[MAG] Songbirds of Carrion
"I think it's kind of gruesome," Chetyre awkwardly said, shifting to slide his hands into his pockets, watching Linija flop onto the highest stair. The birds still chirped, far overhead, circling in the small clearing. "The idea that power has to be tied to... death like that."
No memetics, because I'm lazy. Sorry.
The trees swayed.
Chetyrekhlistnik, integral quatrefoil structure, dressed to the nines in dark blues, stared up at the sun. The shawl around his shoulders followed the movement of the trees, the wind catching both of them and twirling them back and forth. He could faintly smell some sort of pollen, some flower, carried by the breeze and flung into the untouched woods he prowled.
Silently, he drifted forwards, the grass bending under his feet. He reached forwards, placing a hand on a tall pine as he passed, the worn bark scratchy against his fur. The light, speckled through the tall branches and leaves, left little halos of yellow on his clothes and his muzzle. Despite himself, Chetyre smiled.
He'd dressed down slightly, for a trip like this, a trip into nowhere, completely alone. The staple of his outfit, his favored shawl, was still clinging to his chest. But underneath it was a simple hoodie and sweatpants - comfort over aesthetics. Still, his cap and veil remained on his head, casting his face in a blue shadow.
Several birds, far above, let out song-filled chirps, flitting down. He reached forwards, balling a hand into a fist but bending a finger free. The two songbirds landed on his outstretched finger, small, rounded little animals. They chirped at him, voices a tiny peep.
As Chetyre lifted his other hand, magic travelled from his heart down to his fingers, warping the air around his outstretched palm into a small fruit. He offered the meal to the birds, who accepted with vigor, peeps forgotten as their tiny beaks tore into the peach's soft skin. Despite himself, Chetyre smiled, eyes drooping to half-lidded.
"You like birds, Chet?"
Trance broken, Chetyre jumped, swirling around on a heel. Behind him stood another Mag - Linija, dressed in his usual outfit, hands shoved into his pockets. The other gave him a half-cocked grin, sharp teeth glinting in the low light. Chetyre breathed in, slowly, trying to still the sudden beating in his chest. It was just Linija.
"Uh... yes," he lamely replied, glancing to this hands. The birds seemed unfazed, picking at the fruit still.
Linija trotted up, shoulders leaned back, each step slightly too large. He swung to lean an arm on Chetyre's shoulder, peering down at the birds. Neither spoke for a second, before he piped up again, "Oh, I know this breed."
"You like birds, Linija?"
He poked one of the bird's heads. It looked up and gave a startled peep. "Nah, but I do know these ones. They're carrion birds, aren't they? Evolved that way, actually. Stick around cities and eat garbage and dead stuff. But they sing really pretty songs."
"...How did you know that?"
LInija smiled up at him, "Knew a couple of nations that used it as their symbol. In a few Universes. Not this one, obviously, but y'know."
Chetyre awkwardly nodded. The birds chirped again, the fruit in his hands reduced to a mere juicy pulp. He gave them a fast smile before swinging his hand up, and together the duo took flight. They winged up, high above the Mags, circling and chirping their song.
"People would sometimes play their calls at the funerals of really important politicians or generals," Linija continued, pointing up at them, "and it was considered immoral to wear their feathers. It was like callin' death himself to your door."
Chetyre stared up at them for a second longer before lowering his gaze. "I see."
"Didn't know they were in this Timeline, though," Linija commented, gesturing.
Chetyre set off walking, tensely hugging himself, the breeze suddenly cold.
"If I had know- hey, Chet, where are you going?"
He cursed softly under his breath as Linija jogged up to him, falling into pace beside. He shot the other a terse smile, though. "Walking through the woods. Alone. Why are you here, Linija?"
"What, I can't hang out with a fellow Mag?" he near-grimaced, placing a hand on his chest.
"Okay, yeah," Linija muttered. "It is kinda suspicious. But nothing's wrong or anything so don't have an anxiety attack on me or anything, got it?"
"I... wasn't really planning on it," Chetyre mumbled.
"Great." Linija's hand came down on his shoulder. "Follow me."
"Linija, what?" he asked, worry beginning to rise regardless, but stumbled after the other.
"We're going to talk."
Oh stars. What a thing to interrupt his private walk for. "About... what?"
Linija pulled him towards a large, felled log. He flopped down on the wood, patting the branchless bark next to him. Chetyre awkwardly perched. "About us."
Starsdamnit. This totally was about the whole death thing, wasn't it? He was so going to get chewed out for this. He was so going to get scolded and ranted at and then he'd have to mope in his house until Ellipsa and Kolo stopped by to gently remind him that he fucked up, but it's okay, nobody's upset with him, just come talk to the others, okay, it's-
"Not in a bad way."
