Freebie Mondays: The End of Death

Freebie Mondays: The End of Death

This tragic tale relates the details of the Reaper’s Death according to the Celestial Mother…

“Pardon my intrusion, great mother, but I have come to ask a pressing question.” Agos’s voice, though quiet, echoed through the Celestial Mother’s grand sanctum when he spoke.

But his was not an unknown or unwelcome presence within this hallowed space. And though he dropped to one knee and bowed his head in deference, Aleonath flicked a graceful wrist and said, “Rise, my champion. You need never hesitate on my threshold. Tell me what it is that troubles you, that I may ease the burden of your soul.”

Agos’s face was impassive as he rose, as emotionless and still as if carved from the smoothest stone. But the connection between the Celestial Mother and her champion was of such strength, she noticed the sorrowful flicker in his eyes as he straightened and tilted his horned head ever so slightly to one side.

“Come,” Aleonath insisted, swirling her fingers toward her this time, hoping to draw the warrior near.

As always when he was bid, Agos stepped forward, making his way at a stately pace until he crossed the grand, vaulted hall that served as the Celestial Mother’s sanctum. The walls were of dark stone, and the ceiling so high above it was drowned by shadows. But twinkling starlight dotted that shaded space and glimmered across the stone pillars that supported the great structure, casting gentle illumination on the warrior’s bronze skin when he passed.

When at last he stood at the base of Aleonath’s throne, Agos again bowed his head, dipping the great horns that rested at his brow before lifting his face to meet his mistress’s gaze.

“I wish to know why you allow the Reaper to continue sowing sorrow among my kin,” the warrior announced, his tone plaintive. “For many thousands of years, we have served you without hesitation or question. Yet no matter the strength of our devotion, our lives are stolen by the cruel, cold hand of your sibling.”

“Quiet your fears, noble Agos,” Aleonath replied, her tone soft and soothing as she laid her long-fingered hand upon his dark shoulder. “Have I not raised you above the sorrow and suffering of your mortal kin? Never will you feel the sting of the Reaper’s touch. So long as you dwell here among us, you are as eternal as the rest of my celestial children.”

Stars flickered beneath the celestial mother’s skin as she gently squeezed the warrior’s muscular shoulder. But no comfort transferred into the warrior from the gesture. He merely inhaled deeply and released his breath as a sigh.

“It is not me I worry about, great mother, for I am keenly aware of the gifts you have granted me. It is my kin who continuously suffer. I hear their voices when they say their prayers. They are choked with sorrow and desperation. Is there no way I might shelter them from their endless grief?”

“Mortal lives are as brief as the flicker of a candle’s flame,” Aleonath replied, her tone gentle. “No doubt your new longevity has skewed your perception of your mortal kin’s sorrows. But rest assured, there is no way to halt the endless cycle of life. That which crawls only briefly from the celestial abyss must one day return to that dark womb. That is simply the way things are.”

But the warrior still was not reassured. He set his jaw into a hard line and retorted, “Is it not the will of the Reaper that mortal lives should be so brief and fragile?”

“The Reaper serves a purpose, as do you, my dear,” the Celestial Mother replied, her tone still soothing.

But her gentle reassurances washed over the warrior without touching him and, at last, he stepped backward so that her arm, filled with the gentle twinkle of starlight, slid away from his shoulder.

“Is there nothing you will do to aid my kin, great mother?” he demanded, his voice terse and strained.

“What is within my power, I grant already,” Aleonath replied, her tone stern though it filled her heart with sorrow to see her beloved champion torn between two sets of loyalty.

At last the warrior heaved a great sigh and turned back to the door from which he entered. “It falls to me,” he murmured as he retreated, “to avenge those without agency to avenge themselves.”

His words lit a fire of concern within the Celestial Mother’s chest, for she had seen the wrath of the warrior at its strongest. And though it was the reason why she chose him to stand at her side, she feared what violence his ferocity might cause without proper guidance.

Still, she let him go, hoping he would retreat back to his sanctuary and meditate upon her words.

If ever she imagined her reassurances would fail to reach him, never would she have allowed him to step beyond the threshold of her sanctum. But time flows differently for the celestial than it does for us mere mortals, and the next sign of trouble for the great mother was the sting of pain that pierced her heart when Agos’s sword drove into the heart of the Reaper, her most beloved sibling.

