"...Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me."
- Psalms 23:4
The fields of the Forge Lands were void of any Corrupted beings as Death rode. But that didn't mean that the Reaper would drop his guard. The Corruption had across the world like a plague; who knew when it would strike next? But Death had more important situations to worry about; the most (if not, only) significant situation being his brother, War. Death was concerned about his possible fate. The Charred Council had accused him of triggering the apocalypse upon Earth, dooming mankind in the process. But Death knew for a fact, that War would never even think to do such a thing; out of all the Horsemen, he proved to have the most honor. The thought of him being responsible for such a feat was madness. Nevertheless, War's life hung in the balance for a crime he did not commit.
And Death would do anything to save him.
Alas, if he was to get to the Tree of Life to resurrect humanity, then he would have to help the Makers clear the way; which was blocked by Corruption. Along the way back to Tri-Stone, several small constructs dripping with an all too familiar black ooze rose up from the ground, blocking the Pale Rider's path. Death's steed, Despair, instantly skidded to a halt as if having been caught off guard. Death, however, didn't even so much as flinch.
"Huh," he said. "I was wondering when you'd make yourselves known."
The constructs charged forward to attack. In one swift motion, Death leapt off of Despair (dismissing him in the process), summoned his war-hammer and crushed the nearest construct beneath it. He then threw his weapon into the air, jumped up and did a back flip, not only kicking the second construct in the chin, but creating an opening for which he could strike. When Death had caught his weapon, it had transformed into a pair of scythes which he used to slice his enemy into thirds. The next construct attempted to attack from behind, but Death dodged it before its weapon could hit him. He swung one scythe and buried it deep between its sickly yellow eyes, black ooze spewing out from the wound. The last construct... well, killing that one didn't go exactly as Death had expected. It started with Dust flying from out of nowhere, cawing at his companion.
"Can't it wait, Dust?" asked Death.
Then a loud crack. And finally, a thin tree branch and... someone... fell on top of Death's last enemy. The Reaper didn't have time to investigate who or what they were as the construct rose in an instant, throwing the person off of it. It turned to the newcomer and raised its weapon to strike them. Death took the opportunity to change his scythes into a glaive, pierced the construct through the chest and threw it behind him. Death's burning orange eyes darted around the area, making sure that he didn't miss one. When the smoke settled, Death changed his weapon, Harvester, back into twin scythes and sheathed them. Dust flew to him and perched on his shoulder.
"There," said Death. "Now, what was it you wanted to tell me?"
Dust looked behind him, with Death doing the same not a moment sooner. It was apparent that Dust was referring to the figure that fell from the tree. He walked up to them, planning to interrogate them on who they were and what they were doing in a tree in the first place. But upon getting a better look at the new arrival, Death instantly stopped in his tracks. Normally not one who was easily surprised, his brow rose behind his mask. She - the newcomer - was human. A rather young human at that; just barely reaching adulthood.
And she was gawking at him like she had seen a ghost.
"Impossible," whispered Death. "How are you alive?"
Like a small animal catching sight of its hunter, the girl panicked and tried to back away from him. Death held his hands up.
"Easy," he said. "I am not your enemy."
The girl suddenly lifted herself off of the ground and broke into a run. Death let a sigh escape him. He knew that he was intimidating to many, but it was only a few seconds and the girl was already frightened. And he just said he meant no harm too. Instead of running after her though, he held up his hands and began whispering ancient incantations behind his bone mask. Before the girl could get very far, three ghouls burst out of the ground and blocked her path (prompting a shriek from her in the process). They didn't attack her, as Death had ordered, but they made sure that no matter what direction she tried to run in, they would run up and stand in her way. Death lowered his arms and, once again, approached her.
"That is hardly the way you should treat someone for saving your life." he said.
The bewildered human spun around so fast that her medium brown hair (which was tied into a ponytail) almost slapped her in the face.
"What do you want?" asked the girl.
"Well, a word of gratitude, for starters." said Death.
She stared at him.
"I have no intention to harm you, human." Death said, not in a gentle tone, but rather a flat and stoic one.
The girl sighed in defeat.
"I must ask, however," Death continued. "How are you alive?"
"Uh, well," replied the human. "You... did sort of slaughter those things, so..."
"No, I mean how have you survived all this time? The apocalypse should have claimed both you and your kind."
The girl slightly tilted her head to the side.
"Apocalypse? What're you talking about?"
Death blinked. How could she not know?
"...Do you not remember, then?" he asked.
A pause. Whatever excitement was trying to creep its way out of his words, Death forced it down.
