Author's Note: Finale. That's a sad word. It means both an end to a long journey, one I'm not keen to go on again... but it also means the end of an era. As Time Goes By... will probably be my last Adventure Quest story I'll write. I'm trying to faze fanfictions out in lieu of a full-blown novel, but it'll be hard. You guys have been with me from my rocky starts to this bitter end, and for that, there is no amount of words I can put here to thank you enough. Maria and I have both made friends during this long journey; wonderful, beautiful, dear friends. We'll both cherish the wonderful people who have helped us until now, and we only hope to grow.
Just Remember: Xenolord NEVER forgets those who help him.
"As Time Goes By"
The shaggy, brown-haired young man gave a great yawn, fatigue riddling his bones as he sat up at this ungodly hour typing on the little computer he had on his lap, the sounds of his internet-based music slightly drowning out the sound of water running in the near-by bathroom. His room mate was awake, which was funny. She'd always been a bit of an early riser, but no more then a half hour to forty minutes before him... and she always woke him up before doing anything as attention-stealing as having a shower.
Despite the fatigue, the young man continued to plug away on the keys of the laptop, black words appearing faster then the little cursor could blink on the white page. Displacing his glasses quickly, he rubbed his eyes with a hand, trying to convince them to stay open just a bit long... just a bit longer... Another yawn and he mentally swore, racing to finish the words so he could get the hell back to sleep.
He wasn't thin. Most would consider his body type as 'slightly chubby', not quite to the 'overweight' stage, and nowhere near obese. His brown hair was messy, like he hadn't washed it in a few days, and his hazel eyes stood protected behind the shatter-resistant glass of his glasses, watching the words play across the page. He sat on the fake leather recliner, the laptop's mouse on the arm, dressed in a black t-shirt and a pair of ragged blue jeans as the sun was just starting to peak over the horizon. He gave one last read of what he had written and, despite being his own worse beta reader, saved what was typed, so he didn't have to do it again. Seven pages, and words in the thousands, he thought that was enough. He had hoped his room mate didn't mind him finishing her story for her, with his own ending. She'd been feeding him story ideas for two years now, and just when she was about to finish the latest one, she goes all quite on him, locks herself in her room and now she has a shower at... seven thirty four in the morning, without so much as a 'good morning'. Something was fishy...
The sound of the water running stopped, and the man pressed the mute button on his laptop near the screen and pressed the disk icon on the top of the screen, saving the words again, this time the last time, the finished copy. It had been a long shower, considerably longer then what she usually took, start to finish lasting a fairly impressive twenty minutes. Quietly pressing the lid on his laptop down, he shifted it to the table before him, untangling the power and mouse cords from his legs and standing, he cracked his neck and grunted with the mix of slight pain and relief. It wasn't long before the door to the bathroom opened, creaking loudly across the hall, the sounds of bare, wet feet across the wooden paneling floor a dead give away.
"You're up early." The man spoke, walking into the hallway to face his room mate, a towel wrapped around her chest, ending at about her knees, and another around her blonde hair. She stared at him for a few seconds before shaking her head and giving a fraud, dismissive smile.
"Good morning. I didn't expect you to be up so early."
"Yea..." The man began, looking around. "I could tell. You off somewhere, or something? Judging by the bags piled by the front door, I'd say away... and for good." Her smile faded, replaced by a genuine, sorrowful frown.
"Jake..." She mused, taking a step forward.
"Hey, it's alright. If you gotta go, you gotta go. I can't stop you from your destiny, I suppose." It was a touch hurtful of a thing to say but... all things considering it was the least hurtful thing the thought of at the moment. "Can I at least ask why you're leaving?"
"It's complicated." She answered nonchalantly, like she had planned the answer since her first day here. Jake, the young man with the brown hair, nodded and smiled.
"Yea... I suppose it would be. The bad answers are always complicated. I'm gonna take a guess... it was something I did that you're too polite to tell me about."
"No... no, it's not you at all... I can't explain exactly what it is... but I have to go... or something very bad will happen to you..." He became defensive of her suddenly.
"If you're being threatened, or intimidated, we have to go to the police."
"No, no we can't do that. They won't believe me... hell... I don't think anyone in this room believes me right now." Jake smiled and took a few more steps towards his room mate.
