"Something is ailing the poor soul of your next mission objective. Can you guess what it is, Garrick, my dear? Here's your hint; it's destructive and, if handled incorrectly, it can kill a person."
"…A disease? Or drug? Weapon?" For such a vastly vague question, Garrick could only wait for any sign of approval from his superior. To each answer, none actually came.
Keiran tapped his fingers along his desk as if performing a one-handed piano concerto. "All of the above, and then some. It's stress." He ended somewhat anticlimactically.
It was only after it was verbalized that the answer seemed only too obvious to Garrick. "Haa, okay, I get it now. But what do you expect me to do about it? In my opinion, all that 'stress' stuff is more or less a mental thing."
"And that it could be, Garrick. Especially with the case of this young man. He has a great life, works hard, could have a bright future… But he just doesn't wish to see it that way. Unfortunately, humans are very prone to take things for granted, feel anxiety and stress with certain obstacles, and forget just what's truly important in the long run…"
During the other's oration, the ever-available listener watched Keiran thumb through a neatly stacked pile of papers - on top of which, he pulled out a folder labeled by name.
"Alas, I digress, darling. I apologize, I really do. Anyway, I want you to take a look at this." Instead of gesturing for the man to come and take it, Keiran rose from his seat to graciously hand-deliver it.
It took but a glance for Garrick to recall the face that was printed on the first page. In fact, those documents were recent; as the Diviner of Fate himself had assembled them. "Is that info on the stressed guy?"
"Do you know what will happen to him?"
"…He'll end up missing out on a lot of great opportunities, that's for sure. Probably because his sense of happiness has been warped, right? Because the stress changed him?"
"Hm. I wonder." Gradually, Keiran smirked while carefully studying the face on the page. Had Garrick's answer been Keiran-approved, after all? "And Sylas, my dearest Diviner of Karma, believes his karma to be acceptable. He's been given a good life based on that decision, but-"
In an uneasy moment, Garrick felt Keiran's eyes travel from the photo to his face, and he could still feel that smile searing into the new-found pink hue of his cheek… "That still doesn't explain what my mission objective is."
As if he had been waiting for those words, the ruler of Runawynd emitted a suppressed giggle. "I'll tell you exactly what that is, my dear…"
Unintentionally, Garrick braced himself with hitched breath when Keiran's face suddenly neared. What…?
As softly as the moonlight that poured through the window, Keiran whispered into his subordinate's ear, "Stress is not incurable. What I want you to do for him is…" And thus the mission statement was carefully planted into the wary listener's ear.
Entertained, Keiran couldn't help but press a tease into the clearly disturbed, angered Diviner, "Ah ha ha! What do you mean, 'that's it?' Were you hoping for a kiss?"
"Er, no! What I mean is- Ahh, hell, just forget it." And with that, Garrick strode from the room, seemingly making faster paces as he went. He now knew his objective, and he still had those papers handy. Locating the person should prove to be no problem with the information and resources at his disposal.
"Garrick," Upon calling out, Keiran inspected the hasty man stop in the hallway. He then commenced to say, "I'm sure you've heard the phrase, 'Never underestimate a work of kindness? Especially the small ones?' Well, it's true."
And thus, Garrick went off on his merry way, oozing of repulsion.
Comfortably, Keiran sat back in his seat. He just couldn't hide the amusement of his face. Ah, the power.
Okay, then… mission start. Garrick thought to himself, optimistically strolling through streets of the new, unfamiliar city.
When comparing to his last visit on earth, he might've assumed that – this time - he landed on a different planet altogether. The weather warmer, the people busier, and the town endowed with unheard of technology. Aside from the people and various forms of transportation that thrived, new smells, fashion, and towering buildings all seemed to play a characteristic role.
The seemingly old-fashioned Diviner of Fate felt he could learn much from the place and its people. Admittedly (and yet predictably), his eyes had difficulty focusing on the tracking device on his cellphone, which – conveniently enough – Keiran had gifted him upon joining Runawynd.
Sporting enough foresight to see that Garrick might require extra assistance for future missions, Keiran had entrusted an upgrade to Garrick's cellphone - a GPS. Not only used for navigation, it also contained human tracking capabilities; as long as he had Keiran's specific informational papers on that person. Seems a little troublesome for a Diviner, but whatever. I won't complain.
