The flames had spread out to lick the walls now, growing larger as if they were doused in gasoline. The fire danced around him hungrily, desiring only to consume him. Contained in the deadly ring of orange blaze, he had no way to run and nowhere to hide from the higher power before him.
He wanted to say something in his defense, but knew babbling would accomplish nothing but an undignified death. Instead, he settled for falling to his knees, bowing submissively in hopes the creature might show mercy.
"Rise, child of dirt. I have not come to take your life today." It spoke in a deep pitched whisper, the tone stolen from the graves of the man's worst nightmares. Death stood before him, cloaked in blackness, eyes nothing more than a red glow embedded in the flesh-less face. It shifted loosely through the air as an apparition, the reaper's weapon resting sharply on its smoldering, smoking shoulder.
Regardless of the words spoken, fear remained an unwavering, soiling stain. If the reaper could detect the stench, he must have reeked of it. Dark steam pooled from the creature's nostrils, shocking the man to his feet, obeying the specter's wishes to stand.
"I merely act as messenger this visit, mortal. I bring blessings from the Goddess Death. Accept, and may the detrimental powers and wisdom be yours for a millennium or more." The spirit swelled as it drew closer to offer its scythe to him.
He in turn was baffled, unsure of what to do, not understanding the gesture in the slightest. Struggling through relentless panting and stuttering, he finally managed to spit out, "What exactly is she offering? What sort of deal is this, and more importantly, why me?"
The manifested nightmare cocked its head, either in question or amusement. "You will serve under my mistress, just as I have, and the mantle holder before me. She has plucked your insignificant frame from the rest of the squabbling filth by pure coincidence… although she would argue it is her divine choice. You interest her, and it is not my place, nor yours, to question her wisdom. I suggest you not spit at her generosity, and accept her blessing graciously."
Still uncertain of the nature of such an incomprehensible proposal, he asked, after mustering a bit more confidence, "There would have to be some sort of catch you keep from me, what happens when I agree, or if I refuse?"
"In my hand I hold a tool that allows its user to do impossible things by a mortal's standards. There is an insurmountable amount of perks of course, such as immortality and infinite might, but as with any cursed object, consequences and setbacks are weaved throughout as well; the worst being the entire loss of your humanity." He looked on horrified as the intangible skeleton finished its explanation.
"Not only does it cause your soul to ebb away with each spirit you take, but the blade has its own twisted mind that binds with the wielder. It forces thoughts in your head, cravings to prey upon the emotions and memories of your kind."
Shocked silent, he waited for it to continue. It didn't, forcing him to ask again, "What happens if I do not accept?" The embodiment of terror laughed a sickening wheeze that burrowed into his head and would possibly haunt him forever.
"If you reject your destiny, the fates will take it as blight on their perfected plans. They will erase you from existence, splitting your essence asunder, and rewrite the world as if you have never been born."
"Oh? Is that all?" The bizarre question caused the creature to cock its head to the side again. "There are worse fates than never being born. That torturous hell you've just described to me seems like one of them. I may not be the best man on Earth, but I'm fond of my humanity. So tell your Goddess to leave me alone until my time comes. Until then, I'll await my punishment while enjoying my limited freedom."
The ghastly chuckle sounded again, and the reaper floated closer in its amusement. The scythe shuddered on its own accord, hovering close to its master.
"You have wisdom. I envy it. When I was in your position, I jumped at the chance for power, questioning nothing. It took a long time for me to learn the responsibilities involved. Even longer to respect them, but now it is time for my release, and your new beginning. So, my young companion, you have two choices."
"Tell me what they are, monster!" his confidence had swelled now that his demise was under hopelessly acceptable terms. "I will choose now, and after, you will vanish from my establishment for good, taking that accursed object and these flames of hell with you!" There was no amused chuckle this time as the specter spoke, but it did seem to be fading away.
"Of course, I've served my penance; you will never see me again. However, the scythe belongs to you now, and you must invest passion into what it demands of you to step out with a mind still intact, but void of what you once were. Or never give in to the powers or pleasures in spreading carnage and remain less of what you are now, with more damage done to your mental state than can ever be repaired for all eternity. A few words of wisdom as I depart stranger: Death brings great sorrow and dread to the living, but for the dying she offers relief. Your new Mistress is not your enemy."
And then the spirit was gone, disappearing with the extinguished blaze, leaving the man shrouded in darkness. The wetness rolling down his cheeks was the only indication that he was crying. Inside, he was a scrambled mess of conflicting thoughts and high-strung emotions. He was not too sure himself if he was happy he survived, or weeping that he still had to face a tomorrow with the knowledge now obtained.
He tried lifting his right hand to wipe away his tears, but found it too heavy to move. Looking down, he was shocked to find those familiar red eyes glowing up at him. He was stunned, paralyzed by the prospect of the reaper's return to claim his soul. But after a long, dramatic instance of nothing, he used his other hand to clear his cloudy vision, and found another horror staring in his face.
Attached to his hand, encased in black stone enveloping his entire forearm, rested the reaper's scythe. The demonic eyes were result of the blade's reflection, and it showed him his face stripped of flesh or life. He did not bother with averting his eyes and instead fell to his knees again, this time with understanding in place of lowered humility.
Everything became clearer in an instant, and it worried him. Submitting to this kind of power, letting it swallow his humanity, he knew now that it would be all too easy to slip into the bliss it provided and give his body up to its demands.