The Liche smelled like dried leaves and stale water.
Kurtis sat with his hands on his knees and watched it, waiting. He could hear soft voices singing, maddeningly faint — red moon, red moon, wash away the sins of those who bear them — and the words prickled at his skin, and worse yet when the Liche finally drifted over to him, its features lost in shadows.
“You cannot come with me,” it said, and he felt the words rather than heard them, echoing hollowly in his skull. :Sinned, you’ve sinned.:
For a moment, he wanted to snarl back — yeah, tell me what I don’t know — but he bit his tongue and waited.
Between his bent knees, a small glowing ball of light appeared. Surprised, he pulled back. “What … ?”
“Sinned,” the Liche repeated, emotionless. “The Red Moon wanes.”
Kurtis wanted to protest he didn’t understand — but just like that, he did. He swallowed, and looked down. In his hands, the ball of light had become a familiar costume. “You mean I can’t … ?”
“Sinned,” he heard it say again, before it faded away. He was left staring down at the costume, feeling ridiculous as he tugged at it — it was too small, he thought, and there was no way he’d fit. His sins were too heavy for a spirit to carry him to heaven, and for a moment, he felt crushed by that — the reunion he’d hoped for had never seemed so far away. For a morose moment, he wondered if, just maybe, she’d finally stopped waiting for him.
“Two choices,” the Liche repeated. His head snapped up, but when he looked around, he was still alone. “Two choices, in Celestia or the Netherworld. Two choices.”
Kurtis looked down at the costume. It looked like a kid’s toy, pale green and tiny.
Gordon was in the Netherworld, and Jennifer, with that Overlord kid. In Celestia was that strange bastard with the white wings — Carter had believed he’d been an angel, and planned accordingly. Kurtis himself wasn’t so sure.
Two choices, the Liche said, but really, there was only one. Kurtis slipped his hands into the wings of the costume, and found that it fit surprisingly well, despite how tiny it seemed, when he held it away from himself. Closing his eyes, he pulled it the rest of the way on, and felt the zipper down his back move up of its own accord. When he looked again, the world had shifted and changed, nothing like he remembered it to be.
“Two,” the Liche said again, and he could see it now, floating at the edge of his vision. “Two choices, until the Red Moon waxes full.”
“Once choice,” he said, and turned to face it fully; for a moment, he thought he saw narrow red eyes gleaming in the shadows of its heavy hood. “I’ve still got work to do, as a Defender of the Earth.”
The Liche remained still for a moment, then nodded and turned, drifting slowly away. Kurtis followed, wobbling for a moment on his new peg legs, feeling his heart pounding in his chest. He could already feel something falling away from him as he walked, hope rising in its wake.
Just wait, he thought, as he followed the Liche through a glowing blue portal, as they make their way back to the material plane. Just wait, and I’ll find my way back to you, if I have to make the path myself.
He stepped through the final gate, and the Liche disappeared, leaving him alone in a fragrant green place, watching as the white-winged bastard vanished, leaving demons in his place.
But he was a Defender of the Earth, and a true Defender never laid down his weapons as long as something still threatened world peace. And a brother in arms was still family; Gordon and Jennifer needed his help. He had plenty of time before the Red Moon came again.
Kurtis walked forward, and left the sound of singing behind for later.