by Strange Wulf
Sometimes the past holds the key to our future. (V 2.0; please R&R)
The land was cracked and dusty. Rain hadn't been seen in this area for a while. The sun beat down without mercy on a lone figure. He didn't care. He didn't need to drink. Didn't need to eat either. He couldn't die.
It took a lot of money and quite a few favors to hire a team to ship the block here. But it was here he was to work. His guides offered food and drink, but he declined. It was not necessary. It would only distract him.
They were reluctant to leave him there, but they had orders. He was to be left alone until he came back. If he never did, they were not to come looking. He did not want to think what would happen if they did. None of them were Christians, even though they were good men. But even good men sinned now and then.
They set the block standing straight up as he directed, then pleaded with him one last time before leaving. They could not make him leave. Nothing could. Not even the itch stirred him. They bade him farewell and good luck. None were convinced they would ever see him again. The desert killed those who stayed too long.
He picked up one of many tools left for him and got to work. The statue was hidden inside. She was hidden inside. All he needed to do was take enough away to reveal her. She needed to come out, to tell the world her story. So little was left of it. So he started with that.
Time was irrelevant. He only stopped when the light was gone. He couldn't make a mistake. There was only one chance. When he wasn't working, he rested. Anubis attacked the first night.
There was a despot in a nearby country, a tyrant who seized the throne two years ago and ruled by fear, as they all do. He thought of the things he would do to that man, how he would torture him for long hours to appease Anubis. He envisioned the way his knife would slice again and again, turning the bent and twisted mockery of a man into a web of red lines, dripping the essence of sin into his veins and hear his screams as his body rotted from the inside out. It was a very pleasant thought.
He spent the whole night imagining what he'd do. Anubis whispered into his ear, promised sweet release if he only went and did this one thing, to come back later and finish the stone.
When he decided it was light enough, he went back to work.
She was starting to come out. It helped that he was immortal. He didn't get that tired, even working in the heat. He only paused to check the stone or when he couldn't be sure he was well enough. He healed instantly, no mortal wound scarring his body, but even he had to rest. He did it when he felt it was necessary. Through it all, his mark itched worse than any rash or bite he'd ever gotten. He ignored it.
He carried on as best he could, getting it done in small but sure steps, resting when it was too dark to see. He'd gotten it down to the general shape of her when the itching turned to burning. He ignored it. Even after the thoughts that came with it, the knowledge that in the next few towns over was a gang of rapists, he did not part from his task. He had to finish. Nothing could stop him.
He worked for days, shaping the stone, gently chipping away what wasn't her. She begged to be free, but in the quiet peaceful way of a Saint. How he wish he had met her. She might have given him some idea of what to do, how to rid himself of his enslavement. But she was dead, long before even he was born, and nothing remained save a few small files and a single video tape. His employer should have never shown it to him. He never would've come here if he hadn't.
He was close. Down to the clothes and skin, he knew it. The most precise tools were taken up now. The rest had taken away the excess; now it was time to peel away the film of stone hiding her. He had to be delicate now, or risk harming her. He could not allow her to come to harm. Any mistake would cost too much. He would fail if anything happened to her. So he kept working, even as Anubis plagued him with threats and promises, trying to lure him away.
One day, when the sun rose over the horizon, his mark burst into flame. He looked down at it for a moment, almost as if confused. He closed his eyes and breathed in through his nose.
The entire world. He could smell it. The place was a rotten garbage heap, and it needed a fire to burn away the trash and make a place for seeds to grow, to renew the land with flame. He knew every sin on earth, all the evil done in that instant and long before, all the way back to Adam and Eve. Only the Christians seemed to be exempt. Sin didn't stick to them. He knew why. But it didn't matter. Most of the world wasn't Christian. It had to die so the rest might live.
The world needed the Bonewaker to renew it in blood. He opened his eyes and looked to the stone where the woman Saint lay trapped.
The world would have to wait.
The last few steps of working on the stone were pure agony. He didn't know when the flame spread from the mark to his arm. He didn't even notice when it engulfed him from head to toe. It wasn't important. She was.
Even as the tools and the stone grew hot from his presence, he worked on. He only stopped when he feared he might warp the stone or metal, that he might harm her or render himself unable to help her. He went a few feet away, but never took his eyes off her. If he did, he would leave it undone. He knew it.
He did know when the final stroke was laid, when she was finally free. The flame on his body went out. He wasn't sure why. He didn't care either. She was free. He kneeled down in front of her, exhausted with the work. She smiled down on him, looking peaceful and appreciative. The smile was enough thanks. He smiled back. Now there was only one thing left to do.
He put his hands together, palm to palm and flat, and began to pray.
