Astolfo scooped up some powdered sugar in a spoon. He raised it to his eyes and stared for a few seconds. Satisfied, he nodded and poured the sugar into the teacup. He lightly stirred the tea from top to bottom for exactly 30 seconds, making the milk, sugar, and leaves blend
Astolfo placed the cup on a small tray and picked it up. He carried the tea out of the kitchen and towards the stairs but stopped in front of his dining table. The third chair was off. Astolfo moved it half an inch to the left before setting off again. He gracefully made his way to the balcony on the first floor. The perfectly aligned chair facing the outside made him smile.
He had always enjoyed sipping on his tea with a newspaper in his hands as he looked out at the beautiful mountains of Gruyères. Astolfo sat down and flipped through the newspaper. Despite being three years old, the newspaper didn’t have a single extra wrinkle on it. It had already been two months since this became the last newspaper he had left. Reciting it back and forth was no big deal after reading it for so long. He only kept it with him because he had gotten used to the feeling of a newspaper.
Astolfo savored his tea in the same way he savored the harmonious quiet and the perfect disorderliness of the mountains. As shameless as it was, he was glad that he could spend his last days in this medieval town of Switzerland. For almost an hour, he continued to bathe in the cool breeze of the town, when his eyes fell on the streets.
“Professor Astolfo!” A blonde woman called out to him from below. “Did you not step out of your house at all?”
“Michigan…” That’s what she went by. Like many others, she wasn’t a resident of the country, let alone this town. Also, like many others, she had abandoned her name, hoping to immortalize her origins.
“Fedorov and Louise are getting married in… three hours. The entire town is attending. They wanted to have the biggest wedding in human history or something.”
Astolfo tilted his head. Married? Now? He found it hilarious that two people wanted to get married, but he could understand their sentiments. His presence was important too. If the entire town wasn’t present, then they wouldn’t be able to say all of humanity attended their wedding.
“Michigan…” But there was something more urgent for now.
“No excuses, professor. You have to come.”
Astolfo sighed and shook his head. “I will come, but you. There’s a loose thread on your shirt, near your shoulders.”
Michigan seemed addled at his words. Was he looking at that? She had seen him in action before but had never been the subject of his antics. “That’s an illness, alright,” she mumbled as she snapped the thread off.
Astolfo nodded and stood up from the chair without moving it one inch. He only had three hours. It was important to make the most of them. He opened the balcony door and stepped inside.
“Wait! Professor! Can I get some tea—”
He closed the door.
Astolfo would have liked to take another bath, but wasting water wasn’t an option. The place where he had even less of an option, though, was his attire. He scoured through his closet on the first floor. After twenty whole minutes of searching. He could only find a black shirt and trousers. Not very formal.
Astolfo inwardly sighed and went to the extra room on the floor. He pulled out a trunk from under the bed and opened it up. A hilt of some sword, a pair of prescription glasses, a small bottle of medication, tied up, thin metal wires, broken and empty frames. Astolfo placed them all aside and pulled out the black long coat from underneath. The regal coat looked like it was cut, no, sculpted from a single cloth. The perfect threadwork that would have made him smile only earned a bitter laugh from Astolfo.
“Black doesn’t go well on black, but I’ll probably pull it off,” he said as he perfectly placed back the items he had pulled out.
Astolfo put the trunk back under the bed and went to his room. He took a whole hour to fix their creases and fix his hair. While changing, he found the shirt tight and the trousers loose. It bothered him, but he shrugged it away. Only an hour was left before the wedding. Did it mean the ceremonies will start then, or will they be wedded by then? He thought it best to find that out at the venue itself.
He stopped for one last look at his attire in the mirror. True to his words, he had managed to look good in the odd outfit, but the grandeur of his coat couldn’t be repressed with his looks alone and created a sense of incongruence with the rest of his attire. Astolfo felt he had been shrugging away a lot of things today. His eyes shifted from his clothes to his face. Even after so long, he looked youthful, and he would continue to look this way for a bit longer. He was used to seeing people in their late thirties look tired and old, so his face was hard for him to acknowledge. Light brown hair, sharp lips, and tired, golden eyes. Astolfo took his eyes away from the mirror and moved towards the door. He put his hands in his coat pockets-
He felt a box inside.
Astolfo grabbed the rough wooden box and opened it. A beautiful diamond sat inside the box. How long had it been? Astolfo remembered buying this ring thirteen years ago. He remembered protecting it even after it had become useless. And he remembered shoving it away six years ago when he had reached Gruyères.
“Hah. I guess I’ll let that Russian kid have it. He won’t understand what his bride is saying anyway…” Astolfo mused and put the box back in his coat. “Maybe a diamond ring can cover the boundaries of Russian and French.”
At the other end of Astolfo’s house stood the majestic Gruyères Castle. The museum of old was converted to a signal base six years ago, the very base that had become the last stop of humankind. People from all over the world came over to this abandoned town after witnessing the destruction of not only their homes but their entire countries.
Today, the same base was groomed with utmost care to host the greatest wedding in human history. The rest of the town was already present when Astolfo reached the place. Though there were only a hundred and fifty people in the town, seeing them all gather felt surreal to Astolfo. He had not seen so many people together in ages.
As he entered through the gates of the castle, a young man walked up to him. Musa, an African genius and one of the few people who rightfully called him a professor. Astolfo was just a false professor. He hadn’t even finished his higher education. But he had to teach the ‘last fighting forces’ of humanity when the whole world put pressure on him. He didn’t like to be called professor, but when it was one of these kids, he didn’t mind.
