing the sky. In each, a small mountain of sand began to accumulate, trickling from an invisible source at the top of the Chronosphere: in his left, a pure white sand, as if it fell from heavenly beaches, and in his right, a thick, crumbling black sand, like the residue from a charred flank of meat. The tiny grains piled on top of each other, creating many dense layers that toppled over and collected at the bottom of the pile, supporting the relentless and unstoppable waves.
The Blind Prophet said, “You have been given tremendous power, and have so far used it for your own amusement. You perceive time, but you do not feel its consequences, even as your actions hasten the tragedy of others. You let time build them up, stronger, faster, fostering hardship without care.”
He motioned first to the white sand by tilting his head to the left, then to the pile of black sand: “Do you choose the path of light, upon whose quiet shores the sand sits with tranquility? Or do you choose the path of darkness, whose restless shadows stack, swallowing all?”
Chronos’ eyes, red from his inability to blink, darted from one hand to the other, intermittently stopping on the Blind Prophet’s face in a dire plea to abandon the question, or at least slow the trickling sand. The saliva in his mouth had already evaporated and his joints approached agony from their stiffness in odd positions. The piles of sand had overflowed the Blind Prophet’s hands and covered the floor of the Chronosphere.
“Although,” the Blind Prophet began, “it is imperative you know the price one must pay for a life of sin: your world, all that you have seen and known, will be repeated. I will send you back to the beginning of time. Before Newerth, whose regions have been plagued by strife and betrayal; before the Fall of Man, when science sought to take control of Sol’s natural world. Before the plants and creatures of the land and sea had been conceived; where only Sol and his divine ideas existed.
“To everyone outside of this bubble, it will appear as if nothing happened at all. Life will resume and you will simply disappear when it closes. You will not cease to exist; you will only cease to exist here, for your consciousness will be reborn in Sol’s light. There you will wait for millions of years, in patience and resolution, until this time once again occurs, and I again call you forth to fight beside me.
“So,” the Blind Prophet said. “Which do you choose?”
With every passing second, the fear in Chronos spread. He had been unable to process the excruciating progression of time. He attempted to speak, but nothing came from his mouth. He forced with all his might, straining his larynx, pushing air out of his lungs with such desperation that they trembled, but not even a squeak could be heard. The sand continued to rise.
“Time is wasting, Chronos.”
Minutes passed and the sand swirled in the Chronosphere, whipping against Chronos’ face and body, stinging his skin. It built higher and higher, and no matter how hard he tried, he could not move. Spittle could not materialize to sate the dryness that overtook his tongue and sweat could not surface to show his heightened anguish. His only hope stood across from him, an intangible hand wrapped around his gullet and over each muscle fiber.
When Chronos could no longer tolerate his paralysis, and only a thread of hope remained, the Blind Prophet released him. His legs were still helpless, mired in the dense layers of sand, but his upper body flailed with intensity. He pushed and pounded against the desert beneath his torso with both hands but only buried himself deeper. The Blind Prophet’s gaze was the same, staring through him with blank eyes and a stone face that weathered the insanity echoing from all sides of the Chronosphere. The thread was pulled taut with tension, and Chronos could bear it no longer.
“Life!” he shouted in exasperation. “Life!”
The Blind Prophet closed his hands and the sand stopped trickling. The onslaught halted and the waves seeped into the ground, grain by grain, leaving Chronos shaken and weary on the slowly unfolding dirt floor. The Blind Prophet walked over and extended his hand, helping the brute to his feet. Chronos quickly grabbed his axe, his fidgeting fingers tickling the handle to ensure they could again move by his intention. He focused on the Blind Prophet, whose face now wore a subtle grin.
“Then it is decided.”
The Blind Prophet held his arms out, and Chronos’s blue body was illuminated. The Chronosphere ebbed and flowed, distorting the space around it once more. Nearby rocks and bushes stretched, their particles altered through the perversion of time. It rumbled, then shrank, until it was nothing, leaving behind only a few misshapen atoms.
Lowering his arms, The Blind Prophet stood alone.