“The Red Candle” (5.7k)

I have walked with Mordan Redgrave through winding mountain paths and claustrophobic caves for many years. This is the first time that one of his adventures – perhaps his greatest one – has been put to paper. Inspired by tales like “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, the Fountain of Youth, and “The Tale of the Three Brothers”, this story explores the fascinating interconnected circle of life and death. Whether this story takes place in this world, one that came before ours, or one yet unseen, I leave up to you, dear reader. – DT


The Climb

Mordan Redgrave stood before two knights mounted on bright white chargers who blocked his way up the winding path leading to the summit of Mount Krag. He wore only simple black breeches and boots, a soiled linen shirt, and a faded red coat. He carried only a waterskin and a thin-bladed sword of his own design. The knights, however, wore full plate armor which gleamed in the morning sun, their drawn blades ruddy in the after-dawn light. Mordan pleaded with them, not for his own life, but for theirs.

“Gentle sirs, kindly step aside and let a poor man pass. Whether you know me or not, I mean you no harm.”

“This is the king’s road, which leads to the king’s mountain, which contains the king’s silver mines. Turn back now lest ye find yourself in the king’s dungeons or the potter’s field.”

Would that they could grant me that promise, thought Mordan.

His inspection of the knights’ displayed heraldry revealed that they were in the service of King Conlyth the Gilded, a rotten old monarch whose reign extended only as far as the arms of Isle Arget Eyth reached into the tumultuous Seiden Styrm; a silver eye in a stormy sea, as the gods and birds see it. Conlyth’s crest resembled the surroundings that he ruled, embellished with his own inflated sense of self-worth: a single silver eye stared out from the center of a rotating storm of gray and blue clouds, all superimposed upon the helm of a gleaming golden crown.

Mordan remembered a time when the eye and the storm had been the standard of the Eyth people, a time long before Conlyth’s coin and crown had enslaved them. He remembered a time deeper still when a silver eye had marked the stormy island’s tribal ruler, a tattoo of significance inked on the forehead just below a tangle of gray, unruly hair and just above a blood-stained bandage that covered the hollows where the shaman’s mortal and deficient eyes once resided.

Mordan’s deepest memory available to him lay in the bones of this place, beneath this path and beneath even the mines the king held so dearly. It was that memory which drew him to the island after many, many lifetimes of searching.

“Move along now,” one of the knights warned. Mordan sighed and drew his blade.

“I’ve waited too long to be denied now,” he said. “You will not stop me, but you can yet save yourselves.”

The Knights of Conlyth brandished their swords.

“So be it.”

Mordan dashed between the horses. Turning to confront him, the knights crossed their blades in a tangle above his head. Mordan, in an expert display of swordsmanship honed over his many years, slipped the impossibly thin blade between horseflesh and the leather strap that held one knight’s saddle in place. With an almost imperceptible slice, the strap gave way and the saddle slipped to the side, sending the knight and his burdensome armor crashing to the ground.

Before the other knight could turn to attack, Mordan jabbed his blade through the space between his armored chest plate and helm, finding the soft flesh that gave way in a spray of sun-brightened blood, momentarily dazzling in its dwindling vitality.

The dead knight slumped forward onto his horse as his companion regained his footing and was in the process of delivering a skull-cleaving downstroke with his broadsword. Mordan spun aside and directed the blow down into the hard-packed, dusty path. The knight recovered and engaged once more, but Mordan simply danced out of the way. When it seemed as if the knight was about to give in to exhaustion, Mordan lowered his own blade and spread his arms wide in a welcoming invitation.

The knight’s broadsword carved a deep gouge across Mordan’s chest. The strike would have killed any mortal man … any man but Mordan. Though it pained him terribly, he was still standing; that fact alone was enough to bring the knight up short.

“By what devilry do you yet live?”