After that sheet of paper was scanned, a blue, orbed location flickered into view. Garrick observed that small, blue orb on his phone. It represented his mission objective, Hayden, the "stressed human", moving around within a nearby building. Considering the amount of time he's been in there, I guess I could assume he's at work…?
Garrick tracked Hayden, located the building, and stepped inside.
It was a bookshop. In the entrance walkway, lofty shelves encircled him. It was distracting to say the least. So many titles with so many topics seemed to stick out in the corners of Garrick's curious mind.
Overwhelmed, his focused strut became an aimless walk. But before he made any progress, he systematically scrambled to make sure to hide his cellphone and keep Hayden's documents out-of-sight in his pockets.
And Garrick found him. He was standing on a tall, sliding ladder from above - at work.
Clutching a large quantity of books and carefully shelving them away in precise order, the man hadn't yet noticed Garrick peering up at him. He seemed wholly consumed. But was it his work or something else in his mind that preoccupied him?
Verbally, Garrick approached the man, "Hey. Sorry to bother you, but can you help me find something?"
With the energy of a flitting animal, Hayden took a peek at the presence standing below him. "Oh, sure! Don't worry, you're not a bother! Let me just put these…" The tall man hastily set his work pile aside, then proceeded to climb down the ladder. Once he reached the ground, Garrick then noted his features up-close. A typical, stylish-looking youth. But could be more than what meets the eye. There's something wrong.
Hayden wiped some dust from his work-apron before greeting his customer with a flashy smile and professional speech. "I'm sorry about that. Now, what can I help you with?"
"There's a specific kind of book I'm looking for… I just can't seem to find it…" As soon as the words left him, he started to wonder, Wait, what AM I looking for? I don't really read, so- A hasty decision was made, "Tea."
"Like, How-To books on tea? We have a ton of those. Seem to be kind of popular nowadays. C'mon, I'll show you where we hide those at!"
Perfect customer service. "Thanks, man. I appreciate it." If he wasn't doing such a good job of lying to my face. Look at that smile; there are bags under his eyes. I don't need mind-reading to tell that something's up with this one… I know I don't usually make a habit of this, but maybe I'll pry… just this once.
Even while gracing his speaker with full, credible attention, Garrick could still feel the young man's heavy thoughts pouring into his mind, 'I hate it. Every time I look at the clock, it's always the same time. Like time's just stopped for me. Like I'm stuck in this stupid, monotonous cycle, and this pitiful moment will never end. I should've stayed in bed. I should've never trusted this place to provide me happiness. I want to leave. I'm so bored. This is so stupid.'
Talking all the while, Hayden led Garrick to a small section. Resting quietly on the bookshelf, were colorful titles pertaining to tea. Like a true salesman, the man went on to explain about the books' differences and contents, noting their bestsellers and prices.
In the end, Garrick was persuaded to actually buy a copy of one he found particularly interesting. Although tea was never really my forte, I think I know someone who'd like this. …Not like he deserves it.
"So, when do you get off of work?" Garrick asked, casually.
"In 'bout an hour, actually. Then, it's off to my other job." Hayden finished the well-played transaction and handed his customer his change and paid merchandise.
While keeping up with the small talk, the Diviner of Fate slipped his well-earned money back inside his stuffed jean pockets. "Another job?"
"Yeah, I have three of them, actually. Between you and me, they don't pay all that well, and all the jobs I have are just a few hours here, a little bit there…"
"Geez. Sounds like you're pretty busy."
"Between all my jobs and school and everything? Ha, yeah, something like that. But it's not like I have a fulltime job yet or anything. Still can't afford living on my own, you know. It kinda sucks. Just barely paying for school."
Oh, money problems. I get it now. Garrick chuckled, "But you're still young! You have a whole lifetime ahead of you to get things figured out! Just do what you like to do, keep an open mind to try new things, and you'll be fine. But above all else, just take it easy." He added, humbly, "…But these are just words coming from some random dude, so don't mind me."
Predictably, the boy seemed unconvinced, yet he laughed a little, "You know, I seriously hope you're right."
Thus, the transaction was complete. Words were shared, money was exchanged, and yet there was still one thing left of the two men. Garrick noticed a small pad of paper and pen conveniently tucked beside the register. It lay with its pages open, and thus the words exposed. Ah, there it is…!
