Korak the Bold woke with an arrow sticking through his head. He suspected something was wrong immediately. The goddess of death walked among the corpses, collecting souls and stuffing them in her bag. From one angle, she appeared as a seductive young woman. From another, a withered old crone. And from just the right viewpoint, she looked like both at once.
“Oh, hello. I was wondering when you’d wake.” She gathered a small gray soul into her hand and studied it with her hollow eyes. “This one’s hardly worth my time.”
Korak surveyed the dead piled around him in the pass. Two dozen soldiers. All killed by his hand as he bought precious time for his retreating unit.
“Such a waste,” he said.
“It is the way of mortals to waste their lives,” said the goddess.
Korak picked up his blood-soaked sword. “I thought I was finally out. I was hoping for the peace of the grave.”
She laughed. “What makes you think there’s any peace there?”
“It’s not for me to say.” She tied her bag around her belt. “You’re probably wondering why you’re not dead yourself.”
“So many souls today,” she said. “One more won’t be missed.”
“But why me?” he asked.
“Because you’re a hero,” she said. “I don’t collect heroes anymore. This world has too few of them. The gods love their drama, their glorious rises, their tragic falls. It will most certainly hurt your legend to carry on, but there is always another heroic end to be found around the corner. The gods won’t like it, but that’s their problem. This is my domain, and I’ve decided to let you live.”
She waved her hand, and the arrow dropped out of his head.
“I might not be so generous next time,” she said with a smile.
“Is this redemption?” he asked.
The goddess put a cold hand on his face. “This is life.”
Korak stood among the corpses. He’d fought so long, so hard. He’d killed in the name of kings and peasants, for tyrants and against them. He’d sought to become a legend, but his sword seemed so heavy in his hand. This would’ve been the perfect end to his story, but it wasn’t the ending he wanted.
He threw the sword away and his legend along with it. He would be forgotten in a thousand years.
The thought made him smile and as he walked from that bloody pass, the goddess of death wished him well.