Every time the clockwork gear clicked in the clock on the mantel along the wall in his study, Alvar Tanner’s heart skipped a beat and his trepidation rose.
His study was silent. He had sent his family away. He wanted to be alone.
The plush armchair he sat in was no longer comforting. His clothes were soaked with sweat.
Four more minutes!
The seconds were counting up to 14:30:00, when he would reach one hundred years and a day…when his time would finally come to an end. He was in great shape at one hundred, looking like he was in his early forties.
That was all thanks to the arcane age-extending treatments he’d paid through the nose for. Every year since his late-twenties, a mage would say a few incantations, inject Alvar with some concoctions and Alvar would physically age at a fifth of his normal rate, starting from the moment of the treatment. Regardless of when one started the treatment, they’d always die at the same age: one hundred years and a day. At that moment, one would suddenly look their age then promptly die. And if they missed a treatment, the years they‘d “skipped“ would instantly catch up with them.
Most who underwent the treatments until a hundred simply sedated themselves so they died in their sleep. Alvar couldn’t sleep. Most underwent the treatments to remain in good health until the end. Alvar underwent the treatments because he feared death. He was terrified of losing all that he had.
Alvar was rich, the owner of a successful aircraft manufacturer called Ansala. He lived in a huge luxury apartment filled with things gathered from his travels over the four continents. He had been married to the love of his life for seventy years, though he had lost her when she hit a hundred and a day a few months before. He had four children, eight grandchildren and thirteen great-grandchildren.
A Uthiran acquaintance named Baroglong who was pushing eight-hundred told Alvar he was lucky. There was a reason all Uthirans eventually went mad. It was the only way they could deal with the time. His acquaintance was obsessive-compulsive, nearly eating Alvar when he moved a chair out of place in the Uthiran’s warehouse den. Alvar didn’t care, he still wanted to live for a thousand years.
Less than a minute to go. There was nothing anyone could do. The most advanced medical technology in the world would not able to extend his life. Any more treatments were pointless.
His time was up. He could do nothing but reluctantly give in. He held up a small mirror and looked at himself.
The clock chimed on the mantel and continued clicking away, but Alvar didn’t hear it. Alvar had gone deaf. He could no longer see himself; he’d went blind.
His hair fell out. His teeth rotted. His skin wrinkled and sagged. His bones went brittle. He took one last wheezing breath and his heart stopped…
But that was not the end, not yet. His soul had one stop to make on its journey to oblivion. It was a limbo of sorts where all the souls of the sentient went, a place where Thagnar the Dead stripped souls of their attachments to their previous life. It was these attachments which would keep them whole. The souls of plants, insects, microbes and the like skipped this step, as they formed no attachments; most were not even aware they were ever alive at all.
The experience in that limbo was different for each soul, mirroring the life they had lived. For Alvar, he was sitting exactly where he was, still in his forties, but with one small difference. His wife, Osana, stood in front of him looking radiant and beautiful in her prime.
She walked to him and took his hand. “It’ll be ok, Alvar, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Death comes to all things in time. It ‘s the way of the universe.”
“But I didn’t want to go. It’s not fair!” He pulled his hand away.
She bent down and took his head in her heads, forcing him to stare into her sparkling brown eyes. “I didn’t want to die either, but I accepted it and slept through the end. Thagnar allowed me to stay here and take the final steps into nothingness with you.”
He pushed her back. “You’re not Osana! The last thing she did before she took the pills was saying her final goodbyes, leaving no lingering regrets!”
Osana transformed into Thagnar the Dead, a hooded figure with skeletal hands. All one could see of his face was glowing red eyes. “Osana was easy,” the deity said in a deep baritone. “She split apart with little effort.”
Alvar crossed his legs and arms and looked away. “You’re evil!”
Thagnar laughed. “I am not evil. I am necessary, While Illwyn can always form new souls from the infinite energy, without me and the end I bring, life is not worth living. Let me show you something.”
Alvar and the chair found themselves in a massive cavern with a large opening to the outside on a wall and a brook running through it. In the center of the cavern was a humongous blue Uthiran, at least a hundred feet long, curled up on the ground. Its eyes were glazed over. Its mouth hung open, a pool of drool forming on the ground. Occasionally an electric spark traveled over its scales and sent twitches through its wings and tail.
“We are on Uthira, mere moments after you died. No one here can notice your presence as you are now simply divine energy. That Uthiran lying there, named Imsomon, is twenty-five hundred years old, older than New Delta itself. Look at him,” Thagnar pointed a bony finger, “He’s catatonic. The mental stress of seeing empires rise and fall and mountains erode into hills has left his mind fractured and broken. He spends every day sitting in that very spot, staring off into space, growing ever larger and more powerful even though most of him will never move again under his own power.”
Another blue Uthiran two-thirds Imsomon’s size slowly walked in carrying a torn carcass of something. “Dinner, father,” she said to him in Dragon with a soft tone. She put the carcass down, tore off a hunk of meat and slowly chewed it. She pried Imsomon’s mouth open a little further and spit the meat inside. Imsomon swallowed.
“You are watching a daughter’s love for her father, a love that over the millennia-and-a-half of her life has become an obsession. All Thaxia does is care for her catatonic father: Feeding him regurgitated meat; giving him water from the brook; cleaning his orifices and removing his waste. She feeds from the same carcass, drinks from the same water, lives in the same cave. Her identity is his identity.”
“But why?” Alvar asked. “I thought Uthirans stopped dealing with their parents completely after a few centuries.”
“For many that is true; but not for all. Thaxia was the strongest of her brood, the one Imsomon was proud of the most. He took her under his wing and molded her into a strong and powerful dragon even as his mental state deteriorated. She never moved far, and when he finally went completely catatonic a millennia ago—“
“You can’t be serious!” Alvar screamed.
Thaxia began collecting water for him in her jaw.
“It is true,” Thagnar replied. “Imsomon has been laying here and Thaxia has been caring for him in the exact same way for the last three-hundred sixty-five thousand days… give or take a thousand or two.”
Thaxia was holding her father’s jaw up as she poured water down his throat.
Thagnar continued, “When he dies, she will die as well. Her purpose for living this long will be gone.”
Alvar put his head in his hands. If he could cry he would. “Stop this! I don’t want to see it anymore!”
Thangar waved his hand and Alvar’s face turned to look at the Uthirans. Thaxia walked back to the brook to collect more water.
“No. You must that learn that the longer you live beyond your time, the more of a relic and a burden you become. They have both lived long beyond their time, stuck in an endless cycle of repetition because there is nothing else. But do not worry, I have shown you them because that seemingly infinite cycle of days is not infinite after all.”
Thaxia came back with a second mouthful, but let it splash on the ground when she felt no breath. Imsomom’s body was limp. His eyes were closed. There were no more sparks. Thaxia sniffed and nudged her father a few times. She let out a pathetic roar and collapsed next to him. Her breathing slowed, and then stopped.
The cavern vanished and Alvar stood in a black void with Thagnar in front of him. The deity extended his hand. “So now do you understand why all things must come to an end?”
Alvar nodded. “Yes, I do. My life ended when it was still very good. I am glad that I have lived a long and fulfilling existence. My time has passed.”
He took Thagnar’s hand.
In an instant Alvar Tanner ceased to exist. His soul was decimated, his existence no more. His soul’s energy was now in Illwyn’s care. She would form it into a completely new soul which would give life to someone yet to be born.