Chetyre breathed in, slowly. He blinked. "Huh?"
Linija punched his shoulder lightly. "Come on! I told you not to get an anxiety attack."
"K-kind of hard to," Chetyre managed, weakly.
"Anyways. I'm not here to yell at you or anything. I just wanna talk. Mkay?"
Linija leaned forwards, crossing his arms and leaning them on his thighs. "Chet, what do you think about death?"
He blinked, then frowned slightly, "I don't - that's kind of a loaded question, all things considered...?"
"Pretend I'm not here. Pretend I'm, uhhh, Ellipsa or someone instead. Okay? And then tell me what you think of death."
"That's - easier said than done...."
Linija smiled, "At least try?"
Chetyre stared at the other's expression for a few seconds before sighing softly, lacing his hands together in his lap. Alright. He wasn't convinced by any means of the word, but he'd indulge the other for a while. Sure, they'd been tense for years, but they were still Mags, and that meant they were still friends.
He just... hoped this wasn't going to lead up to him getting berated for stepping on Linija's toes.
"Well," Chetyre began, awkwardly, tilting his head slightly.
Linja gestured 'go on'. Chetyre tried to avoid staring at him as he collected his thoughts. He hadn't exactly been expecting to be thrown into a philosophical discussion about the meaning of death, especially not with Linija.
What could he even really say? Could he really clarify his emotions into words? What was Linija expecting from him, anyways? What kind of vague answer did he expect to such a vague question?
"I just think it's sad," he said, finally.
"...Yeah?" Linija prompted.
"It's just a really sad thing," Chetyre lamely continued, rubbing his arm.
LInija frowned slightly, but quickly replaced it with impassiveness. "Can you clarify? Elaborate?"
"I... don't think so."
"What about it is sad?"
"Um... what isn't? Someone is removed from their entire family, all they know, the life they've spent forever building, sometimes against their will. Sometimes before they even finish whatever their, um... their goals were. Isn't that sad?" Chetyre frowned up at Linija. "To have your entire world stolen from you, with you being unable to do anything to stop it?"
He knew the suggestion was inane. He knew Linija was going to berate him for his line of thinking. He'd lightly punch Chetyre's arm again and remind him of that this sort of reasoning was unbecoming of him. Why didn't he just keep his nose out of graveyards and funerals, huh? Why didn't he just-
"I can see what you mean," Linija said, leaning back and lacing his hands behind his head. "I think that aspect of dying is pretty sad, too."
"But there's a lot more aspects of it. A ton more! And it's not all sad. Mortals have that whole second chance thing going on, y'know?" Linija turned to smile at him, brightly. "Their afterlife's a reset. A second go. They get to live all over again, in that whole world of history and stuff. And when you think about it, isn't death itself kinda beautiful? Kinda powerful - the fact that mortals die at all?"
"Wait," Chetyre weakly cut in. Linija raised an eyebrow. "You're just... talking to me about this."
He rubbed his hands together. "I, uh, never... expected you to talk to me about this sort of thing, that's all. I thought you were upset with me about the entire... you know. Accidentally going into your territory as a death patron. Sort of thing."
Linija licked his lips thoughtfully. "Well, I can see why you'd think that. But I recently realized that like... there's no point in fighting you about this."
"Oh, that's... quite a change of heart?"
He waved the other off, a little too violently. "Whatever! I wanna talk about, like, your perception. And stuff. Like that."
"Uh... okay. Right."
Linija let an easy smile form on his features as he stood. "Yeah, so as I was saying - it's not just negative."
"Of course not," Chetyre quietly replied, standing and following after the other as he paced into the forest.
"And I think you overfocus on the negative aspect of it a little too much," he continued, lifting a hand to shield his eyes from the sunbeams as they exited into a small clearing. "So I wanted to talk to you about the better parts. Y'know?"
Before them lay a ruined staircase, made of crumbling stone, overtaken by ivy and plants. Linija smiled fondly at it, pacing forwards and running his hands along the bottommost stair, which was coated in a layer of grime and shredded grass. Chetyre lingered behind him, watching the other.
"Have you been here before?" he prompted a second later.
LInija glanced over his shoulder at the other. "Nope!"
"Anyways - don't you think it's kinda beautiful? They're so - alone, they're powerless. They can't do anything, really. So they build up these great big structures, these societies. They make up governments and militaries and all that stuff, to give themselves a sense of power, a sense of reason. Power is something inherent to us, to what we are. You can't have a Mag without power." Linija hopped onto the staircase, arms held out for balance as he walked up the banister. "And a lot of the time, they can present that power - this structural power, that they created themselves, through things like politics and war."
"I think it's kind of gruesome," Chetyre awkwardly said, shifting to slide his hands into his pockets, watching Linija flop onto the highest stair. The birds still chirped, far overhead, circling in the small clearing. "The idea that power has to be tied to... death like that."
