A rabbit raced through the underbrush, a fox following close on its tail. The fox caught the rabbit, holding it firmly in its teeth. A snapped branch startled the crimson animal. The scent it carried was inhuman, smelling like ashes and roses. It dropped the rabbit and fled swiftly through the woods.
The approaching figure stopped before stepping on the half alive rodent. It reached down with a bony pale hand and gently picked the rabbit from the pooling blood. The rabbit gave weak shrieks. Its neck was torn almost entirely out. It was a miracle it survived.
“How’s life treating you?” The figure asked the rabbit. It breathed a laugh and carefully broke the rabbit’s neck. A hood shielded his face, the long green sleeves darkening in the rodent’s blood. Its skeletal wings folded against its back, tucking into the small of its back and out of sight.
“Rest peacefully…,” It laid the rodent on a tree stump. He marked its stomach fur with three long lines, dotting on each corner, “You’ll regret ever waking up again.”
Light broke the canopy of Giwald Forest. Cascading curtains of dawn beams illuminated sparse patches of forest floor. The rodent laid entirely ensconced in a beam of light. The figure stood silent, still as death.
It was a short vigil, but it felt correct to the hooded being. It pulled its hood from its head and let a heavy sigh. It was a skeletal man with deep cracks in his cheeks, connecting with his teeth and jaw. Deep green wisps burned in his eye sockets with the illusion of warmth. He ran his hand over his skull.
“Lamenting again?” A honeyed tone muttered beside it.
“You could say that.” He answered quietly.
“Didn’t have to frighten it, Mako.” They pulled their hood down as well, their skull shaped with the curled horns of a ram, shards missing from the horns.
“It was a coward. A stupid one. Never leave your meal behind, especially when it survives.” Mako warned. He folded his arms and shifted his weight, cocking a proverbial eyebrow to his colleague.
“Why are you bothering me?”
“Not even going to greet an esteemed friend?” The ram-headed one jested. Mako rolled his eyelights and stomped away from the stump in the middle of the forest. The ram followed him, taking long silent strides.
The reapers cast long shadows against the forest greens. Mako’s wings hidden in his shadow, the ram’s outstretched and clawing the dirt.
“Why are you bothering me, Syris?” He asked again, pushing branches aside. They met the treeline shortly, leaving the dense forest behind them. Gray mountainside towered over them. A cabin rested against the stone, made of a pale forest wood.
“I’m here to make sure you attend the gathering tonight. Kiahu is adamant you show up this time.” Syris warned him, spreading the slightly feathered bones from her back. Mako stared at the feathers, grimacing slightly. The mark of servitude, a stigma he actively avoided. He shook his head.
“Fine. For Kiahu, not for you.” He clarified. Syris snickered into her hand, tilting her head with a devilish glare. Without saying another word Syris lifted into the air and shot off into the distance. Mako watched her go, following the feathers plucked by the wind float to the forest floor. He grimaced slightly, avoiding the sight of the blackened feather.
Mako tested the air with an outstretched palm. Spring blossoms bloomed beautifully beneath the windows to his cabin, lilies and tulips bringing vibrant pink splashes to the overall dull browns and grays. Mako didn’t place them there himself, but he wouldn’t dare toss them. They had a familiarity to them Mako couldn’t put his finger on.
Being dead for so long doesn’t help your memory.
Mako blinked, returning to the situation at hand and taking his focus from the flowers. He pushed open the door to his cabin and set his scythe against the wall. The dull colors followed him indoors, the pinks and greens resting outside the window as if a world away.
His home held a single bed and shelves scattered throughout the house filled to each end with books. On top of the highest shelf was a navy blue mask with large horns and bright pearly teeth.
Mako picked up and studied it, tracing the sharpened points of its teeth with the end of his phalange. He debated wearing it to the meeting, wondering if t would keep the other reapers from talking to him. He looked at himself in the mirror beside the bed. Slowly, he placed the mask over his face and stared into the pitch depths of his skull.
He hated his eyelights. He hated his face. The mask helped him stop caring about it. He smiled behind the teeth, nodding to his reflection.
“Let’s go then.” He told himself. Mako took his scythe and left the drab building. He spread his wings out wide, white and pristine, void of feathers. He lifted off, his murky green cloak flowing around his legs, tethered to his waist by belts. He soared over the forest, towards the mountains past the kingdom littered with sky-high buildings known as Miano.
