The crunching snow sounds like an army marching across an open plain. Normally you wouldn’t hear anything against the raging snowstorms and howling winds, but this place is special. Beyond the simple wrought iron fence and gate the wind is calm and the sound of the storms distant. The snow falls here, but it isn’t in wind blown dunes. No, here the storms give way to serenity. This serenity is broken by the crunching footsteps of a black form crossing the white field.
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In this place there is only snow as far as the eye can see. The fence and gate are kept clean by grounds keepers, but they never venture inside. They keep the snow from piling up outside so that it can be found, but they never set one foot inside…ever. If you came upon it you would think that someone randomly put up the fence over a snow-covered field for no reason for there doesn’t seem to be anything inside, but there is.
Soon the crunching stops, he has arrived at his destination. He pulls the upper portion of his cloak away from his face, the vapor of his breath hanging lazily in the air as he tries to adjust to the cold unblocked air entering his lungs. He pushes his black hood back revealing long white unkempt hair and a sour looking expression. He looks around suspiciously to make sure he hasn’t been followed. At first glance he appears to be a man that most would regard with suspicion and his actions say that he is used to being regarded this way.
Clinging to an oddly misshapen wooden staff he gently kneels and begins to wipe the snow and ice off of a headstone so the entire length of it is revealed. Not satisfied with the job that one hand is doing, he pushes his staff deep into the snow and begins to wipe and dig faster w/both hands. The cold and ice bites at his flesh, but he ignores the numbing and continues to clean.
Once finished he lingers there a moment, almost genuflecting at the stone. Then without a word he brings knees fully under him. The cold seeping into his robes and through his tunic and trousers makes him shiver, but he kneels there in his meditative position and forces himself into calmness. Once his body is under control he begins to recite an ancient spell. He, more than anyone else, should know better than to cast this spell, yet he continues to recite it. If there were any of his order left they would recognize it as a spell for the undead, but there are no others. It is now only him. Once finished he merely sits there with his eyes closed and waits.
A delicate white hand reaches out and gently lies upon his shoulder. In the cold he imagines that he can feel the warmth of her hand through the layers of silk and wool.
“Why do you still come here?” Her voice is barely above a whisper, as if anything louder would disturb the delicately fallen snow.
A small smile crosses his pale cracked lips. “Perhaps”, he begins, leaning his cheek on the small hand so as to feel the warmth directly on his skin, “it is to hear you speak my name once again.” His voice is deep and soothing. Quickly she withdraws her hand in disgust.
“Or perhaps it is to further punish me.” She replies sharply.
He nods and smiles once again, though this time more wryly. “I think, perhaps, it is to punish me”, he responds.
Slowly and painfully he rises from his kneeling position and turns to face her. In all the time that he has come here he has never once faced her. In all those centuries he desperately wanted to be able to look upon her once more, but the thought of her pain always kept him from it. Now standing before her eyes, his gaze cast to the ground like a small child, he can barely stand her countenance. His eyes make their way up to her face. He expects to see the anger and rage he left her here with so many years ago. Instead, he sees a face lined with anguish.
The many years haven’t diminished her beauty. Her features are still soft and supple. Her lips are lined with her favorite color rouge. It is her eyes and skin color that give her true nature away. Her skin is the color of the snow with slightly bluish tinge beneath the surface where veins once ran red with lifeblood. Her eyes are sharp and keen, but there is no life behind them. Their green hue is bright and unnatural. If her skin is a reflection of the color of the snow then her eyes reflect its temperature.
“By the gods”, she says her voice catching in her throat, “is this what you’ve become. Is this dried shell that stands before me all that remains of the man I once loved.” She trails off at the end, unable to squelch the sobs welling up in her eyes and throat. She clutches her mouth and nose to try and stifle her weeping.
Gently dabbing at her eyes, as only a woman can do, she says with a bitter chuckle, “I don’t even know where the tears come from, you know. Its not like I eat or drink anymore, but somehow there are always more tears to cry.”
Regaining her composure she asks, “was it worth it? All this pain and suffering. Was it worth all the people you have hurt, killed and destroyed? Tell me, have you found what you were looking for?”
He shakes his head slowly as the question sinks into his mind. He leans heavily on her tombstone and says, “I’ve traveled down a road that few see to the end and yes I have found my answers, but they aren’t the answers that I thought they would be.” Once again he shifts his gaze downward.