Linija shrugged, "How else can they manifest it? How else do you prove your point but to indulge in what makes you unique? Nothing else in this world dies, save for mortals. Especially not us - I mean, sure, Kolo says that theoretically we could be killed, but - considering what's happened to Bereave, and what Dijamant's planning for Genesis, I don't think we're going to be staring down our own destruction anytime soon. Frags don't die. Gladar don't die. Lesser gods don't die. Only mortals. It defines them, their inability to live forever. Of course they end up using that, pushing for it, having it be their manifestation of power."
Chetyre inhaled softly, then stepped up the staircase to sit next to Linija. He stared out into the forest, the trees far taller than his head, the pine leaves bristling slightly in the breeze as it twirled around the trunks. The soft rustling of the wind over the grass was comforting.
This was a little more intensive than he'd expected. That was all.
"Mortality, literally, is what separates mortals from us," Linija concluded. "Mortality is their definition of power. They have weaponized their own death; they can kill with impudence. A Fragment does not kill their fellows, nor does the thought cross their mind. But a mortal kills. They wipe someone else's entire existence away, and they do so with relish. Do you know how many wars are fought, daily?"
"I try not to pay attention to that...."
"Yeah, right, right. I dunno, I just think that's... something admirable, in a sense." Linija glanced to his right, away from Chetyre, "they managed to find a sense of power, despite being the weakest things in existence. And it's something that we can never experience, y'know? We could kill a mortal, sure, but they - they've got the fear of death hanging over them all the time. They spend their entire lives trying to make a difference so they can achieve immortality in their afterlife. They're scared of dying. They do so much to stop themselves from dying, and even if we killed, we can't touch that. We can't understand that."
"I think some of us can," Chetyre offered.
Linija glanced over.
He quickly directed his nervous stare to his lap. "Er. I mean, with Sekizgen. He seems scared of death. Maybe not strictly dying, I don't think, but he's scared of death."
"Oh, that. Yeah, I see what you mean. I still don't think it's the same thing, but I can see where you're comin' from with it. But, also, Sek was always a weird kinda outlier. If he couldn't handle the fact that his partner would die, he shouldn't have dated a mortal. Y'know?"
"I think that's a little callous. None of us knew at the time."
Linija huffed, sliding off the staircase. He landed in the grass below with a soft noise. "You don't think the mortal tried to tell him? You don't think we knew after we made Jubilee? That they were gonna die?"
Chetyre stared at the back of the other's head.
"Okay, yeah, I guess I am being a douche about it," he admitted after a second, crouching to pluck a few blue flowers from their stems. "But I digress. The power that mortals wield is death, and that's also because everything we admire about them stems from their fear of death. What does Kvadrat admire about mortals? Their ability to change, their drive to change everything around them? Because they're scared of death. And that's just one example out of many; that fear is what makes them powerful."
"But it's still fear," Chetyre said, voice still quiet as he slid off the stairs. The birds followed. "They shouldn't have to live lives governed by fear, by terror. That's wrong."
"What's wrong about it?"
"Fear is... it's an awful emotion."
"They turn it into better emotions, though. Into pride and ambition and passion. Isn't that good?" Linija countered.
Chetyre glanced down at the flowers in his hand. "But that doesn't matter if it's taken away from them, like you said... if they die, from sickness or m-murder, from something like that. That's not fair. They didn't get to turn that fear into anything."
"There's plenty of mortals to go around," he offered, placing a flower into Chetyre's hand. "Think of it like an animal. If an animal has a lot of babies, some of them will die. But the others will live, and they will eat and make babies and all that good shit, and then the animal's blood lives on. Sometimes people have to be sacrificed for the rest of the group to survive. That's how mortals function."
Chetyre sighed, tucking the flower into his hair, behind his ear. "How does that make death powerful? Does an animal become powerful, then?"
"Oh, totally. Animals are powerful, too. Not in the way a mortal is, but they're still strong. Mortals think, feel, and then they do. An animal... they feel, yeah, but they don't really think. You can't talk to an animal about the meaning of life and mortality. But they're still powerful."
"What about a plant?" Chetyre said, pointing at the flower in his hair. "They're alive. This one will be dead soon. But they don't get an afterlife, and neither, really, do animals. Isn't that sad? That no matter how much you care for something, they likely won't be waiting for you on the other side? Isn't it sad to bar some things from the gates of the afterlife?"
"That's different," Linija clarified, setting off through the forest again. "Plants and animals can make it to the other side. But - the difference is they do not have the same ambition and passion as mortals. They do not strive to be remembered; they don't really have a sense of individuality, y'know? Animals exist to procreate and make more animals. A mortal exists to make a mark on the world so they will live on forever after they die. It's how it works."
