"I have a question," I declared. Ehoa turned to look and the Serpent's unblinking eye bored into mine own, inviting me to continue. Before my courage left me, I asked, "If you are powerful enough to turn your allegiance against the Lord Death, are you not powerful enough to destroy him yourself?" Silence followed, and I swallowed, nervous. "Of course I am." "Then...why don't you?" "Because I cannot." Despair ravaged me from the inside. "I don't understand!" I exclaimed, dropping to my knees. "Tell me why?!" The tunnel rumbled as a low hiss came from the Serpent. "Stand, dotard, before I change my mind to assist you." I stood quickly, panic flaring. After a pause, the Serpent continued. "I cannot, because I am not able. I am powerful enough, decidedly. However, it is beyond my scope of reality to defeat him. The reason for this... It must be you. Has that not been made clear?" "I-it has," I whispered. "Then accept it and finish the task." "You can do it," added Ehoa. "Because you are the only one that can." Redundancy seemed to be a running theme in death. That didn't change the fact that I didn't want to. "We must go now," urged the Serpent, and surged forward, forcing me to race ahead in front of it, lest I be crushed beneath the miles of scales.
I couldn't see his face, but his voice, deep and strong lulled me into a trance. He moved closer, and I hardly dared to breathe. I tried to move, but I found I couldn't...or I didn't want to. He grew closer until he stood directly in front of me. Leaning in, with breath smelling like mint, he murmured, "I have been waiting for you."
With these words, the sword he'd been casually holding in his hand now not so much moved as manifested between the two of us, its cold tingle nearly icy agaisnt my lifeblood. With abhorrence, I realised he'd struck a deadly blow - for all my skill, I never saw it coming. 'Sorcery', I thought, and felt my knees give way - the unfairness of it all hurt me more than the wound. "It's alright," the lulling voice of the apparition sounded; "it is part of the Path."
My spine refused to support me any longer. I fell onto my side, my head striking the ground, unable to brace myself. My eyes, flitting to his face, were the only things I could move. He crouched beside my body, looking serene. A gurgled curse struggled to escape my throat, but he held an icy finger to my lips.
"Shh," he murmured. With savage intent, I attempted to bite his finger, but found that my mouth would not - could not - open. "Now, now, my child..." he whispered lovingly, pinching my nose closed. My mind soon realised that I could not breathe. It panicked, wrenching my body this way and that, trying desperately to fill my lungs with air. I laid there, seizing on the cold, hard floor while he looked on. My vision spotted black. The spots grew bigger and stole away my eyes. In my last moment of consciousness, I heard, "Sleep."
Awareness returned - suddenly, in fact so immediate was my resustication that I was profoundly confused by it. The forest floor I had been lying on had turned to desert sand - no, dust - and the wind bore scents that seemed strange to me. The light was dim and diffused in the mist that hid my surroundings from me, but I recognised the figure standing at a distance nonetheless - even with his hood down and his mantle thrown back. -"You!" I bellowed, and had him at swordpoint faster than I could consciously register. -"You're late," he reproached, looking annoyed and pushing the tip of my sword away from his chin with a frown. "It took you a good long while; time flows a lot less fast overhere, you know. And it's not 'me' - call us brothers, if you must: we're alike, but far from the same."
I kept my guard up, bringing my sword threateningly back into its original position. I knew this man, whoever - whatever - he was, had the advantage in this strange place. The only thing I felt I could do was show him that I would not back down. He sighed, irritated. Stepping back, he opened his arms, vulnerable.
"Come, then, have a go," he beckoned. "And when you're done playing around, I shall make tea, and we shall speak amiably by the fire as if old friends." His declaration ignited a fury deep inside me. I thrust my sword at his stomach. With satisfaction, I felt it dig into his flesh. But he did not fall. I looked at him, the sadistic gleam in my eyes fading. He stepped sideways, disengaging the sword from his body. The sudden (albeit familiar) dead weight in my hands caused the tip of the sword to drop several inches. Glancing at his stomach, I observed nothing peculiar. There was no wound. He was...perfect. Confused and angry, my sword entered through his shoulder. Its momentum carried it diagonally through his body, exiting by his hip. He should have been severely severed, but there was nothing. I sensed his tolerant gaze. It made me feel like a child, and I despised it.
"Now, I believe it is my turn." In a moment, my sword was wrenched from my hands. Before I knew it, he was swinging it horizontally, about to cut me cleanly in half. I had no time to dodge or perceive a way to defend myself. I just stood there dumbly. Then I gasped. A most peculiar sensation coursed through my torso. It tingled and burned slightly, but there was no pain. The sword exited my body and was returned to me.
"So you see," he explained, "I cannot kill you, and you cannot kill me. For this, there is a perfectly logical explanation. I, unfortunately, do not know this reason. Come, Warrior. Walk with me." He turned and entered the mist. For the first time with my right mind, I dared speak.
"Who are you?" I asked. A simple question, but justly complicated, for he could be many things. I specified, to be clear: "What do they call you?"
"I," he replied, "am The Wanderer. I trod The Forgotten Path."
That was all I had to go with, for the time being. He took me into the mists a ways, and I noticed he could make it grow less dense and back away a little by waving his hands at it, not unlike shooing away clingy children. I suspected he had soem sort of control over this environment. He stood still, even though there was nothing in particular in sight that he could have stopped for. -"Must be here somewhere," I heared him mutter, poking the dust at his feet in places. Suddenly, the dust rippled and became water lapping at our toes. "Now this gent, I'm sure you've heard of," he told me, and held up two pieces of silver to the ghastly figure that came rowing towards us from an unseen shore, in a ferryboat made of darkest ebony.