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The adventures of selkie THE Fox: World's end

           Atop the barren earth, she stood, playing the haunting melody of a song that had once brought merriment and cheer. Selkie hated it, but she could never bring herself to play the song as she first performed it before the ending of the world and those unlucky enough to bear witness to it. Years ago, she longed for the glories of Rogard, for his grand ending of this world and the beginning of a new prosperous one. And in some distant corner of her mind, part of her still did. Yet what she saw before her wasn’t what Rogard taught in his scriptures, nor did this resemble what her friend and herald preached of. Instead, she saw an endless expanse of plains and hills. Not even ruins of the old civilizations remained.

           Selkie ended the somber song and sighed, the music penetrating the air where orphans once played. Here, on this hallowed ground, she and her allies warred with and bested the undead horde that threatened to corrupt and overwhelm the Spire. Their leader spoke of an end that would come not by them, but by demons rising forth from their labyrinth beneath the earth. She and the others chose their own path to challenge the demons, refusing to pay heed to what the undead abominations claimed. Now, as she peered across the barren rock at the low-hanging brown star, she wondered if the undead would have been preferable.

           Selkie’s tail flickered as if begging her to resume playing her violin. Or perhaps, to return home to the city they failed to save. One city survived the false apocalypse, but she and the others shouldn’t call it surviving. After Selkie’s inability to control the device that would have returned them to the Spire, Kya attempted to warp Amaris and its inhabitants to another plane of existence. Instead, they found themselves on a ruined planet, destroyed by the queen who the legends predestined them to defeat.

           But when has destiny ever played out? 

Selkie spat on the ground and stomped her spittle underfoot. They never witnessed the fall of the Spire, but every night, Selkie dreamed of its end. She saw that queen, that evil, manipulative bitch ravaging their allies as the demons rose out of the Labyrinth to twist the world in their image. She saw the valiant goblin septuplets perishing under a wave of Reverent, those ghostly armored guards the queen commanded. No one could stop the Reverent. They slaughtered all who stood within the Spire.

           Mareks one through seven died for them, along with Commander Joanna and so many others, all of whom waited for the saviors who never came. Selkie slashed the bow across the strings of her violin. It was because of her mistake that they failed. Selkie couldn’t even bring herself to blame the queen. No, she alone held responsibility for her failure to understand that device. Kya may have failed to transport them to another plane, but it had been Selkie who couldn’t bring about the proper end.

           The people dubbed Aerith the Herald of Rogard, yet Selkie knew Aerith wasn’t to blame. She did everything she could to bring about the proper ending. Instead, they condemned the survivors to this desolate, barren land. The citizens of Amaris, while free of the undead, now lived on scant water and ragged weeds. Some mange ridden animals had survived, but not enough to sustain their population. Selkie dreaded the day Amaris died.

           When her song ended, Selkie dropped the violin on the ground. Shifting from her humanoid fox form to her human form, she retained her bushy fox tail and ears to scratch. A lone wanderer she became. Maybe she didn’t quite deserve this fate, but Selkie had nowhere else to wander. She tapped her foot on the ground, her ears twitching at the sight of a figure walking toward her. She inhaled and clenched her fists, ready to flee until she saw the figure to not be a demon, but a man.

           Can’t be the others then. 

           While she was certain Kya, Tianna, Aerith, and Lillia would search for her, unlike her, they knew their duty to defend Amaris. They wouldn’t abandon the city. She grimaced. Such a great hero she was. An amazing savior. Selkie spat once more onto the ground, imagining herself as the spittle she crushed beneath her feet. Coward or not, she at least knew they couldn’t save those who remained.

           If not a friend, who was he? She doubted any of the citizens of Amaris would journey this far into the wilderness. None of them knew the location of the Spire. Even if she wanted to, she couldn’t leave tracks on barren stone.

          Despite her sneer and the maniacal glare across her face, the man continued his approach. Steel-gray hair, a stooped back, and tattered clothes, she saw him unremarkable if not for the fact of his survival. The closer he advanced, the younger he grew until a man in his late twenties stood before her.

           “Who are you?” Selkie asked. Bitterness felt natural to her voice. Long gone were her overexcited, carefree days of yore.

           He studied her. She didn’t flinch, as she might have once done. Instead, she met his gaze with hardened eyes. He said, “It has been years since I’ve seen a shapeshifter.”

           “Of course you wouldn’t have. They’re all dead except for me.”

           A smirk crossed his face. Selkie growled, assuming he meant to mock her. The man said, “There are still plenty from where I am from.”

           The stern frown ruptured her face. She stifled the excitement the moment it reared. “You lie.” Amaris is all that’s left, you old fool.

           “I have watched you, Selkie. Like countless others, you are a lost soul who inhabits these ruins.”

           She didn’t bother asking how he knew her name. “Others couldn’t have survived. The demons broke out of the Labyrinth the moment the sun died. Look around you, and you’ll see what they wrought. We survived because we attempted a plane jump.” But a man not from Amaris stood before her. Or maybe she went insane, seeing figments of her imagination.

           He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. She flinched. “Others have found a way. All is not lost. Go, return to your home.”

           “Why would you care what I do?”

           He stepped back, watching her with eyes shining from the faint glow of the dead star above them. “Like you, I possess magical talent. Mine is the ability to see into the mind. I know your struggles, and the yearning to see your companions. None of us have much time before the Labyrinth claims its last soul.”

           “Then why are you here?”

           “Unlike Amaris, the citizens of Martell scattered after the end. In what was once a massive city, less than one hundred live.”

           Her frown deepened. “I don’t believe you.”

           His smirk turned into a chuckle. “You are wiser than you think, Selkie. My survival is a mystery to you, and I intend to keep it that way. Know Amaris isn’t the only city left standing.”

           She allowed the ghost of a smile to her lips. “If that’s true, you won’t last long.”

           “But do you know that, Selkie?” He assumed the face of an old man once more. “You, Aerith, and the others did not know the world would die this way. You believe the remaining population will go extinct. All you do is dwell in self-pity. How can you know for certain?”

           She snarled. “We didn’t always. We hunted the queen for years.”

           “But gave up.”

           “We couldn’t find her! And if you read my thoughts one more time, I’ll rip out your goddamned throat.” She stalked closer to him. The man gazed at her with a low, haunted frown.

           “We both know you won’t.”

           She failed to calm her heaving chest. “I don’t know. I wanted to make the world better. What is the point of continuing when we can’t track the one responsible?”

           “You may never find her, but what does it matter? You have a new world to tend to. Do that. Amaris is only lost when those who fought for her surrender.”

           “We can’t live off—” She cut herself short. This man and others survived. Animals must live out there. Water must exist out there. “Please, tell me, how did you survive? What brought you to me?”

           “I am but a hermit. I too wander the land. Unlike you, I seek those who are lost. Go home, Selkie. Your friends await you. By lingering here, you will gain nothing but despair.”

           Without further words, he turned away. His feet left no prints upon the dust. Selkie yearned to call after him. Instead, she watched the man become a dot and vanish into the horizon. If she could just bring herself to ignore him. She’d rather sit down and play music as if he hadn’t appeared to her. But Selkie knew she could not.

           The others are back home. Selkie snatched her bags off the ground. Maybe he had a point. She failed to bring a proper end, but she could save the old. New life grew out of volcanic ash. Why not a new world? Selkie played one last tune on her violin. When done, she made the trek back to Amaris and her friends.

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