"It's disgusting that we allowed this death system to be real, though," Chetyre muttered, a hint of bitterness in his voice. "That Genesis made the decision to allow so much of the world to be... meaningless."
"They're not meaningless just 'cause they're mortal," Linija replied, glancing over his shoulder again.
Chetyre frowned. "I didn't mean that."
"I know, I know. I'm just sayin', like, death doesn't give a mortal meaning. It gives a mortal power. But an animal has a different sort of power. Most mortals can't really use magic, and they're usually physically pretty squishy. An animal has physical power, they've got strength. Obviously not compared to us, but c'mon, you can't shake a bone at a dog and not be aware of all its teeth and know that it could eat a mortal alive."
"But in the context of death," Chetyre reiterated.
"Sure. But everyone's got weakpoints, right?" Linija said, with a grin, as he stopped in front of a structure. "Mortals aren't strong, animals aren't eternal, we can't die."
It was an old bridge, spanning over the sizeable creek that ran through it. The sun could only illuminate a few feet into it, glinting off the water and the pavement. The bricks were long worn with plants and ivy, curled into the mortar and clinging to each chipped block. Despite the light shining in from the far side, it still felt eternally moldy and dismal.
"Haha, y'know, for a long time I wanted to try it out."
"...Try what out?"
Linija reached to hold up the soggy mosses that blocked the entrance, slimy water coating his hand. He gestured for Chetyre to enter the darkened tunnel. "You know. Dying."
He did not enter, instead putting a hand on Linija's shoulder as panic flushed his face, "What?!"
"Hey, don't gimme that look!" he shot right back, "not like that."
"Linija that's awful! If I had known I wouldn't have-"
"No, dumbass, I'm not suicidal or something like that." Linija scoffed, a hand on his hip, the other still holding the moss. "Can you get into the fucking tunnel and I'll talk?"
Chetyre paused, searching his friend's features for any sign of a crack in his farce. Despite a pained minute of anxiety, Linija's jaw remained set in indignance. He faltered, still, the panic only beginning to slowly boil away, fingers loosening in the other's shirt.
Don't die. Don't die. Don't die. Don't die.
Linija gave an audible huff. "Chet. I swear by Genesis that I'm fine."
"That's kind of a hard sentence to open with," he weakly replied.
"Listen," he prompted, ducking under the bridge. Chetyre hesitated, but followed at a close pace. "It's not like how a mortal wants to die, nothing like that. I just wanted to know what it was like."
"That's still - that's still awful! I don't want you to die-"
"-Augh, for fuck's sake, Chetyre, this isn't about you!" Linija shot right back, slamming a fist into the curved wall. "I'm TRYING to bond with you and talk with you about, like, feelings and stuff! You're making this pretty fucking difficult, all things considered!"
Chetyre drew his arms in close to himself, "I'm not trying to! You're the one bringing up the fact that you want to die? Like that isn't concerning at all?"
"I just wanted to know what dying felt like, out of curiosity! I just told you about how I think it's cool that mortals' lives entirely revolve around a concept that I can never experience! Am I not supposed to be blindly curious about what that concept feels like?"
"Well you clearly don't understand what it's like for me!" Chetyre shrieked.
Linija glared at him, the glow of his horn lighting up the anger on his features. "What."
"Maybe you think it's cool and admirable, but I think it's scary. I think it's terrifying that they can lose everything they ever worked for, in a whole myriad of horrific ways, many of which are painful. I see the repercussions of it, I see the families distraught, I see friends and partners driven to their own deaths by the loss of someone!" Chet cried, stomping a foot, "And I'm sorry but you telling me that - that you wanna die, that you want to do that to us, is terrifying! I don't want to lose any one of you to that!"
"We can't even die, it's not even worth worrying over," Linija muttered, sitting on the pavement. Chetyre stared down at him. "I was just trying to share-"
"-I know!" Chet squeaked. "I know you were just trying to - to express yourself but you don't understand! So much suffering and pain is caused by death! And... and I just... I don't want to lose any of you to it. Any of us Mags, I mean."
"If you're so scared, why do you even bother paying attention to it at all?"
Chetyre rubbed at his eyes, sighing slightly before sitting next to Linija. Was it even safe to share his feelings with the other? Could he even trust himself to be honest about them? They had really only begun talking today... but, then again, Linija had shared some clearly-personal thoughts with him. Maybe they could salvage this. Maybe he could convince Linija why it was a bad idea.
"It... it started with like, I was fascinated by how much of their lives revolved around it," he admitted, staring at the water as it oozed through the tunnel, "so I looked into it. The stuff like their, their rituals, funeral rites, stuff like that. All the stuff around death. Because you're right, it's... it's so much of their lives. Running from it and working around it. So of course I was curious.
