Actions

Work Header

The First Prologue

Chapter Text

The museum was ready to close up for the day. The lights shut off one by one, and the tour guides bid each other a good night. The security was lax, which was no one noticed the small figure outside pressed up against the exterior of the museum. That was the intent, of course. She didn’t want to be seen – not yet. She held her breath, watching the moving shadows behind the glass doors. She waited as they faded, perhaps taking a back entrance. Now was a good chance.

She moved slowly against the wall, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose. There was the ‘trick wall’, a delightful illusion, just as described by her classmates. Beyond this unusual entrance she would get the answers she sought. Still taking slow, careful steps, she walked in, and was covered in darkness. She hadn’t counted on this part – she fumbled, trying to find the walls, hoping to put her hand on it and use it to guide her way forward. She held out her hands, trying to feel her way through –

But someone felt her instead, a cold hand grabbing her wrist. “What do you THINK you’re doing here?!” a voice roared into her ear, and a scream died in the lady’s throat. For a good moment she thought it was a monster, and she desperately yanked herself away, but he would not relent, grip tightening on her arm. “I said… WHAT do you THINK you’re doing here!”

That was when the man and the girl got a good look at one another, thanks to the man’s flashlight, focused directly into her face. The man was a stocky old security guard, his bulging eyes and bulbous nose trying to take up as much space of his body as possible. The girl was a student, her school uniform failing to hide her trembles, her glasses threatening to slide down her face. She wished she could hide under her brain hair, but alas, there was no escape. “I… I… I just wanted to see The Book of Life! It’ll be quick, I promise!”

“And you know what would be even quicker?” the guard snapped, trying to drag the girl from whence she came. “Throwing you out! We’re closed! Scram!”

The girl dug her heels into the floor, scared but desperate. “Please, it’s just one story! I just need to know this one story!”

“Surely we can make time,” a new voice said, “for one story.”

Both of them turned to face the newcomer – the girl’s eyes widened as she realized this woman fit the exact description given to her by her classmates. The tall, slender physique, those large, bright eyes, that flowing red hair… it also helped that she was wearing the standard light blue tour guide uniform. The woman smiled kindly. “There’s no need to treat her so rudely. We can make one more exception today.”

The security grumbled, but he let the student go.”And you call me a rule breaker…”

Dismissing that odd remark, the student shyly stepped up to the tour guide. “M-Miss… my friends at school… they told me about the Book of Life, and… and about the amazing stories it had… I had to come here, to hear one special one for myself. I promise, once I hear it, I’ll leave… but I really have to know…”

The tour guide continued to smile, and she turned away, waving a hand to indicate the student should follow her. “I admire those who take risks in order to hear stories… they’re the sort of people who understand the value of a story.”

The student made a ‘mm-hmm’ of agreement, loyally trailing after the tour guide. The security grumbled again, mumbling something or other as he watched their steps.

The Mexican exhibit was still as vibrant as it had been described – candy skulls hanging on the walls, illustrations lining the walls, displays ready to come to life in the blink of an eye. The tour guide approached the gigantic book up at the furthest point in the room, giving a slight hum as she fingered the pages. “I’m always happy to tell the beloved tale of Manolo and-”

“Oh, no.” The student suddenly interrupted, one finger held up. “I’m… well, I didn’t come here to hear about Manolo and Maria.”

The tour guide paused, glancing behind her. “… Is that so?”

The student then pointed at the mural on the wall, depicting the gods and goddesses that watched the world. “What I wanted to hear was… How the beautiful and kind La Muerte… came to love that ugly, awful Xibalba.” Now that she had been allowed into this inner sanctum, the student felt a little braver and thus spoke clearer. “From what I heard, those two… they’re complete opposites! How did they become gods? How did they come together? That’s what I have to know!”

Silence hung in the room, and the student was afraid the request was going to be denied. Instead, the tour guide chuckled, a hand to her mouth. “Well now! This is really a most unusual demand… I don’t get to tell that story so often.” Now she began to head for the beginning of the book, where the cover met the pages. “But if you insist on hearing it… I guess you could call this the First Prologue.”

Chapter Text

Long, long ago, when this world was fresh and new, the Candlemaker create his first candles. Plants, animals, humans, all that could live started their lives here. The Candlemaker was pleased with his work, but he soon realized that these lives could not last forever – the earth simply wouldn’t have the space for all those future generations. The living deserved a place for when they were no longer living. However, the Candlemaker did not know what this place should be. He ultimately decided to ask the humans for their ideas.

Now as you know, Mexico is the center of the universe, and this is where humanity first blossomed. In a tiny village, known as El Comienzo, the first children of the world had become adults, families had started, and no one had yet to die. It all started one hot day when all of the villagers were outside, toiling hard under the bright sun. At first no one noticed the ground beginning to rumble, but as the rumble got harder and louder, everyone stopped what they were doing. They knew something monumental was about to come, and they waited to see what fate had in store for them.

A bright, blinding light burst from the dirt, and when the dust settled, all could see the glowing, golden figure now standing amongst them. They had no idea who this bearded, smiling man was, yet there was a radiance to him that spoke of importance. No one dared to speak or move, until this all mighty god decided to grace him with his words.

“Yo! How ya’ll doin’?”

… Suffice to say, that wasn’t what they were expecting.

“I’m seeing a lot of confused faces, and I totally get it.” The man rubbed his hands together, surveying the crowd. “Let’s get this started… I am the Candlemaker! And it is my job to watch over your lives!” He flicked his wrist, and in that next second a small, flickering candle was in his palm. “Every one of you has a burning candle of life… As long as it is lit, you live. But here’s the thing… nothing can last forever, especially not life. But… I’m not much of an idea guy.” He shrugged. “See, I don’t know where exactly you guys should go once you’re done here. But I figured, who better to ask then you guys yourselves?” He smiled again, and it reached across his face, giving off a warm glow as if he was the one that was ablaze with curiosity. “So, anyone got any good ideas? I’m all ears… and wax. Mostly wax.”

Soft murmurs rippled through the villagers. It was a most intriguing question – what should happen to you when you die? They talk and they spoke, exchanging their ideas, until a dark voice broke through their conversations, demanding to be heard.

“You’re asking us where humans should go, once they die?” The tone was harsh, dripping with acidity, and the villagers were quick to move out of the way. The man that stepped forward smelled terribly, and his black robes hung off of his body as if they were meant for a much thicker, fuller man. His skin was tight, his hair was white, and as he sneered his sharp teeth shone. “A foolish question… As if humanity deserves such a place! They should rot away in the ground until the worms have had their fill.”

The soft murmurs of the crowd now turned into frightened whispers. Who was this ill-looking individual, who looked as if he was born with a rotten disposition? They asked one another where this man had come from, and the Candlemaker attempted to reason with him, reaching out his hand. “C’mon, man, they gotta have someplace. Can’t you think of something, señor …?” He trailed off, waiting for a name.