"Come on, Marie. We've been living in the same house for two years now. I think you know I'll believe anything you have to say."
"Not this you won't."
"Try me." He retorts instantly, the girl's face going red.
"Alright. Alright, here's the truth." She takes a deep breath and holds it before speaking. "I'm a four-thousand year old vampire, and if I don't leave this house within the hour, you'll die." Jake gave her a hug.
"See. The truth shall set us all free." He muttered.
"Wait... what? You- How?" Jake smiled as he held the girl in his hands, beads of water forming on her shoulders rolling down to soak into his black shirt.
"Process of elimination, and a small bit of ingenuity." He answered. "You've told me wonderful stories for the past two years... and with each story you've maintained the use of one central character, a powerful woman who's harder on herself then others... despite using a third-person omniscient point-of-view, you've never given the thoughts of the other characters. Because you didn't know them, right? You're not Marie Deveroux, you're Maria Despair, aren't you?" The woman smiled, putting one hand on the towel at her head, while the other extricated something from her eyes. With a pull from both hands and a flourish of her emerald hair, she gave a happy grunt.
"First time I've heard that in years." Her once-blue eyes had been turned into a beautiful crimson, fire and passion behind them.
"Come on, Maria. Stay. No one's forcing you to leave." The man felt a tap at his shoulder as a cold, gruff voice answered.
"Actually, my mortal friend... someone is." Releasing Maria from the hug, he turned to see the cold, lifeless face of a robe-wearing skeleton staring at him, a scythe clenched tight in his skeletal hands. Jake was unfazed by the grim visage before him, more amused that such a childish allegory for death was actually true. "You see... you should know by now that... Maria is under my... custodial protection, and I'm afraid her... feelings for you have grown as of late. Can't have her happy in eternal punishment, now can we?" The skeleton put a hand on his shoulder, practically draining all the heat and happiness from his body. "So just make things easier on yourself, boy. Let her go. Save your own life, and hassle for everyone... and just let this girl walk out of your life forever." The smart man would have taken Death's advice, walked out of the room and let Maria just walk out. But not Jake. He wasn't dumb... quite the opposite. Some would say that this man was smarter then the average man, and able to outwit anyone. He was about to put that rumor to the test.
"I can't just let her walk out, Death. If you've been watching us for half as long as I think you have, you should know how I operate. You're holding her prisoner, and I aim to set her free." Death gave a bone-chilling scoff.
"Oh, little man? How, pray tell, exactly do you plan to do that?"
"Maria once told me you don't refuse challenges... for people's soul, or whatever for." His teeth twisted into a sick grin.
" 'Tis true." He answered, Maria's face turning into a grim frown.
"Jake, don't! You can't beat him."
"You did. Several times. I'd like to say we're even in that regard."
"Let the boy try. Alright, kid. What are your terms, and game?"
"Game's simple. I will tell you a fact about yourself. If I speak correctly, you not only release Maria from her eternal punishment, but you leave me alone as well, forever."
"What you ask for is eternal life. Hasn't Maria's suffering told you enough that immortality is a bitch?"
"Only when you've got to suffer it alone."
"If that's your will, very well. Speak your falsehood." Jake gave a little smile, stood himself up straight, cleared his throat, and spoke very clearly:
"You will end my life now." Death gave a little grin.
"How good you are at predicting your own future!" Raising his scythe in the air, he paused. "Wait... wait if I do that, it would make you right..." He seemed to mill over the response possibilities for a moment. "But if I don't... that makes you wrong... which would make you right... which would..." He threw his head back and screamed. "GOD DAMN PARADOXES!" Jake smiled, giving a little triumphant 'humph' before giving Death an expectant look.
"Well. What do you say?" Growling low, Death looked down and sighed.
"Gah... fuck... I'm a ferryman of my word, Mortal. Neither of you will ever see me again, and I release Maria Despair from her eternal punishment." He got real close to Jake's face, his teeth chittering out of rage. "But mark my words, little boy. You've not seen the last of me. You've wronged me, Mortal... gravely. And it is not something I will forget. I guarantee you, my existence cannot end until yours does. Hear me?"
