By Kesten E. Harris
It’d been a whole month since Blenda had last offered to Lady Demise. Her sword cried out in anguish as she ground it against her whetstone. She let up on it and eyed the red and purple painting on her wall. Lady Demise in all of her glory. Her beautiful black hair trailed down her back like a dark waterfall. Not that Demise was ever praised for her beauty. Being the goddess of death was praiseworthy enough.
Her door burst open. She pointed her sword at the intruder. Standing in the shining light was a boy with blond hair and dark eyes. A bow draped his torso, and a full quiver hung over his shoulder. Dimitri. Her oldest, closest, and only friend.
“Trouble’s calling our names again,” he said in that annoyingly cheerful voice of his. “Come on, we’re needed at the border.”
“I told you to knock.” Blenda rolled her eyes. Dimitri was annoying, but he was the only villager who talked to her. He and Demise were all she had. “Warriors or boars?”
“No beasts, just riffraff. Man, I really thought that the bandits had given up on our village’s ancient scrolls. Stealing actual gold would be easier at this point.”
About time more bandits showed up. They were so dumb that they wouldn’t be missed. Her beloved Lady Demise would finally receive the offerings she deserved. Blenda couldn’t wait to feel her warm love again.
“Let the fools keep showing up. They’re easy targets.” Blenda smirked as she sheathed her sword. “Come. Let’s paint the border red.”
Dimitri frowned as his eyes drifted to her Demise painting. He’d never approved of her relationship with Demise. He thought killing in the name of a goddess was cruel. She ruled over death. How else was Blenda supposed to prove her love? Even if she’d never actually met Demise, their love was as real as any other.
The village’s border consisted of a wooden fence and a few wooden watchtowers. Considering how often the village was attacked, the fence wasn’t useful or impressive. It underwhelmed in every possible way. At least the watchtowers spotted threats. The village lacked any true form of security, which meant that defending it fell on Blenda and Dimitri’s shoulders. Mostly Blenda, due to the unique abilities that Demise gifted her.
Four bandits marched toward the village. As usual, they carried nothing but a few weapons. She doubted any of them would get a single hit in. They may not have been intimidating, but they’d sure be annoying.
The one leading the group crossed his arms. “Two? That’s it? Isn’t this supposed to be the impenetrable village? How could it only have two defenders? Are the others about to ambush us?”
“Hurry up and say what you’ll do if we don’t move,” Blenda demanded. She’d cut down enough bandits to know how the pattern went.
The leader raised an eyebrow. “Or you could make this easier by fetching those scrolls. They’re probably collecting dust with you. We’ll use them to collect gold.”
“And would you kill whoever stands in your way if we don’t get them?” Blenda asked.
He shrugged. “I don’t see why not. Unless you think your pals would fetch some gold in the slave trade—”
Blenda dashed forward and swung her sword. It’d effortlessly sliced through the bandit’s torso. He gasped as if he were choking on something. Probably his own blood. He fell back and convulsed in a red puddle. The other bandits’ eyes grew as they gazed at their fallen leader. She slashed through the next one with the same ease. Her heart sped up as she finished the third one. All the blood splashing around put a smile on her face.
The fourth one rushed her, but an arrow to his shoulder halted his advance. There was Dimitri’s contribution. She plunged her sword into the bandit’s chest and yanked it out as he fell back. Blood soaked the ground as well as her sword.
She grinned as the warmth rolled in; Demise’s gift for the offerings. Her strength grew as it spread through her body. Her muscles bulged as her body adjusted to its newfound power. This was why she defended the village. It made her stronger and Demise happier.
“My beloved is good to me.” Blenda flexed her hands. She caught a glimpse of disappointment on Dimitri’s face. “What? You know the final blows are mine.”
Dimitri sighed. “It’s not that. There’s something you should know about your power. Follow me.”
It wasn’t even her power. She’d been chosen to be Demise’s reaper. Everyone she killed was sent to Demise, and Blenda’s strength increased as a reward. She just wasn’t sure how the arrangement was made because she’d never seen or spoken to Demise. No one had. The gods existed on their own plane. The only way to reach someone like Demise was to die.
Dimitri led her below the village. He took her to the underground vault that contained all of their scrolls. It smelled so bad that they might have been keeping corpses instead. Ninety percent of the villagers weren’t allowed down there. That included the two of them. The vault wasn’t built by the current villagers, only discovered by them. After it was, they decided to keep it safe from the outside world. They built a settlement over it. Unfortunately, that only increased the number of people who protected the secret. Once enough people knew a secret, it just became news.
“We’re not supposed to be looking at this stuff,” Blenda said. She wasn’t concerned with breaking rules, but this excursion took time away from sword maintenance. Blood didn’t clean itself.
“I just need one thing. I found it when I was breaking the rules last week.” Dimitri dove into a bundle of scrolls in the corner of the room. “I know you think that your powers come from Demise—”
“Because they do.”
“But they don’t. You were—oh, found it. Here, read for yourself.”
He tossed Blenda a dusty scroll. Its rough texture made it clear that it hadn’t been touched in quite some time. This filthy parchment was what she killed to protect? She imagined that it’d be displayed in a glass case. She opened it and read its smudged contents. The scroll described ancient civilization. It spoke of people who wielded strange abilities that had been gifted by a god. Just one. They used those powers to defend each other and the civilizations they’d built. After the original god vanished from their world, they imagined more. They thought of gods for every concept such as food, water, life… death.
