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The Nature of Death

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i.

 

Fódlan has been overseen by a pantheon of gods and goddesses since the land had been molded. Every 1,000 years, the humans honor their various deities as a collective by holding what has been named The Millenium Festival. A grand celebration alight with singing and dancing, music, overflowing with food—a feast galore. The individual territories each have their own differences when doing so, but nonetheless, the land is merry for a full week straight.

Each deity has garnered a little following over time to the point where all have at least one shrine on land that the humans have constructed in their honor. For the more ‘impressive’ gods, they get temples built instead. People go to pray, or leave offerings, hoping to be blessed at these sacred sites. Both during happy times, and tumultuous times.

But for Riegan, the god of harvest, feasts, and celebration, it matters little to him. More than most, he gets to partake in merriment all-year round. What, with birthdays happening every single day. Or marriages. Or a newborn. Or victory over battle. And so on and so forth.

Oh, yeah, more importantly than that, he’s also the god of nature.

Particularly active during the warm half of the year, which is also his domain. Sure beats his counterpart, Blaiddyd, who got the other six months, the cold half. God of winter, where everything stills underneath the snow. But as far as he knows, he doesn’t mind it. Things are quieter. The snow prepares the earth for the growth of spring. And seeing as how he’s the god of reflection and memories too, well, he’s often occupied anyway to think too hard about the frosty wonderland.

They’re both at their happiest though during this time, as The Millenium Festival is held in the Ethereal Moon of winter. A point for Blaiddyd. It’s also the biggest celebration ever recorded in Fódlan thus far. A point for Riegan. Everyone wins.

And while the humans celebrate for a week on the earth, so do the gods up on Zanado, the divine realm where they each have a home, aside from the ones they make among mortals. Here, all the gods—and there are over 100 of them—also have a shrine dedicated to them in a grand hall that, on this particular day, overflows with offerings given to them by their human followers. Named the Hall of Offerings for this reason. (Not all gods are very creative.)

While congregated together, there’s never a dull moment, in every sense of the word. Endless platters of food line the long table in the room, and goblets are constantly filled with drink. Laughter, bickering, and debauchery a plenty are consistent elements of this occasion—especially that last one. Riegan has taken his fair share of lovers too. Every god has at this point, even ‘Her Grace’, the sky goddess, Seiros.

There’s always one god in particular, though, that seems to draw everyone’s fancy, regardless of what aspect of existence they hold dominion over: the god of life, Reto.

He’s a striking figure with his mint-green hair and cyan eyes. Dressed in white and colorful robes. Not as vivacious as one would expect the god of life to be, though. He’s actually pretty calm, but the smiles he gives others are radiant, and his laughter is like taking a breath of fresh air. (Naturally, he’s also had his plethora of lovers too over the centuries.)

Maybe everyone is enamored with him because he controls, well… life. And all of the other gods are but mere fractions of his dominion. He’s at the top of the hierarchy—somewhere just below Seiros, but that status he’s never flaunted in anyone’s face.

Riegan waits for him in the Hall of Offerings where their divine celebration is in full swing. In the meantime, he entertains himself as the god of wisdom, Essar, and the goddess of performance (sing and dance included), Cassagranda, bicker again like usual. The age-old debate if science or the arts is more crucial to human innovation. (Answer: it’s both. And he’d know. Riegan’s been spoiled with also being the god of truth.)

When they ask him to answer it, he just laughs and shakes his head. “It’s more fun to see you two figure it out on your own,” he says, toasting to them with his goblet.

Quickly growing bored, he then goes around the grand room, along its white marble floors, dallying with whoever sweeps him up for a chat. Commending him on always throwing the best parties, regardless of occasion. (He’d be offended if they said otherwise.)

“Reto!” he greets once he spots him. The life god is in conversation with his father, Eisner, god of blacksmithing and weaponry. “Everyone was waiting for you to show up! Almost cost me my reputation there when I promised you’d be here and yet you didn’t show!”

