This is the second story to be generated by the 'September Madness' post and is the first of two ideas sent to me by Rebecca Bohn (aka @citizen_word).
If you want to see the current list of prompts or (even better) add your own then click here.
Cygnus watched the candle flame dance. Like its three predecessors, it would take exactly an hour to burn. At last he could begin.
The room had no windows or doors. His order had built it around him, brick by brick, awed by their master’s quiet reserve. Truly, they’d whispered to each other, only the enlightened could make tea at such a time.
Already, the air lacked for oxygen. It tasted older. Soon, it would kill him. Cygnus accepted this; it was all part of the ritual.
He slipped out of his robe, to reveal a body covered in writing. A different revelation had been inscribed for each year of his life and Cygnus had just turned sixty. A lazy thigh muscle made one of the words jump.
Prothesis! It seemed to shout.
He pursed his lips. A lifetime’s work must not be undone by an aging quadriceps.
Prothesis! Prothesis! Prothesis!
With a sigh and a grunt, Cygnus stood. Everything ached. He’d sat for far too long but it was necessary. The order could not be allowed to see his frailty. That was the genius of the ritual; he only had to be perfect while the room was being made. It was an investment of energy. Now that the last brick was in place, the order’s belief would power the rest of the ritual. It would work because they would make it work. As the living sigil at the rituals centre, all he had to do was wait.
And make the perfect cup of tea.
It was said that if the correct preparations were made it was possible to perceive Death in your last moments. It was also said that if, in those moments, you offered Death the perfect cup of tea and he accepted, then Death would grant your dying wish.
Cygnus was the only man alive who knew the wishes of the previous masters. All but two of them had come true. They were written on a scroll that now sat in his study, waiting for the next master to read. His last act before coming to the room had been to add his own to the list.
For years he’d pondered what to ask for. What did the world need most? An end to war? Clean energy? Mass enlightenment? Cygnus had decided to aim lower, to have a better chance of success, something small that would nevertheless put humanity on an upwards spiral. Privately he was rather proud of his idea.
He began to feel lightheaded and looked again at the candle. It was burning low. Not long now.
He slipped a finger under the kettle’s insulating layers. The metal had gone from red hot to pleasantly warm. He smiled. It was just right.
After a muttered invocation for luck, he took the cup in one hand and the kettle’s handle in the other.
The candle sputtered, sending a line of smoke into the air. It curled with intent, weaving the shape of an eye.
Cygnus wasn’t sure whether to stare or avert his gaze.
The candle coughed and went out. Smoke hissed in the dark.
“Hello,” said a voice. It was old, crowlike. He’d hoped Death would manifest as a man, he found them less intimidating, more familiar. The order didn’t permit women to join.
“I have made you some tea,” said Cygnus. There was a pause. He didn’t know how much longer he’d be conscious so he risked adding, “Would you like some?”
He passed it over and felt the cup’s weight taken by something else. This was it, he thought, aware that his chest was starting to burn, everything hung on this moment.
He heard a slurp.
“Ahh, that was lovely.”
“Death, I have called and you have come. In the time honoured way, you have drunk with me, a guest in my house. You have accepted my gift and now I ask you, in my last moments, to grant me a boon.”
“I’m sorry, what was that?”
He was nearly out of air. “Death, I beg you, complete my life’s ambition…make my wish come true!”
“I’m not Death. Sorry to disappoint you.”
Cygnus was shocked into silence. A wave of dizziness came and he didn’t fight it, sliding gracefully forward onto the floor. He was dimly aware of the kettle, smouldering against his ribs but he didn’t care. What a pack of arseholes they were! All those wasted years!
“I am interested in your wish though,” said the voice. “What is it?”
The internal rant froze. Perhaps all was not lost after all. “That…from now…and forevermore…people will respond to…any deception by their leaders…with…” He forced out the last word. “…Violence.”
“Not one for peace and harmony then?”
Cygnus didn’t reply. He had passed out.
A few minutes later, smoky fingers closed his eyes for the last time.
(Original prompt was: In a room with no windows and no doors, the head of an ancient order serves tea. (to whom? is the order good/evil?)