Gunshots sounded beneath him. He faltered in the air a bit at the sound, looking back to Giwald. Worry broke his pace, but he left the thought behind and flew to the entrance to the Underhaven.
The mountains surrounded a crater broken through the planet’s crust to the deepest caverns below. Caverns far too deep for mortals to survive. Mako tucked his wings in and closed his eyes, allowing himself to drop altitude. He fell into the crater, through miles of stone and earth. Through iron and limestone and volcanic rock. Wind billowed through his cloak, his limbs held tightly to his body by the sheer force of it.
He snapped his eyes open as the ground fell into view, throwing his skeletal wings out to catch him with their mystic veils. Few revived corpses stood at the hall, bowing to greet him as his feet touched the floor.
“Hello.” Mako greeted them simply. The zombies groaned in reply, holding open doors for him. They were covered in doorman uniforms, lapels colored with minty silvers and vests dyed in icy blue. Their dressy pants fitted to their legs in an almost flattering way and tucked into their boots. He snapped his fingers and pointed at them as a notion of thanks.
He was bombarded with a cacophonous wail mid note in a symphony formed of the undead. Mako winced at the noise, stumbling stiffly to a corner void of people and watching the joyful, bustling crowd without care to join.
There were few familiar faces in the crowd. Skulls of every creature chatted and laughed with each other, enjoying themselves. Mako frowned, staring at his feet and touching his mask lightly.
Something rested on his shoulder. He recoiled and looked at the source. A vulture skull mask doused in colorful feathers greeted him with a cackle. The figure stood just a bit shorter than him, wearing an evening gown over tight patches of dark skin. He sighed and brushed the hand off him.
“Evening, Kiahu,” Mako muttered, removing his mask respectfully. Kiahu removed her mask as well. Her eyes were sunken with dark circles under them, her smile almost forced but always present.
“Evening Mako. It’s a pleasure finally seeing you here.” She said, her smooth caramel voice urging him to be more relaxed around her, despite her position over him. Mako nodded, glancing at the refreshment table and starting towards it.
“Yes, of course. A pleasure to be here, my lady.” He replied, taking two glasses and filling them with a bluish violet liquid smelling of toxins. Kiahu followed him, taking a glass he offered her and downing the vile drink. He gulped what he could, but the smell led him to gag. He set the cup down and forced himself to keep it down.
“Amazing what memories can do, hm?” Kiahu snickered. Mako grimaced, shaking his head and wiping his mouth.
“Very amazing, my lady.” He agreed.
“You act as if you had taste buds anymore. Or a gag reflex for that matter.” Kiahu laughed, politely covering her outburst with her hand. Mako straightened and took a breath.
“Yes. I understand that I don’t possess those physical traits anymore,” He responded, clenching a fist hidden in a sleeve, gritting his teeth, “My lady.”
“Well, enjoy the party!” Kiahu sang, disappearing into the crowd. Mako watched her go, a low growl escaping him. A luminescent green glow surrounded his neck, forming a throat made of Mako’s energy. He took another sip of the toxins, this time more successful. He replaced the mask over his face and crushed the cup, tossing the remains aside. He returned to his place beside the wall, observing the crowd again.
The reapers trotted around him, most all short enough that he easily peered over the group to study individuals as he pleased. There were small cliques turned towards their inner circles, pairs of reapers in relationships with other undead, insatiable skeletal snackers sticking to the refreshment table.
Mako was one of few stuck to the sidelines with no interest in the party. Instead, he focused on the gunshots heard in his forest. He couldn’t ignore that something, someone, some soul could be wandering his woods with no lead to a peaceful rest, doomed to become like him.
The thought disgusted him. Monsters. The world was full of them -- Seductive succubi, towering giants, vicious harpies, vampires, were-beasts, yokai -- he hated the names of these fiends.
He looked at his hands. The phalanges bent without muscle, turned without joints. He groaned and turned a sneer at the sight.
He felt disgusting.
“Better late than never…” He muttered to himself.
Mako started for the hall, pushing through the Mezzo and Crowning reapers, ignoring all the ill words and worried calls. Syris grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the hall, pushing him against the wall.
“Where do you think you’re going?” She growled, her Mezzo stood behind her, brandishing his scythe. His wings covered in the ashen stigma of servitude. Mako glared between both reapers, refraining from lashing out at them.
