I am the one who knocks. Who breaks the town gates down. Tears their security to pieces as I remind them that there is a curse with a claim on them. Remind them that they spilt blood. Regardless of how long ago it was, they spilt blood.
And they must pay.
Again and again and again.
Not until the debt is repaid.
There is no way to pay for the life of someone so precious.
They will pay until they understand what it is that they’ve taken. Until they understand.
What is a life worth to them?
I knock and I expect no answer. Every decade, when I knock, it’s the same.
There is never an answer.
Today, when I stride up to the town gates, I am not met with silence. With quieted, swift footsteps. With murmurs and gasps. I am not met by the cold hard stare of an object that cannot stop me. Not met by the realization that no one would dare open the door, not for me.
Instead, I am met by her.
When I knock, the door opens. The gate does not swing wide to greet me, but still. When I open the door I am still greeted.
She is wearing white. All white. And she has the paint on her face, as all sacrifices should, though most don’t wear it.
She is the one.
She is young. But, then again, to someone unbound by the burning of time, anyone is young. She looks young though. At least, her face does. Not a child, though. Definitely not. Not with the way she carries herself.
“How old are you?” I ask her.
It doesn’t occur to me that it’s rude. To an immortal, manners don’t really matter.
She straightens. “Twenty.”
I quirk an eyebrow at that. “You look younger.”
She shrugs. “I am what I am.”
She says it so plainly that I can’t help but laugh once.
“So you are, and so you have a point. If that’s the case, then, shall we be off?”
This was the part where I am usually met with some resistance. Some fire. Fear usually creeps in, making the young maiden’s bravado crumble. If there ever was such a calm maiden to begin with.
I think she was the first.
She had to be.
Or I’d have remembered the others.
Probably wouldn’t have turned them into ducks.
(That’s what I always do to them. The townsfolk think I kill them or something, because they’re never heard from again. But no. Being a duck is punishment enough.)
As I stand there, waiting for her to crumble, I find myself shocked.
Because she doesn’t.
There is sadness in her eyes. Tears forming, welling behind her facade. But, she doesn’t break. Doesn’t back down. With her back straight, and her whole being facing forward, she says it.
“Let us go then.”
And that was it.
With those simple words, I knew the curse was broken. The price was paid.
Even if the whole town didn’t understand, at least she did.
Atonement wasn’t about blood. Wasn’t about sacrifice.
It was about this.
An unwavering oath to do what needs to be done.
That’s what atonement is.
And it only took them over three hundred years to figure it out.
With a grin, I wave my hand at her. A cloud forms underneath her feet. I raise her up, into the heavens with me.
As we climb, I know what I have to do, and I know what she has to do.
I must make her a leader. Their leader.
They will not make the same mistake again.
All these years of striving for atonement will not be in vain.
The price has been paid.
Author’s note: Wrote this one reeeeeally late last night and there was more to it, but the other half sounded like a different story entirely, so I cut it.