"Yeah! We did it!"
The triumphant exclamation was accompanied by congratulatory back-slapping and relieved sighs. Despite nearly insurmountable odds, the small band of amateur warriors had managed to push back the demonic horde. They were bruised and bleeding, but they were all alive.
They were so caught up in their euphoria they didn't notice the dark-haired Amazon deliberately slowing her steps to hang back. Her muscles ached and her clothes were spattered with blood, some of it her own, but she felt magnificent. Still high off adrenaline, a bemused grin curved the corners of her mouth as she watched their antics. They stumbled down the pathway with arms flung around each other in camaraderie and giddy laughter spilling from their lips. It would be all too easy to get caught up in their exuberance.
She envied their ignorance. To them, this was all there was. The biggest victory of their lives. They beat the bad guys and life would go on, hopefully better than before. They'd worked a miracle and managed to stop an apocalypse.
"Zoey? Are you coming?" Their dark-haired leader, with his eager eyes and valiant heart, stopped to turn around and call to her.
Zoey. The name they'd given her when she'd failed to provide one. It was just a name. One of a thousand she'd been called. It hadn't meant a thing until they'd told her the meaning. Life. Out of the mouths of babes.
By this time, the entire group had stop to wait for her. Perfect. She quickly closed the gap between them. Ignoring the curious looks and surprised gasps, she kissed each of them on the forehead. "I am so proud of you. I always have been." The imprint of her lips glowed a bright blue against their skin before fading from sight. "Go on ahead."
She had to bite her tongue to keep from telling them. Sharing the secret of what was to come. The destruction and devastation she could taste in the air. The agony that would tear her apart inside. All she could do was watch them walk away, hot tears trickling down her cheeks. When they were gone from sight, her hair lightened to a pale blonde and form shrank in stature until a brokenhearted young woman replaced the mighty, blood-spattered Amazon.
"I'm sorry, my darlings. I failed you. I failed all of you."
"Cease this foolishness, wife, and come home."
Her eyes narrowed in a fierce glare though she knew it would do no good. Her anger never seemed to do more than mildly amuse him. "Don't yell at me."
"You are only making this harder on yourself. Tormenting yourself in such a manner will not change the outcome."
She winced as his booming voice echoed in her head. Straightening her spine, she lifted her chin defiantly and crossed her arms over her chest. Dark clouds rolled in and bright streaks of lightning flashed in the sky. The wind picked up as the temperature dropped several degrees. "You're the one making it harder on me! We can stop it. We can save them. It's not too late."
"Their fate has already been decided. They have brought this upon themselves. There is no other choice."
Her tone took on a pleading note as she tried to make her husband understand that she couldn't just walk away and let them die. "No other choice but yours. The imbalance has not yet garnered any attention. There's still time to fix it. If we undo this, if we teach them the error of their ways…"
Before she could argue, she was yanked off the path, off the face of the world, out of her temporary form, and into their home. Strong arms wound their way around her stomach, cradling her against a firm, solid chest. Fresh tears fell from her eyes as her husband murmured soothing words against her hair. Once the sobs quieted, he asked his first question.
"Have you finished your marking?"
What little time remained had been spent searching for and marking those who would act as building blocks. It was a difficult thing to do. To sort through all your creations and say, "this one, this is the best." The group of warriors, with their unfailing faith in good and selfless bravery, would be her basis for humanity in the new world.
"Those were the last ones."
He gently wiped at her damp cheeks with the pads of his fingers and pressed a soft kiss on the top of her head. "Oh my love, what a heavy price your heart must pay."
"How did we let it get this far? Why didn't we step in sooner? Put them back on the right track." This was her fault. She'd been the one to breathe life into them. There must have been something she could have done to prevent this needless destruction.
"As I recall, it was you who, despite my numerous objections, were the one who wanted to give them freewill and choice. We knew well the risks involved."
Her lower lip jutted out in a pretty pout. "We're not making that mistake again."
A deep chuckle rumbled in his chest. "Would you rather have a world full of puppets? I seem to remember a certain someone complaining about how boring and pointless that was."
"Shut up." There was no heat behind the retort. Her lip wobbled and shoulders slumped.
He guided her head back against his chest and waited in stoic silence as she cried out the last of her tears. If there had been a way to save her from this grief, he would have found it. The simple solution, forbidding her from creating another world, was out of the question. It wasn't a mere hobby, as it was for others, this was her passion. She loved her children. Laughed with them, mourned with them, celebrated their triumphs and was devastated by their failures.
"I wish I was more like you." His shirt muffled her hollow voice.
"How do you mean?"
