Tags: Plot, nosex, historical
Author’s Note: League of Legends fans will no doubt notice Passage has been inspired by Kindred. She is not, however, the same – do not be expecting her to act the same. This story was inspired by a prompt from Dorota.
Death filled the streets.
The greatest city on the planet had become a demon-haunted city of the dead, and it reeked of rot and decay. When any sound filled the street, it was of mourning bells, or of the gibbering of madmen. Some, taken by the sickness, had their wits burned away – so consumed by the heat of it they would run screaming from their homes into the streets looking for water, anyway. Dozens of men lay facedown in horse troughs, having drowned themselves in their haste to drink away the heat. Other fell into a deep slumber. The lucky ones of those had people to care for them, people brave enough to bear the black marks on their skin. Many did not. They were left in boarded-up homes to die when they ran out of water in their sleep. No one would even discover them until the stench became too great.
The world had descended into hell. More than one in four were dead of the plague, and nearly half of that had killed themselves rather than face the horror of the end of days. Crops withered in the fields unharvested, and even with the population so thoroughly culled starvation and malnutrition were taking nearly a large of a toll of the city. Together they formed a reaper of souls, a spectral apparition spreading death and chaos wherever it went. Young and old, rich and poor, priest and slave… it didn’t matter in the slightest. Even Justinian himself had fallen into the throes of the sickness, and people whispered that he had already died.
Once, the city had tried to handle the bodies. They had been completely overwhelmed. Every single open spot of land in the city was a graveyard now, Constantinople turned into the world’s largest necropolis. In desperation, the corpse collectors had dug massive pits and heaped bodies into them in horrible mass graves, but even those had filled up and run out of room… too packed with the dead. Finally, the few remaining grave tenders had taken to simply packing the garrisons and guard-towers full of corpses… and when the wind blew from the west, the stench was unbelievable.
All through the jewel of the world, no man was seen on the street unless he was mad or carrying a body. Theodosius was probably both.
Theodosius Aurelius carried his daughter through the city streets, gentle with her… careful not to touch the black buboes on her skin against anything. For weeks she had whimpered at the slightest touch of them. Now she made no sound at all. His feet dragged on the ground as he fought exhaustion, but heedless, he dragged himself onward through the slaughterhouse that his beloved city had become. The sun had begun to set, and doors were closed and locked on all sides of him – a steady rain had just begun to fall, drenching both him and his daughter.
But he had to keep going. He had taken her to everyone else.
The Lady in Black looked almost as exhausted as he did she moved between people under a stretched tent in one of the city squares. Theodosius’s stomach twisted as he took more steps towards the heathen priestess… in normal times, someone like her wouldn’t even be permitted in the city. In these desperate times, however…
“Thank you Morianna!” an older mother said, clutching at the young priestess’ hand as she stood over her young son. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
“My sister is the healer,” Morianna said, her voice carrying exhaustion with it, wrapped around like a wet, leaden blanket. “The assistance is hers. I am glad I could do what I can.”
“Thank you!” she repeated back as her son slowly sucked at something, whatever the priestess had put in his mouth.
Morianna turned to head towards the next patient as Theodosius stepped out of the rain and beneath the tent. “Help me…” he said, and hated how weak his imperious voice was. “My daughter… she’s dying. Please, I need help!”
Two of the foreigners, strange women with incredibly pale skin and red hair, stepped forward but Morianna raised one hand to stop them, turning to look at Theodosius’ daughter. Her eyes rested on her for just a second before returning to him. “Your daughter is dead,” she said.
The world seemed to turn grey for Theodosius. “No…” he moaned. “She still breathes! She still drinks!”
Morianna had already turned to the next woman in line, running a wet cloth over her forehead. “Then her body has not realized she is dead yet,” the foreign priestess said as she dipped the cloth back into a barrel of water before squeezing it into the barely responsive woman’s mouth. “But she is gone.”
“You don’t know that!” Theodosius yelled. His voice felt ragged in his throat.
Morianna turned to look at him, and her harried, cold eyes softened a degree. “I do. I’m sorry.”
