The man had seen many different worlds in his time, and knew a song from all of them. He walked across the mountain peaks singing one of them. He plucked the banjo with the edges of his koi colored hand guard. His hands were weathered, strong, and had the agility of a wild rabbit. He had bright green eyes that looked a little bloodshot. Though he may have seemed a little tired, his smile shined brighter than the light overhead.
The coins in his pocket clattered against each other. He knew that the shop was only a little ways down the path. The sky was a beautiful seafoam green with clouds that bobbed and weaved through the air. A good place that the man would want to go to again in better circumstances.
His backpack weighed down his walking. Each mile felt like the man was sinking deeper and deeper into the earth. Pots dangled off the side of the large pack. The small potted tree may have not been a good idea to bring along, but the man worked a while to trim that bonzai. It gave him comfort of some kind while braving each new planet.
The two moons had their eyes open during the reign of the day. Standing perfectly still in the sky, trying not to be seen by the sun. The man hoped that they enjoyed his music, because he was essentially playing for no one. The sky was his audience and he was the only musician in the world.
The man’s tune came from several worlds back. One that sang of contentment. The song was a little repetitive, but the way it flowed was beautiful. It felt like a song that a beast that could ride the clouds would hum on its treacherous journey. The man tried to add some spins in his walk to keep his spirits high. How much this worked was up to interpretation.
His brass shoes kept his walk at a steady pace. Only a few more miles until he got to the home of his next supplier.
The rocks and sand that adorned the warm mountain tops shifted slightly as a creature burrowed out of them. It was a small gopher. Massive black eyes that looked like goggles strapped to the squat animals face. His brown fur seemed to blend into the rocks surrounding him. The man stopped his march for a second only to look at the little creature. It nodded at the man, and dove back into the earth. It let out a little screech as it did so.
The man chuckled slightly as he continued on. Trying to move past small roots and boulders, but after a bit of time deciding to just walk over them. His strumming grew louder as his song came to the final chorus. His voice was soft and melancholic, but he expanded it to heartbreaking and intense only for the final verse. The song could have been seen as one talking about how good life is, but with his voice he changed it to missing what was once barely in our grasp.
The small silver ring on his finger shifted slightly, the pearl now facing the ground. He quickly put his thumb to the end of it and spun it around. It was subconscious at this point. The ring wasn’t exactly designed to fit his finger. The engraving on the inside expressed this as such.
After around an hour, he got to the broken shack. The dark oak wood had termites decades back. Green mold lined the outside of the wood, sitting like an ornament of its side. The shack was leaning to the side. Resting on the grounds beneath it. The shack, though old, had a malicious aura gently resting in the air around it. A putrid smell gently glided out of it, daring the man to walk inside. Only come to me if you think you can come out alive, young traveler.
The man took a small breath, placed down his bag on the rocky ground, and walked in.
The room was duly lit. Dying candles lined the edges of the hut, giving off only the slightest bit of glow. The only other things the room had was a counter and the massive old woman sitting behind it. Her purple robes hid the top half of her face, leaving only a nose and mouth to peer out of the hood. Her broken-in neck and her boney skeleton outlined the side of the cloak. Her leathery skin was pulled across her unnaturally long fingers. Her face seemed to only have a small layer of the skin, making her face unholy in its angularity. Her yellow teeth were crooked and overlapping. She spoke in a small crackly voice to address the comparitally little man.
“Well hello, young traveler,” the old woman said, leaning forward from her desk.
“Hi,” the man said curtly. “I’m going to skip the formalities here. I need a couple things. I have over 3000 gold in my pocket, and I’m willing to pay for all of it up front.”
“Gold?” the woman chuckled. She wrapped her fingers on the edge of the counter. “I have gold already.”
She got increasingly closer to the man’s face.
“I would need something for trade. Something important. Something valuable,” she said, dragging out each word. The man could see her bottom eye lids from how close she was. Her potent breath wafted over him, sending a shiver down his spine. She lowered her head to face the ring hanging off of his finger.
