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It permeates our world, a constant reminder of our impermanence upon this Earth. At least… it is for most people.
I turn away from the cliff, drawing my coat about me against the cold wind. It bites less hard now, the cold receding to the warmth of spring. Snow crunches beneath my boots as I move, a remnant of the past winter.
I am immortal. And sometimes… well, let's just say I wish I wasn’t. I sigh and walk away, the sun setting behind me over the newly blossoming trees in the valley below. The colors and scents are dulled by my distance, yet I can still register them. I listen as the wind picks up, the cold biting deeper, as if trying to hold on to its melting pedestal of ice.
I look over my shoulder at the grave I had been standing by, the soft mound of earth still bearing the signs of being recently dug, the white tombstone bearing a name I can't bring myself to read. I turn away, plodding through the snow. Well, I think ruefully, I shouldn’t complain. After all, I asked for this. And with that, my old life disappeared with the receding winter, a last vestige of life dying as the world enters it's seasonal rebirth.
I reach the rocky ledge overlooking the wreckage of what had been my birthplace, ruined buildings stretching away from me. Smoke stings my eyes from the recent flames I had kindled among those buildings. The sun makes the buildings appear bathed in blood as I look upon them, remembering the real blood that is there. My fault, all for my own damned desire to live forever. My family, dead. My friends, dead. My heart… well, that’s dead too now.
I doubt now that one ever beat in my chest, how else could I have done this? I jump over the small cliff, landing with a crunch as my shins and ankles break in the rocks below. I wait for them to heal before standing and and beginning to walk toward the dead city, the darkness increasing with every passing minute. I walk into the town and look about me, old memories playing before my eyes. To my right is the building that once held a butcher's shop, the man had been kind and had regularly allowed me to snatch free morsels from his counter along with his son. To my left is his home, where I had once spent the night with the butcher's son and many other friends.
I walk on, recalling the past as I pass each gutted structure, snow and ashes giving way before my booted feet and my cloak swirling behind me. I pass the Mayor's home, where I had once been caught kissing his daughter, Carys. He had laughed while his wife scolded her. My parents had scolded me as well, but more severely.
I stop before a broken fountain covered in snow, the ash covered by the whiteness. I look around, imagining my friends playing with various rocks, cards, or ropes. I seem to hear their laughter as I watch the memories. Laughter that turns to screams before fire consumes them all.
Their faces appear to hover before me as they burn, eyes pleading and accusing, their mouths emitting silent shrieks of agony. The specters vanish, and I continue on my journey, the shattered fountain disappearing in the oncoming night.
I pass the home of a merchantman who had once tried to cheat my father. He had gone before the courts and been placed in this house so as to repay his crimes. The red and gold splendor is faded now, the carpets burned and the tapestries incinerated.
I pass the courtrooms themselves, the loud shouts of men and women and children who had tried to condemn me resonating from within. The once white stone columns now blackened and shattered. They had tried to burn me, but they were the ones who burned. I look dispassionately upon the corpses strewn upon the stairs, their flesh burned away and their bones exposed to the biting cold.
I walk on, passing memory after memory, all of them trying to get me to feel remorse. None succeed. My fear of death had once been greater than my care for them. I have neither fear nor care as they fade into the night.
I step on something neither snow nor ash. I look down and see a child's doll. The snow crunching beneath me as I kneel down and pick it up. I look around and find the body of a child, her dress still partially intact. I lift one of her arms and place the doll under it. The doll seems at home there, and I stand and turn away, continuing upon my dispassionate journey.
I stop as I hear a sudden noise some fifty feet ahead of me. I listen closely and discern voices. Some people still lived then. I walk towards the location of the sound. It is silent now except for barely discernible breathing. The noise is coming from a place I had once known quite well.
It was the church they had built here for the Church of Light. I had once attended meetings here, praying and singing with the others. The priest had been a fervent man, always using forceful speech to make us understand that he was our path to salvation. Perhaps he had been. I'll never know since I am forever damned by my actions.
I walk in and find the priest with a dirty cloth around his eyes. He was blind now the eyes that had once shone with brilliance and conviction darkened and hidden behind the ash stained leather. I approach where he kneels in prayer, and he lifts his head.
He opens his mouth and says, “Well, it looks like you've found me at last.” His voice is hoarse, but full and strong, “I would ask for mercy but I know now that it is an emotion you do not possess. I saw what you did to those poor, misguided people, myself among them. But though they were misguided, you were ever more so.” He gestures to his legs, “My legs are broken and I have lost my eyes. I have spent the last week crawling to this spot so I could pray once more for my soul to be saved. I got here just this morning, you know, the happiest moment of my life. I was almost done praying for you when you got here.” He smiles wanly.
“Good thing I got here then. I stopped you wasting your breath. I am beyond any salvation.” I speak quietly, looking upon this man who had never faltered in his belief, even when he was blind, crippled, and nearly dead with no friends nor family alive left to comfort him.
He nods, “I know. I was praying you would suffer enough that you could be forgiven. I would that you wait for me to finish, so I can also bless the soul of the one you buried upon the mountain.”
“You watched me?” I ask dully.
He nods,“Before I burned my eyes out so that I could forever see the last display of your love for her, so I would not have to look upon the monster you have become. May I continue, or will you kill me?”
I hesitate before saying, “Continue. If anyone deserves paradise it is her.”
He smiles,“You are not completely gone. With any luck you'll join her. I just hope that you are punished more severely than any other man, woman, or child that has ever walked upon this green world.” He bows his head once more, and I sit upon a still standing pew.
My eyes never leave him as he continues praying, head bowed and lips moving silently. I feel a breath of wind and feel a shift in the support in the building's structure. The preacher lifts his head to the heavens, spreading his arms and cries out, “Salvation come to ye all!” His shout gives a trembling beam above him one last push and it falls, crushing him.
I stand and say, “Amen.”
I walk out of the building and continue on my way. Whatever being gave out salvation had brought it to that preacher. If I had killed him his soul would have been tainted. Now it will remain clean wherever he's going.
My flesh may be clean, but my existence is forever stained with blood, I think darkly. Then I walk into the dark night.