“No…” he moaned. Theodosius sank to his knees, barely noticing when it caused the boboes on his own legs to tear painfully. “No…”
Marianna hadn’t paid much attention to his daughter, but when Theodosius collapsed, she turned on him immediately. “Water!” she called to one of the fire-haired girls. “And get one of my sister’s remedies, we’ll-”
She kept talking, but Theodosius didn’t hear it anymore. “Maria,” he whispered. “Save Maria…” Everything went black a few moments later.
The black-haired priestess shrugged her cloak higher up against her neck and bent over the dropped girl, raindrops spilling from her rain-slick cloak onto her nose and then down onto the upturned face below. She blew out her breath into the cold air, a puff of white… but there was no answering billow of air from her patient.
The girl sighed and slowly straightened up, that single movement telling the priestess and the other watchers everything they needed to know. The man’s daughter was dead.
“Your duty is to the living,” Morianna said, and her voice was solid and heavy… it sent ripples through her attendants as if she had thrown a boulder into a stagnant pool. “Protect them. The girl passes on.”
Thomas could hear Maria crying… she was alive. She was alive! He opened his eyes to run towards her, to hold her, and found himself knee-deep in running water… water that he was only now realizing was bone-chillingly cold. His clothing didn’t protect him at all… in fact, he seemed to be wearing none. He felt simultaneously young and anciently old as he stood in the shallow water – the aches and pains he had experienced for years, growing worse with age, were all gone. The scar he had carried since the Nika riots was even gone from across his chest. At the same time, he felt… exhausted. He wanted nothing so much as to just… lie down, and go to sleep right in the current. The water seemed to leech not only the warmth from his body but also the color, taking his spirit as he shook his head.
But he heard his daughter crying. He could sleep later.
Theodosius turned his head left, and then right. As far as he could see, water… shallow water coated with mists, all of it flowing in the same direction. He assumed at first that he was in a shallow lake, but the water flowed like a river… All in one direction, toward where the mist was thickest. Towards were his daughter cried.
The water wasn’t moving fast, but the current was strong, inexorable… nearly irresistible. He stumbled and splashed through the water after those cries, shouting her named… but before he could finish the third syllable, the first had already seemed to vanish into the mists like a ghost. He stumbled on. The water was black, and despite its shallowness, he couldn’t see the ground beneath… he splashed through pools and eddies that hoped to drag him under, certain that if he lost his footing, he was dead… that the river would take him away.
Maria’s cries stopped.
Theodosius paused to listen, and then rushed forward. “MARIA!” he shouted as he splashed through the water, on through the thick mists. “MARI-”
His feet came to a halt, his eyes wide. He saw the Gate.
The way forward was a bright white veil of mist, glowing with light from below… a single opening in the river, where water converged on from all directions. His instincts told him it should be loud, but it was as silent as any tomb. If his daughter had fallen down that hole…
But she had not. Instead, she lay naked, mostly submerged in the water before the yawning pit. Instead of flowing past, she was being held in place… and looking up at the glowing white form of a woman. Theodosius’ eyes focused on her, his mind feeling numb as he looked at the most beautiful, horrifying thing he had ever seen. The woman who stood over his daughter, whiter than marble and glowing brightly as a summer moon. She was as naked as he and her daughter were, but while her body was feminine in shape it seemed nearly featureless to Theodosius… solid white skin with no blemishes or mark, no disruptions in its perfect smoothness save for the glowing blue swirling sigils across her skin. Hair of nearly so perfect a shade cascaded down her back.
He was staring at a woman too perfect to be real, too perfect to be human. An angel… he was staring at one of the Almighty’s angels.
“But my father…” Maria was saying.
The other woman’s hair shook back and forth as she disagreed. “It is not his time, child. It is yours. You will see him on the other side.”
“But how will he live without me?” Maria asked as she began to weep again.
“How does anyone?” The woman’s voice wasn’t cold, precisely… but it lacked anything Theodosius would have considered caring. “Do any of the fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, wives and husbands and children left behind in this nightmare feel differently? It doesn’t matter what you wish was the case, child. It only matters whether it is your time.”
Theodosius felt black anger boil up inside of him. “You can’t have her!” he shouted, wading forward. The angel… she turned towards him, and the nobleman recoiled in horror. She wore a mask, black as the night and twice as grim in the shape of some kind of predatory animal, and her eyes glowed a brilliant blue, pouring from the eye sockets of the mask in a brilliant flood. “She belongs here! She belongs with me!”
