Three days. That was the time he allowed to pass before he knew he must face the heart-wrenching truth: that Cynric Armande Komarov was never coming back. It seemed unreal, but not wholly unexpected. Their relationship had been delicate before the resulting break-up that neither had really expected. They had been in love; such a broken unity seemed like only a product of nightmares. But alas. The two men hadn’t even made it to Russia before disharmony ravaged their passionate union.
Eli could remember his dark days in that damned endless forest, alone and starving for his ex-lover’s warm voice, his dog-like composition, even that damp, smelly rust-colored fur of his. Day after day he had clung to the roots of that massive tree, the one marked as North’s haunt by scent and the little orange hairs lodged beneath the chipped bark. Day after day he waited and wasted away. Oh, he’d glimpsed the shepherd-stag meandering through the mist and snow a time or two, but not once did his steely blue eyes fall on the blue stag’s broken body. Once, before his strength had completely gone away, Eli even dared to approach his past lover. North had been lounging in the shallow waters with the cat creature Umay cuddled up to his shoulder. No sooner had the shepherd gotten wind of the boy’s scent did he rise and jog to the pond bank and back into the trees, leaving his companion confused and the blue stag shattered. He bugled like a wild animal after his partner until his voice became too hoarse for speech. From that day on, Eli was convinced Cynric didn’t care at all for him anymore. And so he gave up hope. Became a skeleton under that tree. Had even fractured his hip in a minor scrape, rendering him immobile.
But one dark evening, the chimera had a change of heart. Out of the fog he came and scooped up the suffering blue stag with every ounce of compassion Eli had once known before. Into their portal they escaped, and before midnight, Eli lay as a man again in a bed he and his savior were very well acquainted with from their escapades under the sheets. In the morning, the shepherd-turned-militant woke him with a glorious breakfast, and a date down at the beach later that afternoon. It was all short-lived. That date never happened. The cheese quiche was hardly touched. There remained a chasm between the two men, one that could not be overcome. Cynric had fallen out of love with his Khranitel. It was the only explanation for his sudden disappearance that day.
Hope kept the weakling boy in bed for those three days, but they were not without unrest. Every hour, Eli wailed for Cynric and then took up the cry again at the slightest sound in the house. He was bound to the mattress by fatigue, illness, and a broken bone; searching for his savior was out of the question. Surely he’d tumble down the stairs and die. Tears and sleepless nights were in abundance, and gradually, the voices Cynric had once tamed began to whisper in his ear again. He’s not coming back. He’s not coming back.
"We have to find him."
He is with the kitten. His one true love.
"You’re lying! It isn’t true.."
Would you like to see for yourself?
"Y-Yes. Please, help me. I can’t stay in this goddamned bed any longer."
It was entirely too easy for the multitude of paranormal identities sheltering inside the boy to take possession of him, choke his very soul and blind his sight so that Their eyes could look out at the world through his pair of sapphires. An hour later, and the fracture in his hip had been mended. Eyes aflame with purpose, Eli drew back the covers and tightened the robe he wore around the bones popping from his skin. His stride was unsteady but by no means slow, an impossible speed for the walking corpse he’d become; it was plain his feet were guided by the otherworldly forces at the helm.
His stag form was equally frightening, the way he moved with a crushing darkness in his wake, his sapphire eyes burning through the wolf’s skull planted on his face. He combed every inch of the forest for the chimera, his gifted strength never once waning. Hours of searching yielded little results, until. Until. There he was. Black and orange, that long sweeping tail, jagged antlers. There she was, fresh stitches under her jaw no doubt from Cynric doctoring her. So close, so intimate. The blue stag lingered, hidden by a curtain of falling snow and the surrounding trees, the force of Their very presence smothering the light, making the air heavy and thick, hard to breathe.
You are not his Khranitel any longer.
The tears were out of place on the stag’s hardened, stoney expression as he made the slow trudge back to the portal. Blood stained the new white powder on the ground in quarts, sure to frighten any passerby. He was nearly about to pass through the ripple against the white when he halted, a sign that the boy himself was just as much in control as the souls he harbored.
