A Happy Ending

She wouldn't have noticed him, had it not been for the tiny wisp.

The Place Between was a field of forever, with no horizons, strangely beautiful and eerily empty. The colorless grass and the asphodel flowers were dotted with faint lights—the dissolving lives of the plants and animals, as they evaporated into the Nothing. It was almost like walking in a never-ending field of twinkling stars.

She looked around for brighter lights—bright beacons. The human souls that need escorting. Sometimes they end up lost here, and she takes them into her care, to leave this place and cross them over safely before the darkness claimed them forever.

However, the little tiny lights would simply fade away.

See, as policy, they usually did not take the animals. The plants, the fungi, the bacteria and the insects, the other kinds of living. Their light was dim, almost non-existent, indistinct and incorporeal. With those, the non-sapient, they never bothered with. There wasn't anything to take.

But this one was different. She knew it.

Honestly, she wouldn't have bothered, but something nagged at the back of her head. Something that made her pause. Her intuition just wouldn't let the issue go, and she conceded that if she did not take a second look, it would have bothered her for a long time.

She looked at it again, an ugly Frankensteinian thing, warped and twisted and torn apart and stitched together. Pitiable. She tentatively poked it, and saw vividly its violent demise: death that rained from the sky in blasts of force and fire, on a sun-parched southern land where 23 million others (those that mattered, that is) either perished or fled. She also saw the thing that it was, a strange, twisted being of Hell, chitinous and insectoid and hideous. A hellfly prince.

And the wisp. It was so faint, just barely the after-image of a memory, well hidden under the twisted soul of the creature, but she could feel it. She knew it was there. She took the soul in her hands and gently felt the wisp between her fingers, rolling it between her forefinger and thumb, and closed her eyes.

This one was human.

That was the obvious part, and the part that immediately transformed her idle curiosity into prompt attention. She dug deeper, using the memory as a guide, Who were you? What happened to you? What is your name? Half-formed questions raced in her mind, her heart beginning to beat faster.

But excitement turned into despair as she dug deeper and the memories she saw were garbled and glitched, like a poorly programmed NES game. Answers came up jumbled and incoherent, mixed up with the insect mind that the soul was prior to its expiration.

In despair and frustration, she almost tossed the soul to the ground, almost wanted to see it splatter and dissipate back into the Aether, but she resisted the temptation. The Watchmaker. Perhaps, just perhaps, he could help. It was a naïve, idealistic hope—the thing was so twisted it might not be able to be saved, and even then, it could be so damaged that not trying would have been the better, more kindly thing to do.

She had to try.

-

Cradling the soul, protecting it from the harsh winds that threatened to disintegrate it, she carried it over where the Watchmaker worked. It took only a moment, only a step, but distance and time did not matter here. She was there in less than a jiffy, and at the same time took several hundred years to arrive at her destination.

Like a small, shy child, she approached the hunched over form of the Watchmaker, and gently spoke.

“I found this.”

He turned around and looked down and her, frowning at the light cradled in her hands. “What is this? You know better. We do not deal with those.”

“This one is different.” She raised the soul in her hands higher so the Watchmaker could get a closer look. “Look at it. This one was human. I'm asking if you can do anything for it. Save it. Please.”

The Watchmaker hesitated, and flicked down his magnifying loupe over his eyes and examined the thing. His eyes, calculating, scrutinizing the grotesque thing. After several tense minutes, without any comment, he turned back to his workbench, carefully wiping tools with a cloth and placing them to their appropriate spots.

She fidgeted out of nervousness, careful to make sure she did not drop the soul, but eventually her curiosity outstripped her patience. “Can you save it?”

He set a tool down, paused, and then said, “You are correct. This one was once human. It has been badly mangled—its mind had been forcibly reconstructed into this. I also see old psychic damage, most likely prior to its transformation.”

The Watchmaker carefully slid on a pair of gloves. “It would be very, very difficult. Most certainly one of the most difficult tasks I ever had to do…but I believe I can restore this soul to its original condition.”

A held breath was released. Relief. “Very well….Thank you.”

He held out his hands to her. “Give me the soul now. Go back and attend to your duties. I will have you summoned once it is done.”

She nodded, and very carefully handed it over to him. She watched as the Watchmaker took the moment to analyze the soul, and fingered the tiny little wisp. She felt oddly attached to this poor soul, and wanted to stick around and observe, but she couldn't stay when there was work to do, and her presence would have been distracting. With reluctance and nervousness, she stepped back, and disappeared.

-

The Watchmaker went to work. It was a difficult, long process. Many of the memories were intact, if scrambled, but that was the easy part. The personality was in shambles, and took the longest to put back together. It was the most delicate part: The memories were context for the aspects of the personality, but the personality itself was what made the soul special and unique. No corners could be cut here. Everything had to be put back in its right place. It wouldn't do well to leave remnants of the Hellfly Prince in the personality. The damage and scarring from that conflict could potentially reverse the work the Watchmaker did, not to mention that leaving something so key as the soul's identity and person only partially finished would have been unacceptably sloppy of him. Hours, or perhaps days or months went by. The Watchmaker himself could not be certain how much time had passed (if it had mattered) while he worked on the personality.

After the personality was the humanity, a process that would have broken the hearts of the less experienced. It was almost completely destroyed, and the Watchmaker knew he had to completely rebuild it from what the soul already had. And again, there was no cutting corners. He had to thoroughly reconstruct it, lest he leave some fragment of the cobbled, perverted creature of the Hellfly left over. He could have cheated, simply replaced the missing humanity, but it wouldn't have been the same. When one is dealing with something so delicate, so complex, as the human soul, the little things, those little details, mattered in the end.

The whole process was almost like fixing a badly broken watch, with each and every gear and component broken, and having to fix every single one of the piece without replacing anything or the use of any glue or solder. If it had been anyone else, any other artisan would have thrown the towel in frustration, or have done a poor and shoddy job. But the Watchmaker was no amateur. He was a master, the best in the craft, and after hours, days, years of solid work, he picked up the complete soul and released it, his heart swelling with pride at what could be considered his magnum opus, had he not have the humility to respect the individuality of the soul.

-

For the first time in years, Vance Harding opened his eyes. Then he immediately closed them, and crumpled to his knees.

What had happened? He closed his eyes, mind racing. His leg was torn up. Badly. He remembered that. Then the audience with the Queen, and then…

He remembered everything. What happened before, even after. Vance scrunched his face and gritted his teeth at the memories. His fists were clenched tightly and he bent over, clutching himself tightly. It wasn't an easy to thing to process and accept; dying, his transformation as the Hellfly Prince, dying again, and becoming whole.

It took a long while before he could pull himself together enough to stand. Still, his hands shook.

The Watchmaker could now see what Vance truly was; a man of average height, brown hair and a serious expression. He could obviously tell that he was traumatized, but the important part was that he was intact, that there was no permanent damage. The passage of time would heal the wounds and stitch him back together, though some wounds could possibly take centuries to fully heal. Despite it all, the Watchmaker was proud, and he had all rights to be. In the end, someone did get a happy ending.

-

She was there. She saw the Watchmaker release the soul from his care. She could see the brilliance that he was, is now. She smiled, and walked over and held out her hand.

“What is your name?”

Vance was surprised when he immediately knew how to answer the question, that he didn't have to search his memories for the answer. He just knew, like it was supposed to be.

He took her hand. “Vance Harding.”

She grinned even bigger. “Vance…Harding. It's a good name.”

“Thanks.”

She gestured forth, towards What Happens After, “We're going to go now, Vance. Don't worry, it'll be alright.”

“Where? Where are we going?”

“On.”

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