Many ages ago, in a land faraway and yet strangely familiar to all, at the top of a hill surrounded by a thick and dark forest, used to be a castle. It had stood there from immemorial times and was already very old when a young knight rode his way to it, back when sorcery and magic ruled the world of men.
The castle had long before been abandoned by armies and kings whose kingdoms had drifted with the tides of war. The forest had closed in on its walls and now shielded it with a shroud of shadows and murmurs.
The knight had been seeking an old magician who, it was said, held a sample of the secret nature of the world locked inside a jar. He was a valiant knight but more than battles, he desired this token to bring back to his Queen in the East, as proof of his eternal love and in order to make it last even beyond the end of all things. He had embarked on this quest for her and would never give up until he found what he was looking for.
He left his horse at the tree line and crossed the clearing on foot to show he came in peace, an un-mounted knight willingly giving up on his best asset. Before he could even knock on the enormous wooden door that guarded the castle’s entrance, it slowly spun open, silent and unmanned. There was not a soul in sight. Following his instinct rather than his heart, the knight climbed up the stairs to the tallest of the three towers and arrived at another door. It was half open and warm light shone through, leaking from a room filled with strange bottles and powders and books.
A voice came from within the room. "Let me see your face, young knight, since you have finally found me." The knight stepped forward and found the old magician sitting behind a huge table, slowly mixing potions while he looked at the newcomer with surprisingly sparkling eyes.
"I come seeking the true nature of the world, oh magician, declared the knight. I hear you possess a sample of it."
"So be it, the magician replied, but you must take great care of the knowledge you’ll acquire here, for it is easy to lose or forget, and I shall only show you once."
The knight knelt down. "I’m ready to see," he said.
A long burst of laughter echoed throughout the castle’s walls. "Ready, you most certainly are not, mused the magician. Not yet. I must first tell you about such trivial details as our branching universe."
He lit a fire in the chimney and threw a few pinches of a strange orange dust in it. "This will keep us awake, he explained, there is much to talk about."
And so they talked. They talked for entire days and nights, relentlessly, the knight only leaving the castle to go tend to his horse. The magician’s story was filled with terrible wonders and he spoke of raging wars, flying dragons and earth-threatening catastrophes. But he also spoke of everlasting beauty, of peace and undying love. Then he slowly approached the final subject.
"Branching universes, the magician eventually explained, are the way our life unfolds." He was silent for a while. "I actually know a guy in another universe who wrote a great post on this, [[Fate as a tree]]…"
"Ugh?" said the knight.
"Never mind, the magician replied, consider this: every moment is unique, hailing from a series of actions and coincidences. At every one of those moments, you can choose an infinite number of paths. Some are logical and easy, others are hard and complex. They might call you to them, if they are in your branch of fate. They might also repel you strongly. But in the end, it’s your choice. Know, however, that for each choice and path you pick, a million copies of you have chosen a different path and gone their own way, creating as many parallel universes, from which you can sometimes still hear them speak to you. The past lead you to here and now. What will you do with it? It gets decided in a succession of moments, each more important than the previous. And that’s why knowing the true nature of the world is so important."
He paused, then added: "I think I shall now show you what you came for."
Walking over to a shelf, he picked up an old and dusty glass jar, similar to countless others and hermetically sealed with a cork lid. There were no markings on the glass and the jar appeared empty.
"Is that it?" asked the knight in a skeptical tone. "Yes." The magician answered simply. Then he questioned, his voice tense and sharp: "Are you ready now?"
"Yes!" shouted the knight in anticipation.
With a quick twist, the magician uncapped the glass jar, which popped open. Nothing happened. The knight stared, waiting.
"So, the magician asked, did you see it?"
"No, cried the knight, I didn’t see anything. I must have blinked."
"Exactly!" answered the magician, satisfied. "Such is the true nature of the world. It’s fleeting. The blink of an eye can make you miss the most extraordinary moment. While life is in the jar, it can be anticipated. Once the jar is opened, the moment is already gone. You must strive to live in the present and make every instant count because it will never be back. Each second of your life should be extraordinary for what it is, and not only through the memories of what has gone past or the hopes of what is yet to come. Your world branches into a multitude of different paths every moment of your life. See where it takes you. Watch yourself following the wind. Make sure each of your breaths is filled with the essence of the moment’s uniqueness and passion."
The magician rested for a while. The knight was silent, lost in his thoughts.
Then the old man spoke again: "Now take this knowledge back to your Queen and together you can write the extraordinary story of your lives, choosing moment after moment, without even a need for more wars or battles. And remember, life is here and now. There are only so many tomorrows."