Mordan pulled back his tattered linen shirt to reveal a fresh, clean cut on his otherwise unmarked chest. It was already mending. The visible bones of his ribcage disappeared beneath layers of muscle and fat; his coarse, black chest hair curled as his skin knitted itself back together. In moments, all that remained of the wound was a thin line of red drying on Mordan’s chest … but it was not blood. The knight dropped to his knees.

“Holy Mother, save me!”

“Do you know me now?” Mordan asked, his blade pointed at his opponent. The knight lowered his gaze to the ground.

“You’re the Wax Man, the Dread Candle, the…”

“Yes, yes. That’ll do.” Mordan flicked teardrops of dried, red wax from his chest. “Run along and tell your King Conlyth what transpired here and to keep his distance from this place if he values his life. I’d advise you to do the same.” The knight didn’t dare move. “Go! Now!” Mordan yelled, shocking the knight out of his stupor and sending him stumbling backwards into the dust before righting himself once more.

As the knight clanged away down the dusty path, abandoning the horses and his fallen companion, Mordan set about relieving the horse nearest to him of its burden. He shoved the dead knight to the ground. The man’s blood had stained the destrier’s mane a vivid crimson. Once its saddle and armor lay in the dust, and once Mordan had offered the beast a drink from his waterskin, the horse allowed him to ride farther up the mountain path as if they had been companions all along.


The Descent

Near the summit of Mount Krag, the winding path ended at the yawning mouth of a cave. The natural entrance, once full of imposing stone fangs, now stood toothless, its bite reduced to rubble by the king’s miners who had cleared a path for carts overladen with raw silver ore. It was here that Mordan set the horse free to go on its way. With no light and no map to guide him, save the one in his deep memory, he stepped into the cave.

A long time ago, he had been carried along this same path as little more than a newborn. Much had changed in the innumerable lifetimes since fate had brought him here. He hadn’t been able to mark the place in the world through his memory alone, but now that he was here, Mordan was convinced that this was indeed the destination he had been searching for.

The miners had worn ruts into the path from ceaseless, back-and-forth cycles of cart runs. Torch brackets had been hammered into the wall at irregular intervals. The path had been widened considerably since his last visit by the picks and mattocks and sweat of the king’s slave labor. It would now accommodate a massive cart drawn by two oxen standing shoulder to shoulder. Despite its many changes, it was still the same dank, deeply sloping path that a young woman and her newborn son had walked all those years ago. Mordan remembered the closeness of the path, unyielding rocks scraping against his sides as his mother squeezed through the narrow passage, his rasping breaths echoing off the close walls until it sounded as if the whispers of Death itself had surrounded them. Yes, this was the place.

Mordan turned a corner and came upon an unexpected sight: the floor sloped down and away to reveal a cavernous expanse crisscrossed with paths carved out of the rock and tunnels that had been bored through the walls to create a maze of intersections, dead ends, and perilous pitfalls. Miners crawled over every inch of it accompanied by their carts and tools, watched by overseers with whips in hand. It was worse than Mordan had imagined. These people were so close to death for something as worthless as the king’s silver, and something as futile as the hope of a release from their servitude before their lives gave out. Mordan couldn’t guarantee their freedom, but he could at least spare their lives.

He stood upon a rocky outcropping that stuck out high above the miners and their carts, the overseers and their whips. Mordan drew his sword and scraped its tip across the smoothed surface of the path. Sparks traced his motion and a metallic screech cut through the din. Every man stopped his labor and gazed up at Mordan.

“Know me, miners! Fear me more than the whip-sting tongue of your masters’ discipline! I am the Devil’s Lantern! The Wick’d One! The Undying Flame! And I have come to claim your light! Flee now by whatever rat-hole you scurried in through. Let those who no longer value their lives stay and face me!”

