She runs under the darkness of the moon like a wounded bird, sleeves fluttering as she tries to escape. Ash heaves above her, around her, beneath her, puffing up from each footstep and swirling with each hasty breath. It coats the city with a grime that can never be cleaned, with the smell of death and the taste of defeat. The same defeat is pungent on her skin. Even as far from her as I am, I can smell it.
I can taste her fear. It trails behind her like a ribbon of rot, sharp and diseased. I wait for her to slow, to realize that she is trapping herself into a corner, but she scrambles through the alleys like a mindless rat. Scraping against walls, peering around corners, jumping at the slightest sound.
She knows I am there, but she cannot see me. Not even with the wideness of her eyes and the adjusting dilation of her pupils. She is blind in the darkness, while the mocking moon hides its face behind clouds of ashes.
In the distance, the flames roar. The fire is hungry; it awaits the next heap of bodies, the next purging of the dead. Soon, she will be part of that burden. She will be tipped into the relentless flame and transform to ash with the rest of them. She will melt, her flesh bubbling from her bones, and then she will float away. She will be nothing but bits of gray whispering above the streets.
I feel no pity for her. It is long past her time; her years have been hard, and death will be her reward.
Or perhaps it is her punishment.
As I watch her begin to slow, begin to think that she might be safe, I can only wonder at her ignorance. I have been sent to take her life. I have been sent, because it is her time. Does she think I weary of the chase? That I will give up? I am not of her world, and I do not weary of my duties as she does of hers. But she cannot understand this. She is human. Fearful. Hopeful.
At long last, I drop from my perch and settle gently onto the street behind her. I can feel the air tense as she turns to look at me. I know what she sees-- I am white but for the swallow etched into my arm, but for my hair, which flows black as ink around my shoulders-- but I do not know how she perceives me.
Some see me as an angel. A hand of mercy, come to relieve them of the burden their life has been. They rejoice to see me, crying out that I might hasten my hand and take their life before their last second is up. They worship the god they believe I have come from. They give me names of glory. Titles of beauty.
Some see me as the devil. The one and only evil in the world, come to steal from them a life that belongs to them. They curse me, beg me, ward me away with religious emblems and half-sobbing prayers. They do not realize that nothing they say will change my actions. I do not feel pity, anger, or mercy. I cannot give what is not mine.
As I watch her face, I know she believes me to be the latter. Already, I can smell the stink as her fear grows. She drops to her knees and folds her hands, words leaving her lips in prayer. Frantic, worried, she begs me with her eyes. Please, please do not kill me is her plea. She repeats it with every step that brings me closer to where she kneels.
When I am before her, mere inches from her trembling frame, she stops. She reaches out, and her fingers brush the shine of my boots. It is as if she does not quite believe that I am real, even after the chase. Even with the evidence of my being before her eyes, she must touch me to know that I am there.
Slowly, I remove my blade from its sheath. As she kneels, she begins again to beg. I am not moved by the hands clasped to her chest, nor the eyes that widen in fear, nor the whispers that flurry from her lips.
"Ethera Rostra," I address her formally, clasping the thin sword before me in the traditional way. "You are charged with twenty-five years of life in which you have lived a thief, beggar, and gypsy. You have escaped death and lived beyond your time, and you will now give up the years you have stolen."
She panics and scrambles to her feet. But there is nowhere for her to run. "Please, I have a child--"
Her words mean nothing to me, for they are lies. "It is charged me to retrieve the stolen years from you, after which you will be fed to the fire and burned." In a swift moment, I lift my blade and plunge it into her heart. For one brief second, her eyes widen. She feels the pain. She know she is dying.
And then it is over.
I stare down at her body, wiping her blood from my blade with the edge of my tunic. "Your soul may do what it will," I mutter. "It is free."
With my last word, a bluish haze swirls from her mouth. It flutters to and fro with the breeze, testing the air, smelling me where I stand, fearing the weapon in my hand. Even in its mindless state, unable to recognize what it is that it knows, it feels what I am. It senses that I am no devil, nor angel. I am not of the gods, nor the demons.
I am but a chosen vessel of The Maddest, who rule this city, The Last City, and take of it what they will. I am a servant of my rulers, and I will do as they say. I am their chosen, their firstborn, their slave, their pet. For them I take lives. I carry out my duties without question, and I do what I must for the sanity of all who live.
I am Eve.
I am the Reaper.
I hadn't planned on doing any more with this story... and I don't plan on doing anything else... but I love Morana/Eve's world so much I couldn't resist writing a short little blip of who she is in the world of The Maddest. I really love that world, and I really love who she thinks she is in that world. I might do more pieces about her later, I might not. I don't know.
But anyway. This would have taken place before the first chapter, obviously. If I do start writing more about her, I'll probably rearrange the short stories so that "The Maddest" is the last chapter.
We'll see. I'll shut up before this note gets as long as the short story. ;)