A Life For a Life

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This post was originally published through Patreon on August 1, 2018.

“Come on,” Jacob said. “A life for a life. You know the rules.”

Indeed, Sarah did, and that was why this was going to be so sweet. She pulled out her gold crescent moon blade, glinting like fire beneath the streetlights above, and stood her ground.

“Sarah.” His voice was an urgent whisper in the dark. “Let’s get this done and get out. Now, before someone sees us.”

But Sarah didn’t move, and the two stared each other down as if from opposite sides of a canyon.

“You know the rules,” he said again. And did that tone now contain a hint of desperation? Sarah hoped so.

“No, I won’t do this.”

Tight cords bulged beneath Jacob’s neck, and Sarah could see he was struggling to control his temper. Good, she thought. Let him suffer as I suffered.

“I won’t do it, and I don’t give two shits about the rules. You brought this on yourself.”

On myself? she saw him mouth the words in silent fury. Then, out loud: “On myself?” He was no longer whispering. His face blazed like fire, glowing a bright and angry red.

“Careful,” she said, openly mocking him now. “Someone might see you.”

The light in his face instantly dimmed, but just beneath the skin, Sarah could still make out his anger, smoldering like hot embers.

For a moment, she glimpsed another layer to the man’s fury, an acute and palpable anguish that made her hesitate. Was she being cruel? No, not cruel. Just. Once upon a time, their roles had been reversed, and Jacob had been sent to escort her home. Then, like Judas Iscariot, he’d betrayed her.

A life for a life. Those were the rules, and they were vital. For every one of their kind that entered the mortal world, another had to die. Death for them was never final like it was for humans. Rather, it was a doorway back to the life their kind was supposed to live—a doorway back to their own incorporeal, incorruptible forms, free to roam the stars and all that lay beyond.

Despite their true form, they needed to experience mortality, needed to know what it was like to live as incarnations of flesh and blood. Each incursion into the mortal world was a fresh perspective. It was a deepening of self, an expansion of mind and soul that abided an ever growing library of knowledge and experience. The lessons gleaned from their time on Earth gave them the insights they needed to treat a debilitating blight that had long plagued their kind.

But when it had been Sarah’s turn to die, to resume her former existence for the allotted time and report what she’d learned to her people, Jacob had refused to kill her.

“If I don’t kill you,” he’d said, “they’ll have to take me back.”

Like most of her kind, Jacob had never wanted to be part of this. Pried away from a life of limitless supernatural potential, he’d been pressed into service against his will, forced to become human and therefore assume all the limitations such an existence imposed. It was like moving a whale from an ocean into a bottle. But instead of waiting his turn like everyone else, Jacob decided to cheat and return home early.

“The balance, you see.”

Indeed, the balance. Jacob and Sarah were a pair, and only one of them could enter into the human world at any given time. They would live for the appointed time as humans, then return home to recuperate, because it was important not to be away for so long that they forgot what they were. But Jacob, in his selfishness, had flaunted the rules so he could go back early, and Sarah had paid the price.

When Jacob dropped the knife and walked away, Sarah was condemned to a mortal life she was never meant to endure for any significant length of time. She’d grown old and experienced both mental and bodily failure. There’d been an inquisition, but no formal charges were ever levied against him, and after a long and undeserved rest, he returned to the human world only after Sarah’s body could no longer sustain her.

Now, here they were again, on opposite sides of the same dark alley where they’d met all those years ago, a loathing hatred burning in her hazel eyes.

“I won’t,” she said one last time. She threw her blade down onto the ground beside him, where it landed with a loud, dull ring. “You do it.”

When he peered back at her, aghast, she barked a laugh. Of course he couldn’t. She hadn’t been able to do it, and neither could he. It was a built-in safeguard that ensured the balance was maintained. He could contemplate killing himself all he wanted, but he would never be able to, no matter how desperately he wanted to be free.

“Don’t,” he croaked. Livid anger gave way to a desperate plea. “Don’t leave me like this.”

“I’m only giving you what you gave me. A life for a life, remember?”

The words twisted through his chest, more painful than a knife, and Sarah turned from him and walked away.

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