"And then I... well I found out about what death actually was. What it felt like. And I realized that they shouldn't have to deal with that. They shouldn't have to suffer death. I asked Kolo and Pya about it, they said no, I couldn't abolish the concept. I never really figured out why I couldn't."
Linija was silent for a few minutes, before speaking, "Well, you know them. It kinda goes against their entire hands-off philosophy to fundamentally change how mortals work. We'd kinda throw the world into chaos, yeah?"
"My plan was always to mind-alter everyone into not remembering death existed, and bringing back everyone at once," Chetyre muttered, picking up a rock and skipping it into the stream. It splashed. "I get now that the plan's kinda... absurd and unlikely to work. But I was just, like, traumatized, okay?"
"Yeah, yeah I get it," Linija mumbled.
Neither spoke. The noise of the water filled the tunnel - a cadence of dripping of different tempos, with the occasional splash as Chetyre skipped another small stone into the creek. Bundles of twigs and lichen flowed downstream, into some river, some pond, some lake, somewhere neither knew nor could fathom. For some reason, that unknowing was comforting to Chetyre.
The sound of animals around them still filled his ears, despite there being none in the tunnel - outside, he could hear birds chirping, grass crunching, the occasional call of a mammal. Outside, life still flowed, bounding through the trees of this hidden forest, flourishing and decaying all at once.
"I like places like this," Linija said. He patted the tunnel's pavement. "These quiet spots. This used to be a road, you know. Some sort of path. Mortals built a bridge and forgot about it. Is the bridge dead?"
"...I don't know. Was it ever alive?"
"Not dead in a biological sense," Linija clarified. "Dead in a metaphysical sense. In a conceptual sense. Mortals die forever when they are forgotten. Is this forgotten bridge dead? When was the last time anyone walked over it? Even now, y'know, we're underneath it. We're not walking on it. It's like desecrating a corpse, in a way. Using it for unintended purposes, when it has no will or way to stop us."
"How would we be stopped if we went underneath it while it was in use?" Chet asked, drawing his knees to his chest and resting his chin on them, staring at Linija with wide eyes.
He tapped the roof. "People. Society. We'd get found underneath the bridge and probably get shamed into leaving, y'know? That's not the purpose of a bridge. You travel over a bridge. People who go under bridges are wrong, they're stereotyped. Homeless, dirty. Criminals, drug addicts."
"Those are a lot of mortal concepts that you know. I never... took you for someone interested in them," Chetyre said.
Linija shrugged, leaning back. "I pretended to be a mortal a few times. Disguised myself and everything, jumped into mortal life. Lived out a few lifespans. I tried not to fiddle with it too much; I wanted it genuine. This all happened after I figured out war and death. I guess it was my way of, like, exploring wanting to die. I wanted to experience every aspect of a mortal life, of mortality. And sometimes I lived homeless. And it was strange, because it wasn't really right, either.
"Because, obviously, I don't get hungry. I don't need clothing to stay warm. Not having money didn't bother me. It's such a foreign concept, so even though I slept under bridges and went to canteens and stuff, it wasn't the same. Everyone else around me was suffering, was trying so hard to claw their way out of a pit, and I had willingly sort of like - hadn't even fallen in, really. I was performatively posing as one of them.
"But they never noticed? They liked me. They thought I was optimistic, generous. I gave them my food because I didn't need it, though. Does that make me generous? I dunno. I always thought of generosity as being like - you have to give up something that you might suffer a little bit to give up for. Like, if I was hungry and gave them some of my food. That'd be generous. It just felt really fake, like this dishonest performance. And it was, but - I dunno. It got too much and in my last attempt at pretending to be mortal I actually did fake my own death."
Linija fell silent, gaze still turned towards the ceiling.
"Oh?" Chetyre prompted, after a moment.
"I jumped off a bridge. The bridge that me and a couple others slept under. I didn't really realize that, like, it'd upset them, I guess. The empathy didn't quite work then. I was used to, er, wars. You know. Where it's expected people will die and you have to kinda put aside your emotions. But these people, who like - in hindsight, probably thought of me as like, the nicest guy ever - watched me try to kill myself. And as I plummeted I remember thinking 'they're going to hate me for this'.
"And then I stopped falling. Someone had caught me, with magic. They set me down gently and the people I lived with were crying, freaking out. Someone had called the police, an ambulance was there. And I remember just, uh... feeling overwhelmed. I didn't mean to do that. So I just teleported out and never came back. Which totally traumatized them more, I'm sure." he paused. "Uh... I don't remember where I was going with this. Just, um... that I kinda get what you mean. About death being traumatic sometimes."
Chetyre picked up another smooth stone. "I... yeah."