The man smiles at him. “Sorry, I was busy finishing up things in the mortal realm. Needed to make preparations for a full week away while I’m here.”

“He takes his duties seriously,” Eisner comments in that gruff voice of his, “unlike most of the lot here. I’ll leave you two to yourselves. Need to have a drink… or two-hundred.”

Riegan laughs, materializing a goblet of the finest ale and handing it to Eisner. He only huffs before he walks off, though takes a giant swig of the thing once Cassagrandra makes a beeline toward him, a sway to her hips as she sings her greetings.

“Hard to believe that guy’s your dad,” Riegan remarks. “How’d the god of blacksmithing and weaponry have a son of life?”

“Having tools and knowing how to use them improves the quality of life,” he says, escorting them to cushioned chairs near a fountain and potted plants of the most vibrant flowers. “But I was also the god of wanderlust before, remember? Makes sense that someone who’s witnessed a lot of life would be promoted to oversee it.”

“Ah yes, humble origins,” Riegan replies, reclining on the nearest chaise longue. Reto sits on a stool beside him. Folds his arms on the chaise seat, chin resting atop them. “Living it up in luxury now. Fortune favors you for sure.”

Reto hums, smiling. Riegan manifests a bundle of grapes, and tosses one to him. Reto catches it in his mouth, plucking another from the stem and flicking it back to Riegan. He catches it too, winking at him, which earns him a chuckle.

Now, he doesn’t like to brag, but he’s one of Reto’s more favored constituents. So much so that their trysts happen on and off every several decades. The thing about being life’s lover is that… well, he has a lot of them, and doesn’t have an absolute favorite. And you kind of need to acknowledge that going in. Not that the divine haven’t fought over him before.

There was a nasty five years long conflict once upon a time that Riegan, Blaiddyd, and Hresvelg, the goddess of war and humanity, each fought over him. It left poor Fódlan scarred for at least a decade—a thing they vowed never to do again once Life himself refused to take any of them into his embrace, or his bedchambers for at least three centuries.

Sure, they’ve learned their lesson now, but, not like they don’t still have their micro-aggressions toward one another when his back is turned.

He doesn’t notice Reto has grown quiet until the grape bundle is finished. He’s got a faraway look in his brilliant eyes. Maybe fascinated by the stitching of Riegan’s robes. His ensemble is rather ornate, so he can’t blame him for admiring it. Cream-colored garments for the most part. Adorned with gold thread and trimming. Greens and warm tones with splashes of cool ones come in the form of vegetation and flowers embroidered along the bottom and the sleeves.

“What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing.”

“C’mon now, I know for a fact that’s a lie.”

Reto sighs. He lays his head down on his folded arms. “Thinking of my sister, Res.”

“Oh, that’s right. Your twin.”

“Mm. I haven’t seen her in… well, I lost count. Been at least a couple thousand years. Father hasn’t seen her either. Both of us are so busy, especially with how quickly humanity is progressing—Hresvelg has been happy.”

He doesn’t ask why Res isn’t at The Millennium Festival. Everyone knows the answer. Few have seen her, or even remember what she looks like. Riegan’s sure even Reto and Eisner’s memories are starting to blur. He wonders why they haven’t asked Blaiddyd to remind them.

The twins of wanderlust, through some miraculous misfortune, got separated into the roles nobody really wanted, because of how demanding they are (and how dire the consequences would be if they severely messed up). But Seiros needed someone to look over these dominions, lest the world become unbalanced. Reto happened to get the lucky side of the metaphorical coin toss. Life, and all of its pleasures.

His younger twin, Res, got death.

Only once did she ever attend this celebration. It was the first ever Millennium Festival, before Riegan and many of his current generation were promoted from divine wards to full godhood. It was also the last time she showed her face to anyone in the pantheon. Death, apparently, isn’t the life of the party.

That first wave of gods wanted nothing to do with something no one likes thinking about, so she decided staying in her domain was for the best.

“You can’t go visit her?” Riegan asks.

