Drifting in and out of consciousness, eyes finally opened to a room bathed in a bright, golden glow. The sudden intensity of light hit his eyes sharply, causing him to wince and squint as if he were staring directly at the sun.
“Finally awake!” a disembodied voice exclaimed. “Oh my, what bright eyes you have! I’m sorry your vision is consumed by my aura. You’ll have to focus if you want to see things properly. Look towards the center of the room and then close your eyes for a bit.”
He sat up in the bed and focused on the center of the room where the glow was brightest, and the intensity made him shut his eyes almost instantly. Once he opened them again, the golden glow began to fade gradually; it flowed inward towards the person it emanated from, as if they were reabsorbing energy they had released. An old woman now stood before him at the foot of the bed; her face was weather-beaten, and full of wrinkles. Her hair silvery white, and she was dressed in a plain, yellow robe. He gazed at her and she stared back at him with warm, hazel eyes. “It’s good that you’ve finally woken up. I was afraid you were braindead; I had some of the residents here prepare a grave for you just in case,” she said with a chuckle pointing towards the window to his right, where he could see two men sweating out in the sun digging a deep hole. He looked at back at her, eyes wide with shock. “I’m kidding! They’re placing a new well there,” she began to laugh loudly at him as he glared at her. “Hm, I figured that would at least break the ice, but you seem unable to talk.” The man pointed towards his throat and made a drinking motion with his other hand. “Water? No, I have something much better.” She quickly left the room only to return moments later with a small cup that was filled with a boiling hot liquid. Steam filled the room as she presented the cup to her reluctant guest. She pressed the cup into his hands, and he stared at the sickly green contents as it bubbled and frothed like a marshy swamp. He looked at her, seeing the hopeful look on her face as she gently urged him to drink. Her sweet little face finally convinced him to give the weird concoction a try and to her delight, he instantly regretted his decision. He managed to swallow one gulp and it felt as if he were drinking warm glue, but then the taste hit him full force and he tossed the cup away and fell from the bed grasping at his throat. She laughed heartily as he gagged and dry heaved as he lay doubled over on the floor.
“What the hell was in that cup!” He yelled as he glared at her from the floor.
“Green tea,” she said simply.
“Green—Green tea?” He narrowed his eyes at her, “You’re lying!”
“At least you’re talking now, so what does it matter? Besides, a skilled herbalist never reveals her secret,” She beamed, quite pleased with herself.
“Herbalist,” he scoffed. “More like poisoner!”
“Hmm, you’re being very rude considering I saved your life and restored your voice,” She pouted.
“Look, I’m sorry I haven’t expressed my gratitude, but you gave me something that tasted like… like ass water—!”
“Watch your language!” She snapped, “What I gave you was an ancient remedy that’s been known for centuries and used by many mystic holistic healers around the world.”
“Well, I can’t help if it tasted like something you pulled out of the sewer!” he snorted.
“I’m beginning to think you were better off a mute,” She grumbled.
“First, you blind me with your little light show, then you make me drink something that tastes like death. Listen, lady, you may have saved my life, but your actions make me question your motives,” he said, scrambling to his feet and standing in a corner of the room that was furthest away from her.
The old woman sighed, “Alright, maybe my antics were a little out of line considering you just met me. How about we start over?” She smiled sweetly, “People call me the Fair Mother; I am the spiritual leader of this small village in the Outskirts. It’s a kind of monastery of sorts. We take in strangers like you and we tend to the needs of the people here,” she paused, “When I found you, you had nothing—no identification, no documentation of any kind. Your clothes were covered in mold and moss, so we had to replace them. I take it you don’t remember anything about yourself, do you?”
“What…what do you mean?”
“Our nurse examined you and found signs that you had a severe head injury at some point. She informed me that it could mean partial or total memory loss or even permanent mental impairment.”
“So, what is this place, a hospital? Am I going to be in your care with you feeding me…gunk?”
“No, this place is not a hospital, but we do have a few medical personnel to help the community. Think of this place as more of a monastery and I’m like an abbot. Now, I think I’ll give you a name— something that really fits you. Hmm…,” She snickered to herself, “From now on, I shall call you Aiken.”
“That means ‘pet dog’! I’m not your pet, old woman, and I’m not a dog either!” He folded his arms in indignation.
“Oh, you know that language? Damn. Still, it’s better than calling you Guy,” she chuckled. “You’ll just have to accept that pet name until you remember your real one.”