"Wait. Esll.. it is time to tell him."
You will not tell him anything.
"Look at what I have done for you! I gave you new life! I let you bask in the sin of your old ways for years beyond what you fell short of! It is over, gentlemen. It is over. You knew this day would be upon us, whether it was illness that took him or the heart of another woman or man. I wish only to put my heart out of its misery."
We will perish!
"You were past due!"
The following screams shook the very birch grass, startled the finches from their branches. Muted by snowfall, Eli’s roars and Their combined voice was no less disruptive to the quiet of those hills. For half an hour it lasted, until the stag’s throat was raw and he was left to stew in frustration and grief. He was on the move again minutes later.
The Monarch was far more challenging to find than the lover who had betrayed him. Elusive and wary, Esll had adopted a lifestyle of total isolation after the death of his daughter Lily and the recent suicide of his mate Noelle. He would not be an easy one to converse with, but Eli had planned this visit for months. It was time.
For all the devastation he had endured over the years, time and stress had not altered Esll’s physique. He was as formidable as ever, with a hulking, muscular figure and the massive, twisted scarlet antlers won in battle from the demon Akuji stretching to the treetops. But for his impressive stature, the bull was shy of company and aggressive when met with a stranger, the specific reactions a result of Eli and Cynric’s combined torture of him in the very house Eli had left behind to find his ex. As soon as the blue stag broke through the brush of the hidden glen, Esll was on his hooves, breath coming out in white clouds from flared nostrils, ears erect. It took all of five seconds for him to recognize Eli as the blue stag whom had spelled his very downfall so long ago in the birch forest.
"You! I will kill you where you stand if you don’t explain yourself immediately!"
The wolf’s boney jaw parted from its cranium counterpart, and from it came a voice that was both Eli’s and Theirs. “Be at peace. I have come with an invitation.”
"That is hardly an explanation!" Esll boomed with the force of a shuddering volcano about to erupt, his rage causing the branches above to tremble, the weaker ones to snap away from the trees themselves - it was clear by the steady glow of the ancient key strung up in the bull’s tines that Esll had perfected the art of bending nature itself.
The boy’s voice was the more predominant of the hundreds when he spoke next. “Esll, it’s.. it’s me, Eli. I.. did horrible things to you, but now I am here to make it right. It was a mis-“
A bellow wrought with anguish and fury drowned out the boy’s confession. Before he could blink, Esll was charging forward, the snow leaping up in waves away from his body. The motion was too quick for the blue stag alone to evade, but fortunately, They were swift enough to act. An invisible force brought a halt to the raging butterfly stag in the form of grabbing hands and the weight of many bodies slamming into him head on. Esll was thrown back and left sprawling on the ground, fighting off unseen enemies with primitive snorts and growls. Finally, he lay still and trembling, his limbs pinned together. Eli approached cautiously.
"Esll, listen to me. I cannot hope to utter an apology great enough to erase all the pain I have caused you. If it is any comfort at all, my days in this world are numbered. As my last deed, I have secured a home for you. A place in which you can dwell forever, a sanctuary from this insulting afterlife. You will be safe there, I swea-"
"Bullshit. You and your thug Komarov have returned to capture me."
The name was a wound to his heart. They recovered the boy’s composure before he succumbed to tears again. “Not this time, not ever again. The dimension we sent you into, the world in which you walked as a human, that is what I am giving to you. M-… Komarov and I have made good use of it, but we are never to return there. It is yours.”
The Monarch grunted as he struggled, but the weight remained against his legs and stomach. “You’re lying.”
"No, I am telling you the truth. I swear on my life, Esll."
"And Komarov, does he lie in wait on the other side of that portal?"
"Komarov is gone. I will seal the portal behind you so that he can never enter. I will be gone by the morrow. There are other humans in that dimension, but the two of us will never trouble you again."
"I want his blood! I want his head! What that man did to me was heinous!" The trees began to creak and the snow rose up in small flurries around the Monarch’s body. Esll struggled harder than ever, a snarl on his lips. "I will kill him!"