“Professor Astolfo. You are right on time,” Musa said.
“It looks like everyone is already here, though.” He was slightly disappointed by how little the others cared for their appearance.
“Well, we were all helping with preparing the place.”
Astolfo’s eyes slightly widened. So that’s why they looked like that. He felt a small pang of guilt. “You should have called me. I could’ve helped make it much easier.”
“What are you saying, mister?” A voice from behind called out. “You’ve long done your part. We’ll even postpone this event if you just say it.”
Astolfo looked at the kid who had spoken up and then at the several murmurs agreeing with her. He had done nothing, but these people continued to be this way for the past six years. They always valued his word over the rest. Was leading people to an unsafe place worth this much? When he set up a home in the empty Gruyères, he never even thought of leading people here. But after a year of loneliness, he used a spell to broadcast his location to every human being on the planet. He thought that being alone in this town was an insult to it and used the spell. He had never expected that the handful of alive humans will see it as the last place they could be at. He never thought people will come here even after their loved ones died in their own hands. If anything, he had given them false hope.
The professor bit his lips and nodded. The others saw it as a sign of his approval and started taking their seats. As Musa said, he was just on time. The wedding was about to begin.
Astolfo took the fifth seat in the third row from the back and waited for the proceedings to start. The thought of being a part of the biggest wedding in human history excited him.
“Yo, professor.” Michigan sat a seat away from him. “You came, huh?” She looked bitter.
“My tea leaves are running out,” Astolfo said. “I hope I don’t outlive them.”
“So you heard it!” Michigan was interrupted by the sound of soft music. The wedding was starting.
The couple had already announced that they won’t be following any traditions. They both wanted to get married before dying and were ready to do it however they could.
The music picked up.
The sound wafted in the air.
Two heads rolled on the carpet.
Blood flowed everywhere as the decapitated heads of the to-be-married couple made their way to the center of the place.
Everyone sat in silence, simply staring at the heads. Only when the heads rolled to a stop did realization dawn on the people of Gruyères.
Guttural shouts of carnage resounded in the air as they drowned away the sound of music. A gate had opened. After seven years of peace, the demons of the world had reached the last stop of humanity. Humankind’s journey had come to an end.
“Ahh!” “RUN!!” “NOOOO!”
Thousands of demons appeared from thin air and began their rampage. Their blunt weapons smashed the heads of the people around him. Hellfire spilled out of their mouths. Thunder fell from the skies and floods rose from the ground. Within seconds, the beautiful Gruyères Castle was pulled down from its pedestal as the only remaining heaven of humankind and sentenced to the deepest parts of hell.
Astolfo remained seated. Only his eyes moved around. The Swiss lady and her three children, the first receivers of Astolfo’s gift, were mercilessly torn to pieces by the hundreds of low-level demons. Mr. Kamishiro, the oldest person in Gruyères, was burnt alive. Astolfo sat and saw it all. He saw it end.
His student, Musa, faced off against thirty-four of the greater demons. The genius’ magic fell short against the numbers. He looked over at Astolfo, but the professor only stared at him without moving an inch. With an understanding smile, Musa fell limp on the ground.
Michigan shot up from her seat. She looked determined to help. She moved the seats around her and rushed forward. A long appendage appeared from behind and tore into her head.
He stopped. He closed his eyes. He sat and waited. Waited to be taken away. The shouts grew apexed before diminishing away. The guttural cries of the demons too stopped. No flesh burned around him, no dying person gagged, no demon enjoyed, and no life remained. Why was he not dead yet?
Astolfo opened his eyes. He looked around. Each and every demon had encircled him. At their forefront, the dreaded enemy of mankind. The demon god. Deep down, Astolfo knew, they were no demons. But humanity had called them so, and he wasn’t going to correct them.
“Astolfo!” the demon god screamed. “Do you remember this scar on my face? Today! I shall give it back to you! A scar on your heart! How does it feel, Astolfo? How does it feel to be the last human being alive?”
“Last human? Hah… I guess I made history one way or another.” Astolfo said. He stood up and put his hand in his coat.
The demon god’s eyes widened as he jumped back with his entire army.
Astolfo saw them and smirked. He was reminded of the presence he commanded. The power he wielded. Could he have not saved this world had he not lost those he held dear? Maybe he couldn’t. After all, he only received his strength through loss.
With a smile, Astolfo pulled out the box from his coat. He opened it up. “I couldn’t get rid of it, after all.” He slid the ring onto the third finger of his left hand. “You. Creature. Whatever you call yourself.”
“Astolfo!” the demon god fumed.
“I give up. No, I gave up seven years ago.”
Astolfo threw the box away. “I can’t resist anymore. Go ahead. Achieve the purpose of your life. Kill me. Destroy my soul. Just... let me fix the crease of my shirt.”
Astolfo looked at the ring once again and smiled. He would leave soon and had to look presentable. He reached out to fix his sleeves. A giant sword pierced through his heart.
Blood spilled from his mouth.
The demon god twisted the sword in his chest.
“Gah!” Astolfo exclaimed. He could feel it go away. His consciousness was fading. The sword had pierced his soul. Was it really like this? Was this it? It was so simple, so mundane.
He should have done it himself long ago.
Astolfo fell to the ground. The light in tired eyes dimmed and his mouth curled into a smile. He had done enough. He would now sleep.
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