Once more, silence washed over the duo. Yet, still, the river flowed, the grass outside bent to the steps of animals, and the wind swirled in the air. There were noises beyond that - the calls of beasts, the rustling of leaves, but they were faint.
Here, in this tunnel, it was only them. Just two gods, sharing words, sharing experiences, sharing thoughts. Linija had opened up to him. This was painfully personal. But why? Why had he shared such an experience with Chetyre? This entire conversation, beginning from the forest, still felt surreal. He'd never expected to talk to Linija - like this, like friends.
But it was nice, actually. It was really nice.
"I kinda did the same," Chet said.
Linija lifted his head.
"When I was younger, before I realized... probably younger than you were during your mortal stuff." Chetyre wiped off his mouth. "There was a little kid. It was in a forest, actually. Kinda like this one, but on a mountain. It had a bunch of cliffs and rocky outcroppings, but it was very beautiful, so mortals visited it often. A mother took her two kids with her, up the trail. When they reached an encampment, she took a break from the climb and was getting some snacks ready, when one of the kids wandered off."
"Ah... I see where this is going," Linija said, quietly, voice somber.
Chetyre nodded. "The child... yeah. He... yeah. A cliff. The mom realized he was gone only like a minute after he'd wandered off, but it was long enough. And when she got to the cliff, to the blood and stuff, I was there too, at the bottom. Staring at her kid. Because it wasn't really, um, connecting in my mind. Like I had already attended funerals and whatnot but I'd never seen anyone actually die before. And the mother saw the kid and she just started screaming, like the most anguished scream I'd ever heard.
"And I panicked, okay? I didn't know what to do. As far as I was concerned, dying was like... like a rebirth of sorts. People light candles and photos and stuff during Remembrance Day. And, well, people say you live forever in the afterlife and stuff, so I-"
"-You killed her?" Linija cut in.
Chetyre sniffled, wiping at his eyes with a sleeve. "Yeah. I did. It only took a second. And then the second kid came tumbling after their mom and them, too. And I remember waiting and eventually police showed up and stuff and I was just - I don't know. Fuck. I try not to think about, I-I guess-"
Linija's hand rested on his back, between his shoulder blades, and rubbed comfortingly. "Hey, it's okay. That's pretty starsdamn intense, y'know?"
"Haha... yeah... some gods we are," Chetyre said, amid the tears in his eyes. He slumped his chin back onto his knees. "We fuck up way too often."
"I dunno. Zehneck never seems to fuck up," Linija said, absently. "He always knows what to say or when to stop. It's like magic or something. He's like, one of the most godly of us I think. I really admire him for it."
"I don't know him that well, unfortunately."
Linija cocked a grin. "Y'know, I'm here because of him."
Chetyre lifted his head. "...Oh?"
"He told me I should talk to you about stuff. That you'd get it. And also he was tired of hearing me, uh, bitch about you." Linija rubbed his neck. "I told him that I totally wasn't gonna, but he kinda pestered me until I was like, fine, whatever. And then I just waited 'til you were alone and I popped up to talk. And now here we are...?"
"You talked to him about me? What about?"
"I guess I kinda thought of you as like. A rival I guess? It felt like you were copping my style a bit. But I think I was kinda wrong, because we're like... we're completely different, um, expressions of an idea. Like, that's more than enough, I think, to say that you're unique in your whole... thing about death. It's pretty distinct from mine."
Chetyre shifted to wrap an arm around Linija's shoulders. "Yeah... I think so too. I'm - I'm glad you're not upset with me anymore."
Linija just half-smiled, staring into the creek. A clump of lichen had attached itself to the far bank, and the water was struggling to wrench it free, flowing lazily down its path. He reached forwards, hand lighting with magic briefly to dislodge it, pulling it from the cracked concrete and gently placing it within the creek once more. The glow of his hand bounced off the roof and reflected into the water.
Chetyre closed his eyes, tucking his head onto the other's shoulder. Maybe it was too affectionate, but he'd always been a stickler for affection. And, well, Linija wasn't pulling away.
He could still hear the grass outside. Maybe some sort of elk was nearing, their hooves softly pressing down the grass and leaves that had coated the dirt, seeking a final meal before the sun set below the horizon and they had to bound back to the mottled depths of the trees.
A bright light cut into the tunnel, and Chetyre grumbled, holding up a hand to shield his eyes. Had the sun finally passed through the trees, finally tilted enough to peek into the darkness they resided in? As Linija tensed next to him, Chetyre lowered his hand, cracking open his eyes.
A teen stared back at him, a flashlight clutched in their shaking hand.
Chetyre's eyes widened and he dropped his arm, tension clinging to him. Linija had frozen, half-leaned forwards, staring at the mortal with an equally-shocked expression. No one moved.
