Garrison took him to his favorite place, the Garden of Sinking Stars. He led him through curtains of pink and rouge flower petals, deep into the trunk of a great gold wood tree. An artistically carved pool, barely deep enough to submerge the feet, covered the floor. Angels and eagles flew in spirals, each unique and identifiable. Heavenly images tiled the floor while raised reliefs encircled the rim. Shefa noted the love and care that went into each figure as even their eyebrows and lashes were detailed. He couldn’t tell how large the room was, a beam of silver light lit only the pool, but the waves echoed far into the dark beyond.
The old warrior’s feet slipped into the warm water and he felt the power it contained flow through him. Shefa watched Garrison regain the strength and mass of his youth. Wisps of white hair thickened as they darkened, not quite to the rich chestnut of his prime, but beautifully full and lustrous. A thick mustache and beard sprouted like weeds across his face, he even stood two inches taller than when they first met.
Shefa felt a change come over him as well. Checking the reflection between his feet he found a face he had never worn. His skin was a light green, just the hint of scales starting to form. His eyes gleamed as though lit from within, and his face carried the weight of full maturity. He could only stare as he tried to make sense of this alien reflection.
“Time moves forward,” Garrison said staring into the silvery light. “There are those who can rage against … for a time. Liches, undead, ghosts, spirits, the ascended like the SUUN … but time moves forward. Those who live for hundreds or thousands or gods forbid, hundreds of thousands of years, find themselves so much less than alive. The world I was born into … is gone. Dead and buried. Not even its dust remains. Everyone I knew, loved, sired with my own flesh and blood … nothing more than phantoms haunting my weary skull.”
Shefa said nothing, there was nothing to say. Garrison dropped his head from the light, as though his soul could no longer bear its weight. Caramel strands cascaded around his head, tumbling over each other in silky waves to clear his ears and cast his weary face in cryptic shadow.
“Man was not meant to be eternal. We are whipped from the ether into this semisolid form to walk this world for a while … and only a while. Then we return to the mist from wince we came.” He went silent. Shefa waited. They bathed in mystic water by the light of a silver star until the younger couldn’t bare the silence.
“Has it all been so bad, brother?”
“All? No. There were times…” He smiled then, thin and wistful, but beautiful in its fragility. “The birth of my children, even the ones born still… The first time I stood atop a mountain of my enemies, my toes wet and sticky with their blood. That was a good time. My wife…”
“Then wasn’t it all worth it?”
Garrison chortled, dark and brutal like the bark of a predator. “Kaharh, she is your chosen, yes?”
“She is my friend a- “
“Do you fuck her?” The bluntness of the words stunned Shefa. When he recovered, it angered him. Garrison turned those sad brown eyes on him and let the pain he usually hides there, flow.
“When you are in her arms, between her thighs ravaging her tiny body, and her, enduring the pain for your pleasure, you are no doubt in heaven, yes?”
“Yes.” Shefa blushed, swallowing hard.
“How much life do you live between those moments?” Shefa said nothing.
“There was 40 years of loneliness between the death of my first family and the beginning of my second. Longer for my third. You have yet to see 40 years. Imagine, every thing, every day of life you have experienced thus far held no joy, only the fading memories of joys long gone. Imagine it. Now double it. No, it was not all worth it.”
They stood behind thick walls, in castles of quiet, unconcerned with minutes, or hours, or even a single second. Time cannot be trusted in the company of friends.
“Why are we here, master?”
“So you can see.”
“Your face. What the universe thinks you’ll become. The reflection you see is the potential you possess, realized. Your best self. Study it. Remember it. Dragons consider themselves mature after their 100th year. When you reach that day- “
“If. If I reach that day.”
“When you reach that day, look back on this one. See how little even the universe knows. Trees will do as they’re designed. Birds fly, lions hunt, fish swim, but us, animals of higher orders, with memory and imagination, we are far too stupid for nature to fate. Where we begin and where we will end is impossible to know, but it tries. It guesses. Do you think nature knew at my birth that I would live longer than any man was meant too?” He looked at young Shefa with that thin crooked smile. Shefa couldn’t help but smirk back.
“Man was meant to walk this world for a while, then return to the mist from whence we came. I have walked every road this world has to offer. My walking days are done.”