The Near-Ageless Ones
Desmon stared at his father as though the older man were a stranger to him. The features of his face seemed deeper now, while his eyes danced with the youth of a new arrival to the Learning Hall. Physically, Rune Noble could pass as a beginning professor, not one retired after years of service. Even his back didn’t hunch like others his age. It was as if the seasons barely touched the man.
“Help me understand what you are saying,” Desmon said. “Tell me this is just another one of those silly stories you make up to befuddle-.”
“Son, I have never lied to you. Some of those who were said to have failed the warning charms of Quinton died by choice.”
Desmon shook his head, eyes taking in everything in his father’s home that had not changed since Desmon’s mother died. “I’ll accept that nonsense. I meant-.”
“The Near-Ageless Ones, son? There is no nonsense behind that. They, like those of the Rathens Regions, exist. Their culture, like most others, involves a sense of connection. That pain you felt earlier, as if a part of you died-.”
“No.” Desmon grabbed the clay wind-instrument his mother played for him when he was small. He could almost hear the words to a melody, one that made no sense then or now. “That- It was a feeling, nothing more. The same way-.”
Rune smiled, a pitiful one that reminded Desmon of Professor Chekton. “When a Near-Ageless One gives up their life, it affects those who are living. Just as a burst of warmth happens without warning or reason – the birth of a new one – the loss-.”
“My boy, you carry part of that inside you. You, because of me, are part Near-Ageless One. What that means for you in terms of your life-span, I do not know.”
The instrument almost fell from Desmon’s hand. He knew how his mother felt about undesirables, included the fabled Near-Ageless Ones. Of course everyone grew old and died. That was natural. Only practitioners of the forbidden spells, like Michael Sorpha, could find a way to defy death.
“Who else knows?”
“Alle and Ella Yomin.”
“And Allen,” Desmon asked, anger rising at the potential betrayal.
Rune smiled. “They protected him. He’s…of another village far from here.”
Desmon thought about that; thought about the years spent together during studies and competitions, of working beside him and Jalem. “They deceived-.”
“No. Near-Ageless Ones decide; therein lies the difference. We decide our fate. That has been your strength, your sword, your sound foundation of why people follow you. Despite all that has happened, from the death of your mother – Quinton guard her soul – to what you endured and challenged while with the magistrate, you, Desmon Noble are not in the twilight of this era, but the guide into the next. Your friends who love you, they do so selflessly, based on faith, respect and admiration. Don’t lose them. If you do, remember, it wasn’t because they deserted you.”
Desmon saw the dark spot on the light clay spread, the splashing drops wiped away with his free hand. How long had he believed his mother had left him, even when he knew the truth? “You make it sound as though you’re about to say ‘goodbye,’ too, Father.”
Rune pushed himself up, bones creaking like an old man’s for once. “There are many times I’ve tired of the separation, the silence, the solitude. Between you and me, I thought about the Unforgivable Decision. Couldn’t do it, though. I remember the illness that came – well before you were born, when…when a Near-Ageless One did that. I couldn’t bear to let you suffer that, son.”