I was deeply conflicted but this was messing with my head again; I knew that if I stayed any longer that I would later regret it. I rose from the grass and looked past the clearing into the saturated darkness beyond the trees. I began to walk toward where I had come but briefly hesitated beside her. I bent down and faintly kissed her forehead, surprised to find the sensation that she didn’t feel as the illusion I had assumed. I worked my way back through the grassy thorns and into the trees. I shivered under their thick cover, and opened my eyes to the Scarlet table.
This time I more quickly regained my composure and orientation, “How long was I gone for,?” I almost instinctively queried.
“Again, I can’t tell you exactly how long-as I keep no Time- but I can say that I perceived you to have fallen asleep for only a few short moments.”
“Alright, let’s get this last one done with,” as stoically as I could feign.
The crimson vial caught my eye from the candle in front of me.
“But before I forget; I saw an old friend- a particularly dear one I suppose-” I again downplayed my recount, while reaching for the vial and holding it up against the dimmed light. “She held this, emptied in her hands. What is it- or should I ask what it means?”
“A wise question,” he tipped back in his chair with a creak. ”
“The seemingly inert substance you hold in your hands has the capacity to entirely eliminate the need- and reduce the craving for- sustenance, of any kind. Take it and you will no longer hunger, thirst, nor die of lack. But deprivation, it can well teach one progressive discipline and an increasingly heightened resistance to all pain-”
“If what you say is true, I’ll take it,” I interrupted with a laugh.
“To never be of want or it’s chains is indeed of value…” he continued. “Yet, as you know trying to force Death’s hand has its consequences, as does trying to cheat it. I rarely mention the option, as few would agree to forego something so oddly, yet universally deified; I had an inkling however, that you would not hesitate at even such a weighty decision.”
“Well how long does it last for? I would love to no longer worry myself of the imposition.” I thought of the ravenous pain in my muscles during imposed fasts and arduous treks. “Does it simultaneously reduce the pain of starvation?” I deeply coveted the notion of no longer suffering for the fact that I had not had enough food in many years. It never got any easier to make those ends meet.
“I don’t know how long it lasts- beyond the decades or if it’s forever; I’ve never again seen any one of its few partakers. I’ve a strong suspicion that it’s forever- or until you come back wishing to enjoy the carnal things of the world again. I’m still working on the formulation of its undoing…but that’s just one of my many projects, and I can make no promises at this time of its fruition.” he stared off towards the messy table, as if he had just remembered a thing long forgotten.
“so what are these downsides you so cryptically speak of?” I could not veil a slightly patronizing intonation.
“well despite the obvious forgoing of food and drink, you would become violently ill, should you attempt to do so again. You could still drink very sparingly, but it would be of no reason nor quenching. Many count food and wine amongst life’s pleasures, but you’ve apparently no firm attachment to such…” ending with the air of a question, of which he then appeared to withhold.
” I’d still like to take you up on your offer…” I hesitated, “and I apologize for my previously curt behavior, I was fairly worked up coming out of that first vision.”
“Think nothing of it, but help yourself if you so please.” he gestured to the vial, pushed back his chair and went to rifle through two mahogany bookshelves across the way.
I uncorked the vial, met by an oddly metallic scent, and tentatively put a few drops on my tongue. It was of a pleasant honey taste, but in swallowing it down immediately caused my stomach to wrench at the suddenly revolting taste lingering in my mouth; of which was remarkably reminiscent of blood. I allayed inquiring to be of no consequence, and quickly gulped down its contents. My vision blurred slightly as my stomach convulsed violently to empty itself of the menial remainder of its contents; of which, much to the rug’s relief was again merely a false threat.
Originating in a dull stab at the base of my skull, a sensation as though ice were filling every individual vein spread throughout at a disconcertingly slow pace.
The man stood still casually paging through a few dusty books, again entirely unphased. Picking up another couple hefty tomes he produced a modestly sized dagger from the hollow space in an encyclopedia of herbal lore. I sat frozen, consciously focused on his limited movements to attempt distraction from the increasingly heavy feeling embracing my slowed heart and lungs. I was suddenly gripped by the regret of the foolishly implicit trust I had placed in this stranger.
I sat wordless, anticipating either the feeling’s diminishment or final consequence. He returned to the table, placing the knife inside the satchel with the scroll.