Phileas Foote

One

 

It is well know that Fate has spoken to people throughout the ages, giving them clues as to what the future holds and even going so far as to say precisely when whatever may come will come. There have been countless recordings over the eons of these alleged prophecies designed by Fate—prophecies covering even the most mundane subjects, such as the time in 4857 BC when a little known soothsayer predicted the King of Durl would trip on the root of one ill-placed Punica granatum, or what we commonly call a Pomegranate bush. What Fate failed to tell the erstwhile prophet was that the king would knock his head on a stone and spend the next month in a comatose state, teetering on the verge of death. When the poor king finally woke up from his lengthy nap, he found he had no kingdom left, but that was quite all right, as Fate had also failed to mention that the king wouldn’t remember anything about his life before waking up, save for a deep red fruit, which he found utterly delicious. The sayer of sooths, as it happened, went on to rule in place of the king, to conquer vast regions of the area surrounding what was once Durl, and to make quite a roaring trade in Pomegranates—the lucky devil.

Sometimes the messages delivered by Fate prove to be completely useless, as in the case of the King of Durl, but other times the messages prove to be the very turning point of humanity on the whole. Such is life.

Unfortunately for Phileas Foote, Fate had spoken very little to him in his forty-odd years, but he was not the sort to allow a little thing like Fate’s silence stand in the way of good works. He had spent his entire existence awaiting the completion of one prophecy, in particular, made some ten thousand years ago, and since Fate chose not to speak to him directly, he made it his business to seek out those Fate did speak to, in order to be completely prepared, for this event was of the utmost importance. It would, Phileas was certain, prove itself to be one of those moments in which everything in the world would change. For better or worse he could not say, as these things have a nasty habit of going one way or another, willy-nilly, but change was imminent, and with a little effort, he could assure he was in the right place at the right time, and then perhaps, he thought, he might have a very small say in the matter.

Phileas Foote took to studying ancient cultures, scouring the globe for every small hint of the location and timing of his miracle. He had read all the works of great scholars and seers, learned so many long forgotten languages that he could hardly count them, even if he’d wanted to, and traveled around the world so many times that even the Phileas Fogg would have thought him foolish or obsessed or both. He had studied astronomy, astrology, and necromancy. He had scientifically proven that no matter which variety of tea leaf steeped in no matter what consistency of water from no matter which spring, a dreg is a dreg is a dreg and seemingly pointless, at least if one wanted to know anything truly useful. He had read the red palms of tribesmen and read runes in so many ancient ruins. He had spent countless hours, whole months of his life in fact, cooped up in the greatest libraries of the world, and he thought several times that his life’s work might ultimately culminate in his insanity. He had even gone so far as to try and force the blasted event to happen, but to no avail. He had all but given up completely, and it was then that it happened.

One day, he was sipping his tea by a roaring fire reading his favorite book, as he often did when he couldn’t think of what next to do, and for no apparent reason, it suddenly occurred to him that such an event as his miracle as prophesied so many thousands of years ago would naturally occur today, which is how he wound up at this very spot, at this very moment—the doorstep of Evelyn and Murphy Reece in a small village in remotest Brazil, just before noon on the twenty-first of December.

The whole of the village was quiet, blanketed by a thick, steamy air tinged with the pungent stench of green. The small huts, like all huts found in the furthest reaches of the world, likened the place to some distant time long ago, before civilization had become very civilized. It was a happy place, despite its impending doom, and though it felt on the whole like some throwback from a primitive past, Phileas rather liked it, except for the water that hung so heavily in the air one almost needed a machete to carve out a path. His dark traveling cloak, tattered, worn around the seams from his years of searching and wet with the humidity and sweat of this most recent journey, was decidedly out of place, but no one seemed to notice this disheveled man of six-foot-three, who looked more bundled for winter than prepared for a trek through a rainforest. He made a pointless effort to smooth his curling locks of brown hair, straightened his sweat-dampened clothes then rang the doorbell of the grand old brick house, which was itself very much out of place among the more appropriate grass and mud hovels that lined the winding roads of the village.

