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An Unwilling Martyr
The graveyard gate swings back with a soft phoom phoom-phoom-phoom. I glance back, half expecting to see a ghostly hand stretch between the bars, but I find myself alone.
The hypnotic aroma of honeysuckle drifts by my nose, urging me to fall asleep, to lie in the deep graves off the path. I fight the impulse to slump down at the base of an old willow tree, knowing that its whimsical branches are waiting to constrict the air from my wheezing lungs.
None of it’s real, I tell myself, pulling the black cloak tighter around my shoulders. A shudder runs through the core of my spine nonetheless, the stark autumn wind blowing through my bones.
When I reach the edge of the pond, a black, lightless abyss, I hesitate; what if this isn’t such a good idea afterall?
Trying not to think, I take the sharp steel dagger from my pocket, it’s ivory handle icy against my pale skin. I lick my chapped lips, and feel myself shake. This was going to be very difficult.
The man in the meadow had told me it would be this way. He said throwing it away like this would cause me pain. He said it would be hard, but I had to do it. There wasn’t another way.
I feel a tug and tighten my grip on the knife. I spin around hurriedly, nearly tipping myself into the water, it’s vacant surface swimming in my eyes.
Instead of a walking corpse, I see the silhouette of a tall, strong man. He sways slightly, as if debating in his head whether to speak and break the silence.
“Aro,” I say, taking a shallow breath. “Why are you here? Do you not trust me to do as you asked?”
He takes a look at the knife, still raised above my neck, and smiles. His eyes are green, the color of emeralds, I notice.
“I trust you Isobel. I only came here to help you,” he explains silkily, his very words filling me with belief. “Now turn around and throw it in. You don’t need it, I promise you,” he whispers into my ear. He smells like firewood, a familiar scent I’m comfortable with. I feel safe with him here, and slowly turn in a circle.
The pool extends farther than I thought, about 50 feet in every direction, more though, in front of me; I can’t see the end. The wind sings mournfully, but the waves are still; too still. the Skeleton-hand branches each out, but don’t twist or turn. The logs, like headstones, stand like stock in the cavernous place. Not a single bird or flower thrives in or around this place, and I think back to a story my father had once told me; a story about a girl, and a dagger, and a pond.
I suddenly know exactly where we are.
“Aro, I can’t do it here, this is the Pond of Souls! If I throw the blade into the water, I’ll die, and my soul will perish!” I turn to him desperately, and find him closer than he was before. He grabs my arms, squeezing hard, but reassuringly.
“You won’t die, I promise you,” Aro says smoothly. His buttery words make me want to do it, to throw away the knife… but I can’t. This was a special knife.
“But I will! I will die, won’t you listen?” I ask, tears streaking my face, I weep in frustration, feeling helpless. “I can’t help you!”
“I thought you wanted me to live once more, Isobel. I thought you loved me.” He looks hurt, and I want to hug him, to apologize for saying something so selfish and heartless. I want to give him the world, but I… I… Can’t do it. The cost is too great. He doesn’t know.
“I do love you, but you don’t understand,” I say desperately, shaking my blonde curls. “I don’t want to die.”
“I didn’t want to die either, but sometimes we have to make sacrifices for the ones we love!” I can feel his rage simmering at the surface as his grip on my arms get tighter. “Throw it now!”
I try to pull away, but Aro is too strong, and his gorgeous green eyes are aflame with passion. I scream at him to let me go, and I struggle futilely.
“Isobel, I can only ask you one more time before I leave forever. If you don’t listen, I will never see you again. Please,” he says, a broken hearted voice giving way, as he pushes a cluster of hair out of his face. I feel his honesty in waves around me as he sinks to the ground, releasing my wrists. He sobs into his hands, dark grey and lifeless. His sadness makes me weak, and I wonder if he’s telling the truth.
I solemnly turn to the edge of death itself, gazing into the eye of spite and grief. If I do what Aro wants, he’ll be reunited with his family, and his friends, but most of all, he’ll be wed to me. Me; a peasant, and him, the King of Ages. Married!
I know he would never hurt me, and that I won’t die. Fathers’ stories were all made up, an idea his grandfather had visioned late one night. It was all a parable of sorts to keep children from playing too close to the lake. It must have been.
I stretch my hand out far beyond the brink, and Aro looks up at me. He straightens himself, and places a hand on my shoulder, a pleasing smile gleaming across his face. I see a scar I hadn’t noticed before, one right below his eye and think back to the story… No. I shouldn’t think. That’s not what faithful women do. We accept our husbands as they are.
