Vashon sat at his desk, and with frail fingers, put the finishing touches on his life’s work. His second life, thanks to the blessed emperor. Despite having lived nearly twice as long as was natural, apprehension and fear gnawed at his senses.
He remembered the day he’d read the edict. He remembered dropping the piece of parchment onto his chart-covered desk and watching it roll back up on itself. He’d stared blankly at it, stupefied, wondering why the emperor would ban astronomy, his trade. It also declared all astronomical implements be surrendered to the Regency. He’d forgone many of life’s pleasantries, including that of a wife and children, so that he could fully devote himself to his studies.
He remembered looking across his study at the Telescope positioned next to the window. It had been but one of many that he’d owned. That particular one he’d used for leisure. His other, bigger, Telescopes were at his observatory outside the city. He remembered the feeling of complete meaningless. What was he to do without astronomy? He’d been too old to learn a new trade.
The knock at the door still rang clear in his memory and drew his attention away from his Telescope. As quickly as his frail body permitted, he’d shuffled along the narrow path that wove around stacks of books. He’d gasped in fear when he opened the door just enough to peer out. The door swung open, forcing him to step back. A man wearing orange armor stepped in. Vashon bowed as deeply as the pain in his back allowed and said, “Welcome, Your Highness.” He struggled to erect himself, then stepped aside to permit the chancellor entrance.
Two guards wearing gray-scaled armor pushed their way in first, knocking over stacks of books, and took up position just inside the door. The chancellor strolled in with his hands clasped behind his back. Two more guards followed him in and closed the door.
The chancellor walked down the narrow pathway between Vashon’s lifetime of accumulated books. He picked one up from a pile, flipped through it as he walked, then set it back down on another pile. He stopped in front of the Telescope and slowly ran his hand down the polished bronze. After inspecting its many parts, he turned to face Vashon, who still cowered by the door.
“The emperor has need of your services,” Drashon said.
“And with it, comes both riches and immortality.”
The fear that held Vashon frozen by the door melted away. Moments ago, Vashon sat at his desk wondering how he was going to survive. But Draego had supplied. He grinned broadly as he silently said a word of thanks.
And all too quickly, fifty years had passed since that fateful day. He sat at his desk in the twilight years of his second life. As he hesitated to put the finishing touches on his work, he reflected on his solitary meeting with the emperor.
Drashon ushered him to Kyinth on a Train. Along the way, he enjoyed countless pleasantries. The pleasantries increased manifold upon his arrival in the capital of the United Realms. The privilege Vashon felt when he stood before His Blessed Highness was like nothing he’d ever before, or since, experienced. He counted himself as one of a blessed few who stood before the emperor and had the emperor’s sole, undivided, attention as the emperor commissioned him for a great work.
He still clearly remembered that wonderful day when, after accepting the task the emperor laid before him, a strange sensation filled his body. Tingles coursed down his spine. Every day since then he got the same feeling when he thought about the emperor using his gift to reverse times ravages on his body. He remembered the intense burning and the amazement he felt as he watched his withered hands grow smooth again. He remembered the shock he felt when the emperor directed him to an ornate mirror, and he peered once again at his youthful self. He stood amazed, inspecting his reflection. He’d been eighty-five years old, and he stared back in time at his younger self.
After that, he was escorted out of the emperor’s presence and out of the royal palace, never to set foot in it again. But his gift was forever tainted when he returned to Tieger and learned of the horror bestowed upon his fellow astronomer’s and their families. But with time, his greed overshadowed his horror. After all, the emperor was the Blessed of the Dragon—his ways were perfect.
Twice a year, for the last fifty years, the chancellor came to Vashon’s study and received an update. And now, once again old and frail, he was about to present his final report to the chancellor. Did His Blessed Highness remember his promise? Vashon wondered. Even though he had lived two full lifetimes, fortunate to have been bestowed with such a wonderful gift, he wasn’t ready to give it up. He’d grown to love his gift of renewed youth, reveled in every experience he forewent in his first life. But now, he sat in his chair having once again grown old, the end of his life again nigh. With his task completed, would the emperor sweep him aside as a tool whose usefulness was spent? Like he did with the other astronomers?
He imagined he would feel joy and satisfaction after faithfully completing the task given to him, but that didn’t turn out to be so. Instead, the apprehension he’d felt when he first read the emperor’s edict grew stronger the closer he got to completion.
After much reflection, Vashon picked up a pen and inked his remarks. He set the pen down and sat back, his second life’s work now complete. He glanced to his side at the mirror hanging on the wall and gazed at the reflection of the once again frail, gray-bearded man he had for the second time become.
Fear accompanied Vashon’s apprehension. The chancellor saw that Vashon wanted for nothing. Unlike his first life, his second was lived in comfort and luxury. The lifestyle had made him greedy and unwilling to give it up. Worried about what would happen to his support after he turned in the report, he’d been considering his need to possibly look after himself, especially since he was old once again. He turned from his reflection in the mirror and contemplated the bag of gold on his desk. It represented half of what was promised should he make a copy of his report and ensure it fell into the right hands. He stared at the bag and weighed the possibility of a painful death against more than enough gold to live comfortably for his remaining years. He turned again to his reflection in the mirror and decided he was likely to die soon either way. With his usefulness spent, he couldn’t count on the emperor’s gift a second time.
Vashon made up his mind. He turned from his reflection, grabbed a fresh piece of parchment, and began duplicating the report. As he worked, the setting sun began to shine through the window of his study and inched its way across the room. It worked its way up the legs of the desk and onto the surface. When it reached the pale parchment, it reflected brightly, making it difficult to see what he was writing. He set his pen down and rose to draw the shades.
At the window, he paused, and gazed at the sun. For fifty years, at the direction of the emperor, he studied it. During that fateful meeting long ago, Vashon listened to the emperor’s concerns and had, through careful observation and measurement, confirmed them to be true. The sun was changing. In truth, it was dying. The emperor wouldn’t be pleased.At least, Vashon thought, drawing the shades and turning back to his desk, I’ll be long dead before things get bad.