I cannot remember how long it was until I saw the sky again. It might have been minutes, it might have been hundreds of years. It is a landscape in which little changes. Even the stars moving across the sky are the same year after year. I know the view well. Every detail of it is burned in my memory. I remember less about my whole previous life than I do about the single rugged landscape before me now. My attention is caught by the lone cry of an eagle cutting a path through the azure sea that is the sky. Eagerly, glad of any distraction, I concentrate upon it, trying to see if it is the same bird that I saw there the last time. But the sun is too bright, the bird too distant,and in disappointment I return to studying the lay of the land, looking for any sign of erosion, of the smallest change. The careless words of a mage to his apprentice are what bind me to this place forever. I believe he never knew the power of his own spell. It is possible that my vigil is entirely futile. A millenia... two, perhaps more might have passed me by since someone has found a way past me without alerting me. I do not know. The days flow into one. The storms, so common on this barren mountain-top, come and go, with no hint as to whether it is summer or winter. Up here, even the seasons do not care to visit. I pass time trying to remember who I am... who I was. But I do not know if my memory is true or if my memories are simply my own imaginings and delusions. I do know one thing. I cannot be sane. No man could endure this fate and keep his mind intact. The bird has returned. It flashes across my line of vision, closer than ever before. I watch, fascinated, as it swoops down on a rabbit foolish enough to stray onto an open rock, a small squeel and the rabbit is no more, I watch as the eagle tear's muscle from bone with casual ease. I wish for the rabbit's fate, but even that glorious agony is beyond me. I suppose I must be good at guarding, because I am still here. Sometimes men and women come, and still I remain. My task is so very simple, to prevent them passing, or be destroyed in the attempt. Sometimes they come, masked by concealing, tricky veils of magic, but I see through them all. They come again now. I see them approach, struggling up the steep ravine that is the easiest way to where I watch and wait. This time only three. Sometimes there were more, sometimes less. I watch them eagerly, trying to gauge their worth. Perhaps this time I will gain the fate that I so keenly desire. I drink in the colours of their clothes, and as they approach, I hear the murmur of their voices, arguing and teasing in the manner of friends. I do not understand the words again - it has been many visits since last I understood the words. Too soon, they stand before me. They look so painfully young. There is one among them, a girl who looks no older than seventeen, who reminds me of my own daughter from so long ago. Or maybe it is just my dementia. All those who come now remind me of someone. Still they wait, speaking nervously to one another.The girl idly strokes her sword hilt with her thumb, almost for reassurance. Just one more step forwards and I will be lost again. I try to urge them to go, to leave this cursed place, but as always, no words come. They look puzzled. No doubt they have heard rumours of temples, jewelled doors, fearsome guardians. In the beginning I could see the disappointment on their faces, understand the words telling me what they had been expecting. I had heard it many times. The girl who could have been my daughter looks like she is about to come towards the bare cave entrance. She has drawn her sword - it gleams with a cold light that hurts what was once my eyes, and yet I see it cast no shadows. Perhaps to them it is an ordinary sword, and they are unaware of its power. My hopes for defeat rise once more. She peers into the darkness, trying to see anything inside. Only another inch, and all that innocence, all that beauty... all to be wasted. But one of her companions, a swarthy young man dressed in robes bearing cabalistic marks, lays a hand on her arm, and she relaxes. My hopes rise further. Mages seldom come here. for the way is difficult even for those use to exertion. Maybe this one holds the key to end my eternal torment. He mutturs a few words and makes lazy gestures, and I can feel the soft delicacy of the magic brushing against what was once my skin, I am reminded of silkin bedsheets, svelte and slender women, the pleasures of a lost lifetime. But this is a simple probing spell, of no real power, and I remain undetected. Maybe that sword will be enough. The third of them says something impatiently, and the dark-complected mage shrugs. This other one has the bearing of nobility about him, although he is dressed for battle. He displays a symbol on his armour that I do not recognise. Perhaps it is some new god, perhaps a more secular liege. I cannot know. Then my time of waiting is over. The impatient one steps forwards, finally crossing the threshold, sword and shield in hand. I feel myself stirring from my resting place inside the stone and emerging before the three. This is my only pleasure now... but it is the pleasure that brings death. I see the horror on their faces and wonder what form I am taking this time. I see the girl fumble with her sword and my heart sinks to see that she is not well trained in its use. Then the red haze descends and I know no more. My vision clears, and disappointment returns. Still I watch the snow, the stones, the clouds. I look downwards as far as I can, trying to see the remnants of the three I hardly even remember from the last time, but there is nothing there to see. There are scavengers on the mountain, wolves, bears, birds. A body would not stay untouched for long. For a moment, I feel a pang of regret for the girl who could have been my daughter, but it passes just as swiftly, and I return to my brooding on my death. I could already be dead, of course. Perhaps this is punishment for some unknown crime committed in my life. But I do not know. I remember so little now. Soon, I feel, I will not care. That life is no longer part of me. My eyes wander over the stone again, and then I see it. It is the hilt of a sword, lying hidden behind a rock some yards from the cave, that gives me unease to look at it, even though I cannot see the blade. My mind fills with the image of a slender thumb absently caressing the smooth metal of the stylised demon that is mounted on the pommel, and I wonder where that picture came from. The sword I see is already tarnished by a thin patina of rust, but every time I look that way I am filled with elation. Something has changed. That weapon could kill me, in the right hands. But the right hands have yet to visit me. I return to the sum of my existence. Watching. Waiting.