Age of Atticus
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Each mighty footstep reverberated through the empty corridor. Atticus took a whiff of the air, the musty smell of books and dust as prevalent as ever. Yet there was something looming in the distance. Atticus could not tell what was coming, but could not help but feel anxious. Like one predator entering the territory of another. He brushed it aside and kept traveling, taking solace in the silence. In his prime there was none who would dare stand before him, he was known across the worlds as a living maelstrom of death and terror to any mortal unfortunate enough to catch his ire. The great lizard reassured himself the silence was clearly a sign of submission and respect. For regardless of the age, none had dared to approach him. Atticus still stood at the apex of his book-filled domain.

How long had it been since he had found himself in this grand library? Bah, the time was insignificant to one as old as he. But even Atticus knew that he had long since removed himself from the mortal realm in coming here. The cosmos would have forgotten his conquests and mayhem of old. And even if they remembered, it was unlikely in his advanced age that he could still muster the same ferocity he once did. Perhaps it was better to simply stay here. Doubtless, there were others out there taking advantage of his absence, going on their own destructive sprees. And it would hardly be worth his time to put them all in their places. Atticus pondered those thoughts for a while longer before giving himself an angry snort. These thoughts were beneath him, Atticus would make his grand resurgence when he was ready, regardless of who stood in his way. He continued on.

Atticus returned to his nest of old scrap paper and plopped down for an afternoon nap. A plume of fluttering papers scattering across the floor. He found himself tiring more often these days. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep, though the sleep would not come. Atticus’ nostrils flared as he noticed the scent of something new. This was not the smell of ink nor paper as was so prevalent around him. This smell was warm. Fresh meat oozing with adrenaline and fear. His nap thoroughly thwarted, Atticus thought to have some fun with this intruder that dared to encroach on his domain. Atticus felt the muscles in his legs stretch and ache as he got up to greet his new prey. It used to be much easier to strike fear into the hearts of mortals. To chase them down and watch them squirm in terror. A low growl began to build deep in his throat, the anger over his soreness accentuating his rage. He was still Atticus, and there would be none who would approach him in such a disrespectful manner. This fool would pray to their gods for mercy, as they ran for their worthless life.

The frantic footsteps grew closer as Atticus prepared to make his move. And as a human woman passed in front of the nearest shelf, he loosed an earthshaking roar. The air shook and the tiled floor cracked at the force of the mighty creatures' cry. Disoriented, the panic truly set in as she turned to see the gigantic beast beside her. With a yelp, the human tumbled and slid directly into a shelf. With a rumble and a crash, books rained down upon the terrified human, pelting them with a barrage of covers until they went still. Atticus sniffed at the pile and sighed. Were they dead? It was no fun if they simply stopped moving like this. He waited for a few minutes, hoping for something to change. When the human did not move, Atticus gave in, ultimately returning to his nest with an irritated huff.

When Atticus awoke the following morning he went to check on the human. He moved in to nudge them with the tip of his snout, though they did not move. Pathetic little fleshling. Humans always boasted of their unparalleled greatness yet when it came down to it, they were merely flimsy, fragile, and revolting little things. Atticus considered eating it before it started to stink when he heard a noise. The human sat up with a pained moan before noticing Atticus. He rose to his full height and exclaimed.

“You stand in the presence of the mighty Atticus! Terror of a thousand worlds, conqueror of nations, the great deceiver! Tell me, what madness has overtaken you that you would dare approach my territory.”

The girl stared up at Atticus. A brief moment of silence passed between the two before the girl started to laugh. Her reaction startled Atticus. Never in his thousands of years of life had anyone laughed at him before. Had this poor creature gone mad with fear at the sight of his magnificence? The girl laughed a while longer before settling down.

“Oh god, I'm sorry. Ha! Its-I thought you were something else. You really startled me there. Look, Atticus, was it? Sorry I intruded on your, uh, ‘home’. But I have no idea who you are though. So if you don't mind, I'll just be going now.”

Atticus stared at the human, utterly flabbergasted. They had not heard of him?! Were the teachings of humans so lacking that they failed to teach their young about the dangers in the universe?