“What’s the point of reading this? It has nothing to do with me!” Blenda tossed the scroll. It bounced against a wall and ended up at Dimitri’s feet. “If anything, it validates what I’ve been saying. The ancient ones had powers blessed upon them by the gods, just like me.”
“No, just one god. That’s all there is. They made up the rest of them.”
“So says one scroll!”
“It’s the truth! I know it is. Your ability that increases your power when you kill? I think you were born with it. You might be a direct descendant of the ancient ones. It’s the only way to explain how you acquired it without ever meeting or praying to Demise.”
Nonsense. Demise was real. Blenda felt it every time she made an offering. That love couldn’t be faked. It was the only kind she had ever felt.
Blenda wasn’t a warrior for hire. She was found by the village. Her parents had abandoned her. She should have been adopted. Given fake parents at the least. Instead, they threw her into a house all by herself. That’s the same house that she still lived in. She never found out why they did it, but the reason was obvious. They were afraid of her, even before she’d started killing. Dimitri was the only one who had tried to be her friend.
Blenda thought over the scroll’s contents as her shoulders slumped. “I wasn’t chosen? Demise was never there for me? I have no one?”
“You have me. Always.” Dimitri patted her back. Did he really think that would be enough? “Come on. I want to show you something. It might help you calm down.”
“By following you here, I lost my purpose in life. Why would I follow you anywhere else?”
“Harsh, but don’t worry. I’m all out of revelations. I just want to help.”
She liked Dimitri, but that didn’t mean she believed everything he said. She believed that deep down, he was afraid of her too. He only became her friend to prevent himself from becoming a target. Well she didn’t kill innocents, so he was already safe. Despite not believing that he genuinely cared for her, she followed him. Only out of curiosity.
They marched through the woods for what felt like ages before she detected a strange scent. It reeked of humidity and rotting algae. Just like that, she knew where he was taking her. It was someplace that they hadn’t visited in nearly a decade. She slowed to a stop as the trees thinned out and revealed a massive body of water. Plumes of green marked where the trees reflected on its shining surface.
Dimitri sat in front of the lake. “Just as beautiful as you remember?”
“No. Even more so.” Blenda sat beside him. She started offering to Demise when they found this place. Was it a coincidence that she’d returned after what she learned? Was this her chance at a redemption? “Why are you always kind to me? You know I can’t return the favor.”
“I know. Emotions don’t come easily with you. That’s fine. It’s just… I hate how you’re only happy when you kill. You deserve to feel as good as I do when I’m with you. I just want you to be truly happy.”
She was. Killing for Demise was what gave her true happiness. If Dimitri wanted her happy, then he had failed in his mission. Who was to say that he had truly intended on doing that anyway? What if he had an ulterior motive? He did hate her attachment to Demise, so ridding her of it would count as a motive. It would change her into someone that he could truly say he loved. Was that the game he was playing?
“What are you thinking about?” Dimitri asked.
“The lake’s beauty.”
Dimitri set his gaze on the glittering blue. “Yeah. I knew you’d like it—”
Blenda grabbed her sword and plunged it into Dimitri’s back. He gasped as blood poured from the wound. She yanked her sword out, allowing the red river to flow. His hands flew to the wound as he gagged and trembled.
“Why?” Dimitri choked over all the blood pouring from his mouth. “Why would you—”
“Save your strength, old friend. Just listen. I know you cared for me. I cared for you too. As much as I could care for another human, anyway. The problem is that you’re a liar. All you wanted today was to change me. You only told me the ‘truth’ about Demise to change me. It was despicable, and you know what? It nearly worked. But my love for her can’t be dissuaded that easily. I’ve put up with your lies all my life, but now I’ll never have to deal with them again.”
“The villagers. They’ll find out.” Dimitri coughed up more blood. His time was fading. “Arrest you.”
“No. I don’t think so. I have a plan, and once I execute it, they’ll never hurt me again either. Thanks for everything, Dimitri. I’ll see you in Demise’s arms.”
Blenda kicked Dimitri into the lake, dispelling its tranquil appearance. Water shrouded his body, dragging him down into its murky depths. Waves of red escaped his body, staining the lake. She expected a look of fear to be etched on his dying face. Instead, his expression almost resembled pity. If he had never cared about her, why would he wear that look?
Her thoughts were interrupted by warmth. The same kind that gripped her body every time she killed. However, her doubt prevented her from enjoying it. She’d never know the true source of her abilities unless she did something drastic. She turned away from the tainted lake and marched back to the village.
Her house was just as dark as she’d left it. She approached her Demise painting. She remembered making it when she was young. There was no way to know what Demise actually looked like, so she had guessed all the colors and details. She knew that what Dimitri showed her could be the truth. Demise might not have existed. That didn’t change the fact that Blenda was in love. And what girl wouldn’t want to be with the one she loved
“I had to do something awful for you, Milady.” Blenda stroked the painting. “I threw away my life. All just to stay loyal. But what if you’re lying to me too? I think it’s time that I find out. I’m done chasing a temporary high. If you’re out there, I’ll see for myself. I want to feel your warmth forever, not just for a second.”
A knock came at her door. It was undoubtedly one of the villagers. Perfect. They’d have to deal with whatever came next. She unsheathed her sword one last time and raised it over her head. Dimitri’s blood still dripped from it. Their relationship never could have continued, but that didn’t mean he deserved what she had done to him. However, she absolutely deserved what came next.
“See you in a second.” Blenda winked at the painting. She brought the blade down into her gut, felt one last surge of warmth, and fell over. She closed her eyes, content with the fact that the next time she’d open them, she’d be in her beloved’s arms.
No one was more devoted than she.