'Slow down,' thought Death. 'One thing at a time.'
"Who are you, anyway?" asked the girl.
"I am Death."
"Death? Like the Grim Reaper?"
"...I have many names, but I don't think I've ever been called that one before."
The girl's eyes widened once more. She walked backwards, almost backing up against one of the ghouls.
"I... I'm not dead, am I?" she asked nervously.
"Let's see, you seem to be breathing normally, I sense that your soul is still pulsing in your body... Yes, you are dead."
It took her a moment, but from the way she pouted, the human seemed to pick up his sarcasm.
"That's not funny..."
"I wasn't intending to be as such."
It wasn't until then that Death had noticed that the sun was setting. He had no idea what Corruption was like at night, and with a young human around, he decided not to take any chances. Likewise, he decided that maybe - just maybe - she could be useful. After all, she was a human... and she was alive where she should have been slaughtered by the premature End War. Neither was she corrupted (as far as he knew, anyway). If Death could unlock the secret behind how she was resurrected... then perhaps he could perform that same action at the Tree of Life. The very thought of it fanned the flames of hope in his heart. Death dismissed his ghouls.
"You'll have to come with me." he said.
"What? Why?" asked the girl. "I barely even know you."
"On the contrary, human, you know of me. I would say that's close enough."
"You can stop calling me 'human', you know. My name's Quinn, and, thanks for saving me, but I think I can take things from here."
Behind his mask, Death mouthed her true name in confusion. Quinn? Quinn? What kind name was Quinn? Did the humans simply run out of names to call their newborns before they died off? No matter. Before he could respond or even do anything, Quinn started walking off in the opposite direction of Tri-Stone towards the Cauldron.
"And just where do you think you're going?" asked Death.
"To the nearest town," replied Quinn. "I'm gonna see if I can get some answers from the townsfolk nearby. Maybe some tools, if they're nice enough."
'...And she didn't bother to even ask me when I happen to be standing in front of her?' thought Death. 'Not the sharpest blade. She's an ungrateful little brat as well, isn't she?'
Death pointed behind himself.
"The nearest town happens to be that way."
Quinn stopped walking and looked at him.
"...Oh. Oh, right," said Quinn, adding an embarrassed chuckle. "I-I totally knew that. Yeah."
"I'm assuming you have not been here long." said Death.
"...No. I think I've only been for, I don't know, a couple hours maybe? Not sure how I got here either. I just kinda woke up and, poof, here I am."
Death could have sworn she muttered the words "I was stuck in a tree too..." under her breath.
"Were there others with you?" he asked.
"Uh, no. As far as I'm concerned, I'm all by myself." muttered Quinn.
"Hmm... Very well. All the more reason you should come with me."
"Hey, I can take care of-"
"Other than the fact that you have no armor or weapons to speak of, I know inexperience in combat and survival when I see it. It's in your eyes. You wouldn't last a day on your own."
Quinn frowned but Death chose to ignore this gesture of disapproval and whistled for Despair to make his appearance. A spectral whinny echoed through the forest as the beast made its appearance. Death lifted himself onto the saddle, moving a bit back to make room for the girl, and walked his mount to Quinn's side, offering a hand to her. The girl gave strange, if not, disturbed, glances to Death and Despair. Death sighed.
"I take it you've never ridden a horse before?" said Death.
"...This thing is a horse?" asked Quinn.
Out of offense, Despair snorted and tried to bite at Quinn's face, making her jump and yelp. Death gently tugged on the reins.
"Easy, Despair," muttered Death, before looking back at Quinn and once again offering his hand. "Get on, human, we need to move."
She seemed reluctant at first, but Quinn reached up and grabbed it anyway. Death pulled her up onto the saddle, placing her in front of him. When she was secure, he flicked the reins and sent Despair into a gallop towards Tri-Stone.
'She may be an ingrate,' thought Death. 'But if I am to resurrect her kind and absolve War, then I suppose she will have to do... For now, anyway.'
Author's note: First, I'd like to apologize for the wait. I have been going through a lot of personal situations in my life right now and that has hindered my ability to concentrate on writing... well, anything really. Besides, as mentioned in the previous chapter, I am not a frequent updater. I hope this chapter makes up for that.
Second, I have changed my username from Rhapsody Duskbane to sara-what's-her-face.
I will be writing more chapters in the future, but don't expect them to be finished, oh, let's say once a week. It takes me a while to plan out what I want for a scene and then how to put into legible sentences that don't confuse people or just sound awkward.
Hope you enjoyed it!