Till Death Do Us Part
by Erin Langlinais
Death spent most of his days wandering.
There were several places he loved to wander to, like the Great Hills of Lystania, Master’s Grotto in Rhydell, the forest that surrounded the Kingdom of Postrian. He circled the globe and saw his favorite spots as he wandered, completing the duty bestowed unto him. Even if he tried to discover a new place (which was close to impossible – he had seen it all), Death found himself wandering back to these spots.
He couldn’t remember a time where these places were new to him. All Death could remember was wandering, visiting the cozy homes, sides of streets and pits of Hell, and then wandering some more. He believed the hills to be like family, the water his friend, the forest a comforting blanket. He had to. He could not be seen, not be heard. These spots were everything he had. These spots, and the people who he took to the One who made him.
Or those he took to the Other End.
Death wandered now, his previous job just completed. He knew he would have a couple of seconds to get past Rhydell, so he stopped and splashed his dark feet in the grotto. The fish all swim away, but he does not mind. The water feels good on his toes. Clean.
He hears the little voice calling him. He feels the tug that always comes back when a soul is ready for him. So Death removes his toes from the cool water and follows that tug.
Death finds himself in a little town down the road from Rhydell. He cannot, for the life of him, remember its name. But it is as familiar as the blackened, decayed skin that made up his hands. He wanders down the dirt streets, the smell of urine and worse reaching into his vacant hole of a nose. He passes the bush where he visited just two days ago, as the tug pulls him this way and that. Through houses, past the singular supply house that made up the entirety of this town’s center, and there. Right at the end of the pathway.
A man, crippled, old and forgotten.
He feels that familiar pang of pity. But then again, the tug told him where the man was going, and Death knew it was better than this hole.
So Death wanders up to the man. Lifts his chin with his bent, broken, black finger, and locks eyes with the man.
Alexander. That was this man’s name. Death’s head tilts. He takes a deep breath, takes the rest of the life that was in Alexander.
Go, go and be released from this world.
Alexander’s body crumples to the dirt floor.
Death drops his hand and backs up a few steps. He watches as a bright light releases from Alexander’s chest. Death holds out his hand and waits for the light to sit in the center of his palm. He throws this hand up into the air - the One can take his soul from there.
Death then looks around, as he did every time, but not to see if anyone could see him. He remembered a time when hope used to blossom in his chest at the thought of someone seeing him.
Now, he doesn’t even try.
No, he now looks to see if anyone cares about the man he just took. But there were barely any people running around on the dirt roads, or milling about to the supply house – not even children. The little ones are different here than they are at every single other town he’s visited. When someone, a loved one mostly, was taken by Death, it was always the children who would look up and look around, as if they could see the light that was only visible to Beings like Death. Not here. No, these were children who were so familiar with Death that they forgot their curiosity. Death instead feels around for another sharp, prominent tug.
Nothing. He searches harder. Surely there had to be something.
And, there. Barely in the back of his mind: another tug. It is so faint that Death thinks it to be the wind tugging on his cloak. He pauses to listen, stops to feel.
Yes. There it is. At the very edge of his senses.
Death feels the intensity of this tug. He notices how different it is from the others. He knows he cannot stop at any Hills, or Grottos, or forests. He rushes from the town with a forgotten name as fast as he could, only leaving his cologne behind to surround Alexander.
Death races across the valleys, through towns and cities, past people going about their daily lives. He feels the tug grow stronger.
And suddenly, Death finds himself right in the middle of the Great Kingdom of Postrian.
He hears the yelling before he even reaches the gates. Death races into the center room of the palace.
The Queen’s chambers.
“My baby, my baby, my baby-” Over and over again did she cry. “Help him, help my baby, please, p-please-”
Death sees the midwives and palace healers running around the Queen. Some place a wet towel on her damp forehead. A fever – Death could feel her heat from where he hovered by the doors. Others hold her hand, while checking underneath the safety of the bloody sheets. But Death ignores everything as soon as he sees who stands alongside the Queen, her hand petting her matted hair.
It has been long, too long, since he has seen her face.
She looks up at the same time Death notices her. They lock eyes.
Death and Life – the two opposites. Death drops to his knees. The earth shakes and the people crowded in the room glance around before returning to the more pressing matter at hand. Life stands.
