Saphira held onto her new blade as tight as she could. She didn’t want to lose her means of defense after so much effort spent trying to get it. Mako soared over his forest, watching it pass underneath with hesitant, inching wingbeats.
His cabin was no longer a viable base, but he didn’t know where else to go. That had been his haven for decades. It felt wrong to abandon it, so he descended, setting Saphira down and marching towards home.
Saphira staggered at the rough landing, chasing him down and grabbing his hood. He ignored the extra weight until it was too much for him to handle. His knees buckled, making a final tug away from her grasp, wincing and groaning. Saphira halted, kneeling by him and placing a hand on his shoulder, pulling back as he cried out in pain.
“Mako, are you alright?” She asked. He nodded, forcing himself to make the last stretch to his home. Saphira took his good arm and threw it over her shoulder. She helped him into the cabin and laid him into the couch.
Tossing aside the remaining pieces of armor trapping him in his cloak, freeing him from the heavy fabric. Her armor was tossed aside and added to his pile. His joint connecting arm to shoulder was severely cracked, the green and white streams slipping out of his makeshift veins, dancing off into the air and vanishing. Saphira bit her lip, her fingers wavering over the break.
“Here. Let me, uh. Let me look for something.” She slipped into the back room and looked for anything that would help. If she knew how reapers worked, it’d be easier to figure out what he needed. Saphira made a short laugh, throwing his blankets around and lifting his mattress. Nothing that appeared to be a remedy was hidden anywhere.
“Man, this is difficult.” She said in a huff, pausing as the door creaked in the living room. Mako sounded unhappy and an unknown voice started to chide him. Squinting and creeping to the door, she listened in but was unable to make out any words. She pushed through to find a second skeletal figure.
Mako was speaking with Syris, her brittle horns cracked and broken. Syris’s wings were covered in pitch-black feathers that dropped haphazardly every time she moved. Mako tensed and balled his good fist. Syris ruffled as they argued, her feathers littering the floor.
“If he’s telling the truth, you know Mother wi-!”
“Let her!” Mako dismissed, not facing her. Syris was taken aback. She ruffled her feathers and thrashed her arms, stamping her foot, spouting nonsense in her fury.
“Listen to me!” She finally shouted. Mako summoned his scythe, throwing the engraved blade at her. She deflected it with her own, the scythe skidding weakly on the floor.
“You’re attacking me? Really?” She asked.
“I wouldn’t have to if you’d leave me alone.” Mako shot back. Syris sliced open her gateway, tossing a wrapped item over to Mako and scoffing.
“This is the last time I help you.” She declared, withdrawing into the spiritual plane in a flurry of feathers. Mako caught the item, pocketing it without looking. He cradled his arm and grit his teeth. Saphira stepped out and gripped the drawstrings at the hoodie’s neck.
“Who was that?” She asked.
“A coworker.” He answered simply. Saphira avoided his gaze, the anger sparking off him making her hair stand on end. Mako frowned at her reaction, taking a breath and attempting to relax. He grinned, though his fangs weren’t as inviting as he thought they were.
“I didn’t think there were more…”
“It surprises some people,” he stated, “I’m sorry, but it looks like we need to leave.” Saphira blinked. He struggled out of his seat and took a bag, tossing some books and things into it. Saphira took his wrist and stopped him. He didn’t raise his eyes from packing, frozen by the grip but unsure what to do about it.
“What did she give you?” Saphira asked.
“It’s not important. Syris just…” Mako trailed off, her pleading look cutting into him. He looked away, clearing his throat and wobbling a moment, “she’s just some annoyance that thinks she’s helping.”
“Seems you have a type then, hm?” Saphira murmured, folding her arms. Mako groaned and pinched between his eyes.
“She just told me I was being exiled. You wouldn’t consider that much help, would you?” He argued as he cradled his limp arm, cloak hanging open off his shoulders. Saphira sucked on her teeth, shaking her head and shifting her weight.
“Look, whether you like it or not, someone cares about you. She used to be that person, and now that person is me. What did she give you?” Saphira ordered.
“I think it’s just some parting gift…” He muttered, admitting he had no idea what her last piece of help was. Saphira held a hand out, taking the messily wrapped gift from him. She peeled the rags off the smoky glass. A thick, honey-like liquid resting inside the fist-sized jar. Her test shakes made the liquid jiggle, but it didn’t split from itself.
“The hell is this?” She asked.
“I wish I knew.” Mako shrugged. Saphira placed the jar back in Mako’s cloak and put him back on the couch, rapping his skull roughly.
“Ow, hey!” Mako complained.
“Sit still. I gotta figure out something for your arm. I dunno how reapers work, but I know how bones work.” She said, taking a set of discarded clothes and tying them together into a makeshift sling. Mako struggled against her wishes, but she was able to force the sling onto his arm, immobilizing it as best she could.
“We won’t be able to stay here for too long…” Mako muttered.
“I’m sure.” She said as she adjusted the cloak around the sling. Mako ceased his struggle against her. Her intentions were well-meaning, but his discomfort was instinctive and difficult to shake off.
They stood in silence, unsure of where to take their next steps. Their eyes stuck to the ground, hands busy with work already done, reluctant to move away but hoping for some excuse to drag them away.
He removed her hands finally and straightened, fixing his hood around his neck with one arm. Saphira giggled as he fought with his hood until he gave up and left it mussed.
Mako sighed and adjusted his mask, “Jeez, come on.” He led her away, his long legs taking equally long strides and easily outpacing her. She jogged to catch up, sticking close behind him.
