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Another time. Another place. Yet my purpose is the same.

So here I wait, beneath the snow-burdened boughs of an ancient oak. I gaze at winter’s thick white blanket glistening upon the moor. Then look to the pearly luster of moonlight tracing a path across the frozen lake. Such beauty belies what is to come. Looking up at the infinity of stars dazzling the heavens, I pray to the gods, as always, that this time it will be different.

As the icy breath of the north grows bolder, I am thankful for my cloak. Under folds of black serge, I hold the book close to my heart.

With portent cawing, a crow startles from its roost. Then with a languid flapping of dark wings, it merges with the darkness.

Moments later, I hear the distant pounding of hooves, growing louder, more urgent; then slowing until they cease. Silence, save the snorting of bestial breath, a rattle of reins and the creaking of leather as the rider dismounts.

He opens a saddlebag. The strike of a match, and a lantern is lit. As his boots tread snow, the bloom of yellow light gently sways to and fro.

Then he stops before me. I note his frock coat is cut from the finest cloth, his suede trousers and linen shirt too. He lifts the lantern higher and I behold his rattails of raven hair, unshaven jaw and eyes dark as the abyss. Keeping me in his stare, he slowly sets down the lantern.

‘You came,’ he says tenderly.

I smile. ‘I felt…compelled.’

‘They do say I have a certain charm,’ he says while unfastening the silver clasp at my throat. He pushes back the hood of my cloak which crumples onto the snow.

My skin prickles as the cold bites through my velvet gown.

Inclining his head, he looks quizzically at the book clutched to my chest. ‘Where we are going, you will have no need for…books.’

I take a deep breath. ‘You are a slave to darkness, there is a ritual that can break your chains.’

Bemusement dances in his eyes. ‘I serve nothing and no one.’

‘The gods make this offer but once.’

‘Your gods are impotent, powerless, they abandoned mortals long ago. I curse your gods.’ He pulls me close, bruise-blue lips gently kissing my hair, cheek, neck, then he whispers, ‘Do you give yourself willingly?’

I close my eyes and say softly, ‘I do.’

One exquisite moment of pain. The Book of Unbinding falls from my hands. A single tear mourns the loss of my humanity. After quenching his thirst, he lifts his head, wipes my blood from his mouth with the back of a hand. Then he reaches out and lays a palm on my chest.

I already know that I am dead.

He twitches a smile. ‘Welcome to my kingdom.’

I look down at the Book of Unbinding, laying open in the snow, its foxed pages penned in Celestial, now stained by three drops of blood.

Looking back at him I say, ’I will not be staying.’

A moment of mirth on his face, next confusion, then pain. As understanding dawns in his eyes, he stumbles back. Then he simply fades from existence.

I take a small sharp breath as my heart begins beating, and the judgement of the gods flows through my veins once more.

After swinging my cloak about my shoulders, I fasten the silver clasp, then lift the hood over my head. Picking up the Book of Unbinding and lantern, I walk over to the slightly bewildered horse.

As hooves plod their thump on snow, I shift my weight in the saddle, twist to look back at the gnarled oak silhouetted against the opal moon. Maybe the next will choose wisely. Turning back, I lean forward, pat the horse’s neck. ‘Time to go boy.’ Shortening the reins, I gently kick my boot heels, and within moments we are galloping toward the misty portal that has opened on the moor.

For centuries, I have travelled all planes of existence, offering salvation to the creatures of evil. History and legend have long forgotten my name. In their wisdom, the gods took those I loved when I accepted their calling. It is, I have learned, the better way. But for all I have lost, for all I could have been, I am the gods chosen light in the darkness. And so, I journey on. Their will be done.


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