Garrick pointed, "Is that writing there a story you're working on?"
"Huh?" Their eyes locked for a fated second. "Wait, how did you know I was…? Okay, that's just creepy." Hayden snickered, amused yet apparently flustered. Naturally, he was inquisitive of Garrick's unanticipated perception, but after the insistence met with and penetrated his embarrassment, the boy conceded – spirits lifted at the topic. "Yeah, it's nothing super incredible, but one day, I'd like to publish. We'll see if that ever happens."
Before sending off his patron with a formal "goodbye" and repeated "thank you", Hayden would return to that same bookshelf, climbed up the ladder, and started organizing materials.
Carrying his bagged gift out the door, the Diviner of Fate was still left to wonder… How much more would it take for that boy to accept that small bit of happiness?
Garrick made a phone call. Although he wished to speak with Torrin on behalf of a favor, the man anticipated that once the ringing stopped, it would be Keiran's joyous voice springing forth. As fate provided, he was deprived of such an important number as Torrin's, and so calling his superior would have to suffice.
'Oh, Garrick! Glad to hear from you! I was just thinking about you… I do that quite often, you know!'
I finished what you wanted me to do. Conservatively, the blond man kept his cool to avoid unwanted attention from on-lookers. I just talked with the kid, but I don't think just talking to him like that helped 'im any. I think he's still suffering.
'And have you figured out what's causing that suffering?'
Money. He's afraid for his future because of money issues. Not like I'd call it an "issue", really. I mean, he should be grateful for all of the small things, you know?
'Very true, very true. But there's another thing that's bothering him, too. Something related and meshed together with all that stress stuff. Have you guessed what it is?'
Merely sight-seeing, Garrick traversed the city before taking his leave back to Runawynd. Inwardly, he yearned to stay longer, but he knew better. In the uncomfortable mixture of warm weather and crowded body heat, he gracefully removed his jacket, while still paying attention to his phone. It's boredom. That one came through loud and clear.
'Are you positive? …I'm just thinking that may not be what's ailing this person, considering he keeps himself quite busy. Perhaps he's just having issues with figuring himself out. He's at a tender age, but I'm sure he'll figure things out sooner or later.'
Well, then, why am I here? I still don't feel like I've done anything for him. He seems like a good kid with good intentions, he's just… Haaa, I dunno. Following the example of those around him, Garrick waited patiently for permission from the blaring traffic light to walk forward.
'What does it matter? As soon as you're done there, you'll be coming home, right? There's really no time to get too involved. What other plan did you have in mind?'
With his phone pressed to his ear, the patient man's eyes lazily lowered to the concrete ground, where they fixed onto a shadow across his foot. There was nothing particular about it, but it still kept his eyes away from anything/anyone else. Is Torrin there?
'Hah! You call me, yet you want to talk to someone else instead? Keiran's voice was raised, as was his attitude, and Garrick struggled to keep the volume down. Really, beloved, that's just low! How could you-'
Seriously, Keiran, please?
'…Oh, fine, you win. And I'll only grant your request because of something you did for me today. That bag you're holding… I'll act surprised when I open it, I promise!'
Tch, just for the record, I only did it so that- But before Garrick had time to finish his hurried excuse, that unmoving shadow suddenly rose. With wide eyes, he watched it snap from his shoe to above his ankles; giving him a sense that there was a secondary presence at work.
Alarmed, the victim turned to see if anyone else around had noticed the strange phenomenon, but it seemed contrary. H-Hey, what's- The shadow animated for a moment before moving to higher grounds up to his shoulders, gracing him with a squeezing embrace. That all-too-familiar touch…
As he shuddered hard and pulled away from the deranged, manipulated patch of darkness, it returned to its natural state. It gave an excited wave for a moment, but then lay across his foot once more; completely still.
"Goddamn it, I wish you'd stop doing that, you creepy asshole!" Garrick shouted into the receiver - for all innocent bystanders to witness.
He heard a stifled – and utterly amused - laugh, before hearing him call out to someone else in the room.
Curtly, a new, softer (yet strangely equally amused) voice answered the call, 'Hello? Garrick, is that you?'