"I-" they begun.
Chetyre opened his mouth, but a crackle of magic next to him made his heart drop. He watched as a split-second of arced magical lighting blazed from Linija's outstretched hand and directly into the mortal's chest.
With a scream, they fell backwards, stumbling before crumpling into a small ball on the ground, twitching. The flashlight clattered to the ground and promptly rolled into the creek.
Chetyre stared at the teen's unmoving body for a long second before he wailed.
"Calm DOWN, fuck, stars, fuck," Linija hissed, scrambling to his feet and to the mortal's side. "Where did they come from?!"
"You just killed them!" Chetyre shrieked.
Linija glanced up, hands hovering over their chest, "I had to! What if they heard us?"
"Heard us talking about WHAT? WHAT justifies you KILLING THEM!?"
"What if they heard us talking about being Mags? Talking about mortals and shit? The last thing we needed was some mortal ratting us out to some lesser gods or something-"
Chetyre gestured wildly, "MIND ALTER! You could've wiped their memory!"
Linija blinked owlishly before sheepishly looking down at the mortal. "Oh. Fuck. You're right. I, uh, I really panicked there."
"No, watch, I can fix this-"
Chetyre could barely see past the tears welled in his eyes as Linija extended a hand, lit with magic. The teal melted into the teen's chest, soft and glowing, and after a second they gasped awake, jolting forwards. A split second later, the sleeping spell took over and they slumped once more, but this time their chest rose and fell with breathing.
His hand glided up to their head, pressing two lit fingers into their temple. After a second, it was done, and Linija stood, staring down at the mortal, breathing a little heavily.
Linija slumped next to Cheytre again, scrubbing at his face in a mixture of frustration and startlement. He glanced at the other, exhausted in an emotional sense. "Hey...."
Chetyre loudly sniffled, tears still dripping down his cheeks.
"It's okay. They're not dead, okay? Look, see, they're breathing...." he shifted to wipe at Chetyre's tears, wrapping an arm around the other's shoulders comfortingly.
"I don't understand," Chetyre managed.
Linija blinked, then cocked his head. "What? You know what an alive person looks li-"
"-No! Not that!" he barked, hands balled into fists before the fight oozed out of him and he merely collapsed against the tunnel's wall. "After everything you said. You brought them back to... to life? You didn't let them stay dead?"
Linija let out a half-sigh, tucking his chin on the other's shoulder. "Yeah."
"Because I knew it upset you, alright? Stars, I'm not, like, an unrepentant asshole. That's Prav's job." he wiped his forehead. "So, there. They're alive, now."
Chetyre stared at the mortal, at their chest slowly raising as oxygen filled their lungs. He touched his own chest, immobile. He only breathed when he wanted to - as an expression of emotion, as some form of communication. He didn't even need air to produce speech. It was just another difference, between he and the teen on the ground.
"We can't leave them here, though," Linija said, after a second. "Don't wanna leave them out at night with all the wild animals and stuff. When I wiped their memory of us, I checked where they lived."
Chetyre nodded, slowly.
"We should go... drop them off at their home."
He sniffled, again, wiping at his eyes under his glasses. He still couldn't quite shake the stab of fear that had shot through his chest, even though nothing rational remained about it. Linija had fixed the problem, he'd brought the mortal back. He needed to calm down.
Linija coughed slightly. "I can do it alone if you don't feel up to-"
"-No," Chetyre said, standing. "No, I'll help."
A massive smile spread over Linija's face as he, too, stood. "Good! Knew you weren't just gonna cry about it."
"...Thanks," he muttered.
He watched Linija head over to the teen, reaching underneath them to scoop an arm up. They slumped onto Linija, their arm strung over his shoulders. He beamed at Chetyre, gesturing to their other arm.
"Go on, you said you'd help."
"You... definitely don't need my help to carry a mortal... do you?"
Linija smiled, "Nope, but it's the principle of the matter. Get your ass over here and prop up their left side."
Chetyre hesitated, but swallowed his uncertainty and picked his way carefully over. He gingerly picked up the teen's arm and slung it over his own shoulders. At least their body was warm to the touch. He looked to Linija, blindly, for guidance.
"I'll teleport us there, into the backyard. We'll stride in, set them on the couch, and then leave. Alright? Sound good? Speak now or forever hold your silence."
"No, that sounds - that sounds fine."
LInija nodded, and then snapped his fingers.
In a flash, the forest was gone. The comforting silence and loneliness melted away to suburbia - to a white picket fence, to a manicured lawn, to a bright house with painted panelling and a kiddie pool full of water. Streets down stood a proud hill, covered in a smattering of trees - where they'd just been. Chetyre caught himself staring after it wistfully before Linija took a step forwards and ushered them into the house.
