Chapter 1: Oneshot
"How do you do it?"
Death turned to the man of a hundred souls. Immortality had ordained them both, but one had started to sag beneath its weight. Fo had heard tales of this skull-faced psychopomp, guiding lost souls on a world far from his, but to actually see her in action, standing vigil over the silent battlefield of some unknown war, was surreal. She literally had blood and guts all over her head.
"Don't you ever get sick of it? Looking at death, day in, day out, all the suffering and pain and broken promises?"
'Yes,' Her voice seemed to radiate from her very being, entirely separate from the grunting deep in her blue-feathered throat. 'Of course. Of course I do.'
He stared, waiting. She stared back, her blue eye unblinking.
"So... got any tips?"
She grunted again, and the word hit him like a mace to the head.
Fo almost laughed on instinct; the idea of it was so absurd to him when she was literally wiping bits of someone's intestine off on a nearby rock.
"Love? L.o.v.e.! You're joking, right? That's... that's not love. You eat people."
'I would argue that a vulture's love is truer than most. We see a body for what it is, and what it can do for us in the moment, not for what we wish it was. Death is the great unifier. A vulture feasts with the same gusto upon the body of a king as she would upon his slave.'
"That's...morbid. Not sure I'd want to hear that after I've kicked it. For good, I mean."
The two of them turned in unison. One of the bodies had stumbled up to them while they were talking, oblivious to the giant bloodied gash that was soaking through his clothes. Curious, that wasn't a uniform? It looked like regular peasant clothes to Fo, but then again, he didn't know this world like Chi did.
"I... I think there's been a mistake. I'm not supposed to be here."
Fo turned to Chi, waiting for the consolations, the reassurances, but she said nothing, just stood there, tilting her head ever so slightly.
"The messenger stryx told us they'd reach the village by dawn. I know I didn't make it. But my sweetheart should've come to meet me."
Fo looked out across the battlefield again. Yes, he could see it now, half the bodies were lying next to pitchforks and plows and other makeshift weapons. But then he saw the blackened bundles that he'd thought were ruined siege weapons were actually foundations and sticks of charcoal. Fences. Fields. Houses.
Chi followed his gaze, and so did the farmer. His face fell, and Fo almost couldn't look at him.
"Oh... oh. I see."
"I'm sorry..." the servanti began, but Chi swept his wing at him. Shut up, she seemed to say without speaking.
The body kicked at the ground and yelled up into the sky.
"So that's it? I'm stuck here, is that it? I failed, and now you get to eat me? You are, aren't you?"
Chi shook her head.
"But you're her. You're the devourer."
"Well, go on then! Do it! Get it over with, damn you!"
Chi raised her wings and began to hobble off down the hill. The farmer was so bewildered that he stopped mid-lament. He walked off after her, and Fo followed, curious to see where this was going.
The gryph had zeroed in on a body amongst the featureless carnage and settled down beside it. Then, as Fo watched, a single tear began to appear in her right eye, and as it grew, it slid down the length of her beak before dropping onto the ground. For a moment, nothing seemed to change. The farmer was still there, flinching at the sight of his own body, but then something seemed to catch his eye on the horizon, and his eyes widened.
He started forward, almost floating, as if in a trance, and as Fo watched, his figure shimmered and faded into nothing. Then he heard a disgusting sloshing sound somewhere behind him, and he didn't have to turn around to know what the 30-foot vulture was doing.
'I love them enough to mourn them when no one else can. Or will, or should. I do weary of it. Then they smile, or say a name, and I remember that no matter their station in life, every soul deserves love. What is mourning if not love for the dead?'
Yes, she did have a point, Fo thought. He wasn't sure exactly what lesson he was supposed to take from this, but it did at least give him conviction on one important thing. His loved ones were absolutely, definitely, without a doubt lucky that he didn't have to eat them so they could move on.