The man snorted. “Of course you don’t know me… And look around you, no one here does either…” he the hunched over, his shoulders hitched. “… Despite the fact it is I who makes your homes and your buildings, you ingrates! I work with the tar day in and day out, until it seeps into my skin… and yet none of you can remember the name Osvaldo!” he let that hang, and then, once the whispers had died down, he chuckled, straightening himself out as he calmed down. “My name means ‘divine ruler’… can you not think of a crueler irony? Humans will forget about each other so easily, no matter how hard you work for them… They’re a despicable, disgusting lot… Do you truly want my opinion, great Candlemaker?” He asked, but did not give time for an answer. “If there must be a place for the dead to go… make a land of the forgotten. Once the memory of the dead has faded, so shall their soul… until they are nothing but ash and wind.”

No one dared to utter a word after that horrid imagery. People backed away as far as they could, even if meant tripping over another person.

The Candlemaker pulled his hand back, uncomfortable with the situation that had arisen. “… Oookay, one vote for the Land of the Forgotten… anyone have a slightly more upbeat idea?”

“I do, Candlemaker.” This time it was the voice of a woman who dared to be heard. Once more the people parted, but unlike the hurried scared scramble they made for Osvaldo, the people took sidesteps for this woman, bowing their head in reverence and then gazing up at her in love as she walked past. Where the sight of Osvaldo repulsed, she radiated beauty. Her clothes were made of the finest red silk, fit comfortably to her shapely body, with trims of flourish on the sleeves. Her flowing black hair splayed gently down her back and over her shoulders, trailing like the smoothest current. Her skin was beautiful, her lips were beautiful, her eyes were beautiful – and her voice of confidence was also beautiful, of course. “In fact, Osvaldo couldn’t be more wrong about humanity.”

Osvaldo ground his teeth – how dare this woman defy him! He pressed his fingers together, his lips twitching in quiet snarls.

The woman lowered her head as she spoke to the Candlemaker, giving her respect. “I make candy and treats for our village… As long as we are giving names… I am Novia.” She then bit her lip, hesitating on whether she should reveal its meaning as well. She then spoke quickly to make up for it. “… Humanity can be cruel, I am not arguing that. But to say all of Is forgettable and terrible… That simply isn’t true. Humanity, at its core…” Her hands came to her chest, touching her heart. “… is kind. In the worst of times, their strength and love comes out. Our people will live on, and love shall be passed from generation to generation. We all come from someone, and so our family lines should be honored… As long as memory holds, love holds. That is why, great Candlemaker… I propose there should a Land of the Remembered…” She closed her eyes, imagining such a great place, and the people around her swooned. “… A land where they no longer had to worry about pain and suffering, and instead they can celebrate endlessly, parading their families around and basking in what has past.”

Applause burst out immediately – oh, great lady Novia! So beautiful! So wise! The Candlemaker also appeared to agree with this idea, rubbing his chin in delighted thought.

Osvaldo’s anger and jealousy burned deep within him. People like Novia, he thought, always got what they wanted. Their beauty was like a pathway shone with gold, allowing them to go anywhere in life. Where would a pitiful man of stone and tar go? Only in the same place, making the same things, stuck and forgotten. Their destinies had already been written out, and it wasn’t fair that life would hand her another victory. A new sin bubbled forth – the all powerful pride – and he moved toward Novia, fingers running over his knuckles. “… It seems we are both confident in our ideas, senorita Novia. Why don’t we settle this?”

Novia put her hands on her hips, ready to take Osvaldo by any means necessary. “And how do you suggest we do that?”

Osvaldo smiled, his lips hiding his dangerous teeth. “I suggest… a wager, between you and I.” At the words ‘wager’, Novia’s eyes gained sparkle. Her delicate fingers clenched up – as if she was trying to resist temptation. Osvaldo found this unusual for such a proper woman, but ignored it for the moment, addressing the god who was watching over them. “Candlemaker! If you truly want a place for the dead, then here is my game!” He held out his hands, pretending to carry an item in each palm. “You will give us each a candle… and whoever loses their flame first, loses the bet. If the lovely senorita wins…” He cast Novia an aside glance, and she still had that exciting glimmer, which was becoming more and more difficult to pretend wasn’t there. “… Then you can create her Land of the Remembered, with all of its parties and parades. But…”

Osavaldo’s hands clenched up, his fingers digging into the lines of his palms. “Not only will you create my Land of the Forgotten, where the souls of the lost vanish forever… but you will also make me its ruler!” Life owed him to give him the origin of his name, and he would have it! No longer would it matter if he was forgotten, if he had land, if he had power!

The Candlemaker looked back and forth between the two, uncertain about this whole arrangement. “Well… if you both agree to it, I guess I don’t have much of a choice.”

Osvaldo turned back to Novia, and he held out his hand, letting it hang loosely for her to take. “… Do we have a bet?”

Novia did not hear the pleading of the crowd to forgo this game, or perhaps she chose not to listen. It would do them all well to know, including Osvaldo, that just because someone is beautiful does not mean they are incapable of temptations. Gambling happened to be Novia’s biggest temptation of all. It did not take long for her to reply with her own hand, and her smooth touch glided under his bony fingers. “I accept your challenge, Osvaldo. May the best man… or woman… win.”

With that settled, the Candlemaker brought forth a second candle into his hands. “Maybe next time I’ll just take a survey… here you guys go! One candle for each of you.” He leaned down so the opponents could take their candles, clutching them firmly. “The bet is on. When the flame of the loser dies out, I’ll come back to take the winner to their new land.” As he straightened his back up, he rubbed his hands together, getting into the spirit of the strange game. “… Just so you know, these aren’t ordinary candles. No matter how long they burn, the candle won’t shrink or melt. Now that they’re on earth, the only things that will take out the flame are water and wind. Gooooood luck!”

As quickly as he had come, the Candlemaker disappeared, swallowed up by the dirt and retreating underground. The bet was on – the Land of the Forgotten versus the Land of the Remembered.

Osvaldo lived in a small shaky shack, the worst of his creations. Novia could afford to live in a grand and lustrous home, painted with all the colors of the rainbow. They both placed their candles down in their houses, and vowed to protect the flame from all water and wind. Novia kept her eyes on the candle at all times, even making her candies beside the candle and never leaving the room.

However, Osvaldo wasn’t so patient. He expected for the Candlemaker to appear at any moment and tell him of his victory, but hours passed, turning into days. Osvaldo found himself incredibly and utterly bored with the task. He longed to go outside, to do his work, to do anything at all! How could that woman stand such long periods of inactivity? His opinion on women was low – though to be fair, his opinion on men was not high – and he had thought she would make a mistake or abandon her duties as soon as possible. He had not expected her to be so diligent.