Mordan’s voice rang harder than hammer on stone all through the mine. He hoped he’d chosen the most terrifying monikers that legend had attributed to him since he had no designs on slaughtering these indentured men unless he absolutely had to. Under different circumstances, he might have been drinking alongside them on a tavern bench sharing bawdy stories as Long Wick the Bard, or telling heroic tales of his adventures as Sir Ever-Light, or imparting wisdom through the fables of religious piety as the monk known as God’s Own Torch. He had been all of these things, and more, but now it was time to lay all of those legends to rest.

The miners didn’t move. Perhaps they needed more convincing. Perhaps Mordan had merely stunned them into inaction like pigs struck between the eyes before slaughter. He had no time for this. Thousands of years of searching, and now he had no time.

With a flick of his sword, the blade severed Mordan’s left hand clean from his wrist. It fell through empty air for all to see, dissolving bit by bit in its descent. It hit the cave floor far below and splashed upon the stone, leaving nothing behind but a red, waxen puddle.

High above, Mordan Redgrave held his injured arm aloft to convince the rabble of his power and the threat it posed them should they stay to fight him. Red wax bubbled from the stump of his arm. It pulsed with his heartbeat, flowing over his wrist and hardening little by little until it took on the shape of a hand.

Mordan curled his wax hand into a fist. The red shell fell away in chunks as he was left whole once more. He held his restored fist high.

The miners dropped their tools and fled. Mordan left his perch and moved down the path to be among them, to drive them out. In their terror, a few became turned around and ended up running back towards him, looking for an escape. He paid them no mind.

Two of the overseers chose a different path, one that led through Mordan, or at least that was their design. They each unfurled their whips and let the rawhide coil roll out to its full length, exposing a hard diamond tip at each whip’s end. They encircled him, cracking their whips in the air as if to drive him back like one of their broken and beaten miners. Mordan was not a man to be culled.

A whip stung Mordan across his cheek drawing a thin line of red that soon healed, leaving only a solid teardrop of blood-red wax behind. Mordan flicked it away in annoyance.

“I’ll overlook this insolence if you flee now,” he growled. The second overseer responded with another crack of his whip. Mordan snatched the wicked tongue of cord and hide out of the air and began to reel it in, drawing the whip’s master closer to him step by step. The other whip sang through the air. Mordan cut it clean in two with a backwards arc of his blade before pivoting to thrust the sword through the chest of his snared overseer. Left weaponless and alone, the remaining whip-master turned to run. Mordan let him. There had already been too much killing in his lifetime. He could only stop the one if he ended the other. To kill was to live; to live meant killing. Mordan was bone-weary on both counts.

As he traveled farther and farther down the path through crevices and cracks yet unexplored, deep into the world’s core, deeper than the miners had dared to reach, Mordan felt the hot breath of a hidden place, but yet a familiar place. His death was close at hand. What a glorious death it would be.


The Cave

If the cavernous mine hollowed out by the king’s men had been the size of a lowly goat pen, then the great cave before Mordan would still have exceeded the entirety of King Conlyth’s kingdom. The cave stretched farther than Mordan thought possible, farther even than the rocky coasts of Isle Arget Eyth itself. The limits of the cave, if in fact it was limited at all, were dimly lit by a countless number of small, flickering candle flames.

Mordan moved further into the cave. Candles surrounded him on all sides, their light keeping the deep darkness at bay, but only just. The candles were infinite; the darkness, moreso.

Mordan followed the only path the cave afforded him. It was smooth but winding, as if the rock here had been melted all at once and then allowed to flow in whatever wandering direction it deemed appropriate. Flickering candlelight cast a yellow-orange glow upon the rocks and set the shadows to dancing and writhing with each other on the cavern walls, beckoning to Mordan to join them. He pressed on.

