"When Death was young, young enough to think that living forever was a blessing, he killed his Maker," he told Pamela, carding his hand through her hair as she rested her head in his lap, looking up at him.
She looked up at him in quiet fear, not of him, but of his words. She ran her tongue over her fangs like a newly turned vampire unaware of the instinct, seeking safety like a child clutching a blanket.
His smile felt like self-mockery. "He would live long enough to realize that no damnation could compare to what came after."
Before Death was Death, he was a child who wandered the forest in defiance of his mother, certain that he was as strong as his father. He would kill a boar and smear its blood on his chest, cut its skin and wear it this coming winter, the scent of his strength drenched in the leather.
The boar gutted him from pelvis to sternum, and he watched himself spill to the ground, disbelieving.
He did not believe the specter when he first saw it, at the edge of his blurring vision, moving with no sound and appearing in one complete motion, as if born from the air itself. He did not believe it when it spoke to him of worlds outside of the sunlight, outside of the villages of men, far from the gods he had always known.
But when he drank the specter's blood, cold and ancient as the caves and the gnarled tree trunks, he tasted his own minuscule existence as it burned out into nothing, a fire coughing its final flame.
My child, his Maker said, gently, when he awoke.
The boy looked into his Maker's eyes and he knew no fear.
His Maker was not, after all, a specter. He had once been a man, though the boy could not truly conceive of this; when he looked at his Maker he saw a god, untouchable and perfect, and he wondered that all the world did not tremble before him.
He ran his fingers along his Maker's long braid, pale as a field in the dry season, longer than the boy's entire body. He tried to imagine a village of men as strange and tall and could not.
Will I ever cease aching for you? The boy asked plaintively, whimpering in his arms.
If you wish me to release you, his Maker said, pale blue eyes unreadable.
No, the boy cried, burying his face in his Maker's neck. No.
The boy loved his Maker. He loved his Maker more than he knew how to bear, in his every movement and his every wish, he was drowning in it, consumed by it. But he was composed of warring needs, a mixture of two incompatible, volatile elements.
Enough, his Maker commanded, but his skin hungered and she was warm, so warm, and the sweetness of her rushed through him, made him feel again, he could not get enough --
Enough, his Maker roared, and threw him away from her, and he was ashamed and pleased and did not know which was right.
The tip of the wood caused no pain and his Maker's hands moved so fast he could not follow them.
Why are they not red? He asked, tracing the marks around his neck that were already completed. They were warm to the touch.
His Maker smiled. Someday, your eyes will see that they are. He paused, scratching his wrist and dipping the tip of the wood into it. The blood stained it the same black as the whorls and lines on the boy's skin.
He leaned against the tree, head spinning. At every point that his Maker's blood entered him, the boy felt even more a part of him, like all his veins were being opened to the air and he was bleeding out all over again, dying for his Maker's touch.
But they are nothing compared to us, the boy said, gesturing violently. Mere sacks of meat. Do not the hunters always kill their prey rather than leave it wounded? This is a kindness.
We are not hunters, his Maker said, and the boy wanted to run at his Maker, scream, scratch, beat him. Anything to break through his gentleness, his quiet. And yet, he longed to kneel, press his face to his Maker's thighs and plead; it never left him, a constant as sure as the rising of the moon, the setting of the sun.
We can be so much more, his Maker said, cupping the boy's face. The gods have given us a gift. We must use it.
This is all I ask, the boy said, holding out his hands, his fangs pressing against his lower lip, let me use the weapons I have been granted.
His Maker sighed and even under the weight of his disappointment, the boy's anger did not disappear completely.
Other times, it was simple. He would drop his head into his Maker's lap, asking for a story of world before, and his Maker would look down upon him indulgently, carding his fingers through the boy's dark hair while he spoke of people and lands he was the only one left to remember.
It is natural, his Maker said, once again holding his prey just out of his reach, a hand to the boy's chest, restraining him. Always restraining him. You are young. It is difficult to control.