With each agonizing moment, Osvaldo’s patience grew thinner and thinner. This was supposed to be an easy win. Humans were stupid and dull and disloyal, she should have lost! She was no different than the rest of the awful, terrible people in the village! She couldn’t be! She’d probably forgotten him too… and the very idea of that burned him.

It should be stated that the buildings Osvaldo made tended to be grand and strong. He wanted to be paid properly for his work, so there was rarely any fault in his finished designs. The same could not be said for the place he called home. The rooms were small, the walls were slanted, and chill easily came in as if it was an invited guest. It was a perfect reflection of how he saw himself – an easily forgettable and ugly creation. He couldn’t stand being in it for this long, and his body demanded freedom. Surely just a quick walk around outside wouldn’t hurt. Maybe in that time, Novia would lose. She would lose. She HAD to lose.

As he growled and pondered, a familiar noise made its way across the floor. Due to the shabby style of the house, creatures like bugs and lizards often found their way inside, and Osvaldo tolerated their presence. He glanced down from the table where his candle sat, and saw a long, purple snake casually slithering on the floor. Normally he would have dismissed it and gone about his whining, but as he watched the snake’s belly move on the floor, a wisp of wickedness entered Osvaldo’s mind.

Oh, Novia would lose. Osvaldo would be sure of that.

“My friend,” Osvaldo spoke sweetly, getting on one knee before the surprised snake. “I welcome you to my humble abode. No doubt you’ve spent many a night here, sheltered from the rain and the sun. You could say we are… companions.” He offered his hand to the colorful snake, and in agreement to what he was saying, the snake began to slink up his arm. “No doubt you’ve heard of my wager with the lady Novia… if I win, I become ruler of an entire land. But it would be rather lonely… what would you give for a chance to come with me?”

The snake listened intently to this offer. It did not take much to convince the reptile to agree, and so it nodded its heavy head, earning a caring stroke to the top of its flat head.

“Excellent.” Osvaldo continued petting his new ally. “I only need you to do a small task for me. Then we will rule the Land of the Forgotten together, and you will always be by my side. Now, what I need you to do is…”

~*~

Novia was bored as well, but her patience was far stronger than that of her supposed enemy. The very idea of souls being broken up into ash for the crime of being forgotten was too horrible for her to give in. People deserved to have their memories cherished, and to have a rich afterlife where suffering and sadness did not exist. So despite being tired and dull, she kept up with her task, staying beside the candle and working on her candies. Her specialty was sugar skulls.

That day she was painting flavored colors onto her skulls, when a knock came to the door. She expected it to be a customer, and without getting up she spoke up. “The door is open. Please come in.”

Novia’s house had three floors, each one more lavishly decorated than the last, filled to the brim with gifts from the villagers. The smell of flowers took over the air, and coins were stacked from corner to corner, left to be counted for later. Novia hummed as she resumed painting, hearing the footsteps of her guest, and when their shadow took over her sitting body, she looked up to greet them.

Imagine her shock to see Osvaldo looming over her, hands behind his back, his smile a ribbon on the gift of deceit. “A good day to you, fair lady Novia.”

Novia held a sugar skill in one hand, the small paintbrush in the other. She raised an eyebrow at him, letting the fresh paint drop down onto her dress. “…I don’t suppose you’re here to tell me you give up. That wouldn’t be any fun.”

A twitch tugged at Osvaldo’s lip. “I assure you, defeat is the furthest thing from my mind. Our contest is still far from over. But as long as it goes on… you have to admit, it’s not the most exciting gamble.”

Novia carefully put the sugar skull and the paintbrush aside, smoothing down her dress and accidentally making the painted smudge there bigger. “You’re the one who came up with the wager. Perhaps you should have thought about it a little longer.”

The twitch came again, and it took all of Osvaldo’s will not to snap at her. But as he keep his angered tongue inside, he noticed that Novia was smiling at him – a rare feat in of itself, but it suggested that maybe she wasn’t insulting him. Maybe she was teasing him. But the idea was ludicrous. He ran a hand down his face to regain his smooth composure. “Either way, there’s no getting out of it until there’s a loser… and at this rate, we’ll be waiting until all the tar in the world hardens. Why not refresh ourselves with a little walk?”

“A walk.” Novia repeated, one leg crossing over the other as she looked him over. “You want us to abandon our duties?”

“My beautiful lady…” He stressed the compliment. “Abandon is such a harsh word. We’ll return to our candles… and we will be all the more energized for it. Surely one little walk cannot do harm…” He waved to the door, basking in the warm glow of the sun now in the room. “We’ll walk along the edge of the village, among the tall trees and waking flowers. We won’t have to think about the dead or living, the remembered or the forgotten, of candles or flames.” He then bowed like a gentleman, taking one of her silk hands within both of his thin palms. “Please grant me the favor of your ravishing presence, if only for a while.”

Novia did not respond right away. She cautiously looked at her sugar skulls, one of many she had worked on that day – they needed time to dry before she could anything else with them. Few customers had come to buy them lately, as they didn’t want to distract her from candle watching. She flexed her fingers, looking at his hands, at his pleading eyes, back to the hands, the eyes, back and forth. “You know,” she finally replied, twirling a lock of hair in her fingers, “you’re very cute when you beg.”

Osvaldo kept the smile plastered on, but behind the face he was wondering the ‘insult or teasing’ line again.

“Very well.” Novia freed her hand from his grasp and stood up. “One little walk, and then we will return to our homes.”

“I cannot thank you enough, oh resplendent Novia.” Osvaldo’s voice came out like an elder cat’s purr, and together they left her house – leaving the door slightly ajar. It would have been too small for a person to slide in.

They walked to the edge of the village, where fresh grass comforted their feet and shadows of trees gave them comfort. Osvaldo’s pride had escalated – ha, women! So easily fooled by honeyed words! All he would have to do was harp on and on about her beauty, and she would be like putty in his hands. Now it was only a matter of time before he had a kingdom to call his own.

He was so lost in his assured victory that it took Novia asking the same question three times before he realized she was talking to him. “Osvaldo, may I ask you something?”

He looked at her, hands behind his back. “Hm? What is it?”

“Why is it that you hate humanity so much?” Her arms were crossed, head tilted to get the best look at him that she could. “When you talk, I can taste the bitterness in your words. Has being a builder really caused you so much agony?”

“You don’t want to hear about that.” Osvaldo spoke rapidly, trying to push the subject away. “Why don’t we talk about those alluring eyes of yours? Or those bewitching lips?”

“Because I hear enough of that every day.” Novia rolled her eyes, and thus she didn’t catch Osvaldo blinking in surprise. “Day in, day out, all anyone ever talks to me about is how I look. That’s ten times more boring than watching a candle! So unless you’re willing to talk about something aside from my appearance, I’ll head for home.” She huffed, casting her face up and away.

