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            The old man’s eyes watched him, glazed over with a dead look of betrayal. Cyrus trampled the corpse into the dust of the earth. His attention shifted to the bodies of his former traveling companions and the strangers. A shame he didn’t reach this location sooner. How much he'd prefer to have played a role in their demise. The old man had the decency to linger a few minutes after killing the beast that slew the others. A pity. Cyrus would have loved to test himself against the creature and his former companions.  

            “Fenris,” he said to the three-headed white wolf beside him. A massive creature, Fenris could tear apart a mammoth with ease, staining his massive jaws with the blood of such a creature. “Bring Luce Pax Lillia and the others. Time to depart for our new home draws near.” 

            Fenris backed away, reaching the edge of the ruins in a single bound. Cyrus marched to the cracked fountain at the center of the ruins. To think, in the distant past, a savannah dominated these beautiful ruins.

            Such an exquisite place, an ancient home of a dead people lost to time. No one knew the cataclysm responsible for this civilization's downfall. Mysteries of the past aside, the corpses of his former companions ruined the rustic beauty. Fenris would gladly consume the bodies, but Cyrus refused to let such filth enter the jaws of his sacred beast. Instead, he’d bury them so they could return to the dust of the earth. Poetic and cliché, yes, but the phrase rang true. All were born of dirt, and one day, all would return to it.

            But not me. But not us.

            A terrible sacrifice he had no choice but make. Cyrus longed for the day he would rejoin his fallen wolves and friends. However, he had seen the future unraveled before him by the genies. The fate of everything took precedence over his dreams and desires. Many claimed the word of genies, especially those born of lighting, were always lies. This, however, was by far nowhere near the first time Cyrus had defied the advice of so-called experts. He had battled the genie into submission and forced it to show him the future, instead of just spewing out cryptic words that could be mistaken as a drunk’s babbling.

              Cities spread across the world, the oceans murky brown with schools of fish floating atop murky trash-ridded waves. He’d seen the earth barren, brought about by the expansion of human cities and dominance of dwarven tunnels. Violence and conquest had spurred the humans and other races onwards. From that, Cyrus had seen the moon fall upon the world, and creatures rising from the ocean’s depths to ravage what little remained upon the land.   

            He had hoped that the genie’s words to be lies, but oracles he sought confirmed their claims. In the beginning, Cyrus had tormented his former traveling companions for dabbling in necromancy and their incompetence that lead to one of his wolves dying. The taunting and games changed to hunting when he came to an understanding that their actions would help forge a world that would one day give rise to that wretched future. With the death of the old man, Cyrus prayed he had altered the course of history.
           He knew better than to accept such hope. After all, Maroo still lingered, petrified in stone. Cyrus vowed to shatter Maroo’s body, to ensure that Maroo would not doom the world on the off chance that someone freed him, but Lillia had begged Cyrus not to. Maroo was a defenseless man. While Cyrus had no qualms about murder, he spared him for her sake. For her, Cyrus would ensure that Maroo remained petrified for all eternity.
           A tiny hand took his. Only then did Cyrus realize he had knelt beside the fountain. “Cyrus, we’re here,” a small voice said. He looked over to the young girl, to Lillia.

            “Good." Cyrus stood and examined her, a little thing with long wispy blond hair. She wasn’t a fighter and while trained in the magical arts, she could use nothing outside weak healing spells before he rescued her from those whose bodies littered the dusty earth. “Have them bury the corpses. I will prepare the ritual.” 

            “I can help.”

            “No.” He didn’t mean to snap, but even as she slinked back, he offered no apologies. “I must do this alone. The plane I reach for is difficult. If I fail, the plane could reduce me to nothing. I would not risk you or the others.”

            She nodded and relayed his orders. Cyrus stared after her until she departed for the small company just on the outskirts of the ruins. He gathered his people from society’s outcasts, along with those who also wondered how the future would become. He had desired more followers before attempting this plane jump, but unfortunately, time was not with him. Fifty people and one hundred and fifty wolves would make do for now. If need be, he could depart what would become his new him to kidnap children and raise them in his way. No, not his way, but the one true way.
           Once more, he knelt beside the fountain, hands dangling into the warm, now bubbling water. Fenris curled up beside him, the wolf’s heads keeping a constant eye out for interlopers. Not that Cyrus expected any. He heard his people scurry by to gather the bodies of the fallen. Yet he ignored them. Now was not the time to reflect on such trivial facts as death.  

            But I will never pass on. At least, not for a long time. Cyrus squashed the thought away as his magic worked. The fountain shimmered, and for hours, he remained that way until the water became a reflective surface.  

            The strain on his body caused Cyrus to take deep labored breaths, and yet he worked well into the night. As always, Fenris protected him, the wolf letting none but Lillia come by. The girl was special. Like him, her kind would become near-extinct in the future. Not all non-humans would fade away, but many would. Their species numbered amongst the unfortunate. Or maybe their people were the fortunate ones. If he couldn’t stop what would one day come upon this world, then his and Lillia’s people would not know the future that he beheld.