“I can still remember when we first met,” she says, her voice slightly cracking as she reaches forward and runs her hand across his weathered and unshaven face.
It pains her to touch him, but she can’t seem to break away from him either. As tears fall from her eyes she continues to stroke his face. Lost in a memory she looks out across the white expanse that is her graveyard, “You were so beautiful. I can remember having a hard time breathing when I first saw you because you were so beautiful. I couldn’t believe that the gods would or could create a man so handsome. It was like I died and went to the everafter when you spoke to me that week. If I had only known…,” she trails off, lost in the memory.
“I’m afraid I have squandered all the beauty of my youth,” he says, gently taking her hand from his face. “The only beauty that exists now is you.”
This snaps her from her trance. She looks at him with dead weeping eyes.
“So what is it that you’ve discovered?”
“I’ve discovered that I’m lonely.” He starts to say as he rubs the bridge of his nose between both his eyes. The trip has been long that the spell has just about robbed him of what remaining strength he had.
“I’ve discovered that the inner voice that has guided me through life is silent and bitter for having traveled this far only to discover that it has been completely off course. I’ve discovered that I’m a mean old man and I want to come home.” He waits for her answer.
“Why ask me for redemption? I’m just a memory you’ve conjured up with your magics and spells. I don’t even really exist anymore. I’m an animated thing you’ve kept. Whatever you loved left me a long time ago. All I am now is memories, anguish and cold.”
“If you have her memories then you can remember our love,” he states straightening up from the stone.
“Yes I remember. It is only that which sustains me at times. “ The anger in her voice evident.
He nods in understanding, for the spell he used has its limitations. All but the most powerful of mages wouldn’t have been able to summon the dead one hundred or so years past the age of the deceased. She has been dead considerably longer.
“Perhaps this was a mistake, though it wouldn’t be my first.” He says exacerbated by the seemingly insurmountable amount of transgressions that he has left this woman with. He paces from foot to foot to fight off the cold. Every moment that passes only adds to his frustration.
“I know that I have reached the end of me. I don’t trust anyone with the knowledge I have gained and there are no new territories left to explore. I’ve done wrong by you and although I have tried to make up for it, I always seem to fall short. Perhaps instead of intellect and ambition the gods should have blessed me with compassion. It probably would have served me better.” He says bitterly as he leans back up against the headstone and once again rubs his eyes.
Standing once more he looks at her directly and says, “But I can’t change the past, nor make up for it. I can only ask for forgiveness and move forward. My forward begins where yours ended all those years ago. I need to move on.” He stops and places a hand on her face as she did his. She closes her eyes as fresh tears stream down her face.
Slowly she reaches out for him. She takes his hand and embraces him softly. She then moves in towards him and as she leans in to kiss him she says, “this is why I have waited for you all this time.” With that she kisses him deeply and passionately.
He marvels at the warmth of her mouth. How could he have forgotten how she tasted. The way her lips felt against his, the warmth of her body. He can feel it now for real. He can feel the softness of her curves and the warmth of her in his arms. He can’t believe that he could have ever left her to pursue such a trivial thing as magic. He steps back and takes a deep gasping breath. It’s the sweetest air he has breathed in a long time. He suddenly feels very warm in his heavy robes. He begins to remove his outer robes which are laiden with spell components and bits of parchment. It is when he goes to remove a small leather belt that holds some vials that he realizes her kiss has somehow restored him and made him young again. He looks at her puzzled. After so many years of searching, studying and experimenting could, how could she have accomplished what he couldn’t in his long life.
Sensing his confusion she answers his question. “Love and redemption.” She says smiling.
“I don’t understand.” He says removing the last of the heavy armor.
“That’s alright. We’ve got all the time that there is and I know where the answers are.” She takes his hand and together they walk off into the barren landscape.
Some months later a group of clerics find the body of the black wizard half buried in the snow. Later they are surprised to learn that he was the last of an order of necromancers. This particular mage was quite powerful and very dangerous.
The practice of necromancy had been outlawed some centuries ago. It seems that after the decree he and his brethren went into hiding. Some time after that he was being sought out for having practiced his craft on live subjects. It’s funny that the monks should find his corpse in front of the very grave of the person he first practiced on; his wife. What they can’t figure out is how the old man died with lip rouge on his mouth.
“If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the road to redemption must certainly be paved with humility.”