Phileas smiled.

At that precise moment, several degrees to the north, shrouded in the darkness of perpetual night, a small black bear sat quivering in the snow and ice, poking a long stick at a small fire. If any man could have seen her, he would have thought that she was a remarkable sight, for everyone knows that black bears don’t often sit by fires at the North Pole daydreaming of fame and fortune, which Mattie happened to be doing just then. She shivered and the fur pelt fell from her head, revealing a young girl with a slightly angular face half hidden behind a shining sheet of white-gold hair. Her piercing blue eyes reflected the firelight as she slipped the fur back over her head with tiny, pearly-white hands, and returned to stoking the fire, pretending to be a bear once more. If she hadn’t had her blanket, she might have looked more like a ghost than a bear, sitting there with her melancholy gaze, just waiting and watching as she did every afternoon after school.

It was hard to be thirteen, she thought, rhythmically badgering the crackling logs with her stick. It was especially hard to be thirteen and expected to not die of sheer boredom when handed such a large responsibility as keeping an eye on a ceaselessly stubborn, unbudgeably decrepit, rusty garden gate. She had thought when she accepted the job as the watcher after Fend Whinny came down with Dutch Elm disease, that there would be some glory in it. But no glory had she found. None whatsoever. Not even a small plaque decreeing the Queen’s undying gratitude for her unwavering service to the cause, let alone the parade she had considered compulsory after having made such a large sacrifice.

But if the gate happened to open during her watch, there was sure to be fanfare—certain to be parades in her honor at least, possibly titles of royalty bestowed, and perhaps even a grand ball.

A girl could dream, she thought, grinning conspicuously as the blanket fell once more. She knew better. Everyone would be much too busy when the gate finally opened to even notice what she was up to, but that was all right with Mattie Fern because she was happy to do her part.

Being a watcher gave her plenty of time to think about all of the possibilities beyond the gate, how greatly the world must have changed through the years behind the high walls. It was rumored that many had attempted to gain their freedom from their prison since that fateful day ten thousand years ago when their people had been swept up in the wind and locked away from the rest of the world. It was rumored that many had died in their attempts to escape. As far as Mattie was concerned, if Fate was going to go to the trouble of putting up a barrier to keep the outside world out and the inside world in, then surely there was no sense in fighting it. It was fate, after all, and she was happy there in their small world, without intrusion. Even so, she couldn’t help desperately wanting to see what had gone on in the rest world since they had been imprisoned at the North Pole.

But if anyone had actually managed to escape to the other side, Mattie thought, then surely they wouldn’t have survived the harsh climate long enough to make it anywhere spectacular, and it was well known that they wouldn’t have been able to come back and share news of what they had seen, as they wouldn’t have been able to see where they had come from to find where they had been to get to where they are now from wherever they had gone to, as Fate had made certain they were very well hidden.

“That didn’t make much sense,” Mattie laughed to herself before letting out a heavy sigh. “But if just one of them had breathed one free breath of air… no matter how cold, no matter how horrible… That would be something.” And maybe that was what made risking their lives worthwhile, she thought—just for the chance of one second of freedom, “One brutal second of freedom,” she whispered with a grin.

That was the only reward Mattie truly wanted for her monotonously cold waits there by the tiny fire. Freedom. Which reminded her she was actually meant to be watching the gate.

Mattie looked up almost hopefully, but alas, the gate was still tightly shut, its ancient lock rusted solid. She sighed again. Ten thousand years of waiting, and this was what they were reduced to.

“But the world could be a terrible place,” she whispered to herself as the wind kicked up a flurry of powdery cold around her. She shivered and pulled the fur tighter around her shoulders. “It could be full of horrible people, full of such evil I could never imagine. What if—”

But whatever the young girl was what-iffing she forgot it almost instantly as she saw from the corner of her eye a dim glimmer of light that seemed to be coming toward her from very far away. For a moment she was frozen in silence as she watched the light grow from faint, misty purple to bright, electric blue. But the light was growing in intensity, not growing nearer. The light was coming from the keyhole of the antiquated lock on the gate. Mattie’s eyes flashed wildly as a burst of brilliant white sunshine fell on her face, and in blink the lock snapped open.

