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a fairytale for the demon lord

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In the end, he went to the edge of the world, erected barriers that made time stand still, and lived out the rest of his days in a land washed with twilight.

He built no castles, held no lands. He spent his days wandering in a barren, flat plain marked by the swords of fallen men and their skeletons. They filled the air with the stench of death and decay. Their bones and empty skulls rattled and chattered in the nonexistent wind. They and the crows were his only companions.

The crows followed him in a fluttering black storm. They had long ceased to be afraid of him. Instead, the more curious ones landed on his shoulders, his hands, his staff. They pecked at his skin and flew away when he moved. They eventually grew to accept him as one of them, a roving shadow, no longer a stranger to them or to death.

At the end of the world, men often came looking for him, looking for answers. They wanted to know why he had done what he did. They wanted him to undo it, because they were now trapped in a dying land, and he was the one who had trapped them there.

They never found what they were looking for. He let them all die instead, unanswered. He did not want to be found.

He let them all turn into bones. He let the wind carry their ashes away, and let the sodden earth soak up their haunting cries.

He did not want to be disturbed, in this land of dead things. He did not want to remember life and movement and heat. He had come here to avoid those things.

But humanity could be resourceful, sometimes, especially when they had lost all hope. And so, climbing over the bodies of their fallen brethren, they came for him.

One day, a knight entered the end of the world.

He was young and brave, bright and shining in his metal armor, flanked by guards that carried spears half again as tall as themselves. As if the entire world took notice of him, the crows all took flight, rising to the skies to get a better look. The grass stirred as if a wind had blown through them, as if gossiping to each other.

At the end of the world, all the monsters and demons and dragons that had taken residence there shook themselves awake from their long slumber. For the first time in a long while, large shapes moved in the far distance, and the air did not taste like death and stillness.

The knight and his companions fought them all, and beneath their swords flowed a river of red and black blood.

But the red was the red of hot battle-heat and lifeblood, and the black moved like shadows writhing where once there had only been grey dust. The knight brought movement wherever he went, and the land of the dead took notice of him.

The crows came back to him, beating their wings like a cyclone in the air, buffeting him with the wind.

He’s here for you, they squawked and called, sharp judgement from sharper beaks. He’s here to deliver you your Fate.

They landed on his shoulders, settled their wings in a shiver of black feathers. He took no notice of them and their words. The crows, used to his silence, squawked to him again: He’s here for you. He’s here for you. He’s here for you.

It did not matter. Death or doom did not matter to him at all. The knight would die just like so many others had.

The knight traveled onwards into the changing land, bringing his companions with him. They fought great wolf packs with eyes like stars and fur like bristling thorns and teeth like jagged daggers. They stormed past fields of broken swords and long dead battles. When their chariots broke, they rode. When their horses faltered, unable to go on, they walked. When their feet failed them, the golden knight spoke to them and roused their spirits again.

They moved like the tide, unending and unstoppable, bringing change into a land that had never known change, flooding a land that had only known deserts.

He’s coming for you, the crows said. Can you see it? Can you see him? He will tear down everything you have built, and destroy everything you know.

He is your Fate, bearing a future that even you cannot deny.

Your days are numbered, immortal one.

One day, he had closed his eyes in despair and had decided to end the world.

He had thought: I cannot stand the passage of time any longer. I cannot drift through the world, immortal and alone, waiting for something that will never come. Better for time to stand still instead. Better to freeze in place than to decay even further.

He would live out the rest of his days in a world that no longer moved. And maybe, one day, the universe would end, and him with it. But until then, he would plunge the whole world into an eternal twilight, and maybe then the pain would end.

There was a magic in him so strong that it twisted Fate around the shape of him.

The world flickered to black and red, and the sun stopped in the sky. The view in front of him spun through barren fields, then seas of fire, crumbling towers, and then silence. Forever.

Here is your Apocalypse, he wanted to say. Here is the Fate you prayed for with your temples. Only there are no gods, only demons. No salvation, only me.

When they finally met, it was over a chasm as deep as the earth itself.

The crows had taken to the skies, and made lonely black shapes against the grey. The world around him had been reduced to a tiny island, a dark, jagged shape in the sky. He could never remember seeing the borders of his domain before, but he could see it now. Part of him wondered if it was because of the knight and his companions, how they brought life with them wherever they went.

Across the chasm, the ground was blooming with spring. It hurt to look at, the way it hurt to look at something you had lost. He was surprised that he remembered spring, because it must have been an old memory, from lifetimes ago.

It was hard not to notice this knight.

He had a presence that shone like the sun. His magic felt like a lodestone with the weight of the world. Lesser magical beings were inexplicably drawn to him, some with the hunger for power, and some by simple curiosity.

It felt like fate. It felt like gravity.

It had been a long time since he had felt something like gravity. It reminded him of things that he would rather forget.

So instead, he looked at the skeletons that lined the bottom of the chasm like matchsticks, dry and chattering. They belonged here. He belonged here. But the knight did not.

“Leave,” he said. “Before I kill you and everyone you’ve brought with you. I won’t warn you again.”

Death has come for you, the crows had said, only there were no crows here, not anymore.

Slowly, the knight took off his helmet, revealing tousled blonde hair and familiar blue eyes.

Then the knight called out to him, and used his name.

He said: “You’ve been trapped here long enough. I’m here to get you out.”

The world must have ended, then, and been born anew. Because he recognized this man, but this man was supposed to be dead.

He remembered waiting, and waiting, and waiting until he had gone mad. And ages had passed. Eons, until he had forgotten the sound of his own name.

"Take my hand," the knight said. "It took me forever to find you. Don’t look at me like that. It'll be easy. All you have to do is take my hand."

“I can’t,” he said. The skeletons at his feet chattered in the wind. The chasm between them yawned, wider than ever. This man was supposed to be dead. So why was he here now?

“Yes you can,” the knight said. He extended his hand. “All you need to do is jump.”

One day, he woke up and found himself standing at the edge of the barrier he had made. He saw another world on the opposite side. And in it, a face from another life.

He realized that the world had not ended after all.

In the time that he had been asleep, there had been parts of the world untouched. And in some parts of the world, there had been stories about him - the demon lord, trapped in his own domain.

It had just taken a long, long, long, long time.

One day, a knight entered the end of the world, and fought through dragons to find an old friend.

“It’ll be different, this time around,” he promised. “I came here looking for you. I’m here to save you, and make everything right again. Trust me. I’ll never leave you alone again.”

And so he jumped.