The smoke already swirled in eddies around the church steeple. The old and wizened priest sinks to his knees, tears running down his cheeks, asking for forgiveness. He looks out the window to the oddly red sky, praying for his soul, for all their souls. Below the ledge, a female figure sags against the massive wooden stake amid the flame. Those who look on, shriek with anger, in fear, and in revulsion. This is what happens to the one who brings hope.
The lone figure's chest heaves in coughs. Too often does the damned one struggle in a futile attempt to escape the consuming flames, but this one did not. The heavy bound blonde hair shakes free in the ill wind, the strands blowing across the wavering blaze towards the church towering above her. Blue eyes that had once beheld immortals, filled with tears. The old man watching her through the flames, with the adornments of a bishop, taunts her.
"So, Joan, where is Saint Catherine? Do you taste the Hell that shall consume you? Do you hear those voices? What do they say to you at this hour?"
The tears flowed silver, salted water shushing to nothing within the flames. Joan smiled gently at the bishop in err, her heart bursting with joy. The happiness extinguished little the flames that would soon engulf her. They tell me not to be afraid. Through the flames of Hell and into the valley of shadow I shall pass. Her feet began to blister and burn, the scent of roasting human flesh filling the bishop's head. With a death's grin etched on his face, he spit at the witch, dutifully praying for her soul, that perhaps God would give her comfort in such a time. Or she would be received in the arms of the Devil, tempting and eternal. Either way, the world will be rid of her poisoned presence.
To Joan, the pain lifted her heart, the heat washed and cleansed her, made her whole. To her, amidst the quickening of the flesh and the searing agony, a joyous chorus of angels sang, physically burning away all the impurities of human form. The flesh that suffered from the torture bubbled away, the old scar above her right breast, still an angry red, turned brilliant white. Now the flames made her mortal and forever sinful flesh melt, to heat and recast her heart into another kind of gold. The heavenly angels still sang to her, their notes soaring high and searing as did her nerve endings. It was too bright to see the bishop through the flames, if Joan had chosen to see. What she saw made the tears fall faster and faster upon the white-hot tongues of fire. They tell me to be still, to no longer struggle. I have struggled enough. God takes me in his arms, shushing my tears as a mother would a child. I do not seek or want another fate, oh angels of heaven.
The cries and screams of the crowd suddenly stilled, the scent of charred human bone coating them all in veils of sin. Above them, above the bishop, above Joan, the clouds roiled and spun. Chilling rain sped towards them all, all drops missing the flames, the rain cooling Joan's face, giving her relief in the short while she still had on Earth. Her eyes of deep blue, like the night sky, looked heavenward, the rain streaking down her face as Mary's tears.
The wall of fire drove higher than before, causing the bishop to step back. Joan the heretic will go back to where she belongs. He gazed directly into the depths of the flame. What he saw blinded him. The heart, still pure and unblemished, lay within the heretic's breastbone, perched upon her ribs, beautifully red. A flame from deep within cleansed it as gold, the silvery strands of the rain forming to a dove, wreathed in flame, Joan's own heart. It took wing away from the blackened bones, away from the leaping flames, away from the blinded bishop, away from the sinned crowd, to the church steeple of the sanctuary, to the heavens.