From her perch upon her celestial throne, Aleonath gave a great cry of sorrow and agony. So strong was her emotion, many claim the distant echo still bounces through the vastness of her hall.

Instantly, the Celestial Mother teleported into the heart of the Reaper’s shadow-shrouded sanctum in hopes of allying her wretched fears. But when she arrived in those hallowed halls, she found the Reaper’s throne spattered with blood.

With growing horror, the Celestial Mother took stalk of her sibling’s ruin. Limbs had been rent from limbs, and the heart of the Reaper still trembled on either side of the warrior’s blade. Agos’s shoulders heaved from the effort of his exertions as he turned his blood-spattered face toward his patron – but there was no hint of sorrow in his eyes.

Aleonath lifted one star-studded hand to her mouth and barely resisted the urge to scream again as her gaze locked with that of her champion. “What have you done?” she demanded, her voice a hoarse hiss.

“What needed to be done,” Agos declared flatly. “My blade struck according to the warrior’s code, so none can fault me for the blood I shed.”

“I grant you the power and longevity of the gods, and this is how you repay me?” Aleonath retorted, barely able to comprehend the arrogance of her chosen.

“Let the celestials suffer as we have,” Agos growled, “and we will see if you continue to sit idle on your thrones.”

“Be gone!” the Celestial Mother snapped, her voice cracking like a whip. “Flee from my sight while my sorrow still outweighs my outrage, and I may yet allow you to keep the gifts I so lovingly bestowed upon your mortal soul.”

Agos at last jerked his blade free of the remnants of the blessed Reaper’s body, though blood still dripped down its edge. He retreated from the blighted throne, never turning his back on his grim work, and it was clear the Celestial Mother’s sorrow never touched him. He tilted his great horned head backward and barked a laugh before he vanished into the ether.

And that laugh too still echoes in the vaults of the Reaper’s empty halls, proof of the sin committed within.

Agos’s followers, however, tell a different story…

Rarely did the lord of war set foot in the Celestial Mother’s sanctum without being called. And no matter how far he roamed nor how many walls he built between them, Agos could always hear Aleonath’s call – the power of her celestial blood ensured their bond never waned, no matter how the warrior tried to wriggle free of it.

As always, he paused upon the threshold of her holy dwelling to bend the knee and bow his horned head, waiting for the celestial creator to acknowledge his existence. Sometimes she kept him waiting mere moments, and sometimes he held still for what felt like hours waiting for the blessing of her sight.

Today, her regard was swift, owing perhaps to the urgency of her task, and she waved with impatience for him to stand and cross the gulf between them so that she might offer him orders.

“To what do I owe the call to stand in your esteemed presence?” Agos asked when he reached the base of her throne and once again dropped to one knee. “Is there some purpose to which you wish to command my sword?”

“Indeed, Champion,” the Celestial Mother replied coolly and once again waved for him to rise. “I know you do not sit idle within the hall I gave you, but I need you to set aside all other thoughts for some time and attend to my needs, for they are great.”

Bracing against the task he would soon find set at his feet, Agos once again rose, though he bowed his horned head with respect. “Is there some beast that troubles you, Lady?” he suggested. “Or some wrong that needs be avenged?”

Beasts with power enough not to feel like a waste of Agos’s skill had grown rare, and he was always eager to test his blade against a new challenge. But the task he liked best was fulfilling the Celestial Mother’s vengeance – so long as it felt justified. Of late, the lady had set him several tasks that turned his stomach, and he prayed this would not be one of them.

From the cold light shining in the goddess’s star-studded eyes when she turned them in his direction, however, it was clear he would not be so lucky today. The warrior suppressed a shiver and stood steadfast, waiting for his patron to deliver her command.

“You will go straight to the hall of the Reaper,” she said at last. “You will demand they comply with my most recent request. And if they answer favorably, you will carry the response back to me.”

Agos’s stomach roiled, but he asked softly, “What is it you wish the Reaper to do for you, great mother?”

“Cease their endless hunger for the souls I most treasure,” Aleonath replied tartly. “The stealing of souls out from under my very thumb will stop this instant, or there will be consequences. After all, did I not make this vast cosmos? Am I not in command of its every particle?”

“Does not each god control their own sphere of influence?” Agos protested. “Is the Reaper not simply doing the task set to them by virtue of their divine transformation – as I do when I wield my sword according to your whims?”

