You cannot kill maiar, but you can kill their bodies. And what of the bones they leave behind?
Bones of giants, bones of almost-humans that can’t quite be pinned down, bones of winged angels crumbled to dust. A few, scattered and unearthed from the deeps of time. Curiosities. Marvels. Then, suddenly, like a layer in the strata, hundreds. Thousands. Decorated in silver and sapphire and buried with swords of rusted steel, inscriptions in a language unknown. A slaughter - no, a war. By whom? For whom? The greatest minds still do not know, so says the plaque in the dimly lit room. A culture lost to the ages, separated by time and space and yet as one, and wholly a mystery.
One specimen was set apart from the rest, on display in the darkened corner while the fallen soldiers took center spotlight. The last of its kind ever found, it dated to over three thousand years after any other, and was entirely alone. It had been recovered by an oil pipeline crew from an ancient wreckage submerged in the north Atlantic, buried in the sandy sea floor. The ornate golden jewelry which had adorned the skeleton now was arrayed for show on hooks and shelves around it, postulations on their origin and use accompanying each. Ritual purposes, and perhaps social status, they concluded. There was commentary on carbon isotope ratios, unusual trace elements, controversy over age at death. It was all so clinical, impersonal...
A hand touched the glass, pale slender fingers resting lightly against its surface. Its owner stared silently at the remains, face like porcelain drawn and sullen, fair but cold. He seemed small, not in stature but in presence, shrunken, like a timid defeated thing, and not quite all there. It was as if it were impossible to look at him head-on and see him clearly, edges blurred, almost melting into the shadows. Close, yet so far away. He stood and looked upon the display as one in mourning, after the tears have been shed and only emptiness remained. Time passed, but he was beyond it.
"These were my bones," he murmured, to no one, or perhaps to anyone who was listening. "Once," he added wistfully. His shallow breath fogged the glass for a fleeting moment.
"I knew love with these bones. And I knew hate. Such glory…Oh, the memories.” Sighing softly, he cast his somber gaze downwards. “What I would give to have them back.”
Slowly he turned, stepping back from the glass case, mumbling to himself. “Never the same again. Never the same without him…” he trailed off. He took no notice of the young woman staring at him. Transfixed on the cloaked figure, she caught a flash of dull gold in his hollow gaze as he moved. It was brighter once, perhaps.
Her mouth open in awe, she swiveled around, hoping for some other witness to this bizarre event. There were none. When she looked back, he was gone, leaving only the murky shadows as company. It unnerved her to face them. She backed out of the room, turning the corner and walking briskly towards the main parlor. Two security guards stood by the entrance, making conversation as they waited the last few minutes before closing time. The women fell quiet as they saw the girl approach, wide-eyed and trembling. They exchanged a glance.
“Coming from the special exhibit?” one of them asked.
She nodded, and began to speak but was cut short by a reassuring hand on her shoulder. The guard raised her eyebrows and looked into the girl’s eyes.
“So…” she said quietly. “You’ve seen him too.”
Those simple words sparked a conversation that lasted from the stairwell out the doors to the bus station eight blocks from the museum. They shared their experiences, and debated the meaning of his words to the most minute detail, as they were always the same. In the end, one question burned in them greater than any other. It took that young woman to university, to great collections of decaying pages written in blood, across the seas and down into their depths, all for answers to an experience she never forgot, and a question that echoed like the words of a ghost in her mind.
Who was “him”?