            By the time his meditative trance ended, Lillia had fallen asleep in Fenris’ paws. Cyrus scooped her up and carried her to her tent. Back at the fountain, he leaned against Fenris, his eyes trained on the water turned mirror. In a matter of hours, it would shift into a window and then to a door that would lead into a realm that increased fertility and extended life. Not immortality, but a lifespan of over five hundred years for his followers. For him and Lillia, because of a wish granted by a genie, their lives would extend well over one hundred thousand years. All wishes came at a cost. For him, that cost would be his connection to the world, meaning that on his death, his corpse would not become one with nature. Instead, he would vanish from existence. His soul might even waver into nothingness, but losing himself would be worth the salvation of the world. For Lillia… he didn’t tell her what parts of her he had traded away. The genie told Cyrus, but he didn’t understand the full meaning and ramifications other than the genie claiming her first-born. 

            When the portal opened, he and his people would leave this world behind. How long they’d remain, be it hundreds of years, thousands, or tens of thousands he didn’t know. Either way, he’d forge them into a formidable army that would halt the destruction of all they held dear. Despite himself, a small part of him wondered if there might be a better way to achieve his aims. No. Every glimpse into the future led to annihilation. No matter the reprehensible things he must do, he refused to let that happen. For the greater good, he did this. For the salvation of all.

            Cyrus slept until a deep rumble from Fenris awakened him. Beside him, the wolf gnawed upon a dead elk, its face twisted and grotesque. Upon his awakening, the wolf stirred.

            Cyrus patted Fenris’ muzzle. “Come, my friend. Let us awaken the others.” 

            Once he gathered his people, wolves and humanoids alike, the water had solidified into a door. Well, not a door per se, as one could see the world beyond the shimmering surface, but they could now step through the waters. People gasped, a few murmured, and others sniveled over what they would lose. Cyrus pitied them. Not everyone’s friends and family accompanied them. Many had no close connections until they joined him. With deep longing, Cyrus gazed into the other world. Before his eyes, he saw the realm his people would soon call home. Spirits waited for them, fluttering around the entrance as translucent wisps, some beckoning with ethereal hands. After countless days of meditating and bargaining with them, the spirits understood Cyrus’ plight, and thus they became allies that would aid him. Most would remain neutral, but some agreed to accompany him on the distant day he returned to these ruins.

            Aside from the spirits, he saw a vast forest and expansive fields of grass. For now, they were bare, but his people had brought supplies. They wouldn’t destroy this world. If they did, he’d face the just vengeance by the spirits who lurked there. No, they would accommodate themselves to this world, build their houses, forts, and huts into the trees themselves. Anyone who defied such action he’d smite. He would not leave one world to ravage another.

           Lillia stooped over and peered into the portal. “This will be our new home, it’s beautiful.”

            “I know.” He turned, hands spread out as he addressed the crowd before him. Some questioned why he brought the wolves, but no other animals. For one, this new plane would have its own wildlife. Any plants and animals from their current world would be invasive species. He trained the wolves to not ravage the land. While selfish, but to him, almost more important, he brought them to fulfill his dream of having the most magnificent wolf pack ever known.  

            One hundred and fifty wolves numbered higher than any natural wolf pack, but by the time he returned to this wretched plane of existence, he hoped to have a pack in the thousands, if not tens of thousands. If lucky, the pack may number even more. When his people returned to this world, he would set up an empire, one that lived by the laws of nature. The Wolven Empire… heh, he still needed to think of a better name, would bring peace and stability no matter the price. 

           With an enormous smile, he watched his followers assemble. “My children,” he said. “I know many of you mourn the world we will leave behind. You feel that this is an ending, but I tell you this is not an end, but a glorious beginning. When we enter this realm, you will know nothing but peace and tranquility your entire lives. We will train for the future, yes, but my children, my beloved followers, I will grant you joy you would never know in this world. I will uplift you. In future generations, when the world comes under my rule, they will remember you as martyrs and champions. My children, it is with my most humble heart that I thank you for joining me. Many of you will never forget what you lost here. I vow to you, one day, the people of this world will glorify our sacrifices across the pages of history.”

            He turned from his followers and stepped onto the edge of the fountain. As their leader, he would be first to walk into this new plane. Lillia grabbed his hand. He smiled at her and squeezed it, helping the girl onto the edge of the fountain beside him. Behind them, Fenris rumbled, one head nudging Cyrus, one Lillia, and the third looking out between them. 

            Together, soon followed by those behind them, they left one existence for another. When Cyrus crossed into the new world, a gentle breeze blew against his bark like flesh. We will do whatever it takes. He looked at Lillia. No matter the consequences, no matter the vile deeds I must do, I will ensure our salvation. He didn’t know if the thought came from his own mind or the eerie wind that blew, but it spoke the truth. He may damn his soul to the pits of the frozen hells, but he would do anything, no matter how repugnant, to ensure the future he saw did not come to pass. 


— Zach Kuhl

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