Riassunto: Shiro has to sacrifice himself to the earth of the volano. Not quite that litterally
Note: Scritta per la M5 della 7° settimana del COWT9 per "Fuoco"
Shiro climbs the side of the mountain with purpose. He refuses to look behind him, at the village that becomes smaller and smaller the more steps he takes. He refuses to think about the people he just left behind, about their sad faces and badly controlled tears.
This, he thinks, it's the only choice they have. Shiro is the only sane choice for what he's about to do, and unfortunately everyone knew it as well.
The truth is that, regardless of what happens with the volcano, Shiro is already dying. The disease that's destroying his body, eating him from the inside, won't allow him to live much longer.
The healers have estimated that Shiro has a couple of years to live if he's lucky. Shiro has never been afraid of dying, and he would be okay with the time he has left, if he could spend it like now. He's strong for his age, one of the best warriors in the village and he has an able body and great stamina.
The disease will deprive him of this as well: in a year at the max, Shiro's muscles will start to freeze. After long, he'll lose the feeling in his legs and then in his arms. One day, Shiro will wake up and he will be alive, sure, but trapped inside a stilled body.
Shiro much prefers the concept of death.
So, when people talked about the necessity of a sacrifice to the lord of the volcano, Shiro was really the only reasonable choice. His days are already limited, and sacrificing himself for the continued survival of his people and his home feels like a better end than what awaits him at the end of this sickness.
The tremors in the earth had started days ago, and with every shake, the volcano had roared and erupted. Soon, the lava would reach the village and destroy the houses of so many of Shiro's friends.
They had tried to contain the lava, but everything had been useless. In search of answers they had gone to the oracle, and prayed upon her to reveal them the road to stop this senseless destruction.
"A sacrifice must be given to the Heart of the volcano," the oracle had said, looking at them, "freely given and freely offered. Someone must go and offer his own life to the fire."
And so, Shiro had volunteered.
He hadn't been the only one, of course, because if there's one thing his village doesn't lack is stupid, selfless idiots, but he had been the one with the most compelling case.
In the end they had let him go, with tears in their eyes and apologies in their mouths.
And so Shiro climbs. Uncaring of the temperature, that keeps rising with every step, or his labored breaths.
He can't stop, it doesn't matter how much he wants to. Every moment lost, might mean another house burned or destroyed. Shiro doesn't want anyone's livelihood on his shoulders. So he pushes forward the pain, the heat and the fatigue.
Soon, none of these will matter. Soon, Shiro's life will be forfeited for a greater reason.
It takes him two hour to reach the top of the volcano, and the heat is so strong that he's sweating uncontrollably. Breathing becomes harder with every breath and the idea of taking another step seems like torture.
Shiro turns and looks down at the lava slowly edging towards the village. It's not there yet, and that gives him hope that he made it in time.
Bolstered by the discovery, he pushes forward and reaches the edge of the volcano. Looking down he can see the bubbling lava. Everything around him is fire and smoke and Shiro closes his eyes and tries to focus on the village, on the little farm at the edge of town left to him by his grandfather.
Shiro knows that Lance will take good care of it, much more than Shiro ever could for sure.
He has the insane need to apologize to someone, maybe himself. He doesn't regret his decision, doesn't want to trade his place with anyone else, but he had promised himself that he would have fought his disease until the very end and this... this feels like giving up.
Still, there's nothing to do. He won't let his village suffer for his own pride.
"Oh, Volcano’s Heart," he mutters, looking down at the lave, "accept this offering, freely given and freely offered. Accept this sign of our devotion and gratitude and please, grace our village from your wrath."
Shiro hopes that he recited the ritual properly and he inspires deeply, getting ready to take a step forward towards his end, when someone says from Shiro's side: "Who are you?"
Shiro almost jumps and falls to his death there and there, but someone catches his arm and studies him.
He turns, shocked, and sees someone who looks vaguely humanoid grasping his arm. The man, if that's what the other is, has purple skin and deep red eyes. He appears stronger than a normal human should be, holding Shiro up without a sweat.
"Who are you?" Shiro can't help but repeat, watching into those eyes with strange apprehension.
The other seems annoyed by the reply, but he takes a step back, taking Shiro with him and putting some distance between them and the mouth of the volcano. "I asked it first," he says watching him, "and you're the one at my volcano."
Shiro takes a minute to process this before asking, surprised: "Your volcano?"
The creature raises an eyebrow and seems to be studying Shiro more intently. "Yes. You came here to offer yourself up to the Heart of the volcano and you didn't even know what you were offering yourself up to?"
Shiro blinks, a little surprised, and then looks at the Vulcano’s heart (apparently) and tries to gauge if the other is serious or not. There aren't that many possibilities that he isn't, who else would be hanging out at the mouth of an active volcano?
Only someone who is ready to sacrifice himself and the creature that will accept the sacrifice. It makes perfect sense.
"I've come here following the words of out village oracle," he explains, a little surprised that the other hasn't let him go, "the lava is rapidly approaching our village and we don't know how to stop it."
The creature looks at him and then, with what seems to be an uninterested movement, turns to look at the village. From up here it's nothing more than a splash of color. As much as Shiro tries, he can't see the square, where the kids gather to play every day. He can't find the mayor's house, with his eccentricities and strange tales that Coran is ready and happy to share with anyone that asks.
From up here, the village appears just the same as any other, but Shiro knows it to be special. For him and for anyone who has ever lived in it.
"And so you're here to sacrifice your life so they can keep theirs?" the heart wonders, as if he's trying to wrap his head around it. "That seems foolish. Why would you do that?"
Shiro doesn't understand why the questions, but he figures it might be a test. The oracle had said freely given and freely offered, and maybe the heart is trying to make sure this is really Shiro's decision.
"Because my life matters less than the ones of an entire village. Even if I wasn't going to die in a couple of years, I would do this all the same. They deserve to live. There are kids that deserve to grow old. I'm... I will be happy if the loss of my life accomplishes that."
The heart stares him down for a second and then he scowls and drags Shiro even further away from the volcano. "There's... there's no need for that. I'll stop the flood. It's not supposed to be this active anyway. I don't know why..." he stops and huffs, looking right into Shiro's eyes. "And you're not sick. You're cursed, there's a difference. It looks like druid magic, but I don't know what type."
Cursed? Druid? Shiro remembers a fight with some druids, down east, a couple of years ago. Had they really cursed him then?
The heart continues before Shiro can ask anything. "So just... go back to the village, find a way to remove the curse. And don't do stupid things like throw yourself into active volcano, okay?"
Shiro blinks and tries to make sense of everything. "So you don't want me to sacrifice myself?"
"No," the other replies, forcefully.
"So why the oracle told me to?" he asks him, but he sees the God grow frustrated.
"I don't know, do I? I never asked anyone to. First the stupid volcano acting up because he thinks I need friends and now this..." the God says before stopping dead, realizing what he just said.
Shiro looks at him for a second and notices the dark blotches of purple skin on the God's cheeks. That's... interesting.
"You could come down with me to the village," he proposes, with a smile, "as compensation for helping with the lava."
"I don't really need friends, you know?" the heart mumbles and Shiro just smiles more.
"It was a offer freely given," he says, quoting the ritual and he sees the other pick up on it as well. "I just think you should see the village you're helping saving... What can I call you?"
"Keith," the other says, while he stands up, "fine. I'll see your village. I guess it can't hurt."
Shiro nods and smiles, pleased with himself. It might not be the sacrifice the oracle talked about. But he's sure it's fine.