“No longer,” the angel said as her eyes bore into him. She turned her gaze a smidge to the side. “What is this?”
“I’m sorry, my lady Passage,” a woman said from behind him, and a second later he heard water splash as the priestess Morianna stepped into view. “His will is strong. I couldn’t stop him from coming looking.” Like the rest of them, the priestess was starkly naked, her pale skin white against the dark mists.
“You did not try hard,” Passage said shortly. “You wanted him to see. You wanted him to say goodbye.”
Morianna bowed her head. She did not meet the angel’s gaze. “Yes…” she whispered.
“You think you do him a mercy,” Passage continued. “You do not. This place is for the dying… his kind to not belong here yet.”
“Father…” Maria said breathlessly.
“You seek to do him a kindness,” she continued, “But look. You have only caused them both pain… and yourself.” In front of him, Theodosius could see that Morianna was, in fact, crying. “Harden your heart… one day soon, you will need to collect them all and bring them all beyond this gate. Will you cry and listen to their pleading when they all die together? You will need to be strong, child.”
Morianna nodded her head. “Yes, my lady Passage.”
“Now. Take him from this place before he does not have the strength to return.” She turned back to Maria. “It is time.”
Theodosius began stomping through the water towards Passage. “You can’t have her!” he screamed. “You can’t-”
A shadow loomed up out of the mist between them, right in front of Theodosius. It cut him off with a snarl before he could get within ten feet of Passage or his daughter. It poured up out of the black waters, darker than the rest of the mist, and stood several feet higher than Theodosius did. His voice caught in his throat as every primal instinct screamed of danger danger danger. Slowly he made out the long, animal snout, the rows of sharp, shadowy teeth… and the white mask covering its upper face. Pale blue marsh-lights burned behind that mask where he would have expected eyes, and the fetid stench of carrion rolled off it like a corpse in summer.
It glared at him, its face promising death, and spoke in a dry, slithery voice, like a snake on gravel. “You threaten Raven, who shows your wretched kind mercy,” he growled. “Flee, mortal. While I am still prepared to let you. One day, I will hunt you… and I will remind you of this.”
“Jackal,” Passage’s voice called softly, and the predator-thing’s body exploded into mist, coursing back towards the pale white ghost in the fog and swirling around her. “Stay with me, Jackal. It is not his fault he is limited.”
Eyes wide with fear and impotent anger, Theodosius clenched his fists. “You are no angel,” he hissed. “You are a demon, a reaper of souls. The Almighty spits upon you. Who are you to sit in judgment of us?”
Raven looked towards him. “I am what must be,” she whispered softly. “I do only what must be done. Always, what must be done.” As she leaned down and touched Maria. His daughter whimpered… then the current carried her once again.
“And how would you like it!” he shouted back at her. No longer afraid of the monster in the mists, no longer afraid of anything as he watched his daughter slip over the waterfall and down beyond his reach. “How would you like losing those you love? How would you like watching them die?” He sank into the water, weeping, as Morianna’s hands found his shoulders. “She barely got to live,” he said softly. “She needed more time…”
“She got what everyone gets,” Raven said as she nodded to Marianna, and the priestess began to take him back towards the living world, where he still belonged. “She got a lifetime.”
Raven hung there in the mists for a long time, the man’s words seeming to echo through the fog as she slowly closed her eyes… letting the river carry souls onward towards where they belonged. She felt as exhausted as any of the forlorn souls that passed through her domain. Hollow. It was what needed to be done.
She wished someone else could do it.
“Raven,” Jackals voice came at last through the mists, all around her. “Will you tell me a story?”
“What story, dear Jackal?” she asked softly.
“You know which one,” he answered.
She did. “Once, there was a pale woman, with dark hair… and she was very, very lonely.”
Jackal’s voice seemed to come from everywhere at once… like he was the mists themselves. “Why was she lonely?”
“All things must meet this woman,” Raven whispered. “But they feared her. So they shunned her.”
“What did she do?” Jackal asked, as if he genuinely didn’t know. Maybe he didn’t. She didn’t know, some days.