As they stare upon one another, thousands of memories fly through Death’s mind. Flashes of meetings in their grotto, watching sunsets, even that first meeting that was much like this one. Each comes and goes before he can really think about them, but the feelings he experienced with each remain like a brand. One memory is brought forward, though, when that look in her eyes changes to sadness.
Death remembers the room, the grand golden doors, the gargantuan golden throne where the One sat and charged them with their one and only offense. Death remembers what the One had told them both, but vaguely. He remembers more prominently how Life had held her delicate, shimmery, sun-kissed hands close to her body. He remembers her mass of dark brown curls and how they had looked limper that day, depressed. But he remembers most of all those eyes that he stares at now.
Death shakes his head. Not again, not again.
He wants to speak, but his voice is gone. She, as always, takes the mantle and greets him first.
It’s been a long time since we’ve been in a room together.
Too long, my Love.
Yes. Far too long.
“My baby, my baby, is he okay?”
The Queen’s words shock the pair. Life jumps, returns to the Queen’s side.
I know why you’re here. Life glances up at Death. She’s not ready. The babe is not ready.
It takes another few seconds for Death to answer. He shakes his head of the cobwebs. Stands and takes a step closer. He even holds out his hands.
It’s not my choice, Darling. You need to let her go. Death feels that tug again, solidifying his decision. It does not come from the womb, though, but instead from the woman screaming on that bed. The babe will live. It is her time to go.
That one word shatters his already-broken heart into even more pieces. Death tries to consider leaving the woman to live with the child. It would not hurt, when it is just this one woman, this Queen, this mother-
The tug sharpens.
He is brought back to that day, the one in that chamber. He remembers the situation the pair were in...how can Life forget? It was nearly identical to this one. The mother, the babe, the conversation Death and Life had...not again, not again.
The One will not allow it.
A few seconds of silence between the pair. The Queen leans back against the bed, her set of pushes over. The help prepares her for another set.
I know. Make it quick.
Death waits until the last possible second. He watches the Queen, her spirit so mighty but weak. He watches all the blood and her face drain of color. He watches as Life hovers over the Queen’s body, her hands ready. She holds the light that is so similar to the one that left Alexander. But this time, instead of Taking, as Death did, she would be Giving. His heart yearns to be the one she gave that light to.
One push, and-
The babe is silent as he enters the world. Life, as fast as she could, pressed that light into the babe’s chest. It seeps and settles as the palace healers panic around the child-
A long, loud, mighty cry.
The babe is placed on top of the Queen’s chest. She breathes a brittle sigh of relief. Death finds himself breathing one, too. Not that he doubted Life. She would have found a way.
She always finds a way.
“A healthy boy, Your Majesty!” one of the midwives exclaims. “Do you hear that? You hear that cry? He’s healthy!”
The Queen gives a laugh that soon turns into a cough. Life gives Death a sad, sad look, but moves to the side. She watches, instead, the babe, settled into his mother’s chest.
Death reaches out his hand, gently, like she did. Lifts the Queen’s chin. They lock eyes, just as he did with Alexander. Just as he did with Life.
The Queen, if anything, looks relieved to go. She does not fight. Her spirit leaves her body in a rush, ready to find Death’s hand. He holds her soul, though, with a carefulness he only had around Life.
Death tosses her spirit in the air. Allowing the One who made them to decide where the Queen shall go.
“Your Majesty?” The happy cries turn into panic. Everyone in the room starts to scramble.
Death backs away from the bed, from the room. “Your Majesty! No, no, no! The Queen is dead!” Death turns from the room. He leaves the castle, the kingdom, until he is met with that familiar grotto.
The grass around him is cool to his touch. He ignores the singing birds, the blaring sun, the wind that pushes at his cloak. Death dips his toes in the water and closes his eyes against the silence.
Soon, a slight drip sounds.
Death looks up and meets his opposite, his rival, his love.
Life holds out her hand. Death grips it like his own immortal life depended on it.
They stand there, together, with their feet in the grotto. Life feels her tug first. Death feels his shortly after. They take one last look at each other, for they did not know when the next time they would see one another would be.
And Death wanders.