"Hey, God. It's me. I know I haven't talked to ya in a long, long while. I'm sorry. After my parents died, well... all I could think about was how I wanted them guys dead." He sighed, a silent and wordless expression of the long years he'd lived. "I made a mistake, I admit it. I went down the wrong path. I sought vengence and not peace. It cost me." He thought back to all the times he killed, all the people whose lives had ended by his hands, by gun or knife or fingers. He felt a sharp twinge of guilt. He hated those times, because he always enjoyed it. He enjoyed playing those sick and twisted games with someone who, even though they deserved it, always looked back at him with all too-human eyes. The fear, the pain, the pleading. Worst of all were those who repented, who regretted their sins. They still went to hell, but their eyes were the worst. It was because he found forgiveness in their eyes. He never could stand it.
He wiped a tear from his eye before he went on. "Yeah. Cost me a lot." He cleared his throat and continued. "I do have to thank ya for sending Susan to me though. She's been a blessing. About the only good thing I found on this dark path." He laughed. "I guess even then, you hadn't given up on me. I did the ritual, but I never gave up my promise to ya. Wasn't in me."
He sighed again, closed his eyes and bowed his head. How he wish he could change the past. But he couldn't. He still remembered that night, the candles lit all around him, the sacred knife he'd had. The pain he felt as he carved the mark into his flesh. The searing agony as the ritual was completed, the dark god Anubis sealing him as his servant. And the dark satisfaction he'd had when he thrust the knife into his heart and kept living.
That was so long ago. More than a century had passed. Now he had come full circle. He'd found the peace he'd been searching for all this time. He didn't even know it until he had seen the devastation of Chaos unleashed. The world didn't need him anymore. It needed hope, not fear. If only he'd realized it sooner.
"Anyway... I thought that, y'know... if You're willing and all... well, maybe..." He cleared his throat again and looked around, almost as if checking for hidden enemies. This part was going to be rough. But he'd gone this far. Might as well jump off the cliff and wait to see if he hit the ground.
He held up his right forearm to the statue, to the sky. He held it so his mark was facing her. "Maybe you could take this thing off my arm. It's been there far too long."
His arm felt like it had burst open. He screamed with the pain, bending over but not letting his head touch the ground, slowly picking himself back up and snarling. The mark had come alive, become a black thing that gripped his arm with small tentacles like a sharp wire. The mark rested on a long neck that moved without bones or muscle, giving the impression of a black jackal's head mounted on a hideous and misshapen body.
"I'm not leaving. You are mine."
He was expecting this. Anubis didn't want him out here, didn't want the statue finished. He knew what it would lead to. He spoke through gritted teeth.
"I wasn't talking to you, black tail."
"Hmmph. You dare compare me to those pathetic enemies of your employer? I am more powerful than they will ever be."
Anubis always talked in Egyptian, but he knew what this god said. A gift of the position. There was no tongue he did not know, that he could not understand or speak. It was weird, but useful. Hunting terrorists was much easier when you didn't need a mortal interpreter.
"Like I said, black tail, I wasn't talking to you. Now, do ya mind? I've got a prayer to finish."
He grimaced as the tendrils dug further into his arm. He wasn't immune to magic, and Anubis had plenty to spare.
"I think not. You're mine, and you will go back into town and kill every sinner until I am satisfied. Now go!"
He wasn't having any of it. "Now look here, buster. I've done your dirty work for most of my unnatural life. I'm tired of it. Why don't you go get a new slave? Or better yet, how about you go f--" He was cut off by his own scream of pain. He had to put his left hand down to keep from falling into the dust. His right arm was bright red around the black thing that Anubis possessed, blood running down and wetting the earth beneath it.
"You are my servant, and you will do as you're told. I am not done with you."
"I'm done with you, ya bastard. You took away my life. Now I'm taking back what little time I've got left. No matter the cost."
The jackal head seemed to smirk. "No matter the cost? Are you sure you mean that?"
"Absolutely. The deal's off. Take whatever you want, I don't care. Hell, take my arm. I've still got one good one."
"What if I take something else? Something dear to you..." The thing grinned in a way that told him he wouldn't like the next part. "...or someone. Maybe I take away your friends. Or your love. How will you ever live without dear Susan? Or the half-breed who gives you a job?"
He blinked. Then started laughing. The jackal head frowned. "What's so funny?"
"Heh. You, ya idiot. Man, I can't believe I didn't see it before."
"See what before? Speak, fool!" He left claw marks in the ground when Anubis tightened his grip again, but he still laughed.
"Don't you get it? You're holding me hostage. And hostage takers only do that when they're desperate." He brought his arm closer and the jackal head reared back, looking frightened and uncertain. "We both know what I do with hostage takers. And you're filling the position." His grin disappeared and he snarled again. "It doesn't matter what you do to me or my friends. The deal is off. And there's nothing you can do to stop it. Even if I have to cut off my own damn arm, you can't stop me."
He brought his arm closer than ever. "I'm taking my freedom. And there's nothing you can do about it."
The jackal head snarled back. "We'll see about that, slave!" Then it did something he didn't expect. It burrowed into his arm.
The next few moments were filled with agony as the Anubis shadow ripped through his body, leaving small cuts that burned with pain and misery, his body screaming at the damage being done. He fell onto his hands and knees, then onto his stomach. His blood leaked out and into the ground. It was then that he realized this was the first time he'd bled since the night of the ritual. He really had come full circle.