“I-I’m sure I can get you something,” he said, yanking his hand to a position behind his back. He could feel his heart in his neck.“Just, not that.”
The old woman cackled slowly and leaned back. Her curved spine scraping the wood behind her.
“First, what would you like to buy,” the woman said, her arms motioning to the entire room.
“Um, I heard from a bunch of different people that you can sell me these things,” the man held up a small scrap of paper, his hand shaking as he tried to show her. It read; two marble earrings, a rabbit’s foot, and a box of baby teeth.
The woman laughed a dangerously high pitch howl.
“I know exactly what you need those things for,” she said, drawing out her words to taunt the man. “Now, why would a young man need to summon an angry spirit.”
“That’s for this young man to deal with,” he said. “Now, what do you need for those things?”
“Let me see your bag. The one you put outside to hide from me,” the old woman said, extending a mangled finger to her wall, as if she could see through the thick oak.
The man tensed up and quickly walked outside, grabbed his bag, and hurried inside. He plopped his bag on the counter, adrenaline rushed through his body.
The woman took her long, leathery hands and opened the bag up. She smiled and pulled out a little bonsai tree. She rotated the small pot, and eyed it like a predator eyeing its prey.
“This would do ever so nicely,” she said, running her deep purple tongue along her yellow teeth. “Won’t you give it to an old woman?”
“I’m so lonely. So lonely. Living on the tops of mountains. I haven’t had another living creature here in ages. Won’t you please give it to me?”
The man sat still. Trying to think of a way to keep the one thing he really cared about. He needed those components. The woman’s grin grew larger and larger.
“You have a deal,” the man said, extending his hand.
“Good.” The woman put the plant on the side of the counter. She never even looked at the man’s hand. She merely closed her hand and opened it. From where there was nothing, layed a rabbit’s foot, two marble earrings, and a box containing the pearly white teeth of a baby. She gingerly placed the items on the counter, and picked up the plant. She gently placed it under her desk.
She turned to the man.
“Now go,” the woman said. “You only have two more deals you can make with me, child.”
The man grabbed his bag, and slowly walked out of the room. As he opened the door and left the threshold of the house, he ran. Sprinted for around a mile, until he was panting on the side of a mountain. No terrifying house in sight.
The man pulled out red chalk from a pouch from his bag and smeared it along his forefinger. He traced a circle in the air, where the essence and dust of the chalk stayed floating. He made a quick motion with his hand to create the ancient runes he had been using for years. With another cut of his hand, the sigil was complete. It glowed a bright orange and green as colors swirled around the floating chalk marks.
The mark hovered waiting for the man to step in. He took a deep sigh and jumped into the undulating cloud of magic. The world changed around him.
Everything went dark for a moment, and he landed in bright blue dirt. This was the world he was accustomed to. The two suns sat in the air. Ornaments that hung in the bright red sky. The blue soil held up the purple sprouts that protrude from its earth. He took a deep breath, taking in the air which he hadn’t felt in lifetimes.
He ran his hand through his curly orange hair. This place was familiar, in what felt like the worst ways. The ruins of buildings still sat like corpses of a bygone era. The bones of the town he lived in buried into the forgotten earth. The mountains surrounding the town looked on in silent anguish. They had to watch something horrible.
The valley town laid dead before the man. A horrid painting that he had to bear witness to. Only for one night. That was some form of consolation.
He pulled out his banjo. The tune he started to pluck on the dragon haired strings was a way to calm him down. It worked like it was supposed to. The tune was a slow melody, very little plucking was needed. Just let the banjo do all of the work.
The man swallowed a well of spit that started to build up in his dry throat. When he was fully calm, he pulled out his sundial. The lack of shadow present told the man that he had to wait around nine hours until he could finally do the ritual.
He walked through the alleys of the broken buildings, taking deep breaths while he did so. He kept his head down. Choosing to only look at his feet may make this a little easier. He had to only walk a short distance before he got to the center of town. Burnt cobblestone ground showed the scars of an old design. Celestial beings stretch across the floor, a depiction of the universe being made. Their forges created the galaxies that lined the tapestry of the universe. The fountain that used to know celebrations and good harvests, layed a skeleton of its former self. The burnt marble seemed to cry out in pain as it sat motionless.