“The Reaper oversteps,” Aleonath insisted, her voice growing colder as her patience grew thin. “I am queen of this celestial realm. I will not be denied the respect of my birthright. If the Reaper will not yield to my superiority, they must not be allowed to continue acting as they please without consequences.”

There was something ominous in the Celestial Mother’s words but, again, Agos fought the urge to shiver. The last thing he could afford to do was show weakness in his patron’s presence. “And if the Reaper should refuse your terms, my lady?” he asked softly. “What consequences should I then deliver?”

An icy smirk split the Celestial Mother’s lips when the god of war asked his question, and it was all he could do not to flee her hall when he saw it.

“Should the Reaper refuse to yield, my precious chosen, you will cut out their heart and deliver it to me while it still burns with vitality.”

“But my lady…” the lord of war protested and instantly fell to his knees, “it would be blasphemy for me to strike a celestial when I was not born from the heart of the universe as the rest of you were.”

“Which is the greater sacrilege,” the Celestial Mother demanded in response, “to slay a celestial at the behest of their queen, or to deny the charge of the patron that granted you your divine abilities?”

The threat was clear; Agos was expected to obey. If he did not, he would be stripped of the divine gifts granted him and there would be no one to watch over those who appealed to the strength of his sword.

Yet Agos was not the kind of warrior who walked blindly onto the battlefield without understanding the conflict in which he would participate. Nor could he allow his sword to strike in an unjust fashion, or all he had built his life upon would crumble.

So the lord of war steeled himself and said, “I cannot kill one who has not provoked just wrath.”

There was defiance in his eyes when the Celestial Mother gazed into them, and he did not shy from the flash of irritation that filled her star-studded eyes.

“You will obey,” she informed her champion coldly. “I will not have rebellion in my realm.”

“I cannot,” the warrior insisted. “The sword that strikes without the heart of the warrior behind it will miss its mark. And I can no more deny my nature than the Reaper can deny theirs.”

Aleonath’s eyes burned with cold fire, and her fingers curled into a fist on the arm of her grand throne. For a moment, she fumed, the strength of her breath such that the sound rang in the warrior’s ears.

Then she rose to her feet and stood looming over the kneeling warrior, her head crowned in a wreath of stars, her eyes two bright orbs of light that drowned all the other features of her face.

“You will obey,” the Celestial Mother insisted, her voice ringing through the vaulted halls of her sanctum. “I am your patron. You must do as I command.”

The words reverberated through the warrior’s chest with such strength, the force stole his breath. He tried to resist the wave of power that washed over him, tried to push the echoing voice from his mind, but the Celestial Mother’s will dug claws deep into his mind and spirit, stifling his resistance.

Agos braced with all his might against the dizzying force that settled over him, but to no avail. The warrior felt his body jerked to its feet against his will and watched as if from a distance as his feet carried him toward the door to the Celestial Mother’s hall.

Ever did the presence of his patron loom in his wake as he strode through the celestial realm, his feet moving of their own accord despite  his feverish attempts to resist his patron’s inexorable will.

At last his hands settled on the door that led to the Reaper’s sanctum, and his muscular figure opened the path.

The Reaper waited within, stunned by the intrusion, but Agos could not make his lips move in order to warn the deity what fate awaited them.

His fingers gripped the trusty hilt that rested on his hip, and he felt the warn leather against his palm. He tried to project his will into the steel so that it would override the wrath of his patron, but to no avail.

The warrior’s sword slid smoothly from its sheath. Its balance was perfect, and it sliced through the air with astounding skill.

Barely could Agos keep up with his own movements until he stood, gasping and heaving, over the mutilated figure of the Reaper.

Horror and sorrow choked his throat in equal measure as, at last, the pressure of the Celestial Mother’s magic eased, and control returned to his limbs.

Agos knelt and wiped the blood from his blade with shaking fingers. But the deed was done and he – a warrior – had no way to reverse it.

Shaking with rage and sorrow, the lord of war bowed his horned head, but there was little he could do as his mistress strode triumphant from the hall, leaving him to bear the brunt of the rest of her siblings’ anger.

. . .
This is part of a new series developing lore for my Tales of Cryptonia homebrew D&D campaign. (Which you can learn more about here.)

Incidentally, I streamed the creation of this post in case you want to watch it come together!

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