From The Crux
Chapter 16: Wilt Thou Goest
Etheria wasn’t much of an improvement over her sib. She had always been a spoiled brat. Mommy and daddy gave her anything her little heart desired while poor persecuted sis made due with the leftovers. She manipulated and coerced her friends and relations to do her bidding with any hint of refusal resulting in relentlessness ridicule and retaliation. No one could exact the impressively precise emotional torment than she could.
Her popularity forged through fear and intimidation, with no one impervious to her intensive mocking, vile practical jokes, and churlish spite. Her legend spread like a wildfire through a paper mill leaving a wake of victims with singed and scorched psyches.
Now, one might say her ire was the result of her tragic loss.
And one would be wrong as hell.
Etheria was corrupted long before her meal tickets were taken away through death. She was a terror as a child, who quickly graduated to an abusive teenager, teetering on the edge of becoming a contemptible adult. It is an idea that seems insensitive and irresponsible unless you know how Fate truly works and realize that the conveniences and comforts of coincidence, fortune, and chance are merely blissful ignorance to the architecture of the cosmos and the coming and goings of its managers.
It was the eve of her twenty-first birthdays when she encountered Fate’s direst minion. You see Etheria, on top of everything else; had quite the affection for testing limits, daring death to any competition, to prove her deranged and illiterate sense of superiority. It was the way she mourned the abrupt loss of her parents, a grief-stricken death wish that refused to be satiated until it provided a lethal answer. She had injured countless friendships both literally and emotionally in her ominous quest to best the grimmest of reapers. All considered collateral damage in her mind, a necessary and unfortunate product in her pursuit of the mastery of the fear of finality.
She never really connected with any of them anyway. After all, she knew that her spectral nemesis could steal them away as carelessly and remorselessly as he did her mother and father. It was her umpteenth attempt at this futile usurpation that she finally met the winged executioner headlong.
If you haven’t guessed yet, her opponent was Penance, death’s most current personification.
Etheria resisted her nomination, but rather than flee, she accosted Penance and fruitlessly demanded that she battle her. She invoked a duel and proposed the winner receive a reward and the loser her tortured inevitability. The trophy Etheria sought, was the return of her parents,delivered free of the effects and decorations of death. Fate watched from her distance, both amused and intrigued at her obstinacy and boldness. She sent psychic word to her harbinger that the terms had been accepted.
Etheria ran to the family barn where her sister lay asleep in a pile of hay. There she retrieved a scythe used for the gathering of wheat as her weapon of choice and swiftly returned to the field to face her foe. Penance impatiently waited for her, deeply annoyed by the frivolousness of the exercise but bound to her master’s bidding. They faced off as the wind ceased and darkness closed its heavy curtain on the day.
Etheria charged headlong towards her opponent and swung her armament widely. As guessed, Penance immediately and violently stymied her and shattered the staff of her scythe into splinters with one solid stroked of her bladed arm. Etheria was cast down from the sheer velocity of the strike onto her back.
Before she could catch what little breath was left, Penance plunged the blade deep into her gullet which sent merciless streaks of agony throughout every nerve contained within her body. As Penance hunched down over her impaled quarry, she smiled, like a dawn upon evil. She ran the blade, slowly, unerringly up her abdomen and exposed the contents of her gut. Etheria gargled in her blood as it surged into her throat, seeking the quickest exit as it fled from the assault. When the blade reached her sternum, it stopped.
Penance lifted her disemboweled prey into the air, the blade supported by what remained of that bone. Etheria vomited what blood did not fill her failing lungs as she ascended into the evening sky. Penance then grabbed her by the throat and callously removed the blade, as she now supported Etheria’s limp form with the hold. She spun her around with one hand, reintroduced the blade into her body through her spine, and cleaved her heart in two.
You would think that would be the final blow.
But, no, when Fate is challenged, costing her precious time, she expects to get full value for the price of your admission.
Fate stunted Etheria’s mortality, so she could truly savor the fullness of her demise. Penance, aware of her master’s intervention, clenched Etheria’s spine and with a fluid and jolting movement, relieved her of most of its occupation. Etheria tried to scream, but the bitter concoction of body fluids pooled within her jaws muffled any attempt. Penance then raised the string of bloodied vertebrae into the atmosphere as she released Etheria’s neck and her savaged frame fell face down to the dirt below.