He sighed, “Guess I don’t have a choice. So, what’s your real name? Why do people call you ‘Fair Mother’? You a judge or something?”
“No, when I came to this place, I took up a role that nurtured many people in many ways. They call me Fair Mother because I keep the peace and I solved many issues since my arrival. So many people were sick, starving, and living at the mercy of vandals and gangs. It was a warzone, but I was able to provide stability.”
“How?” he asked, unable to understand how a small, old lady could bring peace and stability to a place she described as a warzone rife with crime. She placed a hand behind her back, drawing from some secret space a simple looking wooden staff that had the bleached skull of a deer placed at the top, as some kind if morbid decoration. Though the staff itself was simplistic, the deer skull hosted a rack of magnificent, amber colored antlers that spanned out like the branches of a great tree with multiple sharp points. “What’s that?” He was captivated by what he was seeing. The simplicity and beauty reminding him of the old buck he had seen at the cemetery.
“You asked me how, so I’m showing you this. I’m not permitted to tell you everything, but I can tell you that this staff is the reason this part of the Outskirts is as peaceful and functional as it is now. With the power it holds, I brought food to the hungry, health to the sick and a sense of spiritual peace to those who sought it.”
“Magic?” he asked, he felt a strange yet familiar energy emanating from the staff—a subtle but powerful force that surrounded the entire area.
“If you wish to call it that, then yes. It is quite magical,” she smiled.
His eyes narrowed as he tried to focus on all the features of the object when he noticed a symbol that was etched into the center of the skull. He knew what it was, but his mind struggled to remember it clearly. He was plagued by the feeling of familiarity with something that was also foreign to him. “I think I know this symbol…” he spoke so softly his words were almost a whisper.
“I’m certain you do; we humans refer to it as magic, but you lycans understand these symbols as the keys to the innerworkings of the universe,” she replied.
“Yep, I knew what you were the moment I saw those eyes of yours pop open. No matter how human your kind try to appear, there’s always something otherworldly about your eyes. They always have a certain glow to them, like little lamps,” she stated. “Do you remember anything about your life?”
“I remember that there weren’t people with guns in black suits just walking around. The people I saw, the one who shot me, she was talking about the military and rebels. What exactly is going on? I mean, before I wound up in that cemetery, America didn’t have military conflict on its home turf. What happened? Who are we fighting? How do you know about lycans and what are they? What year is it? And what’s these outskirts you mentioned? What the hell is all this about?!” he began to hyperventilate as the pressing questions on his mind flooded out of his mouth.
The old woman frowned, “You ask a lot of questions. Today is June 18th, 2535, and the country? Well, this is the Outskirts. The part you were in previously is called Regis and the current ruler of that country is Kiriko. This whole region is known as the Southern or South kingdom.
“Kingdom?!” He exclaimed. “What happened to the states?!”
“States? States of what” she asked, puzzled.
“The United States of America! This whole area used to be one big country called America with fifty states. Why is it so different now? There’s a monarchy now? This used to be a democratic republic!” Aiken ran his fingers through his hair as the stress mounted.
“What’s a republic?” The old woman asked, her head cocked to one side as if she were a curious puppy.
Aiken stifled the urge to scream as he tried to regain his composure. He wanted to know more, he needed to know more. Calmly, he asked, “So do you know how long this Kiriko’s been in power?”
“Hmm, I doubt you would believe me if I told you.”
“Try me,” he said.
“I’d say about…three hundred years now.”
“You mean this kingdom’s been in power that long?” Aiken asked, somewhat puzzled.
“No. This kingdom was established in the year 2250 with the first ruler being Aaron Regis. Then after his death in 2281, Kiriko took the crown and has been ruling ever since,” she spoke so simply as if she were merely giving a history lesson.
“How is that even possible?” he asked. He couldn’t fathom a human living for over three hundred years. But then he realized his own absurd predicament. Considering if what the old woman said about the year to be true, he had been asleep for over five hundred years! “This is insane!”
“Yeah, I guess. So, what brings a lycan to this part of the world?” Fair Mother asked nonchalantly.
“What? I can’t remember anything. All I can remember is waking up in some crypt.”
“I see, and you keep mentioning this ‘America’ place— is that where lycans live now? Is that a part of the astral plane?”
“Look, I don’t know anything about the astral plane. I remember being here in America… a long time ago, back in 2018. How could any of this be possible?”