“I’ll be back, alright? Let go of me,” He ducked under her arm and backed from her, “I’m just gonna check the time. Must be morning sometime, huh?” He chuckled, opening his wings and letting the hall doors slam in front of him after passing through. The zombies tipped their hats to him in a farewell manner they were taught.
Mako removed his mask and brought it to his chest, bowing his head to them. He replaced it on his face and shot into the air without another word. The moonlight hung at the end of the tunnel. He knew it wasn’t daylighted yet, he was barely there for half an hour. He chuckled to himself, luckily Syris is an idiot.
Night bathed the world in a blue silk, the air cool. He soared over the city lights, covering the glare beneath him with a lazily outstretched hand. He landed on the branches of the trees in Giwald. Stepping down from each one carefully, quietly. He listened for the gunshots from the hour before, sniffing the air for smoke and powder. He couldn’t smell a thing.
“It… must have been killed…” the thought dawned on him dismally. Mako dropped from the tree, landing in the soft grasses.
No blood trail appeared on his return home, the forest silent. He wondered about the party, whether being there would help his chances becoming an Archreaper. He tried to dismiss the possibility of being there to stop any premature deaths, but that hurt more than missing the promotion.
Mako opened the door to his cabin, glancing back over the forest with a hopeful lingering before retreating inside with his despondency. He missed it, he let that creature die, he let it suffer and beg for help while he flaunted around in some party.
He tossed his mask onto his bed and buried his face in his hands, sitting beside the piece of wood and resin. As much as he tried, he couldn’t separate himself from the untimely ends all around him. His wings laid heavily on the floor, motionless. He slid out of his seat and laid on the floor, staring at the ceiling.
He raised his hand to the air, studying his palm. As he bent his fingers, green wisps crawled from within his sleeves, covering the hand with muscles and ligaments and tissue. Clear green flesh covered his hand.
On any visible level, it appeared humanoid. He flipped his hand and studied the flesh he put on it.
Palm, back, palm, back, palm.
Mako felt a melting comfort cover him at the sight. It was almost human again. He dropped his hand beside his face, the green wisps fleeing away. A faint smile graced his lips.
Teeth, He corrected himself. The smile faded. Mako blinked, rather his eye lights flickered, his focus on the ceiling could burn a hole through it. He closed his eyes, his phalanges pressing into spots in the floorboards.
It was odd, he knew it was odd, but he did this in his despair.
Before he could drift off to sleep he heard a faint clawing at his door. He shot up at the sound, looking around his cabin before he realized where the source was. Mako rubbed his skull and opened the door.
“I’m not going back to-” He cut himself off. At the doorstep laid a weak, bloody body in a mangle of netting and muddy clumps of vegetation. He was frozen in shock at the sight.
“H… Help…” The body rasped, their eyes turning up to his face, one a bright brilliant blue, the other bruised and swollen. Mako looked around the forest.
The fox was nowhere in sight. He picked up the body, slamming the door and racing it to the tub in the back end of the cabin.
The bedroom had the only door to the bathroom. He threw it open and ran water, tearing cloth off the creature and cleaning its countless wounds.
Blood and mud swirled down the drain, sticks and leaves stuck to the porcelain despite the water rushing over them. He brushed a damp rag over the pallid skin.
There were patches of discoloration on the creature’s torso and arms. He prodded them lightly. They didn’t seem like bruises, nor was it dirt.
This wasn’t a creature he had seen before. It was lanky, patches of blue skin scattered over sickly pale cream. Its face was battered to almost no recognition.
Mako looked it over, gathering bandages from his cabinet. He wrapped the leaking lacerations and bullet holes. He carried it to his bed and laid it carefully in the thick blankets. It was passed out, thankfully still breathing.
“Please wake up after this…” Mako quietly hoped, turning out his lights and closing his bedroom door.
Mako tread lightly, looking at his hands.
They were bloodied, dripping with a mixture of water and bodily fluid. Drops of pink, red, and clear landed on the floor boards with light thumps. A ghosting smile, one of triumph, brightened his eyelights in a rare way.
He sighed, thankful, relieved. The night filtered shimmering moonlight through the windows into the darkened home. He leaned on the wall beside the window. He watched the beautiful luna above, his arms folded.
“What a beautiful night…”