Eli shut his eyes, tried to hush his thoughts, but he was too late. The opportunity to speak out against Cynric was just too golden for Them to ignore. In a hardened voice, the blue stag replied coldly, “You have my permission to try.”
From there, Eli gave a detailed description of the area surrounding the portal, the best paths to take to reach it, and what Esll should be looking for when he got there. Then he left the glen, and only when he was at least a mile away did Esll’s bonds vanish. The bull’s threatening bugles followed the boy all the way back to the portal and rang in his ears when he became a man, once again surrounded by the silence of the empty house.
Despair hit him with the unforgiving force of a freight train. That night, he wept. He wept and crawled into the bathtub and slit his arms with the glass from a mirror he’d broken somewhere in the house. He bled until the bottom of the tub was no longer stark white and then he lost consciousness, only to be revived by Their healing hand. The cuts were gone. It was obvious he would not be ending his life this way.
He found a revolver in the study room, resting in a drawer in Cynric’s desk. It likely belonged to the man. Crumpled on the floor, he inserted the mouth of the gun past his lips and willed himself to pull the trigger as tears fell on the carpet. But his finger didn’t move. His thoughts were drifting in another direction, one that encouraged him to put the weapon down. Finally, Eli relented and sobbed into his hands, letting the revolver clatter as it hit the floor.
"P-Please.. I have nothing left to live for. Let me go."
"LET ME GO!"
It was then that They realized saving the boy would not be saving him at all. Eli was far gone; he had been far gone for years. He had been gone the moment he met the awful-tempered, charming, mysterious ex-militant in that godforsaken forest. There would be no more exploiting Their host’s body for sex and alcohol and any other sinful activity they so relished. Eli had become too strong in his love for Cynric. They could not reclaim his mind or soul, for it was too utterly devoted to the soldier. This was the end. They had only to accept it. Whispers of indignation and sorrow filled the boy’s head, and then silence. Blessed silence.
The boy tied his own noose. In the pink light of dawn, with Their strength flowing into him, he followed the loose gravel path beyond the garden and the fields of grass until the hills swallowed it up. A barren blackthorn tree rested on the rise, solitary except for a few neighboring trees of a smaller size. Eli climbed up to the sturdiest branch and secured the thick rope he’d acquired from the house around its girth. He wore the noose tightly around his neck as he reclined back against the trunk, a perfect view of the swelling gray ocean to his left.
Sorrow engulfed him. The reality of what had happened, what he was about to do, was slowly sinking in. Cynric was gone from his life. He had been brought here to die. Perhaps that had been the soldier’s last kindness. To die as a human would be his last grace. Sapphire eyes turned to the water, and his heart swelled. Although the man had skewered his heart, the boy loved him with what was left of it. And he would go on loving Cynric Armande Komarov into the next life, if there was one at all.
Song rose up from his throat. A mournful ballad that none save himself would ever hear. Moved by the this boy’s journey through the afterlife, the souls trapped in his body added Their own voices to his, and the song floated away to the sea, an eerie tune that would haunt the shores of that beach for eternity.
The sun broke the horizon. In the new golden light, Eli tumbled from the branch. The crows took flight at the resounding crack of the boy’s neck.
* * *
There is a house built out of stone
Wooden floors, walls and window sills
Tables and chairs worn by all of the dust
This is a place where I don’t feel alone
This is a place where I feel at home
And I built a home
Until it disappeared
And now, it’s time to leave and turn to dust
Out in the garden where we planted the seeds
There is a tree as old as me
Branches were sewn by the color of green
Ground had arose and passed its knees
By the cracks of the skin I climbed to the top
I climbed the tree to see the world
When the gusts came around to blow me down
Held on as tightly as you held onto me
Held on as tightly as you held onto me
And I built a home
Until it disappeared
And now, it’s time to leave and turn to dust
I love you, Eli Aldrich Sullivan. You were my greatest creation and brought many years of joy to my life alongside the character Cynric. May you rest in peace.