The Way of Fate
May 29th, 2024
The sun was shining overhead as Megame helped load more supplies onto the horse-drawn cart. Cade, Hachi, Kara, and several other villagers were aiding her as they loaded food, water, and other necessities, so much that Megame felt positively overwhelmed when she compared it to the stark and almost monk-like existence she had been leading up until then. The biggest load that had been brought onto the cart, however, was an elegant wooden coffin, tied tightly and securely in place.
“By cart, it’s about two weeks to the Adriatic,” Cade said, slapping on the last box of food rations. “From there you can sail to Italy and barter passage to Rome.”
“Won’t you reconsider coming with us, Cade?” Megame asked. “Hachi’s coming of course, even Constantin!”
The vampire, after profusely thanking Megame for her selflessness and courage, had decided that while his un-life wasn’t over yet, he felt the need to move on away from the town and castle of his youth.
“It is as much tomb as home sometimes,” The vampire had mused at a dinner in Megame’s honor. “Whether I have one year or a hundred left I do not think I shall spend any more of them here. My family’s legacy has haunted this castle for centuries and perhaps I have merely become another part of it.”
“But won’t the town need protecting?” Megame asked.
“They’re not frightened children,” Constantin smiled. “And there is a fine line between them benefitting from my protection and becoming dependent upon it. I have seen to it that they know how to fight the monsters of this land, both the strong and the cunning. As well, no doubt when trade routes expand they will come in contact with other towns like this one. The supremacy of man over his environment is returning, I can feel it, no doubt the dear fox can as well.”
“I can,” Hachi nodded. “You humans truly are industrious. The end of the world came and went and you scarcely needed more than a year to get back on your feet.”
“So what will you do?” Megame asked.
“Well, I cannot be quite as nomadic as I was in my youth,” Constantin said. “Travel is still a danger for me…but I think I can relocate.”
“You should come with us to Rome!” Megame almost shouted.
“Ah, Rome…” Constantin said, leaning back as he smiled as if daydreaming. “The Eternal City…Yes that seems an ideal place to put down new roots.”
So it was that Constantin had announced his departure to the people he had protected. There was a festival the following night that ran until morning, and Megame wasn’t particularly proud of just how drunk she had been. But the day was too beautiful to be hungover, and the thought of the journey to come too exciting to be mellowed by fatigue.
“After all, what have you got to go home to?” Megame asked. “That lonely hut in the woods?”
“That lonely hut has done just fine for me,” Cade said. “Thank you very much. Besides, I imagine there’s someone else you want to have come along even more.”
Megame gained a somewhat sheepish expression as she glanced over to where Kara had taken a seat on the branch of a nearby tree, somewhat apart from the others.
“Go ask her,” Cade said. “I’ll give it some thought.”
Megame nodded and started towards Kara. As she left, out of the corner of her eye she spotted Hachi sidling up to Cade, clearly intent on doing some negotiation of her own.
“Hey, Kara,” Megame said casually, as she walked up to the tree.
“Morning, shrine maiden,” Kara said, and Megame felt a shiver as she recalled the card game with Skuld, and the fate she had played for herself. She had drawn a card labeled “The Bond” then, and among its many figures had been the clear image of Kara. Megame didn’t want to let their bond end here.
“I want you to come with us,” She all but blurted out, unable to phrase it delicately or elegantly. Kara, however, responded with a slightly crooked smile.
“Ya I thought you might try to convince me,” She said. “But I’m a busy Valkyrie with a pretty hard job.”
“I thought you were freed from your contract!” Megame said. “I made sure Skuld agreed to it and everything.”
“It’s a bit complicated, Megame,” Kara said. “But you did help, don’t worry about that. My service is completely voluntary.”
“But what you do…”
“What I do is necessary. Sometimes cruel and sometimes kind but always absolutely necessary.”
“I don’t believe that,” Megame said. “I didn’t before and I definitely don’t now.”
“Then I think you and I will never be able to see eye to eye,” Kara shrugged. “And is that really something you can deal with forever?”
“Mmm…” Megame found she had no response, instead merely quietly backing down with a bow of the head and walking away.
She didn’t want to return to the cart, but she didn’t want to try convincing Kara again either, so instead she merely walked a little ways into the forest to be among the trees, but always keeping the castle within sight.
“A lovely day, isn’t it?”
Megame nearly jumped as a voice sounded behind her. She turned and saw a young woman, probably a little younger than her, kneeling beside a nearby tree, plucking flowers from where they sprang up among the roots.
“Ah…yes, yes it is,” Megame nodded with a smile, regaining her composure.
“It’s never bright as often as it should be around here,” The girl said. “So many cloudy and gloomy days.”
“Gloomy days can be nice too,” Megame said. “Though I admit I’m a bit partial to the sun as well. But just because a day is cloudy or rainy doesn’t mean good things won’t happen.”
“And bad things can happen even when it’s sunny,” The girl nodded. “Though sometimes you get lucky, like today.”
“Like today?” Megame asked.
“Sometimes good things happen on sunny days,” The girl said, still busy with her growing bouquet of flowers.