“So, you’re telling me you’re over five hundred years old?” she asked, and he nodded his head slowly as he were just coming to terms with this news. “Wow, so you spent a quarter of your life span sleeping? Either you’ve got a serious sleep disorder or something very traumatic happened to you. Perhaps that injury had something to do with your long nap. Someone or something messed you up good.”
“What? Half my life span?” he was confused, how could she just accept something like this.
“Don’t lycans live to be over two thousand years old? At least that’s what I was told,” she shrugged.
“Demur,” she replied.
“Who?!” He furrowed his brow, the name sounded familiar but he couldn’t be sure if he’d heard it before or not.
“He was the man who helped me survive. Well I guess calling him a man is kind of inaccurate; he was a lycan like you. Maybe you know him?”
“I… I honestly couldn’t tell you. My brain hurts and I need to sit down.”
“I see,” her voice carried a hint of disappointment.
“You said he helped you survive, what did you mean by that?”
“Well, when I was a little girl about the age of five, my parents were murdered by one of the gangs that ran the town we lived in. They were about to take me away to be sold when he arrived. He saved me, and I traveled with him until I was about fifteen. We were staying in a hotel when one day, he got up earlier than usual. He left all of his money behind and I never saw him again.”
“Really? That’s sad, so what did you do after that?”
“There wasn’t much left for me to do but try and earn a living. The money he left me kept me afloat for a year, and I was able to get a job at a nearby shop during that time.”
“Oh, so everything worked out.”
“No, not really. Everything got messed up when the local gang leader there decided he wanted to squeeze more money out of the businesses in the area. They were given three options: pay up, move out, or be taken over. The ones who paid found it difficult to make ends meet so they eventually got taken over anyway. My boss refused to pay so he was preparing to move and they gave him three days to get out of town. I didn’t want to move. I was tired of these people being taken advantage of, but nobody wanted to fight back. Everybody was so scared, but all I could think about were my parents. I knew they wouldn’t let anyone leave this town alive. The shopkeeper I worked for was almost like family to me, so I tried to warn him, I tried to tell him the only option we had was to fight. But he was sure he would be able to leave before they came for him. He was wrong. They ambushed him on the third day as he was making his way out of the store. Then they began picking through his belongings like vultures,” her eyes glistened with tears as she recalled these painful memories. “It was like that day; it was like watching my parents die all over again. I grabbed a knife from the kitchen but by the time I came out, they had set the place on fire and I was blinded by smoke. I went out the back way to the alley, and I realized there wasn’t much I could do.”
“That’s awful. At least you survived the ordeal, and you did all you could,” Aiken said trying to comfort her.
“Yes well, surviving was the norm in those days. After that, I saw that they had stripped and hung his body in the square along with others who tried to leave. It was that moment when I decided I’d had enough. There was no escaping these vile bastards. Nobody would help, so I took matters into my own hands. I found their leader and killed him.”
“WHAT?” Aiken was surprised.
“It wasn’t like I had a choice, besides, Demur taught me a few things before he left. I posed as a prostitute for about six months. I would gather information from the men who paid for my company, and before they could consummate the deal, I would sneak away or kill them. I left little clues as to what happened and soon, word got around to the leader that his men were being killed and robbed by common whore. So, they began rounding up all the working women in the area. When that happened, I—” she was cut short as a young man burst into the room.
“My Lady! It’s Virgil, he-he demands to see you!” The young man said, as he struggled to catch his breath. The old woman went to the window.
“Well, it looks like my presence is needed elsewhere. And it’s gotten dark. I hope you don’t mind, but it looks like we’ll have to continue our story another time.” She quickly left the room as Aiken lay there with thoughts and unanswered questions still swirling around in his head.
“I can’t believe it, I slept for five hundred years? This has got to be a joke…Somebody’s playing an elaborate prank. Yeah, that’s it… Or maybe I’m still sleeping and this is all a dream. A hallucination from a coma…? I’ll wake up and things will be back to normal.” He closed his eyes and drifted off into a deep slumber and his mind took him to a distant memory: he stood in a dark room where a cold voice spoke to him, “Ah, should I be so fortunate that the righteous have come to visit the wicked?” Aiken saw his hands move towards a large lock and the disembodied voice became vicious in its tonality, “What are you doing now? Trying to fix your mistake by setting me free or are you hoping to bury it with me? Leave! I’ll never forgive what you’ve done; free me and I’ll kill you!” Heavy chains rattled and whipped about so fiercely they cracked the ground, but Aiken saw himself continue to pick the lock. He heard a loud, unearthly roar as a pair of large, glowing eyes appeared before him. He heard the voice yell “MURDERER!” before a large maw opened wide enough to fill the black space with its razor-sharp teeth and lunged forward. At this moment, his eyes shot open and he tried to calm himself as adrenaline rushed throughout his entire body. He got up on shaky legs and decided to find the old woman; they needed to talk.