Torrin! Unlike Garrick's feelings towards his harassing superior, the Diviner of Dreams' presence always seemed to calm him. Torrin, I need you to do a favor for me. If you don't mind.
'Take a look at the faces around you. You are unable to recognize them, correct? Now take a look around you. Tell me - if you can - where are you? In the void of your dreams, you are seated at a table with complete strangers to you, each with burdens of their own.
Do you see that heap of papers before you? Like those seated around you, your own list of troubles has been added to that pile. Do you understand what's written on your paper?
Here is where you must make a choice. You may view each of these lists, contemplate them carefully, and based on your final decision, you may awaken with any of the lives you choose from the table. You've been given an opportunity by the gods.'
Among those seated, Hayden, too, had thrown his "list of troubles" on the table. Before the eager young man gave the situation considerate thought, he snatched one at random, determining, I never want my old life back. There's gotta be something better off at this table. Besides, I've got unlimited chances to choose and to change my mind.
The first sheet of paper told of a pretty, youthful woman, who bore a destructively flirtatious nature. Because of it, she lost respect, a solid seat in her workplace, and the one man she was fated to be with. Quickly, Hayden chose a truer love over beauty, and then discarded the paper.
The second sheet of paper told him of a middle-aged lady with fame, many friends, but a stubborn preoccupation for entertainment. This lady bore no significant connection to her family, however, and so again Hayden thought to make a decision, inclining to choose family over fame. Then he discarded the list.
The third sheet of paper told him that although he would be plagued by disease, he would have riches in return; with which, he would live comfortably in a beautiful home. Enticed by the promising sound of money, Hayden took a glance around the table. Disease? What kind? A second look directed to a man stiffly seated. He was missing a leg.
Having been acquainted with that imagery, Hayden's wayward spirit faltered. But think what I could do with that money! I'd pay off school loans, no, I'd pay off an entire mortgage! I could get whatever I wanted and rarely have to work a day in my life!
I think I could deal with that. If I had that much money, I could probably get used to walking like that.
…Then again, what would my parents think if I came home without a leg?
The wavering man continued to choose from the pile, and with each new list, a decision had to be made. Fame or family? Honest relationship or experience with many? Lazy entertainment, or ability to work hard? Peace or self-pity? Riches or…
He scanned paper after paper, filled with different stories and different trials that people faced during their own journeys through life. One by one, he made a choice, and one by one, he put them back onto the table.
Still, he held onto one. Should he choose riches or health?
With both sheets in his hand, he gravitated back and forth. He took a look at his own paper:
~Having trouble with money, just barely paying for rent and school
~Hasn't said anything to a girl he admires from afar
~Worries about whether or not he'll be able to succeed
~Wishes to write a novel, and sell it in his own book store – working for no one but himself - but feels a lack of free time
~Feels too busy and unable to relax
He froze, lost in the mist of decision, until his eyes beheld a miracle that only a dream-like world could muster. Miraculously, words etched their way onto his paper, as if an invisible source were writing them with quill and ink. His list continued:
~Has a loving, healthy family
~Has a home
~Has income and strong work ethic
~Has dreams for his bright future
~Has two feet to walk on
It continued its listing of blessings until it reached the bottom of the page, where it ended with a message,
'No one can change the cards they're been dealt. They must simply learn to live with them and move on. After all, that's all we can do. The only one who can give you the peace you crave… is yourself.
Think about it. The grass may always be greener, but maybe your front lawn isn't so bad, after all…?
-The Diviner of Dreams'
Hayden took his own list – like gold – and then discarded it.
We watched it all from above. It made me feel very Keiran-like, because now that I think of it, that's pretty much all Keiran chooses to do. An incredible man, that Keiran; he's a wonderful master.
Which I know I shouldn't really say, considering I'm still new here… But I really love it up here with Keiran and Garrick and Sylas. They're so good to me, and I can tell they all really love each other.
It was almost time for dinner – one of my favorite parts of day here in Runawynd. While Sylas was in the kitchen preparing, Garrick, Keiran, and I finished watching that dream all the way 'till the end. Oh, that one I gave to that man, in case you're unaware. The one Garrick called me about a few moments ago. Not sure if you were there or not…
But anyway, as it showed the man's final decision, Garrick got upset. Which was expected. I had a feeling he wouldn't like the ending of this story, but now I could sense a battle of verbal enlightenment about to ensue… Those two are like that, it seems…
He shouted at Master Keiran as if it was his fault, "Wait, Keiran, no! No, that's not how it's supposed to happen! He – he needs his legs! Both of them! Why would he-"
In return to Garrick's sharp temper, Master Keiran was as calm as ever. He's always like that, you know; very poised. I really admire that about him. "It's a choice he decided to make."