“Sometimes,” Megame sighed. “Other times you just can’t seem to win.”
“You don’t win because you’re still learning how to play.”
“Excuse me?” Megame blinked, and in the space it took her eyes to close and open again the girl stood up to face her, hands full of flowers.
“You have real talent, Megame Kamigawa, and the heart of a saint, but this isn’t a game for saints. Sometimes you need to understand the cruelty in the world in order to see the kindness that’s there too.”
“Who…?” Megame began to ask, but before she could even finish the first word she saw it. The flicker behind the girl’s eyes, the ancient power and infinite potential hidden beneath the cloak of a young girl.
“People don’t understand destiny,” Skuld said. She was much more muted now than the last few times Megame had faced her. She spoke and acted much like a human would, save for the odd flicker of her outline and the ageless quality of her eyes.
“What don’t we understand?” Megame asked.
“You think, much like your patron, that fate is a one-way road, a path that is set for you that you must walk down. The truth is more nuanced, more complicated.”
Skuld smiled, and this time Megame felt a genuine warmth to it.
“Your fate, your destiny, is determined by the choices you make. My sisters and I cannot make these choices for you, it is and always has been in mortal hands how the threads will interact. Our job is simply to ensure that there are no ugly snares left on the tapestry, and to ensure that each of these decisions face the consequences both malevolent and benign.”
“So we make the choices?” Megame asked.
“And we ensure you face the consequences,” Skuld finished for her.
“But I beat you,” Megame said. “Constantin didn’t face his chosen consequences. He was spared because your judgement was wrong.”
“Is that what happened?” Skuld asked, her expression inquisitive. “Would you like to know what I saw?”
“Umm…” Megame hesitated a moment before nodding.
“I saw a Valkyrie whose soul needed saving and sent her on a path towards you,” Skuld said. “I saw a shrine maiden who needed to understand her role in the world and sent her towards the Valkyrie. When the pair chose to travel together I put the problem of Constantin before them. I saw you endeavor to save him, and I plucked the threads of fate to ensure you would succeed.”
“Wait…” Megame said. “So I didn’t succeed? You just let me win?”
“Now, now,” Skuld said comfortingly. “You didn’t know that. You chose, unaware of what the result might be, to risk your life to save Constantin’s. Is that not the greater accomplishment? Does that not speak more of your victory? Besides, what game did you think we were playing, Megame?”
“A Game of Fate…” Megame said.
“It is a game we never stop playing,” Skuld said. “And now you know how to play. Though with this commendation comes a warning.”
“A warning?” Megame gulped.
“I like you, Shrine Maiden,” Skuld said. “But fate is not within your domain. Fate does not command the choices you make, but it does demand the consequences be fulfilled whatever they may be.”
Skuld’s voice had not changed, but Megame felt a chill go down her spine.
“A player of the game must understand that those choices can be influenced, but the consequences cannot be avoided. If you try and undercut that law again, there are things even a paradox can’t beat.”
Skuld reached a hand into her sleeve, dropping the flowers as she did. From within her sleeve she pulled a card and offered it to Megame.
“Consider it a gift,” She said as Megame took it with both hands, bowing as she did. Looking down at the card, Megame saw it was another card with a figure on it and she recognized it instantly as Kara. It was not, however, the same Kara that had appeared on “The Seeker”; this one seemed older, thinner, and with the distinct black leather jacket Kara now wore along with a pair of trim black wings, a rifle slung over her shoulder. At the bottom of the card were the words
“Is this the card you drew?” Megame asked “This card could have beaten mine…”
“It is,” Skuld nodded. “But I chose not to play it. That is something you must understand, Megame Kamigawa. Fate is not a single road you must walk down. Just as all roads lead to Rome, any road you choose to take is the fate you follow. So you must ask yourself which road is the one you wish to take?”
“I think I understand,” Megame said, bowing her head deeply. “Thank you.”
Skuld smiled, and in an instant she was gone, the only sign of her passage being the card in Megame’s hand and the flowers scattered around where she had been standing.
Without pause, Megame hurried back to where Kara sat in the tree.
“I want you to come with us,” Megame repeated herself, emphatically this time.
“I thought you disagreed with what I do,” Kara said, raising an eyebrow.
“I still do, and I always will,” Megame said. “But that’s the choice you made and the consequences you have to live with…but I have my own choice to make, and I want to look out for you.”
“Why’s that?” Kara asked. “You barely know me.”
“Maybe that’s true,” Megame said. “But you’re my friend and I care about you. The people I care about, the people I want to help…I’ve decided they’re the most important thing in the world to me. I know you need to see your work through to the end…but I choose to stay with you as you do.”
Kara sighed, but the smile didn’t fade from her face. “You’re going to be a huge headache for me, aren’t you, Megame?”
“Yes, I will, Kara-chan,” Megame grinned, and the pair of them shared a brief laugh.
“To Rome then, is it?” Kara asked. “You know the way?”
“They say that’s where all roads lead,” Megame said. “It can’t be hard to find.”
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=70&sl=528