Every nook and cranny of the great cave held a lump of burning wax. Some were straight-sided, others cylindrical, still others crudely formed. There were pure-white candles, dingy yellow ones, even black ones that were not so black as the darkness that surrounded them; all of their flames burned with the same yellow-orange light. They anchored in hollows in the cave walls and depressions in the floor and in crevices along the path, finding purchase wherever possible like living things scrabbling for a hold before another could claim it for itself.  Some lights in the distance, and even those overhead, appeared to float in mid-air, upheld by some magical force or an invisible chandelier. With all the light about him, Mordan expected his eyes to adjust the farther he ventured into the cave, but as he continued on his way, the darkness seemed only to intensify, impossibly, impenetrably so.

Mordan’s growing concern over the consolidating darkness caused him to tighten his grip on the haft of his sword, though what good the thin blade would be against the featureless void was beyond him.

Suddenly, the path before him shifted. Shadows solidified on either side of him like walls while the way in front of him – a new way, a way not chosen by Mordan – became illuminated. A breeze flowed over Mordan, a hot, fetid breath that caused the innumerable flames to bend toward him and flicker in unison. The ill wind carried a fell, raspy whisper upon it.


The sound was followed by a deep chuckle that rumbled through the subterranean expanse. It brought a chill to Mordan’s very bones. He steeled himself and carried on.

Mordan knew not how long he walked, nor how many candle flames flickered in his wake, nor how much time had passed since he had entered the oppressive darkness. Lives of mortal men may have come and gone on the surface of the world above while Mordan walked. And still, he walked, led only by the shifting path of light and his own indomitable determination.

And then, once what Mordan had long been looking for was inexplicably displayed before him, he stopped.

Set in the center of a smooth, level circle of stone, a marble pedestal stood illuminated within a smaller circle of candlelight. On this pedestal were two candles: the first was small, slender, pale-white in color, its wick snuffed out long ago.

The second candle was huge, as tall as Mordan himself and just as broad. It was blood-red and covered in crisscrossing lines of hardened wax scars. It burned with a furious red flame. Here before Mordan stood the secret of his unnaturally long life; here before him stood the key – the final key – to his long-desired death.

But Mordan had been fooled by false prophets before. Expecting some cruel twist of fate or trick of the senses, Mordan drew the blade of his sword across his palm before approaching the shrine. A thin cut opened and welled with liquid wax, but as it did, a line of blood bubbled across the red candle. The cut on his hand healed almost instantly, but the candle’s wound formed a hardened ridge of wax and remained there as a reminder, a marker, a scar.

Mordan kneeled before the pedestal as if it was an altar. Tears came unbidden to his eyes, not waxen drops but the saltwater tears of a living man. Mordan reached out to touch the smaller, unlit candle with reverence.

“Hello, mother,” he whispered, his voice the only sound beneath the surface of the world. “I wanted to thank you in person for your sacrifice, though I hope you’ve heard my prayers over these many years. I have walked this world for uncountable lives of men and the time has come for me to rest. I will be with you soon.”

Mordan stood and drew his blade back, aiming to strike a mighty blow that would split the great red candle in half all along its wick. He was stopped in his motion by a voice like thunder.


The voice stunned Mordan momentarily. He found the resolve to execute his final strike, but his body would not respond to his commands. The darkness had solidified around him. His body was caught fast within a vice grip that restrained his every contour. Though he could not move to defend himself nor snuff out his candle’s flame, Mordan found that he could still breathe, and in doing so, could also speak.

“Show yourself, demon!”

The deep chuckle rumbled through the cave once more. The pressure never left Mordan’s arms as the darkness shifted and condensed in front of him.

“I am no demon, Mordan, son of Elleth. I am merely a creature of the world, driven by my design, as are you.”

“Do not speak to me as if we are the same, monster. Face me and stand accountable!”

Again the laughter came.

“As you wish.”

The darkness shifted once more before Mordan’s eyes. It didn’t so much take on a shape itself as the light around its chosen form grew brighter, framing the darkness like a silhouette upon a backlit window at night. The faceless form took on the approximation of a woman, distinguished only by the shifting curves that danced across the candlelight as she spoke.

