Sky of pitch black nothingness above, ground of razor sharp rocks below. Far away her feet took her from the deeper chasms of hell, yet torment did not plan to leave her soon. Not a scrap of fabric stuck to her skin, not a strand of hair was left on her scalp. Bare to the elements she walked, no longer heeding the occasional slimy creatures latching onto her and crawling over her at the scent of blood and rotting flesh she brought. Blood wetted the rocks behind her torn-up feet, blood tainted her mouth that lost several teeth, blood ran thick from between her legs down her bony thighs. Her back was dressed in deep, long, festering gashes, a few of her fingers were no more than yellowed bones to which bits of decayed flesh clung. A gaping hole sat where her right eye used to, from which a black trail ran down her cheek; a large patch of her left jaw had rotten away, leaving her bone there bare. Clumsy stitches kept her tongue from falling out of her mouth, and yet another row of stitches running along her stomach kept her innards from tumbling back out through the cut. Without knowing she was a soul, one would wonder how she could walk.
So accustomed to the pits of hell, to being torn up by blades, skewered upon spikes, cooked in flames, rotten in filth, the only thing she felt at the news of her release was an astonishing nothing. No relief, no elation, no looking forward to a new life in the mundane realm above; she was little more than a ravaged doll, walking dully towards her destination, uncaring of the foul scents emanating from her body, the wounds that continued to fester, the creatures that tried to feed from her.
Soon her footsteps slowed. The sharp rocks began to give way to flowers, a seemingly neverending field of flowers almost glowing with a redness much like the blood seeping out of her. She was at the right place; she stepped off the rocks and on the soft ground where the flowers grew as her walk continued, knowing the gate to reincarnation was within her reach.
Petals rubbed against her legs, soil rubbed against her still bleeding soles. The sea of red flowers stretched to far unknowns, the gate to reincarnation was still nowhere in sight, yet she waded ahead through the flower field...
“I believe it is me you are after, am I correct?”
... until a voice, the first she heard since she began her journey, stopped her in her tracks.
She turned around to a peculiar sight – amidst thickly growing flowers lay a pond barely large enough to fit two humans, its water steaming and murky. In the pond stood someone up to the stomach in the water, clearly the one calling out to her. At that very moment, it seemed something changed greatly within her, turned her world upside down; after one lifetime spent in the pits of hell, she could not remember the last time she saw something as beautiful. The person in the pond was a young man as naked as she, but his skin was flawless like the finest pearls, his features handsome, his hair white like spun silk draping all over him. The sky was hopelessly black, the ground brutally red, yet he alone was white like a plum blossom, a touch of pink adorned his lips. Thorned vines growing from the pond wrapped around his arms and even his neck, seemingly binding him in place, but that did not take away from the beauty he emanated.
A strange, entrancing scent, like an unknown incense, mesmerized her further.
“I believe I owe you an introduction.” the man said, his voice pleasant and smooth. “Up in the mortal realm lived the tale of an old lady guarding the final gate of the afterlife. That guardian is me... albeit with a significant difference. You are about to leave for reincarnation, are you not? Then you have come to the right place; you must meet me before you can exit this realm. Come closer, why don’t you? Grant me the gift of a companion’s presence before I am inevitably left once again with none to befriend other than the silent dark.”
He needed to say no further. Closer she inched, and slowly her foot lowered into the water. She winced, then found herself surprised – it was the first time she felt pain again, a searing agony that spread everywhere the water touched. First the wounds on her soles, then her legs, then the mutilated mass of flesh between her thighs, it all felt like the first time she was doused in the flames of hell. Yet, all around her that strange incense fragrance did not let her leave, and before she knew it, fingers cool like jade ran up her skin. The man before her smiled, his lips like peach blossoms; his hands caressed her, not letting the vines around his arms touch her. Slow, smooth, careful, he touched her all over, ran his hands along a scar on her back, reached up to the hole where her right eye used to be, then moved down to toy with the stitches keeping her innards in and secure. Burning pain below, silky pleasure above; she was in a state like no other, feeling things that for a long time she could no longer feel. A web of confusion, a maze of sensations... she was lost, until the man’s voice pierced the fog clouding her mind to speak to her again.
“The elixir is taking effect, I see. In this pond is an elixir that restores one’s senses after experiencing the depths of hell. I am glad that its effects are working on you; many a soul were immune to it and returned to the mundane realm never quite right from the pain they took. Oh, how I cannot bear each time it happens, and how fortunate it is that it is not happening to you.”
Yet something else awoke within her, something one would think long gone in the lifetime she spent in torment.
But right then, the man let go of her and stood slightly further back. “Still,” he said, “the elixir is missing one ingredient.”
The sight that unfolded after was hard to describe. The vines binding him grew longer, their thorns bigger, their grasp on him tighter. The perfect beauty before her vanished – his veins bulged, his pupils rolled back, his mouth gasped in pain. The more he struggled, the tighter the vines strangled him, their thorns dug into him. Blood soaked him all over and tainted the water in red swirls, pearly skin scratched into oblivion, moist bits of severed flesh dropped one by one. It was far from over, and his luscious voice quickly turned into tortured screams and gags. Soon floating atop the water were chunks of fingers and a long, slimy section of entrails, a vine thrust between his peach blossom lips and drew yet another agonized cry and thick streams of blood from a torn tongue. Yet another vine wrapped around his head, and after one swift move, an eyeball fell unceremoniously into the water with a plop before joining other pieces of dismembered flesh, leaking a redness as fresh as the field of flowers around the pond.
She just stood taking in the horrific sight, not knowing how to react.
The torment drew to an end, the vines withdrew to their previous state, but the beautiful man was left less beautiful than ever. A gaping hole behind one eyelid, patches of skin flayed, flesh gouged to the bones, a nipple torn off his chest. White hair cascaded over his mutilated form, stained red like camellia over white snow. “The elixir is now complete.” he said, voice hoarse from screaming, weak from the pain still pulsing through him. “A sip is all you need. Memories of your past mundane life, torments in the depths of hell, all of them will disappear. You will soon be free to walk the path to reincarnation. Though I dread the moment, I have no choice but to bid you farewell. May you find happiness in your new life.”
Yet, instead of drinking from the elixir, she inched closer to him. For the first time in a long while, she said, “I am not going anywhere. Not until you too can leave with me.”
The man let out a chuckle, then laughter, a string of deranged cackles not unlike that of the demons deeper in hell.
“Do you think my destiny can be changed with a pinch of love?” he said. Once again taking her by surprise, his hands, whole and undamaged, reached up to cup her face, caressing her exposed jaw bone. “I am unsalvageable, irrevocably loathsome and tainted. I am doomed to eternal servitude as an afterlife guardian.” as he continued, his skin began to heal, the blood soaking him began to vanish. “This is my ultimate fate, my only redemption. I will forever watch other souls receive reincarnation, whilst I am stuck in a neverending circle of torment and healing, steeped in an elixir that never lets me be dulled to it. This fate I brought on myself, this fate I will always live. Do not bother me with that foolish thing called love; you are better off looking forward to your new life than worry about wretched me.”
The eyelid he was holding shut pulled opened not to reveal a hole, but an eye bright as new; his finger wet with the pond’s water touched her lips.
“Take the elixir, one drop will do.” he said, voice barely above a whisper. “Set out towards the freedom you deserve, and forget about me.”
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