“Not allowed,” Reto says with a shake of his head. “It would cause a small space rift of free passage for departed souls to return back to their flesh forms. Both the good, and the evil. Res can still come to the mortal plane to bring the deceased to their new homes. In that way, she can visit me. But…”

A red spider lily grows from his palm as he holds it out. Staring off into nothing, as he says, “She’s stubborn. I think being in my domain, ironically enough, drains her spirit. Or, whatever our equivalent to one is. At the very least, it brings her mood down, from what I remember.”

There’s commotion as the goddess of mercy, forgiveness, and healers, Martritz, runs to her younger brother, Bartels, who shows up after all. Riegan had sent him an invitation, but the god is so unsociable he was sure he wouldn’t come anyway.

“Oh,” Reto stands, “he’s here. I’m gonna go talk to him.”

“Hey, take all the time you need. We have seven whole days of merriment! You and I can get cozy later,” he says with a wink.

He gets a smile in return as Reto walks to the siblings. 

Bartels was a ward of the gods before. Under some infernal curse from the enemy of the divine, the Agarthans. Caused him to kill other wards, and permanently cripple lesser gods, in some shape or form. But Martritz pleaded for five years straight to spare him.

And so, he was given divinity in the form of being the god of repentance. He’s what the humans call the ‘Grim Reaper’. Takes souls from the living world who refuse to accept their fate. But if their regret is true, he won’t take them until their last goodbyes have been said.

The caveat was that his home would be in Abyss—the afterlife for mortals. While he did get a shrine in the Hall of Offerings, there’s still no villa for him in Zanado (much like his boss). He accepted, of course, being the god of what he is. And now works for Res. The only link the goddess of death has with her divine kin.

Riegan supposes it’s why Reto is always happy to see him. Any news of his sister is good news, even if it’s bad. Because it means she’s still at work. Bartels strangely likes him too, or at least tolerates him. Life’s full of second-chances.

Death’s not malleable. It’s permanent. Except for the goddess of the afterlife herself. The only one of their kind who technically can’t be killed, as it’s her domain. And he guesses that’s why he and all other godkind prefer to not entertain the reality of her existence.






ii.

 

With the festival over, it’s back to business in the mortal realm. All gods return to being busy with their assigned roles. To meet again in another thousand years. He wonders which couples or groups of their kin will cavort this millennium, and what chaos will ensue because of how fickle they are.

As for him, with a higher number of responsibilities under his sash than most, he’s one of the more preoccupied of the bunch. Riegan wanders the north, looking for good places to grow vegetation once the snow has melted. To see which trees didn’t survive the brunt of winter and restore them.

There’s a scream in the forest, and he goes to it.

Someone has been stabbed. A thief with a bloodied dagger takes off with a pouch of coins from a peasant. His clothes are full of patchwork. Probably didn’t have a lot on him.

He dies slowly from the open wound on his chest. Turning the white snow a bright crimson. Riegan sees the man’s spirit sit up from his worldly vessel, looking around until realization dawns on him that he’s no longer breathing. The ghost weeps as he stands over his fresh corpse, moaning about his wife and child who’ll be left without food.

And that’s when he sees the shadowy figure.

Literally, a figure of shadows. No clothing, no hair. Doesn’t even have a face, really. Just blue eye sockets in a shadowed human-shaped body. Small, shorter than the ghost. Lean. When they walk, wisps of shadows dissipate at their feet.

“Please no, don’t take me,” the ghost weeps, covering his face. “I’m not ready I—my family needs…”

The figure holds out their hand, standing there. The ghost weeps more. Wails. His grievances, his fond memories, his hopes and aspirations. And the figure waits, still as a statue, their arm still held out to the spectral man.

An exchange happens, one Riegan can’t hear. Only listens to the ghost say he understands, and no, he doesn’t want an Agarthan monster to swallow his spirit, and turn him into a denizen of evil. He cries some more, and the shadowy figure hugs him. His shoulders stop shaking, and he steps away from them, nodding.