“Does my form not please you, Mordan, Light in the Darkness?”

Again the laughter rumbled, though its pitch changed from a low rumble to a lilting feminine trill as it rolled throughout the cave.

“Your shape is deceitful, as are your words. If you won’t face me, at least unhand me and let me put an end to it.”

“Now why would I want to do that?” the voice asked. “Haven’t you enjoyed your time on the surface world? Have you forgotten your mother’s sacrifice? Have you forgotten your task?”

Now the light intensified and the darkness took on a familiar shape, that of a young woman draped in a simple cloak. She stepped forward from within the shadows to caress Mordan’s frozen face.

“Hello, my son.”

Though the shape before him bore a striking resemblance to the woman who had brought him here many lifetimes ago, Mordan knew beyond the doubting shadows of his mind that his mother was long gone.

“Enough tricks, creature. I’m no simpleton who would trade his soul for trinket or trollop. If you claim to know me half so well, know this.”

The corrupted version of Mordan’s mother smirked.

“Yes, you’re quite remarkable, Mordan, but you come from simple stock just the same. Do you know how you came to be in such a state?”

“My mother sacrificed herself to save me from certain death, but you already know this. You caused this! Why do you torment me, save to prolong the moment of your own reckoning?”

A shrill peal of laughter cut through the vast chamber.

“You were not saved from certain death, Mordan. You were saved from Death itself! Do you think I’d strike such a bargain lightly? Perhaps you are simple after all.”

“What trickery are you about? Speak plainly!”

Mordan’s arms, still held aloft by the grip of the darkness, trembled, not with exhaustion but with the apprehensive fear of a long-hidden truth about to be revealed.

“Have you ever wondered why each of your lives have found themselves on a path of violence and death? Have you not figured out why you live so that others might die?”

The grim specter of Mordan’s mother waved a beckoning hand; a candle floated towards her. For a moment, the candle’s flame illuminated her face just long enough to reveal a skeletal visage hidden behind the spectral shadow-flesh.

“This flame represents a young girl named Madra, a child of three years who has been afflicted with the Red Plague.” She snuffed the candle’s flame out with the tips of her long fingers. “And now the sickness has claimed her.” The candle floated away as the woman-shaped darkness paced around the pedestal.

“The Red Plague is an agent of mine, one of many that will be unleashed upon the world from time to time in order to cull the living so that new life may thrive.”

“What does that have to do with me?” Mordan asked breathlessly, his own anxiety crashing down upon him in waves.

“Simple boy, you know the answer. As the plague is an agent in my employ, so are you, Mordan, Reaper of Souls.”

The pressure on Mordan’s arms relented. He lowered his sword and let it clatter to the ground. He fell to his knees once more, not in reverence, but in defeat. His mind reeled. An unstoppable flood of memories played out before him, a death parade. His lives had had a bloody history, that he knew. But he had been able to justify most of the deaths caused by his own hands: self-defense, protection of the weak and innocent, necessary atrocities of war…

Shrill, mirthless laughter broke his resolve.

As the truth was laid bare before him, the totality of Mordan’s savagery came upon him full bore, memories unleashed as if they had been vast volumes of water held back by a dam, now rushing through the broken and collapsed restraints, all guided by the hands of darkness and death. Scenes of brutal combat flashed before his eyes, scenes of slaughter in blood-soaked fields, of cold-blooded execution in full view of a raucous crowd, of an assassination before a throne room full of impotent nobles, of villages burned to the ground. The face behind them all was Mordan’s own, blood-streaked, skeletal, grinning.

In some visions, Mordan was joined by others; they were not quite brothers, but they were brethren just the same: an archer wearing a broken crown, an emaciated man bearing a set of scales, and a grim specter that appeared as if it was a corpse reanimated. Once the visions had passed, Mordan sank to his knees, left exhausted by their revelatory power.