“How do you not know of me? Even in your far-off dirtball world, my presence should be impossible to ignore. Surely there must be stories and songs about my magnificence.”

The girl was unconvinced, giving Atticus a skeptical look.

“Right… I'll be sure to let everyone know about you when I get home. The story of the great and powerful Atticus will be spread far and wide by yours truly. So if you just wanna move I'll be on my way”

Atticus wasn't pleased with the girl's sarcastic remarks. Such rudeness in the face of a superior being shouldn't be tolerated- but he let her remarks slide. He had questions he wanted answered.

“Tell me, mortal, what had you in such a panic? What monstrosity would scare you so that you are no longer frightened of me?”

All the relief quickly drained from her face. The girl sat wide-eyed, tears starting to streak down her cheeks.

“I… I saw something chasing a group of people and just ran the other way. I could hear screaming and… Oh God, I just left them….”

Her response did not surprise Atticus. There was a dark presence which had only grown heavier in this place over the past few weeks. It felt familiar, though it was not something Atticus was able to recognize. And while the loss of a few humans did not bother him, Atticus was not amused by the thought of further commotion caused by panicking vermin. Without another word, Atticus picked himself up and began walking away.

“Hey! Wait for me!”

The girl scrambled to her feet and trotted alongside Atticus, doing her best to keep up.

“Where I go is none of your business, human. And I don't seem to remember giving you permission to follow me.”

“Who said I'm following you? We just happen to be going the same direction. The Way back to my world is a few days away from here. With everything going on, I'd rather not make that trip on my own. But if you’d allow someone like me to travel with someone as great and mighty as you, Atticus, then everything should be fine: right?”

Atticus growled but continued to walk. As insincere as her remarks were, there was truth to her words. The little fleshling was not likely to survive long if they continued on by themself. The weak would naturally flock to the strong in times of crisis. And it had been many years since he had last had any acolytes, so perhaps this human could prove worthwhile. Without another word, the pair began traversing the shelves together.

Two days of travel had barely gone by before Atticus sorely regretted his decision to let the human girl live. The charm of having a potential servant had quickly been replaced by his mounting irritation at her constant shortcomings. The human often could not even walk for several hours before collapsing. How all those humans managed to get around on those feeble little legs if they tired so consistently was beyond him. The human often made demands of Atticus. ‘Slow down' or ‘wait a bit’. How impudent, as if any living being had the authority to give orders to him. The girl slid down against the side of a shelf, wheezing for breath.

“Hey! Can we take a break? We’ve been walking all day!”

Atticus whirled around, snapping at the girl. His razor-sharp teeth stopped inches from her face.

“You follow me, yet you demand to set the pace. It is no fault of my own you can not keep up, yet you continue to prattle on. Always wishing to slow down or stop, ridiculous. I'll hear no more of it. I've devoured nations for lesser annoyances than this.”

The girl snorted, wiping the sweat from her head.

“All your talk about how menacing you used to be, but how bad could you have really been? I doubt the Library would have let you in if you were really some ancient evil like you say you are.”

“And yet, here I remain. I do not believe this library has high standards for who is allowed in as everyone would claim. But yes, I was the vilest creature to plague many worlds. Eating the creatures that inhabited those worlds was far from the worst atrocities I committed. I spent many years on a planet swarming with humans like you, lording over the northern lands. At first, your kind was more suspicious than scared of me. They saw me as a god amongst them, as well they should have! Their kings brought me gold and jewels by the cart full. They cleared entire forests of life in an attempt to appease my hunger with the finest game your world could produce.”

Atticus was happy to see the girl eagerly listening to his story. No sarcastic remarks or interruptions, simply listening to his story. This was the respect he had been expecting for some time now. Caught up in the moment of awe and reverence from his audience, Atticus continued.

“Naturally I grew bored with all of that. As good as it was to have my every whim met, the constant groveling did grow stale. And over time their fear of me subsided and they banded together to attempt to usurp me. I entertained myself for years hunting them down. Village and nation alike. None could stop me, though some tried to fight. They even sent envoys to attempt to negotiate for peace. Foolishness, thinking they could convince me. I devoured them just like the rest. The smart ones simply ran, surviving in their weakness. After a few more decades, when I felt certain I had thoroughly crushed any resistance, I left to find more interesting places.”