Osvaldo felt he could swallow his tongue. If he stretched the limits of his imagination, he supposed maybe one could get sick of hearing the same thing over and over. He drew a long and heavy breath, deciding for the moment to relent. “… I grew up in the poorest part of the village.” He kept his eyes forward, not wanting to see her face express pity. “I was the youngest of ten brothers, and my parents could never keep track of who was who. It was difficult to feed such a large family, so we worked as soon as we could walk. We did any job that was given to us, no matter how pathetic, no matter how disgusting. And yet we never got a word of thanks. One brother was as good as the rest.”

He couldn’t control the venom in his voice any longer. “And nothing has changed since then. I work and I work, but no one can bother to remember my face. And when I die, another man will take over what I do. As long as there are people up high and people down low, the low will always work for the high, and the cycle will repeat. They’ll never run out of lows that need the smallest amount just to live to see tomorrow. Humanity deserves to be forgotten, both on earth and whatever comes next.”

Nothing passed through them except their shared footsteps. The air was unpleasant. Osvaldo sucked spit through his teeth, the tension more than he could bare. They had to switch to something happier, or else she would return to her home too soon. He tried to force out another sickeningly sweet compliment, but the pain of his upbringing warped it. “I don’t have to ask you why you love humanity… after all, everyone loves the magnificent lady Novia. Someone like you could never understand me.”

Novia clicked her tongue once he faced her. “You assume too much. For someone who makes a living only for money, you of all people should know that everything comes with a price… and that includes beauty. Do you know what my name means?”

Osvaldo paused. “I don’t.”

“In lament’s terms, you could say it means ‘girlfriend’.” She brushed a falling flower petal off of her dress, yet she did it so roughly it looked like she was trying to brush her name away. “Ever since I was born, I have been a commodity, a treasure, something belonging to another person. Even my name means I’m not myself, but I’m destined to be owned by another. Men have tried to buy me from my family, and talk behind my back of who will be ‘lucky’ enough to have me, who will ‘deserve’ me, as if I don’t have a say. Men have touched me and grabbed me and hurt me, because they think choose to see my looks and not listen to the words I say.”

Osvaldo felt bile rise in his throat. “Then you should be as hateful as I am!” He could not help but yell. “You should wish for all those rotten men to be forgotten, and everyone along with them! Had I the power, they would turn to ash and wind this very second!”

He would have spat out another curse at them, but Novia had put a finger to his lips, utterly silencing him. “I’m not finished. Although, it is nice to know you would defend me so.” She pulled back, leaving Osvaldo to wonder what power she had – the moment she’d touched him, his heart had seized up. His face felt hot, and Novia resumed her story. “I was determined to do something with my life… so as I was going through those gifts men had given me, I found some candy in there. It was disgusting.” She chuckled to remember. “I didn’t understand how someone could make it so badly… and I found myself wanting to do it right. So I worked tirelessly, day and night, to make a better candy. But I didn’t want to give it away to just anyone, in case they thought I was flirting…

One day, I went to the market to get more ingredients. I was carrying some of the finished sugar skulls with me, and while I was there, I saw a little girl gazing at the stalls. She wasn’t that different from your youth, I suppose… tired, hungry, and with little money to her name. I asked her if she was hungry, and she lied to my face, telling me she wasn’t. I talked with her, and she told me she had a little brother, and his birthday was coming up. But she had no money for a proper present. I offered her my sugar skulls, and she told me she had no money to give me. I told her that her brother having a happy birthday was all the thanks I could ever want.”

It was here Novia stopped, the power of memories overtaking her. “… That smile she gave me… So full of hope, so full of gratitude… I’ll never forget it. That was true beauty… I could hardly believe that I had helped create such happiness in her. And I wanted to give that happiness to everyone… this feeling I had… I wanted everyone to embrace it. To know the joy of caring, and of being cared. In that moment, she didn’t care if I was beautiful or ugly… she only saw a kind act. And she would remember it forever… it would give her hope for her and her brother. It was because of her that I started selling the candy to everyone, so they could have even a glimmer of the happiness she had that day.”

Osvaldo did not know what to say. As Novia had told her story, there was… he didn’t know how to put it. It as if she had gained another level to her beauty – the way she spoke of the event, the way her eyes nearly grew wet upon remembering, and he felt she was exuding sheer warmth. What had happened was so simple, yet she spoke of it as if it was the greatest moment in history. Osvaldo thought he could listen to her talk all day.

“But,” he replied once she had finished, pointing at her abruptly. “… You don’t give them away for free.”

“Well of course.” Novia said, hands on her hips. “I’m merciful, but mercy doesn’t come cheap!” She gave a toss of her hair, striding forward, and Osvaldo could not help but laugh. The sound was infections, and so Novia laughed as well, the two of them creating a joyous, melodious sound together. It lasted for ages, and the walk became longer than either of them expected. The jobs they left behind seemed to belong to another world.

Osvaldo spoke of his elder brothers, and then of the houses he proudly designed. Novia described her favorite customers, and times she had chased after those who tried to steal. Osvaldo chuckled at her wit, and Novia complimented his artistry with words. Osvaldo could not remember when he had ever been so… calm. Relaxed. Dare he say it… happy?

It was if the grass reached forever. They had gotten to the subject of the men that bothered Novia’s life, and Osvaldo asked. “Do you think you will ever marry?”

“I can’t say for sure.” Novia replied, plucking a flower petal off of Osvaldo’s shoulder. “It’s been thrust in my face so often that I’ve never really considered it. It means I would have to spend my life with someone… That would have to be a very special someone.”

“At least you have your choices.” Osvaldo huffed, ready to go on the offensive again. “No one would ever kiss me, much less be my bride. I have no money, I have no power… Who’d want to lower themselves to the man of tar?”

“Love comes in all shapes and sizes. I’m sure someone will fall for you.”

“Ha!” He snorted loudly. “The last thing I need from anyone is pity!”

He was convinced he’d won the argument, eyes closed and chin up, but his mind slammed to a complete halt as he felt soft fingers going through his beard – and then yanking him down, so he had no choice but to be inches away from Novia’s face.

“Is pity…” She murmured, knuckles tight in his grey beard. “…Really such a terrible thing?”

Once again she had complete power over him, and he could not understand it. Nor did he understand what she did next – she leaned in and placed her lips over his, giving him the kiss he never thought he’d have. His mind became blank, and nothing existed save for her supple touch. Warm. Soft. Light. And… and…

And so, so very suddenly, nothing seemed to matter anymore. He closed his eyes, his body melting under her. No heat could have been kinder, and no taste as pleasant. Novia, Novia, Novia.

Her pulling away was delicious agony, and she smiled at his drooped expression. “It really is nice to have choices.”

“Choices.” He repeated sloppily, dazed and oh so very happy.

She let him go, and he dropped like a brick to the ground. “You’re a different sort of man.” She told him, although she wasn’t sure he could hear her. “You were the first to speak to the Candlemaker. Even if I don’t agree with your idea, I admire the courage you had, and how… honest you were of your opinions.” She then resumed walking, hips going from side to side – beauty wasn’t an annoyance when you were actively trying to get a certain someone’s attention.