The largest tree nearest to them starts to crack down the middle from the base up. Makes a concave space, and a stairway of earth downward. The shadow escorts the ghost by the hand, before letting go as they stand next to the new entrance, almost like a guard.

With hesitant steps, the ghost walks down the stairs, and disappears into the darkness. The shadowy figure looks at the corpse left behind after they close the portal. The tree dies—Riegan can feel it—once it’s put back together.

And that’s how he knows who this figure is.

He’s never seen her before. She looks… nothing, like his divine kin. Nothing like Reto, either. Or Eisner. Just a humanoid concentration of shadowy darkness. Two blue glowing sockets on her face in the shape of eyes. And yet, she’s not exactly terrifying either. Just… all around indescribable.

Res kneels down next to the corpse, running her hand over its eyes to close them. She takes one of the patches out from the coat, and poofs it away in her grasp.

As she stands, Riegan makes the mistake of stepping forward, and saying with a smile, “Hey there.”

Her eyes… light sockets? Eyes. Widen as she sees him. And before he can tell her to wait, she vanishes. Body splitting apart into threads of darkness to join the shadows of whatever objects are nearby.

“Damn, she’s fast.”

“She does that with all non-mortals who can see her. Don’t take it personally, my friend.”

Blaiddyd walks toward him, snow crunching underneath his boots. He looks a lot bigger with all of those furs wrapped around him. Riegan remembers several long winters where he and the Prince of Frost, as he likes to call him, spent many weeks entangled together in the furs of his bed, back in his winter palace. (That next spring sure was bountiful, oh boy.)

“I’ve never seen her before,” he replies. “Definitely didn’t think she’d look like that. Or more accurately, didn’t think she’d look like… nothing, really.”

“That is not how she originally appeared.”

“Oh? Now you’ve piqued my curiosity.”

His ethereal ally shakes his head with a smile. “A memory not for you, I’m afraid. It only belongs to Reto, and Eisner.” He frowns, and poofs up another coat of furs for Riegan, placing it around him. “I’m one of the few gods who continuously catches glimpses of her. Winter has many deaths above the rest of the year, so she’s at her most active in the mortal realm during this time. But I get the feeling she dislikes me.”

Riegan thanks him for the coat, not that he even feels cold if he doesn’t want to. “Why’s that?”

They walk together as he continues his work of restoring certain trees and bushes for the upcoming spring. “I hold the memories of all,” Blaiddyd reminds. “When she looks upon me, I think it causes her sorrow for the life she lost with her brother, wandering the world without heavy responsibilities. A life of companionship. Of someone to talk to.”

He guesses Bartels isn’t a good conversational partner, even to death.

“Not your fault though,” Riegan comforts.

“True, though I still cannot help but feel sad for her. Pity, even….”

Sighing, Riegan places his hand on the dead tree that was used to make a portal to Abyss. The crack mends itself and is imbued with verdant life, to bide its time until the spring.

“There’s nothing to be done about it, I guess.” Res is stubborn, like Reto said, and if she doesn’t want something, then she’ll make sure she won’t take it. “Anyway, after I’m done with this forest, I can stop by the palace and spruce up the place. Then you and I can have a hearty meal! Full of warm broths and sweet breads.”

Blaiddyd smiles at him. “I would appreciate that very much, yes.”

Once the forest is looked over, they take a detour to the village, the one the deceased peasant lived in. Blaiddyd asks why, and gives an “ah” when Riegan leaves a load of crops and other ingredients to sustain the man’s family through the rest of winter. Materializes them all over the kitchen table, seeing that no one is home right now.

“That was very kind,” he comments, once they’ve warped to his winter palace.

“Nah, not kind. Beings like us don’t feel things like that. Unless it’s part of our job.”

“Perhaps. But there is no other word I can use to describe it.”

 

 

 

 

 

iii.

 

After that time, Res flits to the forefront of his mind now and again. Especially when he sees Reto at some duke’s summer wedding. A few other gods are there too, like Aegir, god of fortune, and Gloucester, god of wealth. Arnault, goddess of love, is also among them. Three gods often prayed to and given offerings for moments like these.

