The Master's Reason by Era Millings

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SUMMARY: Entry into the January Flash Fiction Contest. Theme - "Flashback."

Angelic wisps of golden hair clung to the boy's sticky forehead. The boy, who was more of a man, lifted a calloused hand to resignedly brush them away all the while his mind distractedly assuring him it was of no use. Simultaneously (and demanding his full awareness), shapes coalesced upon the wavering horizon he currently observed, black dots clustering into the shapes of three men. A smile crookedly broke out upon his face, pale despite his many days and months spent within the ceaseless light of the sun. As they drew nearer, he did not have to strain as much to see them, and could easily tell when the eldest raised a spindly finger and beckoned.

Hesitant steps soon developed into long, swift strides, and the youth was severely winded as he slowed in the approach. Yet in his eagerness, he forgot the stitch in his ribs and intoned breathlessly, "Greetings, Elders!" Pausing slightly, panting, he continued on, carefully choosing his words, so as not to seem impolite before his superiors. "It has been...long, since I have seen you. Might I inquire as to...as to...erm, where your travels have taken you?" he stammered.

"Traveling takes us many places, Master Leland," the man closest to his age replied, the dark eyes deep-set within his face devoid of emotion. "As it does you."

"Yet I know that is not your real question," the only black-skinned figure among the three stated, his lilting vocals soothing to Leland, whose anxiety dissipated slightly at the crooning sound. "Yes, you wonder if your duty has been fully completed, no?"

His Adam's apple bobbing, he quietly agreed. "Yes, sir."

Again the eldest laughed, and cast his hand through the air as he gestured about them. "Look, Master. It is green here. There is life where once was none. You have renewed a fallow land and brought verve to a dying planet. New hope springs throughout the veins that course through the very heart of this terrain my friend, how can your calling not have been fulfilled?"

All three let an expression of praise adorn their façade, and Leland smiled weakly, his knees trembling in relief: The job of every Master or Elder was to aid the time and place to which they were assigned until it had the strength to exist alone. Failing to assist the nation resulted in having one's life...revoked. Worry, however, was not to capture him that night. The middle Master smiled, teeth brilliant ivory against his skin. "Come, Leland. Your Celebration has been planned. It is time to become one of us."

Only secondly did Leland remember that his life as a young Master was over, and tonight the ceremony making him part of the elite Elders would take place. Shock, and then an overwhelming excitement, flooded his body as he nodded, trying to remain composed as the Elders, trying to hide their own smiles, turned and led the eager lad away.

---

Solemnly, Leland held his cloak across his bare torso as his grey eyes stared into that of the youngest Elder, whose own dark orbs smoldered as he spoke into the silence. "And do you promise to uphold the standards of the Elders, listed in the contract you agreed to as a Master?"

His voice quavered, but with emotion or excitement he himself could not tell.

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