Osvaldo needed a moment to understand just what on earth had happened, and then he scrambled to get to his feet, running after her. She grinned as she heard his footsteps, and decided to make it a chase. She burst into a sprint, but he did not relent, arms reaching out. They laughed again and again, ducking behind trees and tripping over roots. No one had ever played with Osvaldo before – and no one had bothered to make sure Novia was enjoying herself.

Osvaldo managed to seize her, but she shoved him to the ground, with her landing on top of him, and their laughter came out until air was a struggle. Novia rested her arms on Osvaldo’s chest, smirking down at him. “So… do you still hate all of humanity?”

Osvaldo pretended to think this over, pushing his chin around. “… All of humanity, minus one.” He stroked her hair, and chuckled at her frown. “A tiger can’t change his stripes.”

“Oh, you think yourself a tiger now?” Novia poked his nose. “Your confidence has grown.”

“My lady, I lack for land and power. I never lack for confidence.” He cupped her cheeks in his hands, and to prove his statement true, he delivered a kiss to her – he hoped it would show all of his happiness, and it succeeded. She kissed him back, and they spoke through their lips of needing nothing more than each other. They were purely honest here, holding nothing back and giving everything they could.

They could have had a lifetime of kisses, but the wind was starting to pick up. Novia felt it drift across her skin, and she lifted her head. “Ah… it’s getting late. We should go back, and check on our candles.”

“What candles?” Osvalo asked dreamily, having become little more than putty at this point.

“You know very well what candles.” Novia rolled off Osvaldo, and began to stand up, smoothing out the wrinkles in her dress. “We still have a wager to settle. We’re definitely refreshed now, wouldn’t you say?”

“I could not think of a more perfect word to describe myself.” Osvaldo said, though it took him several long seconds to find the will to get up. “… All good things must come to an end.”

“That depends on what you think the end is.” Novia took his hand, leading him as they walked. “After a while, we’re going to need to be refreshed again. I want to hear more about you.”

“Funny, I was going to say the same thing about you.” He squeezed her hand, and the walk back her home felt so much quicker than the walk away. Maybe they would need to be refreshed tomorrow, and the day after that, and every day. Maybe he could buy some candies from her shop. Maybe he could do some construction on her house. Maybe they could walk to the market and speak of their favorite foods, their favorite drinks… they had a whole lifetime of learning to do. He couldn’t wait to get started.

Novia’s door was still open slightly ajar. As she began to push it over, she gave Osvaldo a coy glance. “… Thank you.”

Osvaldo raised his eyebrows. “For what?”

“… For giving me a memory I’ll never forget.” She began to push open the door, taking slow, meaningful steps inside. “And for many more to come.”

But the sweet moment was suddenly smashed by a rapid series of actions – Osvaldo saw his snake’s shadow – heard Novia cry out “The candle!” before clutching her chest – an unnatural gust of wind swept around his body – and then he heard a voice in his ears –

“Osvaldo has won the bet!”

- And the world was dark. A chill ran through his blood, and momentarily understood what had happened. He had won.

He won… he won… he won he won he won HE WON HE WON HE WON HEWONHEWONHEWONHEWON –

“I WIN!” Osvaldo arched his back as he cackled, only able to think of his victory. “The Land of the Forgotten lives, and I… I am its king!” Power! At last, he had power! It was flooding his veins! He wasn’t the mortal Osvaldo anymore, no longer a pathetic worker, but…

“A god.” The Candlemaker’s voice echoed in his mind. “Yeah, pretty much. Since you won, I’ll be lending you my power. So, what’s this Land of the Forgotten supposed to look like?”

Osvaldo could see it form in his mind – and as he felt cold marble underneath his feet, he knew he had left the world of the living. He was no longer a human, and no longer lived with humans. He could see this new land behind his eyelids – a lone, empty trail leading out into empty space, where it rained soot and dirt as souls wasted away. The clouds were full of gray, and jagged mountains watched from a distance. The cracked and scratched pathway led to his new home…

A home worthy of a god! Larger than any building anyone had ever seen! In the shape of a skull, with jagged teeth scaring off any intruders, and inside, endless rooms! Treasures forgotten by those who buried them! Many of the rooms lacked walls, choosing instead to gaze out into the dreary abyss. The whole castle was spacious – the emptiness showed off how much territory belonged to him. A single table stretched out before him, and on top it laid abandoned foods and drinks that those above that thrown away without touching.

When he opened his eyes, he was no longer Osvaldo – and now he’d shed his human form as well. He stretched out his arms, now seeing his body covered in the tar he’d spent his life in, his body adorned with green skulls and blackened feathers. Yes, this was a true, proper look for a god. Harsh laughter rose up in his throat. “Osvaldo, the divine ruler… is no more! From hence forth, all that enter this land shall know me as… Xibalba!”

His old life was no more! The snake that had allied with him now wriggled on his shoulder, it’s scales hardened to wood and a transfixed smile of agreement on its mouth. Xibalba grabbed a goblet of wine , and collapsed upon a throne of steel and rock. He propped his feet over the arm rest, continuing to gloat as he heard the Candlemaker applaud awkwardly behind him.

“Uh, congrats, man.” Said the Candlemaker. “This place is all yours.”

“Of course it’s mine!” Xibalba put the goblet near his lips, ready to drink. “And soon, I’ll have my people… miserable little wretches that no one will remember!”

The Candlemaker nodded. “Yep. The first one should be here any minute.”

“Splendid! Now, who is it? The old grandmother that sells quilts? A sick and weary child? Some fool of a bullfighter?”

The Candlemaker was surprised as he answered. “Of course not. It’s Novia.”

Xibalba’s mouth was open, but the wine didn’t fall into it. It dribbled down his cheek and spilled onto the floor, his fingers slowly losing their grip on the goblet. Surely he hadn’t heard right. “… What?”

“Whose candles of life did you think I was using?” The Candlemaker shrugged helplessly, having thought the information was obvious. “Hers went out, so she’ll be… uh, how’d you put it?” He arched his fingers into quotation marks. “… Her soul will be nothing but ash and wind.”

Pure silence. The Candlemaker waited, and then decided there was nothing more to be said. “Well, that’s that. Good game, Xibalba. I gotta go make candles, check on the Book of Life… busy schedule. So. Peace!” And he was gone with merely a thought.

Because the castle was so empty, every drop of wine that hit the floor resonated against the walls, echoing back and forth, until the goblet was empty. Xibalba’s hand loosened until the goblet fell, clanging onto the floor.

He’d won. He’d gotten exactly what he wanted.

Because the castle was so very, very empty, the unholy scream that escaped his throat sounded as if it would never end.