The smell of ash and sulfur flew into the man’s senses. The roaring winds had something to do with that nonsense. He coughed like a seal and almost fell to his knees as the winds carried hazardous material into his lungs.
He took a seat, still coughing, on the ground. The dead buildings and shops looking down on him. Watching his every movement. He had nine hours. He put his bag in front of him, taking out a small book and a globe. He placed the globe directly in front of him and the book in his lap. For nine hours he practiced the incantation and phrasing of the ritual. The hand motions needed to be perfect, and he needed to be ready for what came after.
The suns set below the mountain peaks, letting the eye of night flap open. The pale green moon lay patient in the sky. It could see what was about to happen.
The man placed the altar that weighed down his bag onto the cobblestone ground. The baby teeth, rabbit’s foot, globe, and earrings were held by the small wooden altar. He took a deep breath as he fulfilled the last component needed to begin the ritual. An item from the person being summoned. The man gently laid the wedding ring in front of the altar.
He brought up his hands, copying the motions he needed to know to complete the final steps of the ritual. He muttered something in an incomprehensible language, bargaining his soul. He completed the ritual, and stood up. His banjo began to morph as he summoned the sword. The strings seemed to disappear and the entire shape changed. The banjo became a long samurai sword of sorts. The curved blade reflected the moon above as it was created.
The winds stopped for but a moment and picked up again stronger than before, circling around the altar. The man tapped his blade twice against the ground, preparing for battle.
An ethereal cloak started to form in the sky. It was long and flowing and surrounded a materializing man. He had long hair that reached his shoulders and flowed off his ghostly face. His eyes had the fury of hell behind them. The winds picked up more as the man drew his own blade. A curved jade sword that reached his feet.
The spirit’s eyes lost a little bit of fury when he noticed who was standing on the ground.
“Why,” the man said, looking up at his dead husband.
“You know I couldn’t change my nature, Remir,” the ghost said, the fury returning.
“Well by hell did I try,” Remir said, yelling. “We were happy. You were happy. You didn’t need to do all of this!” Remir motioned to the entire town. It’s charred remains didn’t even draw the attention of the swordsman. “You did this on our wedding day, no less,” Remir screamed, tears starting to stream down his face.
“You wanted to love a demon,” the ghost yelled back.
“You’re not a demon!” Remir stabbed his sword into the ground. “You’re a man. A man who did some things wrong. You control your nature, dammit!”
The spirit started to float back, putting his sword in a neutral fighting stance.
Remir did the same, his tears not drying up just yet. “I can’t let you live, Mal,” Remir said lowly. “You just showed how you’ve stayed the same.”
The wind howled its unholy song as the swords began to clash.
Mal threw up his left arm. A pillar of ghostly fire erupted from the now torn earth. Remir barely dodged this. He spun back to a position where he could actually fight. The ghost charged at Remir now, their ethereal sword cutting the air. Remir only had to shoot his hand in front of his face to block the blow. The sword effortlessly guarded him against the spiritual force trying to impale him.
Their dance of deadly blades was one to behold. They pushed each other into buildings. Remir had to jump off of the fountain to try to get a good hit on Mal. Stone was broken, steel was shattered, and their blades kept clashing against each other. The wind turned to rain as they continued. The sonata their blades created only made more music to the entire valley. The fight raged on for hours. Each one not getting the upper hand on the other.
Remir’s blade found a comfortable home in Mal’s ghostly chest. Mal’s breathing sputtered as he fell to the ground. Remir looked at his ethereal husband, and cried. Mal said his final goodbye. An apology, and a smile. As he faded from reality, the objects placed on the altar went with him. Including the ring. The memories faded with the spirit.
“Fight against monsters, even if they are inside,” Remir read the inscription as he picked up the ring.
Remir sat in the ground of his old town, not knowing why he was crying.