Aiken was cautious about his new surroundings as he peeked his head out of the door and examined the long hallway. With not a soul in sight, he slowly opened the door and crept out, his bare feet making little noise as he stealthily walked around the unfamiliar territory. As he gradually walked down a long, winding staircase, Aiken could hear what sounded like muffled voices. He came to the bottom of the steps and entered a large, open area with three gigantic doors. Aiken could hear the voices speaking quite loudly now. It seemed like several people were having a very angry verbal exchange. He could make out the voice of the old woman as she shouted, “I will not let you insult me any further!”
“You see? The old one is indignant, but she refuses to answer the question! Answer us, answer me!” Aiken heard a man yell with an accusatory tone. “Why do you sit here and continue to do nothing, while thousands of us die in the streets like dogs!” The man’s comments were followed by an uproar of approving yells and curses from a multitude of people. Aiken pressed his ear against the door in the hopes of finding out what exactly was going on.
“I’ve done nothing…? I have done what I could, Virgil, what I thought was right! I do all I can even now. You aggravate our enemies by your actions. I have warned you against continued breaches of the wall—” the Fair mother tried to make her case before she was cut off.
“I do not obey those who refuse to act on our behalf!” Virgil snarled, his words stirring up murmurs of agreement within the crowd. “Legends say you are over two hundred years old. There’re stories about you wielding some great power. That before you came here, you slew thousands. All I see before me is a decrepit, old hag who has mislead the weak minded and the desperate for years. I ask you where is your power? What is fact and what is legend? You sit here with your minions and your blind followers, safe, hidden from the world! I ask you, my comrades, are we to accept the will of one who knows not our struggle? Or worse yet, the word of a liar?”
Aiken could feel the tension as a hush fell over the room and everyone anticipated the Fair Mother’s response. Isn’t anyone going to defend her? he thought. Of course, he didn’t know the woman well, but she seemed like a kind, albeit somewhat mischievous, old lady. Listening to the elder being lambasted made him feel a little protective of her; she had saved his life after all, and in his mind, one favor deserved another.
“Lies? What have I lied about? The elders who knew me well are long gone, now, there’s no one left but young fools who know nothing about how this world came to be!” she said, her voice full of bitterness and sorrow.
“I’m sick of relying on old tales passed down from one fool to the next. I want the truth, Fair Mother. Or do you prefer one of your other names? Tell me of your many battles, oh Death Bringer. Tell me how you betrayed a people, backstabber!” Virgil’s voice took on a sarcastic and vicious quality. “For years, the elders told us stories about you, about the world. Strange stories about a mad ruler, about war, death. They spoke of how you came from the Queen’s court. How you came and suddenly things were better for them. If it’s true that you’re so old, then prove it. If you’ve done all they claimed, if you do have power, then I want to see it. I’m tired of hearsay, I want to see the truth with my own eyes!”
“Virgil…I cannot prove all that you ask of me. Power is not something you wield to prove your strength to others. The power I have is not my own… I can’t simply show it to you.”
“Well then, you’re as false as you’ve ever been, Forked Tongue!” Virgil scoffed. “You see? Why should we follow a fraud?! Think of the years wasted, the energy spent, the lives we lost! All for nothing, all based on a false hope! LIES!” He bellowed to the crowd. A flood of angry voices called out, their indignation filling the room and Aiken began to fear for the Fair Mother’s life as cries for her death began to echo around. He rushed into the room to defend the old one. There were well over five hundred individuals in the area and all were enraged at what they had heard. Aiken saw the man he assumed to be Virgil step forward and strike the small woman down with a hard blow to the head. “Where is your power now?” Virgil mocked her as she lay in a crumpled heap at his feet. “False idol, you will atone for your sins,” he hissed as he kicked her in the stomach. The crowd cheering their approval as Virgil stomped on her hand as she desperately reached for her staff. Aiken watched in petrified horror as the vicious mob began to throw rocks and other objects at her fragile form. Virgil held his hand up, signaling the mass to silence. He then produced a sharp dagger and raised it above his head as he began to speak, “The elders were misguided. Fools who believed in lies and fairy tales. The leaders of old were wrong; it is time for new leadership. With this…” he waved the weapon before the assembly, “I will bring us into a new era. No longer shall we live in fear; we will take back our liberty, we will take back our freedom. And our enemies shall know death!”