The girl questioned Atticus.

“Was it all really necessary though? If you were basically ruling that portion of the world at the time, what was the point of eating those people? Doesn't sound like you actually needed to do it for food. Sounds really overkill for just a few people thinking about getting rid of you.”

“ Hm? Necessary?” Atticus pondered.“Yes, it was necessary. Certainly, I didn't have to eat them, you humans hardly count as sustenance anyways. But their deaths served another purpose.”

“Which was?”

“A display of strength. It's a fundamental aspect of the world that all things die. But life is not a right, but rather a luxury, and only the strong can afford its continuous cost. Those who are strong kill the weak and live a while longer, able to overcome whatever may set itself against them. The weak either serve at the whim of the strong or perish. That's all there is to it. I had no true interest in them when they treated me with the respect I was due. But the moment they decided to challenge my power, we became competitors, locked in a race to claim superiority over the other.”

“I am old, old enough to remember the dazzling gleams of the first stars that broke through the void. I have not lived this long by submitting to every race of barely sentient insects that have delusions of grandeur beyond their capabilities. They could have fled their lands and lived to tell the tales of their darkest days, but they chose to stay and oppose me. I ate them for food and my own amusement, yes. But I wiped them out so that no other of their kind would dare be foolish enough to challenge me. And for generations, I have not been bothered by mankind again, until I had the displeasure of dealing with you.”

“You seem troubled by my story. Do the deaths of a few thousand humans from bygone ages disturb you?”

“That doesn't make it right!” The girl managed to stammer out “Just because you perceived them to be a threat, didn't mean you had to wipe them all out.”

“Bah, haven't you been paying attention? Right or wrong are both insignificant, arbitrary concepts. One's strength is all that matters, especially in matters of survival. You humans have fought countless meaningless wars amongst yourselves, and the result is always the same. The strong live on as the victors and the weak perish. Do you think they care for what is right? Of course not, so long as they have the reason to believe that it's in their best interest and the strength to do so, they will pile the bodies ever higher. I, in-kind, continue to survive because I've been strong enough to maintain my superiority and eliminate any who would challenge me. And when the day shall come that I am no longer capable of doing so, I shall be forced to run or accept my fate like any other”

“I hear the disdain in your tone, child! You think me some evil, mindless, murderous beast simply for my disregard for the lives of others. You are not so different. You allied yourself with me on this journey because you were too weak to do so alone. And despite your quarrels about the morality of letting the weak die, you also left your fellow humans to their fate. You never stopped to consider looking for them or seeing if they needed help, You simply allowed them to die and moved on. You let the weak die because you had the strength to live. You're simply unwilling to accept this truth.”

The girl collapsed to her knees, a petrified look quickly spreading across her face. She stuttered a bit but the words never came. Atticus could tell that she wanted to argue back. To desperately cling to the last strand of her self-imposed sense of morality. But she couldn't. She knew that despite how much she may have wanted to object, that there was truth in his words. She had left the others, and while they were most certainly dead, she yet lived.

A gentle breeze blew in across the shelves, yet it ran through him like ice. Atticus took a hesitant step backward, as he sensed the oncoming danger. He was no coward, as he had faced and killed thousands of foes throughout the ages. But this was different. There was nothing to fight here, no bones to snap nor meat to tear through. The presence closing in on him was naught but pure hunger. Cold, devoid of emotion and reason. Swallowing all in its way, no amount of strength could stand against it. He had been quite the fool, unable to recognize it sooner. For he had been its herald on many occasions through the millennia.

The girl hadn't moved, too absorbed in her own thoughts to notice what was happening. If she did not possess the will to continue on, then it was time to part ways. Atticus turned to leave with a heavy ‘thoom’. What a hypocrite he would be if he did not take his own words to heart. The weak will die and the strong shall live another day. And Atticus still had some strength in his old bones.

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