“Pale Rider,” Mordan whispered into the darkness. “My brother…”

The darkness swirled, dissolving the form of Mordan’s mother in order to take on an approximation of an ashen skeleton cloaked in the grey hide of a skinned animal. It spoke, its voice a wind composed of the dying breaths of men.

“Rise, Mordan,” rasped Death. “War kneels to no one. Rise and complete your task.”

Mordan regained his footing and strength flowed through his limbs once more.

“What would you ask of me?”

“Pick up your sword, Mordan. Do what you came here to do.”

Mordan did as Death commanded and picked up his sword from the ground. Then, he hesitated.

“Why the delay, Lord Death? Why the theatrics?”

“I would have you know the truth, Mordan, and to know yourself. You still have a choice. You were saved from Death by your mother’s sacrifice but your life is yours to do with as you please. I relinquish it to you.”

A sudden heaviness fell upon Mordan’s shoulders as if the full weight of decisions made throughout his many lifetimes were laid on him all at once. He fought to stay upright beneath the burden. He could continue along this path as Death’s fellow Horseman, inspiring legends and cleaving souls for all eternity, or he could bring about peace, if not for the world then at least for himself. Despite the sensation that his limbs were anchored to the core of the world itself, Mordan raised his sword high with all the effort he could muster.

“Forgive me, mother.”

With one deft blow, Mordan split the great red candle in two along its length, halving the wick itself and snuffing out the crimson flame. A geyser of boiling, red wax spouted out of the split candle from some enormous cistern hidden away far below. Death’s laughter rolled all around him as the expansive cave filled with wax. Each candle’s flame was snuffed out as the rising tide of molten wax consumed it. There seemed to be no end to the flood.

“What is this, Death? What have you done?”

Mordan felt his own lifeforce draining away, siphoned off by the blood-red wax even as his own body boiled within it. He could sense infinite lives and memories all around him. Every place the liquid scalded him, another memory of a long-dead consciousness burned itself into his memory.

“Ask what you have done! You’re a victim of your own success, my Horseman. This vault held the uncountable souls you condemned to the depths in your time above, and you alone held the key to opening it. Now you will be consumed by them, even as the world itself is consumed.”

Before Mordan’s mortal mind gave way to madness and decay, he could just make out Death’s final words, sweetly whispered.

“You have done well. I am so sorry it had to be this way.”


The Candle-Maker

When the world came back into focus, Mordan found that he was high above it. Looking down from his untethered position, he half-expected to see a silver eye amidst a swirling, stormy sea, but he wasn’t quite sure where that particular imagery had come from. Instead, he looked down at pools of bubbling red wax draining back into the cauldron at the center of the world. The surface had been scoured clean. All forms of flesh, their lifeforces extinguished by the flood of Death’s cave, had been rendered; trees and ferns and crops and grasslands had been burned to ash and swept aside; rock had been reduced to molten slag; water had been boiled away. All that the wax had left behind was a smooth, featureless landscaped pocked here and there with holes through which the effluent of the dead world could drain away.

Mordan felt no other presence on this barren world, save one. Its vitality was warm and unrelenting, a radiating force of energy on par with the sun itself. The tone … no, the very nature of the force had changed, but at its core, there was something familiar.

“Do you know me?” the spirit asked. Its voice was omnipresent. If there had been a living thing left on the surface of the world or somewhere beneath it, it would have heard that voice and trembled. As it was, only the being that had once been Mordan was there to bear witness at the end and the beginning of all things.

“You are … you were Death, but have become … something else.”

Mordan’s own voice startled him, not merely because he didn’t possess a mouth or tongue or throat to form the words, but because it was the voice of an untold number of dead men, whispers of a species that no longer existed.

“I have become more,” the voice answered. “I have become all. But do you know yourself?”

Mordan had to stop and think. How much time had passed during his long lives? How long had it been since his sudden and violent death in the cauldron of the world? How long had he spent in the abyss? Did any of those answers even matter anymore? He searched his scattered memories for scraps of recollection.