Chapter Text

The discovery of the blown out candle and the toll it had on her body came together in seconds. When Osvaldo had vanished, she’d already dropped to the floor, candies spilling everywhere. She clutched her chest, and her heart came to a stop. Her body writhed in pain, nails digging into her dress, and hot tears flooding her eyes. She couldn’t breathe, so she could not speak or cry out. The pain in her body matched the pain in her heart – the dead would not be allowed to rest in peace, and those that deserved to be remembered would be lost forever. Humanity had the right to be happy, and now that chance was gone.

Memories were the most precious things in the world, more valuable than land and power. She didn’t want to forget the little girl who saved money for her brother’s birthday present, she didn’t want to forget the kind customers who flooded her shop, and most of all, she didn’t want to forget Osvaldo. His image stayed in her mind, his expression changing like a heartbeat. She’d already learned so much about him, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t nearly enough.

As breathing became more difficult, she wondered if Osvaldo would truly be content living the life he had won. She hoped he was. The only peace that came to her was knowing she would see him again, if only for a moment, before she became ash and wind, as he had declared. Would anyone else remember him? Her fingers throbbed, aching to hold onto his memory, of their time together, and then it started to withdraw slowly, inch by inch. Her eyelids grew heavy, and she could not even say his name with her final breath.

The world was still, and light. So very light. As if she was bathing in it, basking in it, a glow she could feel. Was this the peaceful embrace of death? She welcomed it, allowing it to hold her. Her muscles could move once more, and her fingers drifted… a beard? Could it be Osvaldo? Were they together again? She dared to open her eyes, and gazed up at…

“Hey, babe!” … the Candlemaker. “Sup?”

Novia stared, the romantic idea crushed into dust. “What are you doing?!”

“Oh, uh, sorry. Here you go.” He placed her down gently, and she saw she was no longer in her candy-filled home. They were atop the highest cliff not found in the human realm, with fog the only thing they could see down below. “Lemme start… You died, you definitely died, no getting around that. But!” He held up a finger. “Xibalba… that’s Osvaldo’s new name now, kinda fits him if you ask me… Xibalba changed his mind about this whole wager. He forfeited his end of the deal, and wants you to be the winner.”

Novia was so taken aback that she staggered dangerously close to the edge of the cliff. “… So, there will be no Land of the Forgotten?”

“Nnnot exactly.” The Candlemaker stretched out, waving a hand. “See, I can’t destroy, I can only create. He still gets his kingdom… but you get yours too. If a soul is remembered, they stay in your land, and once they’re forgotten, they go to his. Now, all you’ve got to do…” He delicately took her arm, and had her sweep it across the fathoms before them. “… Is imagine it, and it will be so. Go for it!”

Novia blinked through fresh tears, these ones of joy. Humanity would live… Humanity would get the peace it deserved! There were second chances for everyone! And all she had to do was imagine it? This was not a difficult task – she had wished for such a place her entire life. She breathed softly, closing her eyes. A place where people would no longer suffer, no longer worry, where families could celebrate their bloodlines and all could share the stories of her life. A place like that should be… colorful.

When she opened her eyes, color was exactly what she got. Streets and buildings and balloons stretched out into the infinite, constantly moving and changing to the beat of life. Parade floats began to form on bright pathways, streamers and confetti danced in the air, and even the smell of the place brought up imagery of full bellies and delighted tongues. This was a paradise in every sense of the word – all it needed now was people.

She knew her duty – to give these souls whatever they needed to be happy, be it advice or finding their loved ones. She would guide them and watch over them like an eternal mother. As her lips parted in awe, she tasted sugar on her lips. She raised her hands, and saw her flesh had turned to hardened sugar, painted and decorated like the ones she gave to the villagers. Her dress was now ordained with flickering candles and blossoming flowers, and she couldn’t help but give a twirl, amazed by her own movements. “If I’m to help these people…” She spoke at last. “… then I can no longer be held by mortal conventions. I was once Novia… and now I shall be called… La Muerte.”

“Aw man, I like that, brings a tear to my eye.” The Candlemaker gave an overly enthusiastic sniffle.

She turned to the Candlemaker, and bowed in reverence. “I can’t thank you enough for this.”

“Hey, don’t thank me! It was his idea!” The Candlemaker then moved aside, revealing Xibalba, who was fiddling with a snake-like staff in his arms. Most likely he’d been waiting the entire time, and when he found out he was revealed, his newfound wings jerked in shock, before quickly trying to pretend he’d been waiting nonchalantly for a more dramatic reveal. “He came up the idea to have both worlds. Stormed right into my place, dude didn’t even knock. Not that I’ve got doors, but y’know, it’s the whole principle of the thing…” He rambled on, but La Muerte had long since stopped listening, only able to see Xibalba.

Xibalba dared to lift his eyes toward her, and La Muetre recognized him immediately. It was the slow, steady gaze he gave her, exactly like the way he’d looked after their first kiss. There was not a single doubt in her mind who this was man was. She sighed deeply, her last worry vanishing. She placed a hand on her chest, and she held out her left hand towards him. “… You did this?”

Xibalba took his time to walk to her, taking in her new appearance. Perhaps it was because they were gods that they could recognize each other so easily, or perhaps it was deeper than that. He chose to think the later. Xibalba was almost afraid to touch her, that his new skin would taint her, yet he held her hand, and kissed her knuckles. “Letting humanity be forgotten or remembered…” Her skin was sweet to his lips, and there was no stain to be found. It told him that in this life, they fit perfectly. “I don’t care anymore. But I… I never want there to be a day where I forget you.”

“Nor I you.” La Muerte held his bony hand to her cheek, and for a moment they were back in the village, humans in the passion of first love while the world moved without them. “You didn’t have to do this.” They smiled at one another, as if that walk had never ended, and Xibalba stroked her cheek, bringing his lips closer to hers-

“Well sure he did!” The Candlemaker interrupted. “I mean, he is the one who cheated.”

The gods froze in place. There would be no kisses today, not by a long shot. La Muerte’s hand suddenly had a vice grip on Xibala’s fingers, and each word she spoke was filled with anger. “… You… did… WHAT?”

Xibalba no longer had to fear death. It turns out that the face and voice La Muerte could make when she was enraged was much more frightening. “… I don’t know what he’s talking about.” He lied instantly, speaking his words so quickly that they tumbled on top of each other.

“Dude, you just told me.” The Candlemaker went on, either oblivious or really enjoying what was to happen. “You came to my lair, told me you had the snake blow out her candle, so I should make the Land of the Remembered since you didn’t win fair and square. That’s pretty much the definition of cheating. ”

La Muerte’s new golden eyes slowly went from Xibalba to his snake-shaped staff. “Youuu…” She then lashed out, her new super-powered hands throttling his throat. “You had me MURDERED to win a BET?!”

“I didn’t know it would kill you!” Xibalba gagged, clawing for freedom.

“You took me on that walk just to get rid of me!”

“Uh-”

“You only said those things to keep me distracted!”