He laid there, not even fighting back, letting Anubis punish him for disobedience. He didn't care. Even if he died, he would be free. He was still forgiven; it only took him a few centuries to figure it out.
His mind clicked. Something was different. He frowned, but didn't move. He blinked and looked at the shadow in front of him. It had stopped. It just sat there, as if waiting for him to do something. He couldn't think of what to do, so he waited too. It seemed like hours before the god's voice spoke again.
"See what I am capable of? See what I can do to you? But I am still merciful. Only repent and do my will on earth again and I will heal you of your wounds. Come, let us hunt again..."
He looked at the shadow for a moment, staring at the small jackal head perched on a body that did not move right. Then he noticed something white and gleaming behind it. His eyes looked up and he saw her standing there, smiling down at him, her hands pressed flat together as if in prayer or a small, respectful bow. He looked back and forth several times. Something about that smile...
He looked at her one more time, then scowled at Anubis.
"Take a hike, short stuff. I ain't yours no more. I never was."
"Insolent fool! Then you shall die!" The pain continued where it left off, almost as if it never stopped. All he could do was look up at her, smiling down at him.
A moment later and things changed again. There was light all around. Anubis stopped. He couldn't move his head up to look; it hurt too much. Whatever it was, it was brighter than daylight. He heard the shadow Anubis snarl. Then he heard a booming voice he had never heard before, yet seemed so familiar.
"Begone, and trouble My son no longer. For he has come home to Me and My family."
Hebrew. The voice was speaking Hebrew. He wept a tear as he realized Who it was. The God of Slaves and Free Men alike had come to save him.
He heard Anubis curse the source of the light in Egyptian, ancient swear words whose meaning was buried in the sands, lost to all time. Despite the pain, he felt he should do something. He started crawling. The pain was incredible, almost beyond his ability to bear it. But not enough to stop him. So he kept crawling.
Even when Anubis began to hurt him again he kept at it. He couldn't be sure, but the light seemed to get brighter the closer he got. It was slow going, and every part of it was filled with the agony of fresh wounds being ground into the dirt. He was within five feet or less when Anubis started playing dirty. Losing his genitals was more painful than he would've imagined. He was glad he hadn't been on the other end when he'd done it to others. Still, he crawled on, determined to make it there.
He was within one foot when Anubis ripped through his bowels. Less than half a foot when he felt his lungs and heart being sliced open. He was dying, but he didn't care. Even as the darkness began to engulf him, he kept going, the light seeming to increase despite the darkness.
The last thing he remembered was touching her feet as the darkness swallowed him and Anubis screamed...
* * *
He awoke to wet fur and sand in his face. He picked himself up a little using the base of the statue and shook his head, brushing off the grains and looking around. He stopped and gawked at what lay behind her.
An entire oasis had sprung up where before there had only been hard dry earth. The leaves of the palm trees swayed in a gentle breeze. The smell of fresh fruit was in the air, and the water gleamed in the moonlight. He couldn't help but smile.
He looked at his arm. It was normal. No mark, no black patch, no scars. Everything was healed, though his clothes were still in shreds. He'd have to make due until he got back.
Get back. He hadn't even thought about it. There hadn't been time. Now, staring at the miracle before him, the statue's gentle smile filling him with hope, he knew he would go back. And he would have quite the story to tell.
Picking up his tools, it struck him that he wasn't truly finished. He took a hammer and chisel out and bent down in front of her, near the base he'd left for just this reason. He hadn't know it until now, but it didn't matter. He had to finish.
Any doubts of his freedom evaporated when he struck his thumb. Cursing from the pain, he stuck it in his mouth before he realized what had happened. He'd been hurt. That wasn't right. He was immune to pain. Taking it out, he looked at it. It didn't hurt anymore. He tried biting it. Pain again, this time sharper, drudging up faint memories of it from long ago. He'd broken the skin. He looked at his thumb as a drop of blood trailed down it. Then the pain was gone, and there was only the blood. No wound.
He smiled. God had left some of the magic behind. It wasn't the same, he knew that. But he was glad it was there. He stood up and looked back the way he had come. He could feel that Susan was in town, and knew that she was free. His heart yearned to be with her. He'd join her soon. But first, he had to finish.
A few moments later, he stood back and admired his work. A pristine statue surrounded by the rubble of stone he'd chipped away, with a beautiful oasis for a background. At the base, an inscription he'd made himself. He knew it to be true:
MOTHER TERESA'S OASIS
COME AND BE REFRESHED
It was finished. Hoisting the pack of tools unto his back, grumbling at how it seemed heavier now, he turned his back on her and headed into town. He stopped and gave her one last look. He grinned.
"Thank you, Mother. You showed me the way back. Remind me that I owe ya a hug when I get to heaven. But first..." He looked back to town. "I got work to do. See ya around."
He began the long trek back into town, the statue smiling behind her. Anyone who looked close would have thought they saw a small tear run down her face.