“I was once Mordan Redgrave, a man who became deathless by Death’s own hand, a man who became War, a man … who died.”

“No, your body died,” the other voice boomed. “But you were reborn. Mordan, son of Elleth, Horseman of War, and brother of Death, behold! You brought death in life, and are now become Death in life hereafter!”

“You!” accused Mordan, understanding now dawning upon him. “You planned this! You tricked me into scouring the world of life, into becoming Death itself!”

“In part, yes,” the voice thundered. “But in fact, I saved you. There is a hierarchy to all things, and in all things two forces reign supreme: Life and Death, the one who lights the candles and the one who must snuff them out. I have ascended to the vacancy left by the previous Candle-Maker, the Creator of All Things, and have saved you – and only you – to act as Death. Would you have preferred senseless annihilation?”

“I would have preferred peace! An eternity as nothingness is preferable to an endless toil of snuffing out lives!”

The other voice paused as if considering a previously unexplored line of logic.

“Would that I could change your situation now, but alas! You alone possess the powers of Death. Now, you could attempt to kill me, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You’d be left alone here on this desolate rock with no purpose whatsoever. On the other hand, you could kill yourself, but I would just bring you back, of course.

“Perhaps the next time I scrub this world clean I will send you into the void along with it and find a more agreeable companion to take your place. Until then, you’ll just have to make the best of it. You can learn from me, Mordan, and from my mistakes. Willfulness and savagery are great traits to encourage in your eventual replacement, but if you plan to take a mortal bride for such a purpose as I did, do yourself a favor and find a simpler stock still. They’re so much easier to control.”

The Candle-Maker laughed, a clear, bright sound that reverberated against the virgin ground, but was simultaneously as cold as the depths of space and as intense as the burning center of the sun. It would have laid waste to mountains and raised valleys, a great leveling force of sheer power.

“Of course, in order to find a mortal foolish and bloodthirsty enough to fall victim to your plan, I’ll have to create them first.”

A thin strand of wax was pulled up out of the ground by an unseen hand, which shaped it into a crude walking stick.

“Take this as my gift, Mordan. Use it to walk my new Creation and orient yourself with the many lands and the peoples that will soon populate them. Delight in the knowledge that your skills will not be necessary for some generations. The candles that I make will burn bright and long, but one day when they grow too numerous, or I grow weary of my design, I will call on you. Your walking stick will become a scythe and you will know it is time to begin culling.”

Mordan, his own expanded power but an infinitely small fraction of the Candle-Maker’s, remained in his place high above the world. His heart was heavy with memories of the lives he’d taken, of past betrayals, and of future despair at the long years that lay ahead of him. As if reading his mind, his very soul, the Candle-Maker addressed him once more.

“Take heart, Mordan! It will be some years before snuffing out candles consumes your every living moment. Enjoy the time while you have it and know that I am heartily sorry for your lot in this. It is the way things have always been done. Some day in the distant future, it will be your turn to ascend as well, but not for a long, long while.”

Even as the voice ceased its commands, Mordan could see rock and soil building up, and seas being carved into the once-featureless land. He thought about resigning himself to the deep, dark cave below the surface for all eternity, an endless time spent snuffing out the lights of life, but then another more hopeful thought came to him: He could walk among the living bringing a painless end to those who suffered and a vengeful death to those who sinned.

“Father? Father, can I ask you just one more thing?”

The Candle-Maker did not respond. Mordan waited until the mountains rose and the seas coalesced into oceans, but still he received no response. Seeing now that primitive life was brimming in the coastal regions and the deep places of this virgin world, Mordan took on flesh. He stood upright and gripped the walking stick, leaning ever so slightly on the staff for support. Mordan draped himself in a fine black traveling cloak and walked the once-scorched earth now teeming with new life, and waited for the day when the killing would start again.


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