Tables knocked off their feet, dressers emptied and overturned, deep scratches and bullet holes scattered the walls. Mako stood in the doorway, mouth agape staring wide-eyed at the state of his sanctuary. The blankets and papers were already a mess before this, but the room - the cabin - was nearly unsalvageable. He dug through the piles looking for the creature.
“Those hunt- damn it all!” He traced the scratches, “the stupid thing got into my house! I’ll make sure they suffer the endless depths!” Mako slammed his fist against the wall and overturned everything he could find. Nothing was under the bed, the stacks, piles, or the remaining furniture.
The shreds of spirit splattered on his things were bright and nearly solid. Mako picked up the ethereal shards and studied them, squinting as he tightened his jaw.
Mako sparked in fury, embers of green fire crackling in his bones. He extinguished his eye lights, becoming blind to the waking world, and extended his Reach throughout the forest. His borders at the treelines stopped him from seeing any further, but everything within was clear as day.
Beasts bridging the small gap between humans and animals appeared in the dark plane fencing the living and the dead.
Mako made note that he needed to bring them to their rest, but of them, he found nothing that died recently. The intensity of their lights was not fresh, none were even the same color as the scraps.
The spirits in the woods were whole, the main issue. As long as Mako had been reaping, he had never encountered a splintered soul before. He had no idea what creature could even do such a thing.
Something shimmered underfoot, catching Mako’s eye. He drew in his Reach and picked up the shards beneath him, finding a trail that led out the door. Straightening and pocketing the pieces, Mako raised a brow at it and followed the trail. The shards came from the beaten path, traversing his house and crawling off to safety away from anything remotely human.
The trail circled and lingered through miles of dense brush. Mako dragged his scythe behind him and groaned at the number of shards littered everywhere. Finally, he came upon a large mass matching the color and intensity. He sighed in relief and reignited, the material world returning to his vision.
A woman lay in a tattered heap. Bullet holes oozed through the shreds of what clothing remained, her arm broken and twisted at a horrible angle, shallow breaths muffled by her hand.
Mako frowned. Her resistance was unlike anything he’d seen before. Her soul was flaking off her being but it refused to leave her vessel. He had to admire her will to carry on despite her wounds. He kneeled and rolled her onto her back, stamping his scythe into the earth to keep balance.
“This is going to be… Different…” Mako massaged his chin, wondering how to take her away while she was still clinging so tightly. He studied her face a moment, pausing and brushing her hair aside. A glimmer of familiarity crossed his face. Without prompting, he scooped her up into his arms and brought her to safety. Such a will was deserving of praise, deserving of a second chance.
Mako was a mere messenger to the mother of death, but nothing guaranteed she had the strength to keep holding on and he wasn’t going to let this window close on her. He Withdrew to the darkened world. It took him a minute to adjust to the ephemeral light. He hadn’t stepped into this plane for decades so adjusting took much longer than it should.
“Ah, look who it is. I must be dreaming,” A tone chuckled beside Mako. He glanced at the source, rolling his eyes when suspicions were confirmed, “If it isn’t the man of the millennia. How’s death treating you?”
“Ugh, you of all undead…” He grumbled.
“Just as bubbly as ever.” Halal laughed, his sharp fiery eyes piercing Mako’s bones. The specter’s solid black form melded with the night, his eyes were the only thing visible.
“I’m not in the mood.”
“Are you ever?”
“No, so don’t pester me.”
“Nice try, but I don’t get this chance often. What brings you around, hm?” Halal folded his arms behind his back and grinned. Mako scoffed and strode along the gate edge, looking down on the common fallen.
“I’m here to speak with Maut. Alone.” He growled. Halal clapped his hands together and beamed, pearl white teeth breaking the darkness of his face.
“She’ll be glad you’ve finally come by.” He informed the hunched reaper.
“So I’ve been told.” Mako huffed.
The kingdom of Maut shimmered with souls of all different colors. The lights of their previous lives enjoying eternity in the mother’s sanctuary. Mako sailed over them, scowling at the lot and landing on the gate to her personal hollow.
Bedrock spires clawed at the stars. Unholy creatures peered through the darkness at the approaching souls. Red and green lights dappling the stone as the undead passed the soulless. Mako glowered at Halal’s back, occasionally casting venomous glares at the imps carefully watching them. Halal chuckled and twisted on one foot, walking backward up a flight of carpeted stairs. Mako resisted the urge to shove him. It would have been fruitless, but satisfying.
“Why are you looking at me?” He growled.