“I saw your sister,” Riegan tells him during the reception in the grand hosting room. They watch as the humans mingle and dance in all of their finery.

Reto is quiet for a minute, not looking at him as he asks, “You did?”

“Yup. A few months ago. Coincidence, really.”

“Oh. How is she?”

“When was the last time you saw her again? Just wanna know before I tell you.”

That causes him to frown. “I can’t remember. Since that first Millennium Festival, I guess.”

“Being that you’re twins, did she look a lot like you?”

Shaking his head, he replies, “Not identical. But we had the same dark hair and blue eyes. Until I got my new look. As far as I remember, Res kept hers. Why?”

“Weeelll, she looks nothing like you now. Nothing like any of us, really.”

Quiet settles between them as the musicians start to play another song. A more upbeat tune that has couples gliding across the floor in circles around each other.

“…How does she look?” he inquires softly.

“Do you really wanna know?”

Reto casts him a glare. Riegan holds his hands up. “Alright, alright!” So he tells him what Res looked like. The brief encounter they had before she vanished. And his face slowly falls into a frown, furrowed brow and all.

“That can’t be her,” he says like a fact.

“No, it was. You know I wouldn’t lie to you—I can’t, actually. It’s physically impossible for me to fib. She’s a shadow of her former self. Guess spending so much time among the dead, isolated from everyone else in a gloomy place like Abyss, will do things to a god’s complexion.”

The glare doesn’t leave his friend’s face, but at some point he’s looking through him rather than at him. What could be going on in his mind, he’s not quite sure. He doubts Reto will tell him even if he asked.

“Oh, stop bothering him!” Arnault says, sliding up to them. A wine glass is in her hand. “We should be reveling in a day like this! Of weddings and love—despite there being no love on the bride’s behalf. Feel sorry for her.”

“You look as beautiful as ever, Arnault,” Aegir says, joining them. “Would you perhaps like to dance?”

“No thank you,” she says with a roll of her eyes. “Just because we spent all of last year embroiled in our trysts, doesn’t mean I want to associate with you whenever.”

He goes pink in the cheeks and sputters a response, but nothing comes out except a complaint about telling other people their business. Beside him, Gloucester releases a haughty laugh at the other god’s embarrassment. 

“Ah, you forget, dear Aegir, that we know all happenings to occur among our kind. Remember to conduct yourself in a more respectable manner if you do not want that knowledge to be widely available.”

“You’re right, Gloucester,” Riegan replies, crossing his arms as he grins. “Like that time you and Gautier got a little too frisky during that colorful viscount’s wedding three decades ago?”

He scoffs, face growing red like the roses adorned to his sash. “Wh—I never—!”

“You did,” Reto replies, face straight. That has Arnault laughing, and Riegan snickering behind his fist.

Even Aegir looks less flustered now, giving his own smile. “Do not be appalled. He is, after all, a god who holds dominion over lust.”

“I was not—how could you even—that was in the distant past!”

“Aww, but sweetie,” comes Gautier’s silky voice as he hugs the pompous god from behind, “I thought you liked our little fling?”

“Why are you even here?!” he shrieks, pushing himself away. Gautier laughs at him, a handsome grin settling on his face. Riegan has fallen to his charms one too many times, but at least neither of them make a big deal out of their romps. Everyone present in the current circle has fallen for his charisma at one point or another, actually. At least he gives a real good time.

“C’mon, you know the answer,” Gautier replies, leaning against Reto casually. “Debauchery in earnest is gonna happen tonight. Some have even called out to me for assistance.”

Arnault scoffs, face scrunching in disgust. Unfortunately for many, he also happens to be the god of fertility because none of the female-aligned deities of Sothis’s pantheon wanted it for one reason or another. (Riegan was even asked to take it, being that he makes the land ‘fertile’ for harvests and the warm months. But he shut down that suggestion real fast.)