With a resolute breath, I release the knife and close my eyes.
Time seems to slow, and I lift my eyelids to watch the blade slice through the water, and sink directly to the bottom. For a few seconds, nothing happens, only a slight ripple spreads. It gains momentum, and energy, somehow gathering enough force to drench me from the knees down with disturbingly clear water. It pulls soil down with it, making the deep putrid bank an even darker black.
I start to spin towards Aro to speak to him, and realize that he’s gone. Right where he once stood is a bigger, far scarier man, with dark wings, and eyes. The scar that looked healed is now an open wound, and the charming smile that once graced his face is replaced by a shark-toothed grin.
“Isobel, you really are a young, idiotic girl aren’t you?” he says hoarsely. The scratching of his voice reminds me of rusty gears, trying to crank against the grime. I put a hand to my chest as I remember the rest of grandfather’s tale.
The girl drops her knife into the pond, urged on by her innocent love. As it drops, the young man she was with transforms into the Devil, his flames consuming the pond. He pushes the lovely maiden cruelly into his shadow filled field, and restates his promise.
“I am stronger, and more alive, and you are to blame, foolish girl! I never said you wouldn’t be tormented, only that you wouldn’t die. You’re body will live forever! I am the King of Ages, and you shall bow down to me!”
The roaring light falls into place, and the demon king, as in the tales of old, banishes me to their fiery tongues with a malignant glint of greed in his scowl.
I scream and cry, the tears singing off my face as fast as they pour. Black scorch marks form on my hands as I run blindly into the fire. I breathe in smoke, it’s ashy fragrance no longer that of sweet comfort. I inhale the fumes, wishing I could fly away from the pain. So much pain!
Blisters gather on every inch of my body, and the stinging flames bathe them with intense malice. The fire I am feeling is worse than any mortal oven I have ever felt before, worse than the thought of drowning in magma, or the belief of being loved when it was false.
It’s just like the story, I think. Nothing I did was my fault, it was fate, a prophecy of death, set into stone.
The only thing I don’t think goes right along with the plan, is that I pull my knife from off the ground.
I stumble into it, blindly crying and gagging on the ashy air. I stoop down to retrieve the source of my discomfort, and pull up the key to it all. My soul flashes vibrantly in the handle, turning left and right of its own accord.
I realize that it’s guiding me, and I run after it, hoping and praying for a way out.
And that’s when I meet the others girls.
Girls just like me, with faces full of fire, and betrayal, and grief. The only difference, is that they have been driven mad by their suffering.
Their eyes are rolled back, only the charred whites showing. Their skin is darker than the incinerated cloak about my shoulders, and the smell of their decaying bones wafts through the air. They don’t have any scalps, half crumbled skulls in place. No noses, or ears left.
I can feel the bloodlust pour out of their bodies, seeking revenge despite their conditions. They claw at my arms, skinless fingers sharp and hot. I feel like screaming, and hiding away, but know I have to kill them. I will never get free if they destroy me first.
I slash at one of them with my dagger, which shapeshifts into a sword.
The metal is now a searing white, its unbearable steel digging and molding itself into my hand. The handle begins to melt, and I know I have to act fast.
The first girl falls, followed by all the rest, and I finally step through the moans with a bloodless weapon poised in my hand. Their banshee cries ring in my ears, scarring my trauma ridden mind.
The pond walls get closer, and I find a set of steps leading upwards along the edge.
I run up the gargantuan stones, wishing to again feel nothing. No pain, no wishful thinking, no hopelessness. Nothing. Not even love.
The last brick reaches up ten feet, much higher than what I can reach. I claw at it agonizingly, freedom driving me to act in a childish way.
I beat my fist on the block, and hear the pounding of feet. I look back slowly, knowing who’s going to greet me; the girls.
With renewed strength, or perhaps fear, I launch myself up, and plunge my sword in the stone. It doesn’t bounce off like I half expect, but plunges deep into the foundation.
It stays in place, and as I hang onto it, transforms once more, this time into a block.
I throw my figure onto it, scale the rest of the strange rock, at last making it to the surface.
What I find there surprises me just as much as finding the sword does; I am back at home, lying in my bed.
The worst part? Aro is sitting in the corner, and I am the only one that can see him.
“You left your soul behind,” he tsks happily. “Now all you have left to do is die.”