I stared up at the man - his sword raised above me, ready to slash me to bits - with awe.
I knew who he was.
He goes by many names, but one will forever be engraved in my mind.
He was a shadow. A myth. A story mothers tell their children to scare them into behaving.
And he was standing right in front of me.
He suddenly gave me a once over, examining me from head to toe with his sight. Narrowing his eyes, he lowered the sword, taking a step back.
"Harmless," he muttered, before sheathing his sword and turning away.
I couldn't help it. I reached out and grabbed the bottom of his cloak, halting his movement. He turned back around, his eyes dangerous.
"Don't leave me," was all I said.
Ha glanced around the room, his eyes landing on the bloodied and slashed bodies laying around, before coming back to rest on me. The blood from the bodies of the dead had spilled across the floor, covering it like a gory blanket. My ratty breeches were soaked red with the warm liquid, and my bare feet wore the blood like shoes.
"Don't leave me," I whispered again.
He stared at me, his yellow eyes flashing as he bared his fangs. "Keep up."
Turning on his heel, he strode across the room, not bothering to look back.
I scrambled to my feet and ran after him, my heart in my throat and my feet slipping on the floor. Finally catching up just as the Reaper made it outside, I stopped beside him as he paused, looking around.
Heading off in a seemingly random direction, I stayed close to him as he walked purposefully away, leaving death and destruction behind him once more.
And that was the beginning of my life with a legend.
I perked up at my name. Standing, I strode over to the bed, staring down at the wilted man lying on it. His hair was in white, wispy clumps, and his skin was a sickly pale yellow color. His teeth were nearly all gone, and his eyes were bloodshot and glazed over.
I felt my throat tighten as I stared down at the Reaper. What has he become now? Nothing but a shell of his former self. The sickness that swept through the kingdom nearly destroyed him, leaving nothing but...this left.
I kneeled down beside the bed, the stench of sickness and death nearly overpowering, making my eyes water. The Reaper reached out and placed a shaky hand on my head, his previously agile and strong fingers now bony and fragile.
"Taligan," he repeated, his voice weak and raspy. "Looks like the Reaper's time is up."
I felt a single tear spill at his words, sliding down my cheek and dripping from my chin. "No," I moaned, my fingers tightening in the blanket.
"Don't let me die from this disease, Taligan. Don't let it win."
I shook my head, knowing what he was asking, but refusing to do it. "No."
"Let me die by the sword. Let me die honorably."
"There is no honor in death," I said harshly.
His fingers tightened in my hair, eliciting a small sound from me as a sharp pain lanced through my scalp.
"That's not what I've taught you," he said strongly. "Have all these years been a waste?"
Swallowing thickly, I gave a single shake of my head. "Of course not."
"Then you will respect my wishes."
"Yes, Yallehan," I said, speaking his real name.
He closed his eyes, a strangely serene smile on his face. "Through the heart."
Standing on wobbly knees, I slowly walked over to the little table set up in the corner, lifting the black sword that rested on it. Unsheathing it, I stared as it glinted in the moonlight, it's blade razor sharp and deadly.
Gasping, I turned towards the Reaper, walking hesitantly back to the bed. Staring at his closed eyes, I reached out and brushed my fingers lightly over his forehead.
"Do it," he spoke softly.
Feeling my eyes burn, I lifted the sword, positioning it so the tip of the blade hovered right over his heart. Tugging his shirt open, I bared his chest, pressing the blade to his swallow skin.
"Goodbye, Taligan," the Reaper whispered.
Sobbing, I stabbed down with all my strength, feeling the blade slice through skin, muscle and bone. Yallehan jerked, his body spasming as he gasped, his hands flying to the blade and grabbing it. Blood seeped from his cut palms and the wound on his chest as he trembled, then gave one last shuddering breath.
His last breath.
"Goodbye, my friend," I choked out, staring down at his expressionless face. Falling to my knees, I wrapped my arms around myself and began rocking back and forth, watching as the blood slowly began to stop leaking from his body.
My eyes flickered up to the sword protruding from the Reaper's chest. I stared at the black hilt, the single red ruby fashioned into the tip, and the words DEATH chipped into the blade.
And that's when I knew.
The Reaper didn't die tonight. An old man who was sick did.
People will always need the Reaper. He will always be around. The legend must live on.
Standing, I grabbed the handle of the sword and pulled it from the old man's chest. Wiping the blade off with a blanket, I brandished it before me, feeling the weight in my hand.
"That's right," I said to the still room. "The Reaper is a legend. Legends don't die."
Grabbing the scabbard, I sheathed the sword, then tugged the blanket up and covered Yallehan's cooling body.
"I killed you," I said quietly to him. "Now I am the Reaper."