“Um-”

“You lied to me!”

“T-Technically, I never said I wouldn’t cheat…”

“I hope you enjoy your new kingdom!” La Muerte hissed, giving Xibalba one final shake. “Because I can’t wait to forget all about you!” She then dropped him over the cliff like a bad sack of trash. She then slapped her hands together, and began to walk on the colorful streets of her new home. The Candlemaker glanced over the edge, and then decided it was best that from now on, he play the role of the audience, instead of participant.

Now that both places were created and had their leaders, the humans could die peacefully. It wasn’t long before the souls of the departed had their final words in the Book of Life, and so both kingdoms welcomed their newcomers.

However, Xibalba was stubborn, and the only thing worse than a stubborn person is a stubborn person in love. That only makes them more determined, and more desperate, to get their way. Now that he was immortal, he had an eternity to find a way to win La Muerte back.

His first attempt was while La Muerte was greeting her earliest arrivals. On that day, La Muerte personally oversaw the parade of a proud family lineage. An elderly woman who had lived past her prime approached La Muerte, bowing graciously to her. “My lady, this is truly a wonderful place. I am honored to be in your presence.”

La Muerte smile, and touched the grandmother’s chin, encouraging her to look up. “There’s no need to be so formal. You can call me by name.”

The old woman timidly moved her head up. “If you insist, LaaaAAAAAH!” She suddenly screamed, horrified by a sight, and then ran off, bowling over several partying dancers.

La Muerte blinked a bit, and then gradually glanced behind her – lo and behold, there was Xibalba. He placed his hands together, nonplussed by his terrible introduction. “… Now that we’ve had time to adjust to our new lives, why don’t we start these lives together?”

La Muerte gave her answer by shoving him off the street, so he fell right back into the abyss.

At another time he tried again, with bribery. “Wouldn’t you say this is the most beautiful medal you’ve ever seen? It belongs on such a beautiful woman, of-” and she shoved him off again.

He tried demanding. “We belong together, and you know it! You will be-” and she shoved him off again.

 

He tried begging. “Do you have any idea how boring life is without you-” and she shoved him off again.

As you can guess, this kept happening for every approach he attempted. For immortals, time passes quickly – it felt as if Xibalba was going after her for days, but humans would have seen it as decades, almost centuries. Seduction, promises, lies, offerings, none of it would appease her. Xibalba could not figure out what she wanted, but this was because one thing had never occurred to him. What he would have to do was something he’d never even done in his mortal life.

He at last discovered this when he was hidden in the Land of the Remembered. With god-hood can extraordinary powers, not the least among them was the ability to disguise one’s self. Many times he’d used this ability to blend in among the skeleton souls so he could watch over La Muerte without her reacting violently. Often times he’d watch her from afar as she talked with the souls, played with them, aided them, and while he enjoyed this he knew it was not enough. He wanted to talk with her, play with her, and the idea that she could be happy without him was more pain than he could bare.

At first this day seemed no different than any other. In his dead disguise, he had crept into La Muerte’s castle, which bizarrely looked humbler and yet grander than his own. Where Xibalba had used his empty space to brag, she had used hers to invite others in to fill it up. Many people were approaching La Muerte, asking questions and thanking her. Yet for all the joyous speeches, there was a lone sobbing sound. La Muerte picked up on this immediately, and rushed to the source, ignoring everyone else.

It was a young lady, dead before any of her hairs could be grayed. She had been trying to hold back her tears, but could do so no longer. As La Muerte approached her, fresh cries broke out, and she fell to her knees. “L-La Muerte!” She moaned. “Please… please, I beg of you, I must find my husband…”

La Muerte’s arms swept around the lady, trying to make her stand up. “Now now, there’s no need for this. I can find your husband easily, and you will be reunited, as lovers should.”

Xibalba quietly grunted, but the lady shook her head. “Y-You don’t understand… if I find him alone, he won’t want to see me… he won’t listen…” She swallowed hard, shaking as she began to explain. “Our family was poor… and one night, I… I was just so hungry… I got into an argument with him… I-I called him worthless, and I blamed him for our poverty… a-and the next day, he was gone… he went to try and go fishing, so we could eat better, but that day, it rained so hard, the stream flooded, and he…” Her knees buckled, and only La Muerte kept her from falling. “I-It’s my fault he died! I was so foolish!”

La Muerte nodded to those around her, and the others began to depart silently, none of them noticing the extra figure hiding in the shadows. They knew what to do, and who to look for. La Muerte ran her hand over the lady’s hair, speaking sympathetically. “I understand… You want to apologize to him. But when you do so… you must realize the weight and power of an apology.”

Xibalba smacked himself in the forehead. An apology! Why hadn’t he thought of that! … Because he’d never done it before, he told himself. Yet perhaps that hadn’t been the only reason. As he dared to look at the scene again, he questioned if La Muerte would even accept an apology from him. Now that the concept of apologizing had actually planted itself in his head, the full might of his consequences couldn’t be ignored. In the end, no matter what he did or did not know, what he had done was wrong.

His shoulders felt heavy. Yes, what he had done was wrong, and if he had the chance to do it over again, he would never have cheated. Yet if he admitted this, wouldn’t that give her a stronger resolve not to be with him? He wavered back and forth between the options, the words bouncing on his tongue. Could he say it?

La Muerte held the lady’s hands in both of hers. “A real apology doesn’t come from wanting salvation. It comes from fully acknowledging what you have done, and helping the other person ease their burdens. You have to want it not just for the sake of your guilt, but for the sake of what is right. If you truly mean it with all of your heart and all of your love, he will hear you.”

The lady nodded fervently, unable to speak - and the doors slammed open. “My love!” There stood a bony fisherman, the rod attached to his back.

The lady gasped, and then scrambled forward, arms outstretched. “D-Darrrling!” She fell into his arms, wracked with weeping. “I-I’m so sorry! I should have never have said those terrible things! You… you were always doing your best for us! I should have appreciated you more… not w-when it was too late…”

The man rested his chin atop her hair, sighing. “But it’s not too late.” He kissed the top of her head. “I forgive you, my wife… and I’ve been waiting for you ever since I first arrived.

The lady wiped her face, daring to look at her husband. “Y-you have? Even after I said something so horrible, a-and caused you to die…?”

“You did not flood the stream, my sweet. And I know you would never truly wish me ill.” He held her shoulders. “La Muerte helped me see that my love for you was more powerful than any grudge… and I would have been willing to wait centuries in that meant I could see you again. She told me that true love is patient… and it is always rewarded.”

The man then lifted his wife into his arms, carrying her outside the threshold. “Come! Our life begins anew!” He triumphantly carried her away, and the doors closed behind them.

Though the endless parties could be heard from outside the castle, the inside had a stale silence to it. La Muerte walked back to her throne and sat down. Once she was comfortable, she spoke aloud. “How long do you plan on hiding there?”

