The wind continued to hiss and howl as the beast swayed side to side. It was as if the wind spoke for it as it considered my question. Finally the jaw dropped, as if the string holding it had been cut.
“Some call me Wodan, some call me Jupiter, some call me Sol and others Ra, some call me Zeus and Frey, my names grow longer but I am only death.”
I stayed turned to the blight, the dark robes whipping around the skeleton’s frame but never blowing away. I had heard some of those names, as if in a dream. Others meant nothing.
“You’re some kind of god?”
The bones creaked against each other like branches in the forest. A whimper came from it, which I now know was laughter.
“A god, the god, by some name but not yours, god of harvest and hovel, god of war and bounty, god of bridge and gate, god of fertility and god of killing, god of screams and wine, god of pain and birth.”
As it spoke, its head rocked from side to center, clicking all the while.
I stood still. I didn’t intend to meet death today, but it would not be the last time.
“Why do you block my path?” I asked, unsure how to proceed.
“I am just the threshold, the next step in the journey. Look to the nearest horizon and see the strife in your way.” It motioned past it with a wave of its thin wrist.
Beyond the valley blocking the path, another black-robed figure stood on the next hilltop. And beyond that was another dark robe, flapping in the breeze. Beyond that the fog dissolved the Earth.
The figure stood facing me again. “Turn around now. This path brings only death.”
“All paths do. My path is only forward.” I could not go back, not anymore. There was no place to return, even if I wanted to. If only death would greet me, that was where I would go.
“Your path? You petulant child. This path may have been your choice, but it is my land. We stand upon my father’s grave. The hills you see are his ribs. The more dirt you pile on the bones, the more severe the valleys become. I shall lay your bones to rest on top of his, after I’ve had my pick.”
The skeleton’s neck snapped, jerking its head violently to the side. Its hands raised in anguish, and from the neck down all bones snapped and distorted in succession.
As they did, thick muscles curled out from the robe and ensnared the bones. Marrow leaked at the seams. Smooth flesh covered muscle and sinew. Before me now stood a chiseled man, as if carved from the finest marble and given a pulse.
But something was off. The proportions were off, some of the pieces too big. It was a poor amalgamation of a man, a homunculus made large, as if the form had never been known, only observed.
I would not get out of this any longer. I threw back my cloak and let the wind spill it to the side. I dug my feet into the soft soil, and drew steel. That would not be enough to live; for that, I’d need to draw blood. If it had any at all.
The wind ripped and tore. Two flags converged. By the time this ended, only one would fly.