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A Question for the Ages


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"Who are you?"

The question hung in the air as if the child who spoke it could see past this petty world, past my deeds at the fortress near Ironside Mountain, past what I myself could even recall.

I immediately began, "My earliest memory--" and almost as immediately stopped.  His small hazel eyes hung on each word, looking up at me from half my height, questioning me, criticizing me, doubting me.

What did this boy know?  As if such a young thing could understand how much of the oblivion I'd witnessed or the power I'd grasped.  As if he could know that who we are is never a concrete thing, always changing, always beyond our own understanding.

But had I known once, ages ago?  I couldn't remember.  The words "watching the corrupted burn" died on my tongue.  Was that really my earliest memory?  Was that all I wanted anymore?  Burning through worlds in search of... what?  

Could I tell him of the world I tried to warn, tried to save?  That's the kind of story he wanted!  But was it true?  Had I tried to save that world, or had I changed my views for a brief time for my own amusement?  The reflection in his eyes showed me he would know my lie.  These worlds cannot be saved.  Any chance of saving any of them was probably doomed at their creation.  It was so since I came to be and it has never changed.

This body!  I could tell him its history, tell how it slayed a winter bear with nothing but a book and my ingenuity, tell how it held the wall three worlds ago.  Tell how this was its last world, how it would never be used again, and how that saddens me.

Saddens?  Is that me, is that my emotion?!  I opened my mouth to speak once more, but I found I could not.  It was not so much sadness as inconvenience.  Yes, I had used this body to shape the result in seven worlds and it had served me well.  But there were more for me to choose from.  This body never even lived as it was -- a twisted amalgamation of body parts Anita dug up and stitched together for me.  I had more like it--a few that were even better but were far too expensive to use here. 

Would he be impressed with my wealth?  If I showed him rack after rack of swords, suit after suit of armor, all clearly bearing my emblem, would he know my success?  And I could tell him these were but a tip of the iceberg -- useless to me back home where my true fortune waited.  But he wouldn't understand the degree of my success.  He'd probably never held a copper coin in his own name.  And those trinkets wouldn't answer his question anyway. 

I'm a crow, I thought.  Maybe he'd heard of one in stories?  His eyes still seemed to be piercing the very depths of my soul.  Why look so earnestly if he did not at least know that?  But what was a crow?  An immortal being playing in worlds as if they were games?  But how was I unique?  My personal set of skills perhaps?  But do we not shape our skills to fit who we wish to be?  Don't the skills follow from our definition of who we are -- at least most of the time?  Maybe we're all lairs, picking randomly and then describing ourselves to justify our choice.

I should try to invent an answer then.  'A wealthy trader of weapons seeking glorying on the field of battle.'  No, wait.  'A developing trader of rare weapons learning the ins and outs of siege warfare.'  They say being humble makes one seem better than one is. 

Before I could say it, the child interrupted me again, "Who are you?"  Did he know what I was about to say?  Did he stop me because he knew that wasn't deep enough?  It didn't say anything about my past, only about my current lot in life and I saw I had failed to answer again.

I didn't have time for this.  I had the answer this time.

I said, "You'll know when you're older."

Before he could make his objections clear, I uttered a few words, gestured once, and lit him on fire.  He screamed in agony as he burned to ashes.  When the flames finally ceased, I turned, throwing my crimson cloak over my shoulder, and walked away.

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