Chapter 17:

Chapter 17


The fire crackled gently. Its soft, warm glow penetrated the surrounding darkness of the woods. A light sprinkle of rain dripped down from the heavens, enough to be noticeable but not enough to extinguish the flame. The air was still, only the gentlest of breezes could be felt. Everything was calm, everything was peaceful. Life had just been so hard recently, full of violence and emotion. It was nice to simply just relax for once. The heroes of Ethros slept on the forest floor. Wool blankets wrapped around their bodies. They were huddled close to the campfire for warmth, but not too close to create risk. Elizabeth slept on a pile of damp leaves on one end of the fire, while Vera and Isaac rested slightly closer together on the other. The stars shined down through the canopy onto the weary party and through their guidance, Elizabeth began to dream in her slumber.

She first dreamed of nothing. An empty void. Total darkness and blackness all around her. There was nothing there. Nothing existed besides her. That was until a figure started to emerge from the shadows. Ethereal in nature. A flowing white whisp of a person. Her features were smeared out, looking generic and not like any specific person. The lines between her body and clothes were blurred. Her hair flowed down and back, merging with her dress. Her arms hung loosely at her sides like pieces of fabric. Elizabeth had no idea who or what this was. But the figure gradually took shape. More and more she became defined. Features slowly but surely became distinct. After a moment, Elizabeth recognized the woman before her. Tears welled up in her eyes and streamed down her cheeks as she moved to embrace her lost mother. The spirit held open her arms too, ready to accept the embrace. Elizabeth slowly rushed towards her mother. For every step she took, her body moved two paces back. She always felt like she was either moving away from her mother, or nowhere at all, never closer. Elizabeth cried more and more. She sobbed at the possibility of being able to hold her mother again. She didn't care if it was a dream, she would give anything to feel her warmth, her love, again. Elizabeth mouthed out her every regret and every apology, no words ever leaving. Sure, Elizabeth loved life. But her death could be the most heartwarming experience she could ever feel. This chance, this opportunity given to her by Death, it could check off her two biggest desires in life. Revenge for and the reunition with her mom. After all she always worried, once she completed her work in curing the plague, what would be left for her? What would she do next? Her motivation would be gone, solved, so what then? The two finally closed in on each other. Elizabeth went for the biggest hug in her life. As her hands brushed against her mother's spiritual skin, she began to dissolve into smoke. Her mother's form dissipated, being blown away by some unknown wind. Elizabeth cried out as she hugged nothing but the air, and as the smoke flowed around her neck and into the void. She collapsed to the ground and closed her eyes. She shut them tight and sobbed. But when she reopened them, she was no longer sitting in the void.

She stood in midst of large crowd. In the center of Ethros is where they stood. It was a bright, sunny day. Few clouds dotted the sky. The birds were chirping and singing. The fresh aroma of flowers tickled her nose. To her north, she could see the main castle. To the south, the church. And to her sides was an assortment of stands, stables, and sculptures. It was beautiful, peaceful, quiet...

Too quiet...

After a while, Elizabeth noticed that no one was talking. The only sounds she could hear was that of mother nature. The usual hustle and bustle of the main city was gone, completely absent. It was... eerie. No one spoke, no one moved. The crowd stood perfectly still, facing north. Elizabeth looked around the crowd, searching for her mother, still holding on to the previous dream that ended too soon. But she couldn't find her. She couldn't find anyone. Every person in the crowd was a nameless, faceless, blank. Elizabeth soon gave up and just stood around, that's all she could do. After a minute or two, the crowd suddenly started to shift. They shuffled in different directions. They parted the human sea until a clear path was open between them. That's when Elizabeth could see what they were staring at. Her jaw dropped. Her body froze. Two figures grabbed her by the arms and forced her over to the object of their fixations.

The gallows.

The two dragged her over to the platform. They forced her up the stairs and up onto a small stool. Her head was placed inside the rope. And even though the two left her side, Elizabeth did not move. She couldn't move. It wasn't that she didn't want to. Every fiber of her being wanted to jump down and run away. But she couldn't. The sky progressively grew darker. Tears rolled down her face as the crowd just watched her. Black mold slowly crept up the wood. The gallows, the center, all of Ethros was slowly consumed by a dark sludge. That's when she noticed him. Grimwald stood beside her. He held a lever in his hand. Elizabeth shook her head no, pleading with the plague doctor not to pull it. But he did so anyway. Without ever turning, looking, speaking, or thinking. He just... pulled it.

A trapdoor under Elizabeth flipped open. The stool and her body dropped. She tried to scream, but only made noise for a half second. Her voice was immediately cut. But her neck didn't break like she expected. Her neck hurt, sure. But it didn't break. This wasn't her execution. This was her torture. Elizabeth hung for minutes upon minutes, maybe even hours. She kicked her legs. She swung back and forth. She tried to pry her head out from the rope. But nothing worked. She just suffocated in silence. Silence. Pure silence. Because just as before, no one spoke. There were no words, no cries, no laughter. Nothing. The only sound in that world was the sound of poor choking Elizabeth. She struggled to gasp for air. She gagged on her own tears. And slowly, one by one, the crowd left. They left her to hang. They left her to die. But she wouldn't die. She couldn't die. Soon only Grimwald was left. He moved over to position himself right in from of her. He stared at Elizabeth. He stared into her eyes. And she had no choice but to stare back. The eyes of madness. The eyes of damnation. The eyes of death. The eyes of pestilence. The eyes of the apocalypse. She couldn't die. She wanted to die. She wanted everything to be over. The torment. The torture. She just wanted to die. God, just let me die. Make it end. There is no light. Only darkness. Hope is for the foolish. I want to die!

Elizabeth shot her head up. She was awake. Her breaths were shallow and rapid. She tried to slow her breathing, to take deeper breaths. She calmed down, rubbed her neck. Was it her imagination, or was it sore? Elizabeth looked around the camp. She couldn't find Vera or Isaac anywhere. Calmness turned to panic. Fear spiked. She was ready to get up and search for them. But before she could, she stopped. Giggling. Just beyond the clearing where they slept. Elizabeth listened closer.

"Alright now turn your hips like this!" Vera instructed.

"Like, this?"

"No!" The two of them laughed. They hushed themselves, under the impression that they were the only ones awake. Despite their best efforts, Elizabeth could still hear their simpering, their bonding. The light in the darkness, she thought.