Xibalba almost bit his tongue. The disguise was shed, and he strayed into the light, arms behind his back. “… If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you orchestrated that little show.”

“I’ve never used people as pawns.” She replied thinly, arms crossed, and Xibalba felt a stab through the ribs. She waited a moment, and then eased back. “So, are you going to apologize honestly, or fake one just to be with me again?”

A staring contest was held between the gods, neither one moving, neither one changing their expression. Xibalba then started to laugh, throwing a hand in the air. “You know what? I could only ever be honest with you. That is one thing you love about me, isn’t it? My strange style of truth?” La Muerte said nothing, so he clamored on, moving towards her. “So here it is. I apologize for what I’ve done to you, and I am truly sorry. But if you ask me why I am sorry… yes, I feel guilty, yes, I wanted to be absolved, and yes, I want to be with you!”

He was upon her now, hands grabbing the armrests. “You think you can just walk away after bringing light into my miserable existence? You think I’ll give up on you if you won’t forgive me? I don’t care! I know I’ve made you happy! I know you’ve opened your heart to me! I have those memories, and they are staying with me forever! I am sorry for lying to you, but if you think for one moment I regret taking you out on our walk, then you are nothing but a fool!”

La Muerte had taken this rant in, not budging from her seat. She watched the beast in front of her, one of her fingers lightly tapping her arm. “So, you regret cheating, but you don’t regret what you said to me?”

“Of course not!” He barked, shoulders hitched and wings spread out, his body shaking with rage. “I refuse to apologize for what I told you! Every word I spoke to you was the truth! Every kiss, every touch, every word that passed between us was genuine! I will cherish every moment of that time, even the arguments! I will never apologize for that walk!” With that final defiant statement released, his body sagged, all of his anger used up. He inhaled deeply, and then with his exhale, his speech was smooth. “Now the only remaining question is… what do you plan to do about that, my love?”

Xibalba honestly did not know what would come next. Thus, exactly like the first time it happened, he was completely and utterly thrown off when La Muerte grabbed him by his beard, and yanked him into a sudden kiss. It was only later when his mind could function that he’d notice her kisses were literally sweeter than before, but contained the same amount of deepness and strength, mashing up against him like a powerful blow. By the time Xibalba had gotten a good hold of his sensed, he realized he’d somehow along the way fallen chin-first into her lap, while she stroked his head tenderly.

“It’s about time, Balby.” She purred, the tips of her fingers stroking his sticky skin. “And you’re still as honest and outspoken as ever.”

Xibalba blinked rapidly, and looked up at her. “… So… you forgive me?”

“Absolutely not.” She cupped his chin in her hands, lifting him up. “And I know in the future, you’ll probably lie again. For every truth you tell, I know there’s a lie somewhere waiting for me. You’re not perfect.”

Xibalba managed to find his footing, and began to stand up. “I’ve never said I was perfect.”

“I know. You still don’t care for humanity, and you still don’t care much for yourself.” She also began to stand up, and in that moment Xibalba thought perhaps she was taller than him – or maybe she only seemed so to his eyes. “A tiger can’t change his stripes. But…perhaps the tiger can be tamed.” She then started to walk around him, heading for the front doors.

Xibalba watched her. “… Where are you going?”

“I was thinking of taking a walk.” She glanced behind him, and held out her open hand. “I don’t like to do it alone.”

Xibalba looked at her hand. “But what about us?”

“What about us?” She asked right back, waiting in place before the doors. “We have eternity. If you thought a relationship between the know-it-all Novia and the lying Osvaldo was going to be a simple happily ever after, maybe you should have stayed up there with the humans.”

Xibalba was surprised again – and understood that for as long as he would know her, she would keep surprising him. She would keep trying to one-up him and change him, and he’d try to find ways to be victorious even if it meant being deceitful. They were in no ways perfect, and this relationship, if they dared to have it, would not always consist of smooth sailing. There would be good and bad memories strewed in together.

And Xibalba wanted to remember every single last one of them.

He was at her side in an instant, grasping her hand. “I suppose we’ll take this one walk at a time.”

Her fingers fit in with the spaces of his hands, like a specific key made for a specific lock. “I can give you the grand tour of the Land of the Remembered. Just try not to scare any of the elderly spirits.”

“You haven’t tamed this tiger just yet, my sweet.” Said the man once known as Osvaldo.

“Balby, the fun has only just begun.” Said the woman once known as Novia.

And there was no happily ever after, and there never was. Love is never perfect in its stream of time, and there were many times Xibalba’s cheating ways got him in trouble, and many times Novia’s headstrong attitude let her fall into a trick. But for every mistake the two of them made, they went over each hurdle loving each other all the more. A life of perfection is a boring one, and one that gets tiring quickly. They were glad to fight, and glad that things would never stay the same. After their fights were resolved and lessons were learned, they would take long walks together, and every memory they had was cherished deeply in their hearts.

To this day, Xibalba still tries to get the best of his lady, and sometimes Novia will stumble into his lies. They will still bicker and fight, and they will still make up and walk, and while they will not have their happily ever after, there is no denying that they are happy…

“… It’s not your typical ending.” The tour guide finished, clapping once. “But then, they aren’t your typical couple. What did you think?”

The student had taken her glasses off, trying to rub spots of tears from her face. “Th-that was a great story! It was everything I wanted… and everything I didn’t know I wanted! Thank you so, so, so, so, sooo much, miss!” She managed to put her glasses back on, although now they were crooked from excitement. “I’m going to tell everyone I know about it!”

“That’s all well and good.” The tour guide chuckled, coming up to the girl to turn her around. “But I don’t think you want a memory of the time your parents scolded you for being out so late… I think it’s time you went home.”

The girl agreed, starting to walk, but as an afterthought, she looked back at the guide. “… You know, I don’t think she should ever forgive him for that first cheat.”

“She won’t.” The tour guide’s lip curled.

The student giggled, and thanked her again profusely, even thanking the security guard who had started to roll his eyes. She thanked them three more times before finally making her way out, tripping over her own shoelaces after being lost in the memory of a good story.

Once they were alone, the guard clicked his tongue. “…My dear, perhaps next time you needn’t exaggerate so much?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea what you mean.” Her arms slid around his neck from behind, giving his bulbous nose a little kiss.

He couldn’t help but smirk. “You’re never going to forgive me for that, are you?”

“Never in a million years.”

“I expect nothing less, my love.”

She chuckled, skimming her hand down his arm until it met his palm. “It may be late for humans, but the night is young for us. Why don’t we take a walk out among them?”

He gave her hand a squeeze, ready to accompany her. “Maybe while we’re out, I can remind you of how the story really went. I seem to recall a beautiful candy maker who was dreamily watching the man building her house…”

They left the museum as he regaled his tale, and they walked under the full moon’s light. They did not live happily ever after. But for this night, they were happy.

The End.