“Your vision…is…flawed, Vir—gil,” the Fair Mother wheezed. She gritted her teeth as she tried to stand only to be brought back down as Virgil planted his foot on her back.
“The times change, yet you preach more of the same, old one. As you said, the elders who knew you are long gone, and I think it’s time you joined them.” Virgil turned the dagger downward toward his victim and the crowed swelled with excitement as he began to bring the blade low. In an instant he found himself besieged by an unknown assailant. Aiken twisted Virgil’s wrist until he felt the joints snap. “You! Who are you…why do you interfere?” Virgil grunted as the pain radiated through his entire arm. Aiken didn’t respond but proceeded to punch Virgil in the stomach with enough force to make the man crumple to the ground in agony. He had temporarily forgotten about the angry mob until it was too late, and they descended upon him in a deadly swarm of blind fury. Aiken rushed to protect the old woman but there seemed to be no way out. The Fair Mother had reached her staff and raised it up as the crowd rushed them. Aiken felt the old woman grab his hand and he helped raise her from the floor. The staff came to life with a brilliant white light that filled the hollowed holes of the deer skull and outlined the strange symbol, which Aiken now recognized as the seal of Metatron. She tapped the staff against the ground and a shockwave of gold energy sent the hoard flying backwards in an instant.
“What was that? Old lady, what is…this…?” Aiken tried to question the Fair Mother, but she wasn’t listening to him. Her eyes glowed bright with an intense white light as she turned her attention to Virgil’s cowering form as he desperately tried to get back on his feet.
“You! Just what the hell are you?!” Virgil yelled with a look of fear and confusion. The little old lady gradually approached him and suddenly, she didn’t seem so elderly and helpless as he had previously viewed her. He peered up at her in terror as she towered over him and heaviness crept over him. He was paralyzed with fear as she pointed her staff at him.
She knelt down by a shocked Virgil, and whispered something in his ear. The visibly frightened man said nothing, but simply nodded his head quickly, his eyes wide and his body trembling at this unknown entity that presented itself as an old lady. She banged the staff against the floor again and in a flash of brilliant light, their enemies vanished.
Aiken blinked several times trying to figure out what just happened. “Okay, so…what the heck was that?” He cautiously approached the Fair Mother. “Um, old lady?” He gingerly tapped her shoulder, “Fair Mother…?”
Her body shuddered as Aiken inched closer. He timidly reached out a hand towards her shoulder just as she let out a loud sneeze. Surprised by the sudden noise, Aiken let out a high-pitched shriek. “Huh? How rude, I thought it was common curtesy to say ‘Bless you’ when someone sneezes. When you sneeze your heart stops, for crying out loud! Don’t you know how traumatic that is for an old person?”
“I…I th-thought you were…” Aiken struggled to put a sentence together as he tried to regain his composure.
“And honestly, what was that shriek you let out just now? You sounded like a little girl. Did you see a mouse or something? Were you frightened by a monster?” The old woman laughed at him. “You should try being more masculine.”
“What? Is that any way to speak to somebody who just saved your life?!” He yelled, his face bright red from embarrassment.
“’Saved’? You stood there and watched me get bludgeoned for five whole minutes! I saw you!”
“It was more like one minute and I was just caught in a moment of confusion. Besides, you weren’t beaten that badly, there’s hardly a scratch on you.” Aiken crossed his arms, determined to defend himself against her accusations.
“How dare you say that!” the old woman cried out. “Look! Just look at my body!”
“I don’t want to go blind from looking at your leathery sack of an old body!” Aiken shouted, shielding his eyes from potential exposure.
“Hmph! Some guardian you turned out to be. Imagine my surprise when my scout brought you in here.” Her voice changed to a reminiscent tone, “It’s been so long since I’ve seen one of your kind… Well, it seems we’re even now. It’s too bad, I was really looking forward to making you indebted to me for life. And what bit of business brings you conveniently down here in my time of need anyway?”
“I couldn’t sleep. I want to know more about what’s going on here. And also, I want to know exactly who you are; please, tell me everything!” Aiken’s eyes blazed a bright green hue as he stared intently at the tiny old woman. The Fair Mother simply smiled.