But I cannot, the boy said, reaching for the human once more, his body aching with need.
His Maker's hand was firm. The urgency will pass with age, as it does with us all. You will learn.
I do not want to learn, the boy sneered, throwing off his Maker's touch for the first time.
He ran, mindlessly, his marks and his blood burning. He felt his Maker like the cool, soothing presence of river and pushed it away, away, away until he felt it no more, until it was only him and the trees and a strange sense of solitude and freedom. He stopped when he realized he was not being followed.
He looked out at the vast forest, mountains in the distance, the smell of humans not far off. He thirsted. He wondered what he would do if this were his domain alone, what power he might wield free of shackles. He watched the moon rise and imagined it, distraught and sharp with greed.
The seasons turned and the boy grew into his life that was not a life. His impetuousness tempered; his bloodlust did not.
He began to learn the difference between what was real and what he was taught, and he felt an unaccustomed bitterness when he saw that they were not the same thing. That his Maker was not the idol he'd once made him out to be, that, in the end, he was just as weak as the mortals he professed to love. The boy did not understand how to reconcile everything within himself, and the more he fought, the more he turned his face from the needs that defined him, the stronger they became. He was the dangerous power of a river dammed, pressure building against unnatural obstruction.
No wall is perfect, no love immutable, no god infallible.
I had hoped you would be different, his Maker said when he found the boy with gore spread out around him in a strangely perfect radius, like a sacred circle.
The boy smiled with all the anger of his youth, with all the bravery that comes from believing you will never live to face the consequences of your action.
Why did you not fight me? The boy asked, his hands still circled around the stake in his Maker's chest. It was stained black.
Everywhere his Maker's blood had marked him, he burned.
Why would I want to? His Maker said, smiling his gentle smile. His words burbled with blood and his pristine braid was sullied with mud and flesh. He cradled the boy's cheek. We have both done what we must.
Do not leave me, the boy begged. His Maker was already gone.
What came next was a period of darkness.
Death wandered the earth, unseeing. What must be understood is that time, distance -- these are nothing in the face of blood that is born from blood, and in neither did he find salvation. The ground was salt beneath his feet and with every tread anew he re-opened the wounds. Each step was a study in absence. He smeared his chest with bloody splinters and killed wantonly, reflexively, autonomically.
He drank to excess, finding small moments of peace with his thumb pressed to stuttering aortas, watching the last of the light fade from pathetic human eyes. There was some satisfaction in extinguishing discrete and meaningless points of light. He was brutal, hard, and unforgiving, to none more than himself. Nothing could bring back what he had lost. In this, he was powerless.
The centuries that followed were unremarkable but for their cruelty, and by no honor other than the inevitable accumulation of years, Death became old and strong and powerful.
The marks burned as they hadn't in a thousand years, calling him North, through freezing ocean, jagged mountains, barren flatlands. They transmuted to red in the wan arctic light, dormant blood rippling to life on his skin. He followed where they led.
When Death looked upon the human battlefield and saw a man tall and thin with hair pale as a field in the dry season, he smiled. He ached, and he smiled, and he knew that he would have him.
This time, Death thought with the unspeakable arrogance of one who has had the misfortune of surviving the worst, this time shall be different.
"I remember watching him. It was a beauty I cannot describe. He was then, as he is now." Godric smiled. "Unchangeable in essence."
He curved his thumb to the bone of her cheek, licked her blood off his finger, casually, like one might drop a kiss on a temple, which he did directly after. "The rest, I believe, you know."
"Godric," she said, and it sounded like an apology or a question, it wasn't clear which.
"Do not mourn for me, child," he said, stroking her hair, the curve of her shoulder. "I most certainly do not deserve it."
She was unusually quiescent beside him and they remained like that, for some time, his palm resting on her stomach and the crown of her head pressed into the crook of his neck.