It was distinctly different from his own house, or the houses of the other Mags. It was well lived-in, well existed-in. It smelled like food, like animals, like mortals. Underneath it all was the faintest smell of rot, of people who had died on the floorboards, of a side effect of structures that had stood for long enough to house generations. It was disconcerting, in a way.
The television was on and filled the room with indistinct chatter, but no one was in the downstairs. Together, they laid the poor teen on the couch. Linija picked up a throw pillow nearby and tucked it under their arm. They leaned back and inspected their work.
Chetyre breathed in. "Wasn't there a flashlight?"
"It fell into the creek," Linija replied, but magicked one up in his hands. He tucked it into the teen's hand.
"They're not going to remember how they got home."
"That's okay. Mortals are bad at remembering things most of the time."
Chetyre reached out to put a hand on Linija's shoulder.
"We should go before they wake up," he said, and snapped his fingers again.
Chetyrekhlistnik breathed in the smell of the forest. They were back, staring down the tunnel they'd spent their time in.
The other glanced to him, questioningly.
"For bringing them back. Again."
He smiled lazily. "Oh, yeah, no prob-"
"It means a lot to me." Chetyre rubbed at his eyes. "More than I can really, um... articulate. I appreciate you thinking about me."
"I mean, we're Mags, y'know? We're friends."
"True, but... I never really felt like you cared about my feelings like that."
Linija laced his hands behind his head once more. "Like I said earlier, I ain't Prav. I'm not gonna deliberately traumatize you and stuff. Especially after you told me about the... mom and kid and that stuff. I kinda feel bad for pushing my whole narrative on you so hard."
"It's not all bad," Chetyre admitted. "I mean, really. I always... admired it to some extent. You're right in that it consumes a lot of their lives. They have these... festivals, these rituals, and they all just. Fascinate me, I guess. It was so interesting to see how much of their lives they dedicated to this, this concept that I could never really touch. Until I did touch it and it was... scary."
Linija slid an arm around Chetyre's waist. "Yeah. I know what you mean."
"I mean, really," he continued, after a second, "we're pathetic. We just killed someone, even b-briefly, and all we can think about is our feelings."
"I don't think that's strictly true," Linija muttered. "I think that's stripping away a lot of the nuance of this. They didn't stay dead. Also, we're gods. It's kinda an entirely different situation, y'know?"
Chetyre sniffled, wiping his tears once more. "I suppose that's... true."
"And, uh. I'd like to get to know you better."
Linija rubbed his neck. "I've kinda been antagonistic to you for a while... and I feel bad about it. Y'know. Again, not Prav. So... let's uh, try to be friends. And that involves knowing you better. Yeah? If you're cool with it, obviously."
"...Yeah. Okay." Chetyre mustered a smile. "I think that'd be fine."
Linija glanced up as chirps suddenly filled the air. The two songbirds alighted on their shoulders, once more, peeping out their tune. Chetyre smiled at them, reaching to affectionately rub one's cheeks.
"Oh, hey, these guys again," Linija commented, eyes glued to the other's hand caressing. "They really like you. Are they your pets or something?"
"I visit here and feed them often enough," he replied, evenly. "They recognize me."
LInija let out a short bark of a laugh, scooping up the one that had landed on him to hold in his palm. "Did ya name em?"
"Er... no. I don't name most of my animals."
"Why not? It gives them an identity. Individuality."
Chetyre hummed thoughtfully, staring into the eyes of his bird.
"I'll name them, then," Linija said, definitively. " 'Peaches' is the one you got and I'm holding 'Pastry'."
"How inspired," Chetyre lightly teased, despite himself and the fear that still clung, softly, to him.
The two birds peeped.
"I know, right? Anyways we're definitely coming back to this forest. Together. Alright?"
"To feed the birds."
Chetyre ducked his head slightly to hide the tiny smile. Peaches peeped. "Okay. Yeah, that works. Do you know what this species eats-?"
"Duh, I told you earlier I know 'em," Linija said, an easy smile on his face. "They'll eat just about anything... including carrion. They're carrion songbirds."
"Yeah! I think it's really poetic because they-"
"-Cause they sing songs and they thrive off death, yeah," Linija finished, although Chetyre blinked, "just like us, huh?"
"Uh, yeah. Don't you?"
Chetyre smiled, letting the grin overtake his face. "Oh, I don't. But I wouldn't mind listening to you...?"
"Wait, fuck, no, you're supposed to sing, too," Linija muttered, pressing his face into his arms. "My metaphor's garbage now. Zehneck is WAY better at similes and stuff than I am."
"I still want to hear your singing," Chetyre offered, voice full of hope.
Linija tilted his head up, smiling. "Alright, alright. Next time. Okay?"
"Okay." a warmth had settled in his chest. "I'll hold you to that!"