The plague came to my village day before yesterday. He was a clean-cut man wearing a red and black traveling cloak, almost tall and nearly beautiful, with quiet sad eyes and a perpetual smile. If you see a man like that on the road, kill him for us. Not that we’ll be able to thank you properly by then, of course, but I would like to think that in some way we’ll be able to care.
I was the first to see him, I suppose. He came hobbling down the road next to my farm, and he looked in a bad way, I don’t mind saying. Very pale, very moist, and within a mile or so of passing out by the side of the road and never waking up again. He looked like he needed help.
Fool that I am, I was the one to try.
I asked him his name. “Mindsbane,” he replied. I thought it was an odd sort of name, but he seemed a bit delirious, so who was I to argue?
In any case, he looked hungry in addition to being sickly, and there’s just no way a man gets through both at once. So I took him down to the tavern, introduced him around, made sure he got a hot meal and a warm bed. The next morning, my errands took me down by the tavern — I was on my way to the blacksmith, you see. Picking up horseshoes for my old mare Raincloud, who won’t need ‘em by now, her being dead and all. Anyway, I thought I’d stop by, see how he was.
Well, he was fine, of course, although looking a bit worse. The tavern was full, and he was the center of attention. People were prying into his affairs, the way folks do ‘round here. He smiled his way through some light conversation, clearly being a little reserved, but not off-putting, you know? J ust distant, the way some people seem to be.
“What’s your business here?” asked one.
“Oh, I travel,” was the reply.
“Travel to where?”
“No home, no place of your own?”
He shook his head.
“Well, so how exactly is it you keep going?”
“Oh,” and here he smiled, “I give people a very special gift.”
At this everyone got excited. Wouldn’t you? And don’t lie. You look excited right now. Just hearing about gifts does that to people.
“Will any of us get it?”
His smile remained, but became a bit sadder. “Yes, I think all of you will.”
And right then, right there, two neighbors started fighting. Not a wordfight either; fists and feet and whatever else they had, they just started attacking each other. Now don’t get me wrong, they feuded a lot, probably hated each other more than any two people ever did in this village. (That’s why it started with them, you see.) But they’d never come to blows before.
Commotion! People made room for the brawl. I turned to apologize to our guest…
And noticed him looking a little better.
Then another fight broke out. Within the space of an hour, the tavern was in shambles, and everyone was trying to destroy each other. Except for me, though I was starting to get a little angry. And of course Mindsbane, who was now the picture of health.
He got up and left. I chased out the door after him, to find him already walking down the road toward the next town. “What did you do?” I yelled.
He turned around. “Kept myself alive another day.”
Only then did anyone in this village get the full story. His name was Hat’eec, he said, and he had always thrived on conflict. Eventually it got so he couldn’t live without it. Truly, he couldn’t live unless he fought, often and hard. Soon after, even that wasn’t enough, and he started (unintentionally, he said) to project his needs onto others. They fought in his stead, and he gained health and strength vicariously. He had been on the road for four years, ever since his projection abilities finally got strong enough to drive his whole village insane, starting with his wife.
That’s why he calls himself Mindsbane, I guess. He keeps his by making other people lose theirs.
So, yes, stranger — the destruction you see around you, all done in the last day. By people who were perfectly sane and neighborly the day before that. I think I may be the last one here that’s kept his mind, or at least I’m close to it. And I won’t be able to stay this way much longer.
Look, I would take it as a personal favor if you would travel down that same road. You should be able to catch up to him before he reaches the next village if you hurry. It’s too late for us, far too late, as you can see. But you can still save them.
Oh, you won’t? Don’t want to risk it?
Well, then. I might as well break your damn neck right now, you bastard–
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