LERSTIN CONTINUED TO TAKE slow, painful steps forward, following the glint of her mother's spirit, and waiting to be left alone so that she could die. She didn't understand why or how, but Lerstin knew that she would not survive to the end of the day. Every cell of her body seemed to be ready to die, if only she could find a way to do so.

All she had to do was stop walking, and her fate would find her. Lerstin paused. She'd never thought of that before. Deep down, she'd known it since she'd awakened and felt the burning under her skin, but now the realization had come to the surface, and Lerstin knew it was true. She could stop walking: stop following her mother. Then death would come, in whatever form it chose.

Suddenly, Deora's spirit was floating before Lerstin, and there was a look of pure anguish on her face. "What are you doing?" she asked, and Lerstin didn't answer. She still couldn't feel anything concerning her mother, and even the ghostly tears that sparkled from Deora's eyes didn't move her. "We have to keep going!" Deora cried, and Lerstin looked away.

Her mother reappeared in the place where Lerstin was now looking, then, surprising even Lerstin, she disappeared in an eruption of light. Her lungs throbbed in her chest as Lerstin caught her breath and wondered what had happened to her mother. Had she realized that it was pointless to argue with Lerstin and returned to wherever the dead go, or had she disappeared for another reason?

Something rustled in the trees a distance away, and Lerstin knew that it had been another reason. The man who had killed her family had followed her, and now he'd found her. Deora had disappeared because she didn't want to be seen by the murderer. It was better that way, anyway, because with her gone, there was no chance that her mother could get in the way of Lerstin's destiny.

The man emerged from the trees a few minutes later, and looked down his nose at Lerstin, who watched him silently. She wouldn't stop him from what he needed to do. The man drew his sword and held it above his head so that the sun glinted from the blade, and said, "Foolish heathen, don't you know it is pointless to run from me? The gods have decreed that you would die this day for your crimes, and nothing you do will stop me from doing what must be done."

Lerstin considered explaining to the man that she wasn't going to die because of anything he'd done, but because she'd allowed herself to be found, but she figured that the man wasn't worth her explaining anything, and her words would be lost on him anyway. Instead, she stood straight up, and waited for him to make his move. She blinked, and her eyelids rasped against her eyes.

The man walked forward, and now that Lerstin could see his face better, she saw how nervous he looked. His voice had lost some of its confidence as well, and it wavered slightly while he said, "It will do you no good to beg for your life, for it has been decreed that none such as yourself will live." Lerstin made no response, and the man smiled nervously and continued, "Don't think you can cast your evil magics on me, either, for I am divinely protected by the gods!"

The man stood before her now, and Lerstin knew why he acting so strange. Her lack of response to the situation had unnerved him- he was waiting for her to scream or run away or beg for her life. Of course, she would do no such thing. She welcomed death- and the only thing she could feel any more other than her physical pain was a yearning for her spirit to be released from her charred husk of a body.

In one fluid move, the man waved his sword through the air, then thrust it through Lerstin's chest. It didn't hurt, as Lerstin had expected it to. Instead, her entire body became very cold, and the fires she'd felt were extinguished. She smiled and looked up at the sky one last time before she died.

THE GIRL SMILED, AND didn't die right away. She looked almost malicious as she turned her face upward, and Algibar began to believe that the girl was a demon and not a girl at all. She'd seemed almost supernaturally evil as he'd faced her and she'd shone no fear. Now, he suspected that she hadn't been afraid because she couldn't be killed by him, then, finally, she fell forward, driving the sword farther through her body.

She landed on top of him, and Algibar pushed the corpse away to find that her blood had died his clothes a strange shade of purple. He sighed and pulled his sword away to clean it off. He'd done a good day's work, and all he had left to do was inform the people of the village of the boy's death. The thought of the unfortunate boy made Algibar's smile fade into a frown, but the next time the gods gave him a task, he would be ready for it, and he wouldn't allow another innocent person to die.

When he finished cleaning his sword and re-sheathed it, then kicked the girl's body to show his contempt for her and her practices. He turned to walk back to the boy's body, and was startled to see the girl standing before him again. There was a frightening glowing in her eyes, which were brilliantly green. The girl's eyes had been gray when he'd killed her.

The girl smiled, and Algibar realized that what he'd seen before had been anything but malicious. The way she was looking at him now, Algibar wondered if the ghost intended to kill him. But, that was impossible! The gods had given him their protection, and she had been a heathen! Her spirit should have been punished; she should have been suffering, not haunting him.