“I have to remember this moment. After all, who knows how many decades it will be before we get you to come back around?” Halal said, shrugging his shoulders. Mako shook his head and rolled his eyes.
“Hopefully, I never have to be back.” He grumbled. Halal spun back around and trotted ahead to the landing, waiting for him at the next flight. Mako kept his head down. He folded and unfolded his wings trying to unknot the tension in his ribcage. His eye lights flickered, his legs taking him where his body never wanted to be again.
“Mother! Mako has finally arrived!’ Halal flourished, waving his hand over Mako as he approached and straightened to his full height. The grand lounge of the deathly queen filled the room with brightly colored pillows and clothes, framed with colossal ribs that pierced the ceiling and scattered debris. Mako tapped his scythe on the ground and approached the loft where the mother rested. The mountain shuffled as Maut raised her head and clapped her hands together.
“Mako! It’s been too long!” She cheered, sitting up and pushing her vulture skull mask aside, revealing the sunken holes of her ancient eyes. Maut’s spindly fingers dusted off the pillows and offered the reaper a seat. Mako sighed, fluttering up to take her offer without argument.
“Yes… much too long…” He agreed half-heartedly. Maut waved a hand to the creatures waiting at the stairs. They lumbered away, screeching and barking at each other down the halls. Mako watched them go, drumming his fingers on his leg and keeping his gaze down.
“I’m glad you finally accepted my invitations,” She started, clearing a table between them, “Tea with my children makes my heart soar.” The creatures rushed into the hollow and slammed trays of shining silver on the table. The teapot steamed iridescent vapor, porcelain cups set top-down on tiny saucers, a much larger cup made for the queen’s hands rested on its own platter. Maut filled the cups with dark caramel liquid. Mako nodded thanks, bones clicking on porcelain as he took his cup and settled on the mattress sized cushions. The green flames in his skull reflected on the tea surface, his wings looming over his shoulders. Maut hummed sweetly, swaying in joy and singing an ancient tune long forgotten.
“Now, I hear you came here on business. What did you need, hm?” She asked, folding her hands in her lap. Mako bunched his shoulders, staring down at the tea and tugging at his cloak collar with his wing claw. He couldn’t come out and say he was reviving someone, he wouldn’t leave the other plane ever again.
Maut wrinkled her brow, clearing her throat and tapping the cushion beneath him, “Is everything alright?”
“Y-yes, I just… I came here to ask about a rumor I heard among the spirits,” he started, picking his words with extreme precaution, “I was just hoping to speak with you alone.”
“Of course!” Maut waved a dismissive hand. Halal grimaced and led the beasts outside, casting a poisonous glance to Mako as he shut the doors with a dull thud. Mako cleared his throat and nodded.
“Thank you. It seems a splintered spirit has been roaming the forest. I have found the shards, but the source is nowhere to be found.” Maut frowned, looking aside and drumming her fingers on the teacup. The silence grew thick and heavy. Mako sipped his tea and kept his eyes down, the quiet clinking the only break to the void.
“Hm, I haven’t heard anything of a Fracture.” She muttered finally, leaning back in her pillows.
“A Fracture?” Mako raised his head.
“Yes. Souls that leave pieces of themselves behind in others. They’re very few in number, some thought they were wiped out for good.” Maut explained, taking her mask off her head and brushing over the feathers, “Well, wiped out isn’t the correct term. Fixed.”
“Why would they be fixed?” Mako asked, placing his cup on the table and straightening his back. Maut shook her head and chuckled, pressing her fingers lightly to her lips.
“They were parasites. As any parasite, they were dealt with. If a Fracture is among your forest, you should deal with it as soon as you can so we can take it and fix its shattered form.” She warned, her tone dropping to the floor, shaking Mako’s core. He shuddered, nodding, and hopping to his feet.
“I’ll take care of it, Mother Maut.” He agreed with a hesitant shake, rising and taking his scythe. Maut smiled and waved to him, offering a sweet giggle to make up for the loss of face. Mako snapped his wings open and dropped from the lounge, landing softly and leaving her hollow. Halal smirked at Mako as he left, bowing his head to Maut and folding his arms behind his back. Maut sipped and offered the abandoned seat to the specter. Halal took it without hesitation, his pale grin splitting his lips like a crescent moon on a starless night.
“I have some news about him, Mother.” Halal chuckled, taking the porcelain Mako left behind and inhaling the sharp vapor. Maut paused, lowering her gaze and raising a brow. She pulled her mask over her eyes, leaning down to the specter and allowing him to take her ear.