The old man’s mouth tips into the faintest of smiles. “So be it.”
I give him a fraction of a second to adjust his stance before I lunge forward, sword raised to strike. His return parry is lightning quick, much faster than I thought possible for one of his age.
The clash of steel on steel reverberates throughout the room. I feel it echo through my bones as I dodge and swirl, meeting each thrust of the man’s sword. It’s like my whole life has led me to this point, this dance, this final threshold. Fate, or providence, or luck. Whatever force guides a man’s steps. Strength surges through me as I realize that question, too, will soon be answered.
My ears fill with the harsh sound of a man’s voice yelling, and an instant later I realize it’s my own. The guard has dropped down to his knees, panting. His sword clangs to the ground as he looks up into my face. Drops of sweat trickle down my forehead.
Slowly, the man raises his hands into the air in surrender. I hold my sword tip up to his chest.
“Do you yield?” I ask.
It’s not enough, and I know it.
He shakes his head, his too-bright eyes taunting me. He holds my gaze as I raise the sword for the killing strike.
It will be worth it.
I grunt with the effort as I plunge the sword deep into his chest. His hands grasp mine around the hilt, and for the briefest moment, his face floods with relief. Then his eyes glaze over, and as I pull my sword free, he pitches forward. I step back, letting him fall, watching the bright red blood pool under the man’s body. The sweat pours over my brows, the drops falling plunk, plunk onto the stone floor in the sudden silence.
I should move the body. I should bury it. I can’t do it in here, in the solid rock, but I could drag him back up to the surface. Or maybe find a crevice down here to use like a tomb. But as my eyes scan the room, all I see is the filing cabinet.
Everything else fades from my mind, even from my vision. I stagger around the dead guard, almost slipping in the pool of blood. The sword I’ve been clutching clatters to the floor.
Finally. I’ve done it. All the mysteries, all the questions that have seared themselves onto my soul, will be solved. There is water for the thirsty, and it’s here, in this cabinet, in front of me.
Where to start? Four drawers. Why not this bottom one? My hand reaches out and touches the cold metal of the handle tenderly. The drawer slides open noiselessly.
Inside are the largest manila envelopes I’ve ever seen. There aren’t any dividers, but each envelope has a crisp, white label with black ink identifying the contents. Greedily, I scan the labels, then start rummaging through the drawer to make sure I read all of them.
Meaning and purpose.
Reason for suffering.
It’s all here. Here at my fingertips. I slam the drawer shut with a kick of my foot and yank the next one open. More envelopes, too many envelopes to count. I tear through the third and fourth drawers.
My hands are shaking. I briefly remember the dead man nearby, but he can wait. I have to open one, just one. I know I’ll have plenty of time. I smile, thinking about it. My family, the friends I left behind, they thought I went on a fool’s errand.
But who wouldn’t give all of that up to stand here, in this place, learning the secrets of the universe?