Image by Bernhard Falkinger from Pixabay
Cold light filtered in through the open doors and corridors. A foreboding wind stirred, sweeping aeons of dust from the lifeless, ashen grey floors. Flarean sagged before the crypt. Her lover entombed inside. She had since run out of tears and her eyes were as dry as parchment. The wind finally drifted in through the open doorway to her vigil and the thing drifted in with it.
“Why do you mourn, my dear?” It said, it’s voice winding like the mechanisms of time.
It had been in this world, longer than one could contemplate. Yet Flarean paid no respect..
“Go away, pest. I’m busy.” Her voice ebbed just at the point between words and sobs, threatening to start the whole process over again.
How long had she been here? ‘Days?’ She supposed it didn’t really matter.
“I can provide you some relief in this bitter world.” The thing said. “Ease the pain of your lover’s passing.”
That did it. Flarean felt her despair brim into something else, something too depleted to be called rage. She spun, the plating on her knees scraping against the rough stone ground, drawing her dagger on the thing with bared teeth.
“What would you know?” She challenged.
Normally she would have blanched at what she saw, but she was beyond caring. The thing was tall – taller than a man had any right to be – and slender. It drifted an inch off the ground and its cloak drifted counter to the wind. Within the hood was a carved, angelic face, void of life and emotion. The blank eyes stared at her and it parted it’s robe, revealing layers of signets and totems and a golden carapace – and nothing else. No angelic body, no ghostly shell, nothing.
“I am the guardian of the mourning, my dear.” It said, gently, kindly. “I can show you that there is no need to waste away, here in this crypt.”
“What was his name?”
She faltered, her dagger fell from feeble fingers and she collapsed onto her knees again, “Janeal,” She whispered.
The thing drifted down, its robes dragged across the ground sweeping dust towards her. It reached out with long, slender fingers and caressed her face with a cold touch. She looked up to stare into that terrifying, passive face.
“How did he make you feel?”
“H-” She breathed a sob, “He was the sun beam that pierced the morning fog. He made me feel whole, just as I was.” She felt a stirring in her bosom, a warmth like a flame being kindled.
“Yes, what you feel, that is him still, keep going.”
“He was the voice that soothed my nightmares, the ear to my problems.” The warmth grew and her chest began to glow, brighter, igniting the golden carapace of the thing.
“Yes, yes,” Is said, reaching to her chest with its uncanny fingers. “This is your heart, his imprint on your life.” The fingers encircled the glowing light which was propelled from her core, and the passive, angelic face turned cruel. “And now its mine.” It’s fingers gripped the glow and ripped it from her chest.
She screamed in furious pain as the thing laughed and blew from the tomb like a gale, the laughter echoing in the hollow space – the crypt and her heart.
She screamed all the harder, not in pain now, not in fear or anger, but in frustration. Her feeling ripped from her and now she felt nothing, cold and callous. And she would get her heart back, get her feelings for Janeal back. No matter the cost.
She picked up her dagger and sheathed it, exiting the tomb without a look back to the crypt that held her former lover. She went out into the world like a targeted plague.
She struck out at the dark corners of the globe, cultists, cabalists, heretics and bandits of the eerie fringes. Fighting and killing all who may have answers as to what the thing was. And she found her lead.
Three years since that fateful day, three years since Flarean had felt remorse, or joy, or pain. Only the never ending frustration of an itch she could not scratch. They were in a frost coated pine forest. The trees were heavy with snow, the winds blew razor shark flakes and the ground was white slosh. Her quarry left blood ice in his wake as he tried to crawl away.
She sloshed through the snow coating the permafrost and pressed her foot down on his back, pushing him into the snow.
“Where is it?” She said, coldly.
“We never knew, we just worship the Reaper of Hearts. We want him to take away our pain! He has never graced us with his presence!” The coward squirmed.
“You are a fool.” She said, “I will end your suffering in a different way.”
Her quarry whimpered, muttering to himself as she aimed her crossbow at his back, “Why wouldn’t he spare us from this existence?”
She was about to pull the trigger, the gale whipping at her hair and cloak turned counter to the wind and it’s voice filled the clearing.
“Because I enjoy your suffering.” It said.
Flarean eased off the back of her victim and he crawled away pathetically. She turned to face it – the Reaper of Hearts – as his worshippers called him. She expected – foolishly – to feel something, rage, relief, catharsis.
“Why do you scurry away, cultist?” She said to the man while she faced her true enemy. “Your god is here.”
The man did nothing but whimper as he tried to flee, she paid him no mind, he would bleed out soon or freeze. There was no salvation for such a creature.
It hovered there, over a boulder on the side of the clearing, Flarean scrunched her eyes against the flurrying snowflakes, but her aim would be true.
“Why have you revealed yourself?” She asked, “After all of this time?”
“To gloat,” The angelic face said, “You have left a trail of destruction across the world. Scores of people taken before their time, exponentially more people mourning them for me to harvest. I have fattened myself off of you, my dear.”
“I only killed the wicked.” She said.
“Your lover, Janeal, was a bandit! ‘He’ caused more pain than you did over his life.”
“He was my lover.” She said passively, knowing there should be more to her words. “And you took my heart, my memory of him.” She raised her crossbow, “So I will take your life.”
With the speed of the gale it flitted form the boulder to right in front of her, its long slender fingers pulsing with a red glow. “But I will give it back.” It said, “I will give you your feeling again. A reward, seeing as you have worked so well for me.”
She pulled the crossbow back, “Is this a trick?”
“Do you really care?” It said.
She contemplated this, and no, she really didn’t. Worth a shot. “Do it.”
It pushed the red glow into her chest. It was like all her life she saw in greys and suddenly could perceive the whole rainbow, the black and white world turned into blinding colour. She collapsed, gasping, trying to process the flood, and realised, the colour was all red, all bright, it wasn’t her heart, it wasn’t sorrow or love or joy. It was only rage.
She screamed for the first time since the crypt, grabbed her cross bow and shot her tormentor. The bolt hit nothing but growing blizzard as the Reaper of Hearts sped away on gale winds, laughing all the way.
“Now you have a heart, Flarean! But maybe not the one you wanted. Now you must chose, act on that rage and continue to benefit me, or stew in inaction for eternity!” He laughed once more and disappeared into the blizzard.
Flarean cursed the onrushing storm, cursing her love and all of the joy she had once felt in the world. She let the approaching blizzard take her, and quell the burning coals that she could not bare.
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