When he opened his eyes, he found himself back in that space, with its blinding iridescent walls, the iron table still set between two ornate plush chairs. And sitting with her arms clasped in her lap; was the corrupted goddess he and his comrades had destroyed.
“Hello.” She greeted sweetly. He leapt to his feet, knees shaking as a thunderous chant echoed in his ears. How? How was she still here?
“I apologise, this must be rather jarring, but I just had to say goodbye before I left.” She smiled. And her face was different; no longer old and sharp, she was young and beautiful, a child-like aura hanging around her. She gestured to the seat parallel, and he took it, limbs shaking, heart racing as dread set in.
“…How can you be here?” He questioned, voice wavering. “We beat you,” his voice rose, fire filling his veins, pulse roaring at her calm smile. “We won! You died!” He screamed, slamming him hands; worn by callouses and littered with cuts from his adventures. His eyes burned, so he shut them, remembering the faces of the dead, phantom wounds prickling along his senses.
“Yes, you won.” She replied, voice sweet as a songbird, smile still warm even as her eyes filled with sorrow. “And yes, I am dying, don’t you worry about that. I just wanted to say goodbye.”
“Why?” he spat, eyes narrowed, gaze so scorching, she had to lower her gaze.
“I think I owe you an explanation, don’t you think? After, well… I don’t know if there’s an afterlife waiting for me but…” she trailed off, smile falling as her lips pressed into a thin line. “Well, I suppose I’ll know soon enough.” She laughed, a sharp pained sound.
“Then tell me, oh powerful goddess; what was so important that it made all that destruction, all that bloodshed and horror worth it?” he snarled, hands curling, clenching around air as he wished for his sword. “Does it make you proud? To know your hands are stained with the blood of thousands of souls, to know that your name will be hated and scorned, your statues and temples ground to dust and your worshippers’ souls forever bound in Hell. Are you satisfied? Oh please, do tell me what it was all for, I’m dying to know.”
“Because I wanted to die.” She spoke, softly, as if raising her voice would shatter the world around them. Perhaps it would have. The hero said nothing.
“I have lived such a long life,” she breathed. “So much longer than I should have. All the others are gone. The gods and goddesses I once called friends and family have left me, left the world. They died out, so so long ago. And for some reason, I didn’t. I had no believers left, no temples or prayers to my name, yet; I remained. Perhaps it was a punishment or a misplaced gift, I doubt I will ever know. But it does not matter now.” She sighs, shoulders falling as tears run down her pale face, staining her white dress.
He could see them now; cracks, spreading across her flesh. Along her neck and down her arms, and across one cheek, all the way up to her eye. Through them, a light so pure and beautiful shone through, and for a moment; he felt pity for this broken creature, so young and beautiful, to fall so low, it was enough to bring a tear to one’s eye.
But not his. All he could see was the worth she had left behind when she fell. His heart burned with joy with the knowledge she had suffered, had felt such losses. She was a vile villainess, she deserved such a fate. To be cast out, forever alone in the dark.
“Anyway,” she spoke again, a delicate hand wiping away her tears. “I couldn’t stand it. After so long you get so tired and angry,” she said, and he noticed the conjured dream palace was growing dim. They didn’t have much longer. “You lose hope.” She smiled; and it made his chest ache to look at, but he did not falter. “I wanted to fade too, to join them, wherever they were. I wanted to meld into the void, sleep forever, but who could kill a god? Who would dare kill something non-malicious.”
The hero’s eyes narrowed again, and he opened his mouth, but she cut him off.
“Did you never learn? Did no one tell you what I was the goddess of?” she asked, lips quivering with the effort to keep her gentle smile. Biting his own tongue, the hero simply shook his head.
“Oh.” She said, stiff cracking fingers tightening on her dress, but only for a moment. “Well, I suppose I wasn’t all that important anyway.” She smiled. “I suppose I was the goddess of joy, once.” And the hero started, brows rising. “I was the goddess of laughter and the joy people took in the little things; like a quiet evening with a good book. I was the goddess of lazy mornings, and quiet moments, where you could just sit out in the grass and breathe, the world seemingly at peace. I was the soft kiss of a mother, and the warm hands of a father.” She titled her head, and closed her eyes as the hero stared on, horror growing in his eyes, but for what, he did not know.
“Just little things you know, I wasn’t all that powerful; I wasn’t a deity of war or spring or water. I was just me, nobody too important. The things I heralded don’t need me to be anymore.” Her eyes opened, deep pools of anguish and acceptance. “So I made a switch, I learned little terrible things, and made them bigger, until they couldn’t be ignored. I supported the darkness.”
“I’m sorry for what you’ve lost. I truly am.” She said, as cracks began to form across the floor and walls. “But sacrifice is just part of the job, isn’t that what you said? People die in crusades to beat the beast. And I know it was cruel, and very selfish of me, but,” she paused, the table shaking between them.“I was so alone. You don’t know what its like, to be promised eternity and then left all by yourself. Its dark and cold and terrible.” She cried, hands curling around her own shoulders. “I just wanted it all to stop. But I couldn’t– I didn’t know how. No one prepared me for this.” The tears were back, pouring from her eyes even as her voice remained soft and steady. “So I made a monster, and waited for someone to slay me, to free me.”
“And along came you.” She cried joyfully. “You, who were strong and determined and kind.” She met his gaze again, all silent horror. “I’m so sorry I ruined that, sorry that you’re no longer who you were before.”
And he wasn’t. He’d seen and done too much to go back, and a part of him grieved for that. But still, he wouldn’t have made so many new friends, wouldn’t have fallen in love, wouldn’t be so celebrated, if it wasn’t for her.
He opens his mouth to ask—something, he wasn’t sure. But the void strikes first. The cracks that had been spreading, break open, shattering the bright space like glass; and letting in a being he could not comprehend. He knew it to be the void, the death he had granted her.
“Time’s up.” She murmured, standing and smoothing down her skirt as a horrible piercing noise rose up, along with a wind cruel and cold, that dragged her form towards her fate.
“Why?!” He cried one last time as the darkness swept in, a great maw opening up to swallow her whole.
“Because you needed a villain.” She answered, kind and apologetic. “And all villains lose in the end. They all die or fall, while the hero rides off, victorious. I wanted to die, and what better way, than to be struck down by a kind and just soul.” She smiled one last time as she shattered, pieces swallowed by the darkness.
“Thank you.” She said, her voice a breath of a whisper in his ear. “For setting me free. I wish you well with your life.”
And then there was nothing.
And then there was light, and the hero sat up upon a bed, gasping for air. Sweat trickled down his neck as he clutched at soft blankets.
Sunlight peered through his curtains, the smell of cooking and laughter spilling up from downstairs. His caught the voices of his wife and friends, and his pulse calmed. He was safe, he was home, and he would never see the creature that had tormented him for months ever again.
The man collapsed in tears, weeping silently. The memory of her smile a scorching mark in his mind.