Erston Lee’s Awakening

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    Kajex
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    Erston’s journey into the arcane began at the end of his life, or rather what was supposed to be the end. A tragic car accident after enjoying a heartwarming meal with his older sister and brother-in-law landed him in the realm of Stygia, alone. As a student and professor of world history, he recognized the traces of several different cultures, the pyramids of Egypt, the limestone sarcophagi of Ancient Rome, the funeral ships of the Norse among others. It didn’t take him long to come to the conclusion that he was either dead or dying.

    His wanderings led him to a river of inky black, which he began following. He supposed this might be the river Styx, or some interpretation of it. Erston found it morosely amusing that his mind would conjure up such an ostentatious and bleak rendition of death before his consciousness slipped into the void. It was only when he first saw it in the distance that he began to question his belief that this was merely his mind’s final death throes. A bone-white tower, looming over the various images of death that lay scattered across the land. Curious, he sought to reach the tower before he passed.

    The river seemed to lead straight to it and driven with a new purpose Erston pursued his final goal. The inside was vastly different from the exterior. Bone-white marble turned to the darker earth tones of stone and clay, as a vast cavern extended around him. A single staircase, built of stone ascended impossibly high, with a pale light shining from the summit. On either side of this staircase, rows upon rows of figures stood extending beyond his sight. Though as Erston examined them, he realized they were clay.

    I suppose Grandmother’s stories of how our family was descended from the people of Lishan were what first inspired me to study history, he thought to himself. It’s a fitting place to die I suppose.

    Silence and the stoic faces of the terracotta figures were all that he perceived as he proceeded up the staircase. The climb felt endless, and as they proceeded upward Erston swore he recognized the faces of some of the statues. Though his pace was too quick to know for sure. The pale light shone more brightly as he approached the summit, eventually coming to an empty room. Characters from all languages were carved into the walls, floor, and ceiling. A small altar stood in the center of the room and on it a blank slab of stone. And standing and either side were the images of his sister and her husband, although something about them seemed muted.

    “Took your time didn’t you,” his sister spoke with a slightly mocking tone.

    “He’s an academic at heart, honey,” her husband interjected, “this was fast actually.”

    “Lumi, Ray. I take it both of you are dead as well, then,” cutting the banter short, Erston tried to put the pieces together.

    “Partial credit, Professor Erston, take a closer look at us.” She held up one of Erston’s arms, it was surprisingly in focus compared to the figures of the two before him. “You are still alive, for the moment.”
    “What? How?”

    “You awakened to something. Albeit only partially. Probably due to the shock of a near-death experience,” Ray surmised, “But your time to act is limited, Erston. Soon you’ll be trapped just like us, unless…,” the ashen haired man trailed off.

    “Unless I what?”

    “Unless you take what remains of our lives for yourself,” Lumi finished.

    “And what makes you think I have that ability? And even if I could, why should I steal the lives of my family to save myself. That would be a moral offense of the highest order”

    “You have the ability because you made it here! Don’t sass me! Just take my life force already!”

    “Now Lumi, calm down,” Ray stepped between the two siblings. “Erston, I too would like you to do this. We have some worries and regrets that will keep us from passing on completely. And there’s no chance for us to recover. So whatever life remains in our bodies will just slowly dwindle away unless you use it.”

    “But–!”

    “If you won’t take our lifespan as a parting gift, let’s make a deal Erston. A contract of sorts. In exchange for the remaining life our bodies possess, you will care for our daughter Tiffany. If it’s you, I would be able to pass on with no regrets.”

    “We don’t want to leave her alone,” Lumi said softly.

    “Very well, then,” Erston said in a level voice.

    “Then let’s finish quickly, you are beginning to fade as well Erston,” Ray said worriedly. Erston glanced down at his body, and sure enough, his form was beginning to lose definition as well.

    “I, Ray Outway,” Ray began.

    “And I, Lumine Outway,” his sister joined in, “offer our remaining life to Erston Lee. In exchange, Erston Lee will provide for and protect our daughter Tiffany Outway until the time comes when he is no longer able to do so.”

    “I, Erston Lee, accept the terms.”

    The terms of the contract shimmered into being on the stone slab. Erston picked up a fountain pen that had appeared nearby and signed his name. The tip of the pen gouged the stone surface easily, to his surprise. And with every stroke of the pen he could feel something coursing through him. And his vision was suffused with a bright light.

    Erston woke up in a hospital bed. Filled with a new awareness of the world, and bound by a contract he vowed never to break as long as he lived.

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