Reads: 22

The world fell away as I sunk into the realm of dreams. I found myself standing in a white void, completely empty, save for a single mirror. My reflection stared back at me with piercingly bright eyes. Not seeing anything else nearby, I approached the mirror cautiously. My last encounter with a Guardian was still fresh on my mind. Memories of the bear surrounded by the mountain of corpses, wanting nothing more than to end my life. I had been helpless to fight against that beast and I did not want to be caught off guard again.

My caution was unnecessary though. No matter how I looked at it, this was just a normal mirror. I could not see anything special about my reflection. It did not act on its own or look any different. It was just a mirror.

I frowned as I looked around the empty white void. What was I supposed to do here?

Hesitating for a second, I reached out to touch the mirror. The moment my reflection and I touched, the mirror shattered, and with it, the world around me shattered as well. The white void fell away to reveal a new landscape.

This time I found myself standing on the edge of a cliff. To my right was a deep blue ocean that stretched all the way to the horizon. The sound of roaring waves slammed into the cliffside below. I could even smell the fresh sea air. To my left was an endless meadow of green grass, lightly swaying in the wind. In front of me was a winding dirt trail that hugged the edge of the cliff. The footprints of those that came before were still visible in the dirt.

Seeing nowhere else to go, I decided to follow the thin dirt trail and see where it led. I walked for what seemed like hours without any change. More than once, I wanted to deviate from the dirt trail. I thought about wandering off into the green fields or jumping off the cliff into the ocean, but some small voice in the back of my head convinced me to keep walking straight.

Though my feet stayed on the path, my mind began to wander. I pondered what type of Guardian this creature might have been and what this illusion was meant to show me. I worried for my mom and Donte who must be stuck in a similar illusion right now because of my mistake. I agonized about whether I would be able to protect any of them in the coming war. This incident proved how little I really knew. This time it was a small mistake, but what about next time?

I moldered over the questions in my mind as I continued to walk. Finally, after what felt like ages, I started to notice a change in the path in front of me. It was a very slight difference, but I could tell. The dirt trail was less well-trodden than before. There were fewer footprints in the dirt. It was barely a footpath now compared to when I started walking the trail.

Curious now, I continued down the trail while keeping track of its appearance. After some time, the trail had begun to grow thinner until it eventually disappeared. The footprints had all faded now. I was the only one to walked this path.

With the trail completely gone, I continued to walk aimlessly for a while before I finally stumbled upon something new. Two small creatures were fighting furiously as they rolled around on the ground. One was a tiny brown bird and the other was a small grass snake. Both the creatures were rather unremarkable, but both refused to give way to the other. The small snake bit the bird and tried to wrap around it while the bird’s talons dug into the snake’s flesh. Feathers and scales as the two animals fought with their life on the line. Blood soaked the ground, and eventually, both small animals fell still. Neither one of them had won the fight and both had died.

I frowned as I looked down at the two corpses of the tiny creatures lying still in the dirt, not knowing what to do from here. Before I could come to a conclusion, smoke began to rise from the two corpses of the animals. Suddenly, both burst into flame. The snake burned with a familiar green light while the bird burned with a familiar blue. Both were the innate talents I was so familiar with by now.

The corpses burned brightly until nothing remained of the two corpses but a single pile of ash. The flames sputtered and died. Everything fell quiet.

I watched the pile of ash for a short while, expecting something more, but nothing happened. I decided to move on, but before I could take a single step, I saw the smallest of movements. I turned back to the pile of ash stared at it intently.

A new whisper of smoke began to rise as the ashes began to stir. I felt a chill down my spine as a new flame ignited on the ashes, a bright golden flame. The ashes all burned away to reveal a phoenix standing proudly among the searing flames. The phoenix stared back at me curiously for a moment before giving a low whistle and taking flight, a golden trail of flames in its wake.

Compelled by some innate desire, I chased after the phoenix as it flew into the distance. I left both the meadow and the sea behind as I ran. Eventually, the phoenix landed in a field of golden wheat. It turned to look at me as I approached, coking its head curiously.

The phoenix chirped at me once before golden flames engulfed it. I watched in amazement as the phoenix was completely unharmed by the fire. Instead, it slowly began to grow in size as it slowly transformed into a familiar figure.

As the fire faded, I was once again standing in front of my reflection. Only this time, the other me stared back with shining golden eyes.

The other me stood among the field of wheat with a gentle smile and spoke with a soft voice, “Is it really that surprising for you to see what you might become?”

“Who are you?” I asked as I looked into the copy’s eyes in hopes of seeing past the illusion. “Why are you showing me this?”

The copy of me let out a small giggle before she replied. “I am only an echo, all that remains of a song sung so many lifetimes past, but once, a long, long time ago, I was the protector of this realm. I killed a great enemy to take this title from him, but after many centuries another came to take it from me. Then you came along and took the title from him, only for another to take the title from you. Now, a new threat comes to take the title and the endless cycle continues.”

“The Demons protect nothing,” I said as I realized what she was talking about, “They only destroy.”

“Perhaps you are right,” my copy replied, “but in the end, another will come along and take the title once again. The wheel will just keep turning. Everything you fight for is nothing more than smoke in the wind. Time is infinite, but we are not.”

“That does not make it any less worth fighting for,” I said, gritting my teeth while resisting the urge to punch my copy.

“And that, child, is why I have decided to speak with you with one of my last remaining echoes. For all your strength, all your allies, all your plans, will be meaningless if you remain the way you are now. Your enemy will take this realm and without a miracle, you will be powerless to stop it. You know this to be true.”

“You have no idea what I know,” I growled back at the copy.

“I know enough. I know you are scared. Scared for your family, scared for your friends, scared for yourself. I do not have the power to help you, but I can show you the path that has yet to be tread.” The copy paused as she held out her hand in front of her. A small golden flame ignited, flickering in the wind. “You fear this flame, fear that it will turn you to ash, fear the unknown, but you have an amazing gift. If you are willing to embrace it, you will achieve more than you could have ever dreamed possible. It will then be your enemy’s turn to be afraid.”

“And do you know how I can control that flame without it exploding me into a thousand little pieces?” I asked, my eyes transfixed on the golden flame.

The copy shook her head. “I am merely a memory of someone long dead. I only know what she knew, but even that has started to fade with time. You will have to learn for yourself how to control this power. All I can give you is the spark to light the way.”

The outstretched hand holding the flame drew closer to my chest and I instinctually tried to move away, but I was rooted in place. Bound by some invisible force, I could only watch in horror as the copy touched the flame to my chest. Immediately, I started screaming in agony as the flame burned through me. Every muscle, tendon, and vein was slowly being burned to ash until nothing remained. I felt every second of the excruciating pain as the fire consumed my body, but beneath the pain, I felt something else. It was something I had never felt before, but somehow it seemed familiar to me. I barely had time to grasp at that feeling before the illusionary world started falling apart around.

Despite the pain, I could see the copy of me gave a sad smile as she started to become transparent. “I have used the last of my power. It is time for this echo to fade. The song has already come to an end, but I leave you with one last gift. Deep beneath this mountain lies my legacy, given to me by the shadow lost in time. I always wondered why she wanted it to lie here with me, but now I know. It will assist you in protecting this realm and may even have the answers you seek… Good luck.”

The copy faded away as the last of my body was burned to ash. Nothing remained but the void. Even still, the golden flame still burned.

Submitted: September 22, 2022

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