Stranger’s Death

The shot echoed through the forest, bouncing off trees that stood silent, sentinel, as he was shot down. He heard the shot before his mind registered pain, so he stumbled a few steps more before his legs gave out from under him. Even as he fell he reached up to the orange and gold leaved tree that sheltered him from the moonlight. It was a foolish plea, but the only one he could think to make, so far from civilization.

His eyes focused on one of those golden leaves as the pain ebbed through him, dulling his senses, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. The leaf was actual gold, rather than autumn-turned. How strange. He tried to lift his arm to touch it, unaware that that was his last breath.

She approached the still form with caution, even though she knew he was dead. He was unlike any creature she had ever seen before, though he looked something like a human. Still, he had not changed, pulled the elements or any of the things a normal person would have done, given what he had apparently just been through.

Oh dear, Kelon said, approaching.  The little wolf pup was braver than her, for he went right to the man, pressing wet nose against cooling flesh. He was still a moment, and then backed away, looking at her with sad, reproachful eyes. He’s dead.

She collapsed the long barrel of her swordrifle back down and re-holstered it, kneeling next to the body, surveying him. He looked human enough, but…plain. Like the humans of ages past who had not been able to tap into the vastness of the world. Given the cracks appearing in the Making Walls across the worlds, it was possible he was from a different time. And she had just shot him dead. Not that it mattered, she told herself. This world was decidedly more hostile than the Earth of his time. He wouldn’t have lasted long without the skills she had spent a lifetime honing.

Why’d you shoot him, Nevynder?

Her lips twitched in a half apology, but she couldn’t offer any explanation. It had been purely instinctive. He had appeared out of nowhere from the empty sky above her, and she had thought they were under attack. She had drawn and fired without the blink of an eye, and had missed. The fall from mid-tree top hadn’t fazed him enough to keep him down past the sound of the electric shot because he’d bolted to his feet and made a run for it. She had known he wasn’t intent on attacking them then, but her instincts were sharp. He might not want to attack her now, but he had sneaked up on her once and might someday try to do it again. With a steady hand running down her swordrifle, she had lengthened the barrel, raised it, taken aim—which hadn’t been hard; the fool was running in a straight line—and fired. The bullet had danced with lightening, as all of her bullets were bound to the element, and has hit him dead center. The bullet did traditional flesh and blood damage, while the electricity sizzled nerve endings and fried his brain.

Kelon was demanding an answer, pushing at her mind. She shook her head and he stopped. She started to brush her hands over his skin, to try and pick up any residue or aura that might still cling to him, but found nothing. He couldn’t possibly have been from her world.

Crouching there, she looked back at the area where he had plummeted from, and found nothing out of place. No air pockets or storages, nothing to suggest how he might have made his way through the space. She looked back at Kelon, but the little pup didn’t care about the how or the why, just that he was dead.

Nicole is going to kill you.

“Only if she finds out. Which she won’t, right?” Nevynder responded aloud. She stood. “So. What do we do with him now?”

She’ll know, Nev, you know she will. No matter how deep you bury it, she’ll lift it from your mind like she does everything else.

“So, what does it matter? It’s not like neither of us has killed before.” Nevynder looked around for something to cover the body with, but found only leaves. She huffed out a breath, hand on hip, and contemplated just dragging him off the road. Was that too cruel, though?

You’ve never killed one of them before. Hell, no one’s seen on like him in over a dozen years! Kelon was pacing back and forth around his head, that stubborn look in his eyes, his jaw clamped firmly shut. She didn’t know what he was trying to get at.

“Language, Kelon,” was all she said as she bent to the body. She rolled him over onto his back, and grimaced again. Seeing his face, and those wide open eyes smeared with dirt, tripled her guilt and instantly upset Kolen. He whimpered, while she reached out and closed his eyes, brushing the smudges from his now cold skin. She arranged his limbs, legs together and arms folded over his chest, and stood. She twisted her hand, pulling the thin cord of air that kept her private storage locked just above her head, and pillaged the space, delving deep for  the little potion bottle labeled in a language long dead. When she finally found it, she locked the air container back up, uncorked the little jar and sniffed. It was not a good scent, but it was fitting.

She reached out and began to sprinkle the contents over his body. Kelon whimpered, tucked his tail and trotted a good distance away, sitting under the tree the human had, for whatever reason, attempted to reach.

“Mother of the World, Priestess of Justice and Conveyer of Messages,” she intoned. “Here is one passed from this world, soul no longer tainted by reality. We burn the body that the spirit has no place to return to. We consecrate the ground on which the body is burned, that no other shall mar his sacred space, and we chant the rites that erase any memory of him from this space.”

She didn’t empty the entire contents of the jar, just enough that he was sprinkled with it from head to toe, and then took a step back, corking the jar again and tucking it away in one of her dozen pockets. Then she tilted her head back, easily summoning the fire, feeling it burn through her skull, down her neck and shoulders, singeing the fine hairs along her arm, finally stalling restless in her fingertips. From there, the fire flowed like water down to his body, and caught. The powder crackled and released the bloody aroma of death into the air, igniting his clothes and beginning the process of breaking down his body.

She took another step back, and sealed the simple ritual with words she had spoken too often, “Let this be the end of the beginning, and the beginning of the end.”


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