“They would never allow a reaper to go against their ways and remain.” Syris’s words echoed in his mind. He hadn’t felt close to the reapers before, kept as far away from them as he could even, but now he had no one he could truly relate to.
Mako traveled silently with her, good hand in his pocket and bad arm cradled. He turned his face to the clouds. It hurt him to be honest with himself but he was glad to have the extra presence with him. He thought of Saphira’s grasp on her muscle memories, her lack of true ones to recall, how his purpose had stolen so much from her. Grasping at the memories of the forest from his time alive as they passed gales and glens. The faces were too far gone for him to recall, even his own was difficult to grasp.
Unbeknownst to him, Mako’s legs carried him through the woods to the battlefield between one home and the next. Saphira gazed over the sea of tombstones and hung her shoulders. She folded her hands over her heart with palpable pity. Mako lingered his fingers on the worn grave he frequented, his downcast eyes reading the inscription burned into his mind.
“Mako Bianchi, our little flame that wouldn’t die… This is your grave?” Saphira asked.
“It has my name, doesn’t it?” He returned dryly.
“I’m sorry for your loss.” Saphira offered, her lilt was confused.
“Oh please.” Mako hissed. Saphira gave him a sour look but quieted. The thought of seeing her own grave, it left an empty pit in her chest. The pit worsened at the thought that it almost happened. She assumed she would be distraught as well.
Mako raised his head after his moment of mourning. He put his hand back into his pocket and turned away, trudging without a word. Saphira stayed in her place, offering him his space and wandering along at a distance. She traced her hands over the top of each stone she passed.
“Don’t touch those.” He warned, his voice close though he was far ahead. Saphira flinched and withdrew.
“I didn’t mean any disrespect.” She stated.
“I know,” Mako hesitated, turning and waiting for her, “please, don’t touch.” She nodded in agreement and met him, taking his arm and keeping him at her pace. Their silence returned, the tension nonexistent. There was a sense of fluttering in Saphira’s stomach. She couldn’t decipher whether it was hunger or anxiety, possibly fear knowing she was no closer to finding her family’s parcel.
Ruins stretched out before them. Dilapidated stone buildings and crumbling towers, fragments of barns and obliterated glass. Saphira could tell immediately these ruins were apart of Mako’s war. Mako’s shoulders tightened, a nostalgic sigh escaping him.
“I guess this is as good a place as any…” Mako grumbled.
“Huh… what is this place?” Saphira asked, looking for a building intact enough to use.
“This is Nocci?” Saphira’s incredulous squawk made Mako wince, his wings caging around his face. Mako scowled, her habit of repeating him starting to grate on his nerves. He simply nodded and shook his wings out. Saphira spun in shock as he pinched between his eyes once more.
“Calm down, alright? It was ages ago,” Mako clenched his fist, “and we’re going to avenge it soon.”
“Is that even wise? I mean, we’re seriously outnumbered and outgunned.” Saphira said, holding her head to keep it from spinning without her.
“If it were just humans, it’d be more simple. Not exactly easier, but simple.”
“You saw what Luxur did to me.” Mako gestured to his arm as he spoke.
“Yeah,” Saphira stroked her chin and hummed, “I still have to fix that…” Mako leaned against the wall and sighed, rolling his head against the stone. She hooked her fingers onto the makeshift sling and stood on her toes to study his arm. Mako raised a brow at her, amused at her height. Or rather, her lack of height.
“Sit or something, I can’t get a good look at it.” She complained. Mako rolled his eyes, faintly smiling. He slid against the stone and sat in the gravel. Saphira kneeled and took the sling off, tossing the cloak from his shoulder so nothing was in her way. The cracks were still leaking the soul’s blood. Obvious, but something she noted.
“Is there anything we could do about this?” she poked the cracks making Mako shout and tense, “I’m not sure a bandage will stop ghost blood.”
“Try Syris’s gift,” Mako stated between pained pants. Saphira took it from his cloak, squinting at him and popping the cork. She waited for the salve to crawl out of the glass and plop into her hand, coating his cracks in a thick layer. He sharply inhaled, gritting his teeth. Saphira made an annoyed grunt and forced the cork back into the spout, tossing the jar into his lap.
“So when are you going to stop lying to me?”
“You said you didn’t know what that stuff was,” Saphira reminded him, folding her arms and sitting in front of him, “maybe it’s omitting the truth, whatever. When will you just be truthful to me?” Mako opened his mouth to reply, but nothing came out. He looked aside, searching the ground for his answer. He feigned ignorance, but he knew exactly why he acted this way. Admitting it was just too much for him.
“I wasn’t sure of it. It was just an idea to try it.” He said.
“Mhm.” She shook her head and gave him a stern snort. Mako squinted. He wasn’t usually put off by such looks. Saphira wasn’t usually standoffish, though. For some reason, the spark from her agitated glare burrowed into his bones. His jaw was tight, his sharp and menacing teeth bore at her in his frustration.
“You can growl at me all you want, you’re the one who wanted my help.” Saphira huffed.
“I know.” Mako pulled his hood over his head, resting his arm on his knee. She jabbed him in his chest.
“Then why aren’t you trusting me?” She asked, accusatory and upset. Mako shook his head, caging his wings between them. Saphira was losing her patience, scoffing, and getting up from her seat. She left him to wallow in his sorrow, tired of his angry nonsense. A nearly intact stone building became her new shelter.
One without the reaper.