"Yea yea, whatever. Get out of here you bag of bones." With a huff and a puff of smoke, he vanished, leaving the two alone. Maria stared at Jake for a moment, disbelief and wonderment in her eyes. Once Jake was sure Death was gone, he let out a exasperated sigh. "Oh, thank god that worked... I thought it only worked in movies..."
"You stuck your neck out there... refused to save yourself... and even pulled me out of a three thousand year old torment... why?" Jake rubbed the back of his head uneasily, laughing.
"I guess you could say love makes us do stupid things sometimes. Besides... it's as you said... there's no more heroes in men... I guess I wanted to prove you wrong... at least in my case."
"You dumb little man..." She stormed closer to him and wrapped him in a hug. "You beautiful, dumb little man..."
"So, does this mean you'll stay? I can't live without you..." He paused for a moment while she thought. "No, I meant that literally I physically cannot afford this place by myself." Maria let out a laugh... not a stifled laugh, or a fraud laugh... this time, she laughed because she was genuinely happy. Happy for the first time in over three thousand years.
"Of course that means I'll stay... I'd be an idiot to leave you at a time like this... not after what you did for me..." Giving him a kiss, she smiled playfully. "You now... I know a few people who could use a place to stay... you could probably rent out that back bedroom for some extra cash."
"That's a great idea, but aren't you using that bedroom?" A single look from her was all he needed to understand what she meant. "Oooooh..."
The pair found themselves on the driveway of their little suburban home, sitting in wicker lawn chairs with a can of gas station beer in their hands. "...I didn't hate Safiria for what she did... I spent my whole first years as a vampire hating her guts more and more... I spent so much of it hating... I couldn't see what she had done for me..."
"What about Gravelyn? What happened to her?" She looked downcast at Jake's question, the man taking a drink from the can. "Sorry, too soon?"
"No... no I don't think so." Taking a deep breath and looking up at the stars, she sighed. "Gravelyn died... about five hundred years ago. A victim of the bubonic plague."
"I didn't think vampires could get plagues."
"Oh, we can. We're just usually more resistant to them. Gravelyn... fed off a few bad people... and wound up contracting a fairly bad case of it. She didn't last the night."
"I'm sorry..." Jake muttered taking a sip from the can, the woman drinking what was left in hers.
"Gravelyn lived as she always wanted to, and she died with no regrets. I still remember the last thing she said to me..." Crushing the can between her palms, she tossed it into the green recycling bin behind her, the aluminum container clattering noisily as it came to a rest inside the thick plastic bin. "She said 'Maria...'" She paused to stare at the stars. "'You've shown me more then I could have ever dreamed... sitting alone in that little bar that night, waiting for my nineteenth birthday to shower me with love and affection that I'd never get. You're a god-send, Maria... for everyone you're with. Even if death follows in your wake... I'll never stop loving you.'" She sighed, wiping a tear from her eyes. "Those were the last words she spoke. She died right after that. No pain... no suffering... just eternal rest." She picked up the chair and scooted just a little closer to Jake. "So, what are you going to do with your newfound immortality?" She asked idly, the man laughing.
"Spent all day thinkin' about that, and I think I have your answer, but first a question of my own."
"Which did you like better? Marriage to Safiria, or the carefree girlfriend relationship you had with Gravelyn?"
"Both were heavenly... I'd be loathe to choose one in particular but... the time I had with Gravelyn... you can't compare that to the love Safiria and I had. It was..."
"Divine." She answered, smiling. Jake's eyes migrated to a tall woman jogging down the sidewalk in a sports bra and shorts, her long black hair flowing behind her, struggling to catch up.
"You know, Sara, you should really run in the daytime, where you're not liable to be decked by a speeding car." Jake mused, taking a beer from the cooler between he and Maria, tossing it to her. The girl caught it on her pass and slowed to rebuttle.
"I hate the sun. Too hot... saps the strength right out of me." Maria raised another beer, which she masterfully removed from the cooler without anyone's notice, and smiled.
"I hear you there, sister." With a little salute and a 'thank you' Sara downed the beer, crushed the can and tossed it into the bin, continuing her jog.
"That girl is one weird one... hell of a night owl."
"Some people just like the night."
Sara jogged off into the night, turning and watching as the two sitting in the lawn chairs vanished into the distance. She gave a smile and muttered to the night. "Just like that, Kitten... just like that."