In a mad rush, she cast aside her furs and took to the sky even before her wings were completely unfurled behind her. Mattie sped toward the forest, her mind racing only slightly faster than she flew, hurling herself quick as lightning, to inform the queen.

She was finally free.

At the polar opposite end of the earth, a deliciously evil-looking soul was running his sickeningly long, bony finger through a plate of a sticky red substance that bore a remarkable resemblance to blood. He smiled ominously behind his scraggly, matted gray hair and hobbled around the table with the curious gait of one who had been severely beaten many times in his life, his shredded rags for clothes dragging on the cobblestone floor behind him. “The time has come, Master. The time is now,” he hissed excitedly.

“Curse this infernal light!” his master roared, pounding a pristine fist on the table, sending an ornate crystal chalice full of wine tumbling to the floor where it shattered. “Are you certain, Ilgot? I shouldn’t like for you to be wrong… again.” At this last word his servant shuddered and shrunk before him, which made his master smile.

He was quite the opposite of the elderly fellow. His hair was sleek, shiny and trim, showing only a faint hint of gray near the temples in the mass of blackness. His face was smooth and fine, and his square jaw and dark brow gave him an unexpectedly handsome quality for someone so malicious. Only his menacing eyes told the tale of ten thousand years of waiting. They were vicious pools of darkness, and in them reflected a rage so tumultuous, secrets so horrifying that to look into them was to know the very root of all evil. His cold gaze told his tale of brutality, anger and hatred.

The elderly fellow, who looked quite kindly compared to his master, trembled in fear and quickly sought refuge in the platter of blood, to check that he had not been mistaken. After several moments, in which the ruler clenched his well-kept fists expectantly, the old man whispered with a breath of timidity, “Yes, sir. It is time, indeed.”

“You know what to do,” the ruler said quietly. With a hesitant swallow the servant bowed humbly, almost apologetically, before bolting awkwardly for the door.

His master smiled. His vicious eyes gleamed lustily with his laughter, so backwards, so heinously wicked. “It is time!” he yelled, sweeping his long, silky robes aside as he rushed for the door in his servant’s wake. “It is time!”

Elsewhere in the world, everything seemed as normal as the rest of the world could seem. Romania was on the brink of revolution, its dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, having failed to deliver his final speech because of the rioting people, had retreated for the night. The Ursid meteor shower was making its usual meager display. The winter solstice was being celebrated in the north by those who celebrated the seasons, and summer was being welcomed with glad tidings of great joy in the south. Christmas shoppers the world over were rushing about trying desperately to make their last minute purchases before the good presents were all taken. Phileas Foote was wrapping a newborn baby tightly in a satiny yellow blanket, his hands shaking slightly as he thought of what he would do next.

“Swear to me you will treat her well, Phileas,” Evelyn Reece whispered with tears in her sweet gray eyes. “Swear to me that you will guard her with your life.”

“I swear I will guard her with my very soul, Evelyn. This is the only way,” he replied quietly. “They’ll arrive soon. We haven’t much time.”

Evelyn whimpered miserably, but her husband, patient and warm as ever, placed a gentle hand against her cheek. “She’ll be fine, Evelyn. Foote will take care of her,” he whispered. “Be strong now, love. Be brave… for Elindea.”

The air around them reverberated with a resounding pop, and Evelyn fell hysterically against her pillow. “Go! Go now! They’re coming for her!” she cried quietly.

“You have done the noblest deed, Evelyn,” Phileas said quickly, kissing the woman on her brow. “Brother,” he said, turning to Murphy Reece with a solemn gaze, “you are the first father of this new age. Bless you. I will keep her safe.”

“I know you will, Phileas. Now, go.”

And with that, Phileas Foote wrapped the tattered traveling cloak around himself and the newborn child, and with a whisper the two disappeared, floating away on a gust of wind to the sound of footfalls on the stairs and shrieks of a horrendous battle not far behind.

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Author, The Eleventh Age

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