The girl leaned forward, and Algibar took a frightened step away, finding himself very close to the girl's body. The girl floated toward him, and Algibar closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he expected to find the flames around his vision, telling him where to run to escape, but they were gone, and Algibar was alone. The girl opened her ghostly mouth, and said, "Algibar." She practically sang the word.

"How do you know my name?" he asked in fear.

"I know many things about you," the girl said. "I know you killed my family, and I know that you murdered my mother only yesterday. My brother and I died trying to save her, but she still died because of your actions. You've murdered countless innocent people, and now, the time has come for you to pay for your actions."

Algibar closed his eyes and continued to back up. He tripped over the girl's corpse, and shouted, "I didn't murder anybody! The gods commanded that your kind should die, and I simply did as they commanded! The only innocent people who died are those who you killed in your spells!"

When Algibar opened his eyes, the ghost was gone. He rose to his feet and smirked to himself. She hadn't been able to face the truth about herself and her people. He was still considerably shaken up by the encounter, but now he felt far better. He looked up, and saw two men heading toward him. They were obviously men of the village, and Algibar opened his mouth to call to them and explain what had happened, only to find that he could say nothing. His voice failed him.

WIRCSEL STOPPED WALKING, AND Rindrak paused beside him. What he saw before him was terrible- a strange man dressed in purple was standing over Lerstin's dead body. "He killed her!" Wircsel cried in disbelief, and he felt his rage grow inside him. "He killed them all!" he continued.

"Calm down," Rindrak urged beside him, but Wircsel could hear the anger in his friend's voice. "We'll talk to the man, see if he's really the killer. For all we know, he might have just stumbled across the bodies, like we did."

Wircsel was not in the mood to talk, but he strode forward angrily and drew his sword, which he carried with him whenever he went into the forest. "You!" he called, walking toward the man. The man didn't answer, but he took a few steps toward Wircsel. "What have you done?" Wircsel demanded, and once again, his rage boiled up inside him and threatened to overcome him. "What did you do?"

The man opened his mouth as if to answer, but no words came from his throat. The man started to gesture, but Wircsel wasn't interested in his games. Now that he was closer to the man, he could see the blood spattered on the man's coat, and that was all the proof he needed. The man didn't even have a chance to draw his own sword before he'd been killed by Wircsel.

One the deed was finished; Wircsel stood over the man, panting. Rindrak ran up behind his friend with a horrified look on his face. "Wircsel, you killed him!" he cried, looking from his friend to the dead man on the ground. "I thought you were going to talk to the man, not murder him!"

Wircsel glanced at the corpse, sprawled very close to Lerstin's. "I killed him," he said, repeating Rindrak's words. He turned to his friend and said, "You know what I did, and you know why I did it. If you think it necessary for me to face the village for my crime, I suppose it is your decision."

Rindrak looked shocked, and he glanced once again at the man Wircsel had killed. Finally, he said, "You did it for the family he murdered, and you had reason for it. I suppose the village doesn't need to know the details." He held his hand forward to Wircsel.

Wircsel knew that Rindrak was bending the rules for his sake, but he couldn't bring himself to feel grateful or relieved. Instead, he thought of Deora, dead, and her children murdered, and all he could do was cry.

LERSTIN FLOATED ABOVE HER body, and the sensation of being disconnected reminded her of the dream she'd had a few nights ago. How much could have been prevented if she'd only paid heed to her father's advice, and been more careful about not doing magic? Or maybe, all that had happened had been destined from the very beginning.

She was normal again, other than the obvious fact that she was dead. Her magic had returned, however, and she could feel emotions again. She didn't grieve for her family- she was dead with them, and while she still hadn't seen them, all she could think was that death was not the horrible thing she'd feared as a young child. It really wasn't that bad.

"Lerstin," said a voice, and she turned to see her mother, and Nerlis, and a spirit that she recognized from her dream as her father. Lerstin knew that it was Deora who'd spoken, and she floated forward cautiously. There was something different about them- they seemed to be infused with some sort of glowing light.

"Lerstin," her brother urged. "Come with us. It's time to leave behind your old life of pain. Things will be better now, not only for you, but for the others you've left behind. Come with us."

Lerstin cautiously joined her family, who warmly embraced her once she was close. What happened next is indescribable to anyone who hasn't felt the warm touch of death, but the reader may be assured that all that happened to Lerstin and the others was something great that no living person may understand, and everything was beautiful and perfect, for they were welcomed into the warm and benevolent arms of the gods.

The End. Author's Note: I suspect I rushed the ending again. What do you think?