Penance rolled her deformed and barely discernible presence over and peered deeply into her eyes. The light of life slowly faded as organs spilled out onto the ground and the flood of fluids carried them away from their devastated residence. Within the prison of her mind, Etheria begged for an end, as the agony reached levels unmeasured even in the most heinous oubliettes of hell.
Penance scoffed as the echo of Fate’s applause reverberated through her mind. Penance then threw her spine into the rising wheat as the blood released into the air refracted a hideous rainbow in the radiating moonlight. She stood above what was left of Etheria’s battered and broken form. Despite the horror of her shattered singularity, Etheria was still agonizingly aware of her environment.
“Education, my dear,” Penance purred, “can be a very painful thing but some lessons require the fullest brunt of its potency.” “This will be one you shall never forget.”
Penance removed her dagger from her scabbard, a hauntingly menacing instrument, etched in the blood of its victims, still whispering their screams of anguish. Etheria could differentiate every voice and desolate plead for unrequited mercy.
“Go to hell!” Etheria gurgled with the last bits of strength she had left.
“What did you say?” Penance stopped and growled.
“Go to hell you hideous piece of shit!” Etheria trilled her last words.
Then her throat seized after the last syllable was pronounced.
“Well, well, this one still has fight in her.” Fate called to her savage servant, “intriguing wouldn’t you agree my pet.”
Penance merely grumbled in response.
Anyone else who had called her a pet would have been dead before the T sound was completed but those were very different times.
“I wonder,” Fate continued, “would this one be better utilized as a servant of mine, than a resident of Oblivion?” “I mean few, if any, have mustered the courage to beg for pity, let alone remain so impertinent in the face of damnation. This one may have spirit enough to be an asset. What do you think my pet?”
Penance only grunted in disagreement as she retracted her blade and returned the dagger to its ornately decorated sheath.
“My apologies, she has always been the strong, silent type,” Fate’s voice invaded Etheria’s mind as she continued to choke on her own sustenance, “an admirable quality in a minion, I must admit.”
Penance merely snarled but remained obedient as she circled Etheria’s eventual corpse. Etheria violently coughed out a glob of coagulated blood that glided down her cheek and mixed with the dust below her as it formed a tiny crimson-tinted mud puddle. Her essence began its final crash, memory and thought dissipated as her body and mind failed.
“I think it is time for you to retire,” Fate beckoned to her servant, “you have served me well, and I promised your freedom when it was deserved. That time has now come. The Crux needs a more permanent overseer of Oblivion, a more dedicated ferryman, gatekeeper, and warden. This young lass may be just what I am looking for. What do you say, my pet, time for a change?”
Penance stared suspiciously at first, then gradually bowed and mentally returned, “whatever my master desires, is what I desire.”
“Very good,” Fate responded, “then the matter is settled!”
Suddenly Etheria’s body was engulfed in a blinding luminance as the ArgaMax unleashed its power. Within seconds, all evidence of her evisceration was removed, forgotten by Time and Reality. She was levitated to her feet as air refilled her strained lungs, her heart and organs reformed, and all memory returned without deviation. The light subsided as does the energies that ravaged her actuality. Fate whispered within Penance’s essence and she roared with displeasure as she spread her imposing opal wings and abruptly rose into the night.
“She’s free now,” Fate’s shrill voice resounded in Etheria’s reborn mind,“free from this duty, but rest easy; I have another, equally impressive task for her.” “She wasn’t entirely satisfied with the outcome but that is the way it must be. A bit of temper on that one, I forgive it though; her talents far outweigh that annoying little detriment. That is just who Penance is, a volatile recipe of angst, insolence, and bravado. Despite her intimating capabilities she can still be controlled, you just have to know how long to make the leash to give her the illusion of free will. Enough about her though, my dear, let’s talk about you, shall we.”
“What are you going to do to me?” Etheria questioned without saying a word.
“My dear, it’s not about what we are going to do to you,” Fate gently corrected, “it’s about what we are going to do with you!”
“And what is that?” Etheria carefully responded.
“Silly girl, I need someone to play the part of Death, of course,” Fate gleefully exclaimed, “and for that part, I have chosen you!”
“Why?” Etheria blurted.
“Why,” Fate taunted, “because you have just the moxie I am looking for, the brazen chutzpa that this position needs. No one has ever demonstrated that kind of foolish grit and fearlessness in the face of their finality before, mostly because that is how I designed it to be, but we will talk about that later.”
“You want me to be death?” Etheria confusedly clarified.
“Of course, and we can discuss the terms as we go get your sister,” Fate playfully instructed.
“What does she have to do with this?” Etheria gasped.