She pushed away from him and moved to sit in her favorite chair. Situated in front of the looking glass, it offered a perfect view of her world. "You don't feel it. Any of it. We could create then destroy them hundreds of times over and it wouldn't even register."
"Foolish child." There was a hint of annoyance in his admonishment. She made it sound as if he were completely void of feelings. Watching as her people murdered each other and wasted the life she'd given them, while perfectly aware of the torment she was in, his principal feeling had been anger. In their ignorance, they'd blamed their creator for the torrential downpours, violent earthquakes and volcanic explosions when they should have blamed themselves. They were responsible for every tear, every moment she spent shaking and sobbing, and every fit of temper. He wanted to make them pay for hurting her. For leaving him, the one who could unmake them with a blink of an eye, powerless to help the person who mattered most.
"I admit that I do not feel the connection with them that you do. These beasts, with their imperfections and lack of comprehension, hardly merit a second thought. They matter to me simply because they are so precious to you. It is only the small bit of you they possess that makes them worthy of existence. I do not like to see you aching like this, my love, and if I could spare you it, I would." He chose his words carefully. This was a delicate time. Her mood swings were more abrupt and volatile than usual. The wrong word, the wrong phrasing could earn him several nights of sleeping alone. "Besides, if you did not love them so much, did not give yourself away to those so undeserving, you would not be the one I adore."
"There really is no other choice, is there?"
Finally. The blessed return of reason. "The wisest course of action is to start over. Learn from our oversights and start anew. If we leave them on this path or clean up their mess, it will upset the balance further and they'll be vulnerable to attack."
She conceded to his logic and turned her attention back to the glass. He was right. As usual. Her children had done this to themselves. They'd grown greedy and arrogant. The monsters they were fighting were a result of their reckless attempts to control nature. They were mere shadows of the glorious creatures she'd created. If she were to simply destroy the monsters, her children would not learn. She could try and show them the proper path, but history would inevitably repeat itself. She'd rather endure a quick destruction than leave them open for an invasion.
"Your sister has invited us for a visit. It would do you good to get away for a while. You do not need to see this."
A disgusted snort was the only response he received.
"What is wrong with my suggestion? You are always complaining about how we do not see your family often enough or travel."
"When I said family, I meant my mother or my brother. Not my sister. Not with her." She scrunched up her nose and adopted a high, whiny tone. "'My pets are more advanced than yours. They have no need for that vulgar vocal communication.' "
An exaggerated eye roll and grimace followed her impersonation. "And I hate that she calls them pets!" It felt good to being arguing over this. Over something as normal as her haughty sister. This had more than likely been his plan all along. "My sister didn't invite us for a visit, did she?"
"No. She did not." At least he had the grace to look shame-faced.
"Thank you." She blew a kiss over her shoulder to let him know that his attempt at distraction was appreciated.
"The offer still stands. I will take you anywhere you wish to go. It will give you time to heal." It was a losing battle and he knew it. She could not, would not leave now. Not when things were so close to the end. Crossing the room in long strides, he stood behind her, his lean fingers massaging her tense shoulders.
"I think I'd rather stay here." She closed her eyes and gestured in the direction of the looking glass. Every cell, every fiber was screaming with pain as their torment continued. "The damage has already been done, darling. Let's not prolong the agony. Theirs or mine. Do it now."
Not giving her time to change her mind or back out, with a carefully disguised air of resignation he waved one hand over the glass. In less than an instant, every structure, every geographical feature, every living organism disappeared. He shook her shoulder to signify that he was done.
Her face was scrunched up in anguish and she was trembling. Slowly she relaxed in her seat and her eyelids fluttered open. There was a gnawing ache in the pit of her stomach, and her eyes were shadowed with heartache. "Thanatos."
"What did you say?"
"Thanatos. That's what they called you." She paused as a wave of sorrow washed over her. "It means death."
"And what did they call you?" She had more interaction with them. Surely they must have had a name for the goddess they worshipped, railed against, cursed, prayed to and betrayed.
"Enid. Izanami. Eshe. Sanjana. Zoey."
"What do those mean?"
Another chuckle as he took his place beside her and laced his fingers with hers. "Life and Death. Maybe they were not as stupid as I thought." If even a few people had understood the balance and its importance, then maybe they hadn't gotten it all completely wrong. All they needed to do was ensure that the knowledge wasn't lost over the ages. "Have you thought of a name for this new world?"
She was silent a long moment as she stared out into the vast nothingness. A blank slate from which they could start anew. With the few building blocks she'd set aside, this one would undoubtedly be better than the last. It had to be. While the knot in her stomach remained, her eyes grew bright with the excitement of starting over.