"I was supposed to help him!" If Garrick kept raising his voice, he wouldn't have a voice for tomorrow, surely…? He's so passionate.
You see, Garrick likes the humans. Out of all of us here in Runawynd, I believe his outlook is the most naïve. As in he really cares about the welfare of others, which – in my experience and short time on Earth – was a unique trait compared to other humans.
"And help him, you did. Come now, calm down, Garrick. Although that's not the choice you, I, or dearest Torrin would've made, that man has a different sense of priority. For better or for worse." His arms were crossed – I did the same. I always agree with Master Keiran, because he's always right, naturally.
Or at least, more often than Garrick is. And I do love Garrick, too; he's always so sweet to me.
But he still wanted to fight (he honestly doesn't know when to quit), and he stared Keiran down, standing his ground. "But he's just a kid. He wouldn't know any better. How does he know what's best for him now? Of course, health is more important than gold…"
"And now he needs to live with that decision." With all the grace in the world, Keiran turned – to leave, I guess. He said his final piece, and it was time to move on.
"…I want to do something for him." But my dearest friend had trouble with giving up. He's a persistent, headstrong sort of person.
Maybe that's why Keiran loves him so much. Not like I'm in a position to say…
"Garrick," Keiran stood by my doorway, which lead back out into the hall, in case you're wondering. "Mission accomplished. He's doing fine. Has enough money to sustain himself and his parents now, and he can find a less demanding job than climbing ladders and carrying heavy books. Maybe, like he wished, he'll own his own bookshop." He smiled genuinely. "…But who knows." Perhaps he knew, as Garrick did and could foresee.
Silently, I simply listened to what Master Keiran had to say. I believe that - in his own way – Garrick, too, even took his teachings to heart. I wonder if he loves him, too? As much as I do? Or as much as Sylas does?
When Garrick didn't respond, Master Keiran took the initiative. He does that sometimes. "You saw him persevering and earning little by little to accomplish his dreams, didn't you? Surely, that would've proven to be better for him in the long-run. But when it comes to money… you've seen money's effects on the human race. It led him to stress.
Hopefully, this experience will teach him something valuable, for he had to learn the hard way. He works hard. He will accomplish what he wants to. He will realize that he can't rely on anyone for happiness and he will take care of himself. I think… he'll overcome and become a better person because of it. He'll be strong. He's not a victim. It's curable."
Well played, Master Keiran. Well said. In my heart of hearts, I couldn't help but cheer for my hero.
After that thoughtful performance of Keiran's, all three of us left for the dining hall, where Sylas was setting the table.
I know you probably got to know us all a little by now, but I'm telling you; Sylas is an amazing cook. I love him, I really do. I just wish I knew him better. He's a very reserved man. …In more ways than one, I suppose.
I was seated at the extravagant table, adorned with lush flowers, fresh food, and the dimming light that seeped through the colossal window. Perfectly content (and quite hungry actually), I took a look around me and saw the faces of my favorite people. Garrick, still a little flustered, Keiran, smiling softly, and Sylas, pouring us drinks before he, too, would partake in our dinner banquet. For a moment, I felt like I was in the void of my dreams. I felt truly blessed by these gods to simply be.
As soon as Sylas sat down, we started eating. And no sooner had I lifted my fork that Garrick questioned Master Keiran yet again, "But I thought my job was to eliminate his stress…"
But Keiran is always ready and always able with a comeback. "Honestly, Garrick, how can you expect to do that? Stress is – more or less – a mental thing, after all. He has a mind; surely, he can figure things out in his own way."
"Oh, this is so nice. All of us eating together like this…" I didn't mean to interrupt anything, but when I spoke, everyone stopped to listen. And so I helped ease the mood by saying, "I'm so glad to be a part of your happy family!"
Wait, did I just say, "ease the mood"? Kidding of course. Keeping them on their toes is too much fun.