Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
The return journey didn’t just feel faster, it was faster. I took a day and a half to reach the forest instead of the two I’d needed to get to the village, and another full day to traverse the woods. My robes didn’t drag a single time throughout the journey, having decided they liked being the proper length too much to misbehave. By the end of the third day, I was back in my temple and wondering how on earth I’d managed such a pace by myself.
It couldn’t be because Hasda was gone. I’d always slowed him down, not vice versa, even counting the times we’d paused for forest lessons or leisure conversations. And it definitely wasn’t because I was getting spry in my old age. If anything I should’ve been pushing close to five days to get back home, such was my deteriorated state.
I frowned. I didn’t feel decrepit—if anything I felt more alive than I’d been when Malia had left Hasda on my doorstep. And my sensitivity to time had returned somewhere along the way as well. I should be standing here, half drooling, wondering where the time had gone for my trip to the village instead of remembering the individual days and the birds I’d seen along the way. Robins, chickadees, and a lone woodpecker. When was the last time I recalled the species I’d encountered, let alone that there’d been birds?
Grumbling, I stomped across the temple to my throne and accidentally splashed in a puddle on the floor. “Hasda, would you…” I trailed off, my voice echoing off the pillars and braziers, mocking me. I sighed. His absence would take some getting used to. My staff clacked against the stones as I made my way up the steps to plop myself on my throne. My hands were hovering over the armrests, ready to guide me into my seat, when my eyes caught the carving on the wall behind.
I’d seen that image dozens of times. It was a winged gorgon. Or it had been. But now it looked like a pegasus, rearing wildly, its eyes flashing with demonic fire. Mouth wide, it bared sharp fangs, frozen in an enraged nicker. Shocked, I stared at the image. And stared. And stared. The clattering of my staff on the ground informed my dull mind that I must have let go of the wood, but I couldn’t break off my gaze. I was entranced by this mystifying event.
Centuries. I’d been in this temple for centuries, and every day I’d seen this relief, it’d looked like a winged gorgon. Horses and snake people didn’t even remotely resemble the anatomy of one another. How could I have spent hundreds of years seeing this piece and never corrected myself?
My eyes traced the feathers in the wings, carved to great detail. Huh. With the way the wings had been depicted, outstretched yet slightly curving inwards, it almost reminded me of...Malia. And in a blink, the creature looked like a depiction of a winged gorgon again. Shaking, I closed my eyes and opened them again. The winged gorgon was still there. I went around my throne, closed my eyes, inhaled, and set my hands on the wall.
My bony fingers traced the horse’s head, the tongues of fire leaping from its eyes. I could feel the points of its fangs, dozens of them, not the vampiric canines of a gorgon. Its mane waved on its neck, its thick hooves reared to strike. The wings were the same as they’d always been. I opened my eyes, and saw the hellish pegasus.
Madness. I was going insane. I shook my head, blinked a dozen times, and stared at the relief. But the pegasus remained. Unsettled, I reclaimed my staff and collapsed onto my throne. What else wasn’t I seeing? What images had my longing heart overlaid on this temple’s interior? I stared at the pillars, but they were still the cracked, moss-speckled marble they’d always been. The floor was still a dank, uneven mess. And my throne, bless it, was still the same old stone seat it’d been since the old god had built it.
I sighed. I was doing too much of that lately, but I couldn’t help myself. Life was full of sighs and surprises, and I’d had too much of both in too short a time span. What I needed was a nice, long, relaxing vacation. I grunted. Retirement was supposed to be relaxing, and yet I’d spent...a sixth of it raising Hasda. Was it a sixth? I was never good with math, and my slipping sense of time made it impossible for me to know the exact numbers.
Seated on my throne, I relished in the fact that my detachment from time would make the years fly by. It’d been a long time coming, but I was ready to fade away. Enough of wars, enough of death, let the world have its peace. Of course, those offices never stayed empty long, and knowing Malia it’d be a good millennium before she got bored with the war machine, but at least it wouldn’t be death by my hand. Closing my eyes, I rested my head on the back of my throne and waited.
For what, I wasn’t sure, but the steady plinking of water from the roof of my temple to a puddle below quickly became irritating. Grumbling, I rose and wiped up the pool of water with some grungy rags Hasda had left behind. Nuisance erased, I returned to my throne.
It hadn’t been fifteen minutes before the puddle was back, grown to a depth that would really amplify the plunks. Snarling, I trudged back down the steps, snatched the rag off the floor, and swiped at the stupid puddle. Several times, when I leaned too far forward, the leaking spot baptized me with droplets that splashed in the most infuriating way against the back of my skull. Not thinking, I wiped the back of my head with the same rag I’d used to clean the floor and succeeded in smearing dirt, grime, and something sticky that felt like pond sludge all over my head. Great. Now I would have to give myself a proper washing as well.
To add insult to injury, it only took five minutes for the puddle to return. I’d barely returned from the basement with a suitably dust-free vase to take down to the river when that stupid plink, plunk, pallink chirruped from the floor. Sighing, I set the vase on the floor and went back down to search for a bucket or something to put under the leak. Ten minutes later, and none of the vessels I’d tried provided any relief from the annoyance. The only bucket that hadn’t been claimed by wood rot thumped like a muted drum, and the amphoras merely amplified the sound. I gave up and simply tossed the rag in the puddle.
Surprisingly, the cloth dulled the drops that it managed to catch. The puddle would soon grow too deep for the rag to sit on the floor and make the cloth float around, but for now, it was something. I collected the vase I was going to wash with and headed towards the forest. I was halfway down the hill when I realized that I’d temporally tracked the entire day. Not a single moment had slipped my attention.
My sense of time was coming back.