“She took an ax,” Raven said softly. “And split herself in two. Right… down… the middle.”
She felt Jackal’s head press up at her from beneath her hand. “So she would always have a friend?”
Smiling gently behind the mask, Raven stroked his head. “So she would always have a friend.”
“It’s not like I kill them,” Raven said softly as she stood at the window, watching Jackal chase a butterfly through the forest of Arcadia below. With her black mask up, she looked innocent… and young, barely out of her teens. “The lives of these mortals are already over before they meet me… but I am the one they blame. If they have issues with their lives, or death offends them, one of my sisters deserves to hear their complaints… not me.”
None of the Eternals ever got a chance to get away from her duties, not really. Whether making new souls and new lives or taking them away, the march of the universe never stopped even for a second. Oppal had understood that. Before her closest sibling had been murdered, he had made this place. In Arcadia, the realm of the fae that served what was left of Mischief, time behaved differently. While Passage took their rest here, barely a moment passed in the real world. The souls of the departed could wait that long to meet their shepherd. Nothing bad seemed to start going wrong until more than a day or so had passed. Still, she felt guilty sitting here, doing nothing – she had a duty to her sister. Both of her sisters.
“Are you certain?” Obraum said from where he sat. “You have told me yourself that not everyone’s fate is sealed the moment they step into your realm. That medicine and care can save them, should the mortals be clever enough, skilled enough, fast enough.”
Of all her siblings, she liked Obraum best. Oppal might have been sundered into a thousand pieces, but she still liked some of the brothers and sisters left behind more than others. They had split into opposing pairs of good and bad fortune, scattered through the universe… and Obraum had landed here. It was the reason she preferred the world that the humans called Earth more than any other.
“I am certain,” Raven answered softly. The words of the father seemed to echo in her head softly. ‘How would you like it?’ “I have tried not taking them, you know. Of the untold millions, perhaps one or two recovered for a few days. Then they were back in my realm again. What difference does a day make?”
“Perhaps you should find out.”
She turned to look at Obraum. The Fae lord sat with a self-satisfied look on his face as if he had just said something incredibly clever, instead of something idiotic. “…What?”
“Perhaps you should find out,” he repeated. “After all, you might have taken trillions of lives into the afterlife by now, but you’ve never lived, or died, yourself.”
Raven raised one eyebrow. “There is the slight problem of being immortal, brother.”
“Not for you,” Obraum disagreed. “You alone among us are as much Existence as Void-”
“More so,” Raven corrected softly.
“As you say,” he continued smoothly. “If anyone in the universe can do it, it would be you, Raven.”
She scoffed. “How would that even work? If I reduced myself to a mere mortal, I wouldn’t be able to do my job, so it’s not like I could stay there. What would you have me do? Just slip into the world and kill myself? Can I even do that?”
Obraum shrugged. “I doubt it. But what you could do is find someone about to die and just… ride along for a day or two.”
Raven slowly stood. “Yeah… I’m… not going to do that. That is a bad idea.” She lowered her mask, Jackal flooding back up to her and around her like a cloak of mist. “Thank you for the company, brother.”
Raven didn’t walk away – she simply disappeared from this place without fanfare, vanishing as if she had never been. Passage was everywhere, she was always everywhere, but her attention was no longer here… and with it gone, her body vanished just as quickly.
Obraum leaned back and waited. He didn’t have to wait long.
“Is it done then?” Zaasteroth asked. The shadows in the room seemed to melt and flow, pooling together until they formed the shape of a man. The incubus was nearly seven feet tall, grey-skinned and handsome until you got his waist, where his perfect form dissolved into a writhing mass of tentacles where his legs should be. Enormous horns that glowed crimson lit his face, and his eyes were inky pools where the shadows seemed to coalesce.
Obraum wasn’t surprised in the slightest at the demon’s sudden appearance. “I did. The seed is planted. She’ll go for it.” He turned to look at him. “Why are we doing this to her?”
“Do not concern yourself with that,” Zaasteroth said harshly.
“She’s… good,” Obraum said quietly. “Kind… even if she doesn’t know how to show it. She doesn’t deserve this.”
“And that,” Zaasteroth said with a slow smile, “is why it has to be her.”