“Well have fun,” Riegan says. “I’m sure nothing bad can come of this in nine months’ time for persons already committed to others. Nothing at all.”

“Hey, it’s not my problem if people get killed over love affairs,” he says, shrugging. “They know it’s wrong, but do it anyway. I’m just here to fulfill the desire.”

Not that he’s incorrect. And not that Riegan personally cares. But he wonders how humans would think of the gods they pray to. Concerned only with their domains and not the others that might cause chaos as a result of them. Beings with skewed moral centers, because they weren’t created to live fleeting lives.

And when the party has died down, and everyone returns to their inns or the rooms of the palace that’s hosting them, Riegan is the only one left. Gautier is somewhere, flitting from floor to floor, room to room, no doubt working his magic.

It’s the middle of the night when he sees it. Shadows flickering along the walls, gathering in a swirl, slipping underneath the door at the end of the hallway. He follows it, phasing through the wooden barrier between him and the tragedy he’s about to see.

One of the servants is laid out on the bed in her smallclothes. Eyes unseeing as her body stills. Her spirit lifts out of her corpse and she screams. Cries as she touches the face of her flesh vessel. Her lover—one of the lords who was invited to the wedding—starts to gather his things. Checks the room for any evidence of him ever being there.

Res is there again, watching as he disappears out the door with a cup, and away from the servants’ quarters.

“I was poisoned!” cries the woman. “I just—I thought he loved me! But when I told him I was with child, h-he got this look on his face and I—the tea I didn’t think was—!”

Again, he can’t hear what Res is saying to her. But the young maiden still weeps, clutching her stomach. Whatever the death goddess says to her, it stops the woman’s sobbing.

“That’s… true. At least, wherever it’s born next… maybe it’ll have a more merciful life….”

Unlike last time though, the ghost notices him. “Who are you?” she asks, pointing. Res stares at him with wide eyes. Her steps are hurried as the shadows flick at her feet, pushing him out the door forcefully. He phases through the solid slab of wood, too shocked to even go back.

Res slips into the hallway, her gaze on him. She says nothing, eyes narrowed in his direction.

“Oh, we meet again!” he greets. “I didn’t think I’d see you a second time, really.” She still doesn’t reply, so he continues, “Are you angry I interrupted your work? Didn’t mean to, honest. I was just curious. I’m Riegan, by the way. God of nature, harvest, feasts, celebration, and truth. And you’re Res, right? Goddess of death.”

She says nothing. Only regards him with a cold countenance before she disappears in the shadows, back to Abyss.

“Rude. And after I said hello too.” He returns to the room and notices the ghost of the woman is gone. Her corpse, however, is now in a nightgown. Did Res put it back on to spare her the humiliation of whoever happens to find her body? And like the last guy, her eyes are closed now, as is her mouth. There’s a piece of cloth missing from the bottom hem of her gown.

“Yikes,” comes Gautier’s voice from behind him. “Oof, that’s not how I left her, I swear.” He makes a face at the lifeless husk of the woman, commenting about how cold she feels once he places a hand on her neck.

“I know you didn’t. Her crappy lover killed her after she said she was pregnant. Res came to guide her spirit to the afterlife.”

“Woah.” He walks over to Riegan, eyes wide. A slow smile starts to appear on his lips. “Are you saying you saw her? No one’s seen her for thousands of years—they forgot what she looked like. And Blaiddyd won’t tell me. But she must be gorgeous considering Reto is.”

“If you like nondescript shadows in the shape of a gingerbread man, then sure.”

He steps back, cocking an eyebrow. “What?”

And so he explains how he saw Res. Literally nothing notable about her. Not even with a body that others would consider ‘womanly’ in the stereotypical sense (whatever that really means). No curves anywhere. Or long eyelashes, luscious hair, mesmerizing eyes. Just orbs of blue light, really, glowing against a completely black general humanoid figure.

“That sucks. But… I wonder why she looks like that?”

Riegan shrugs. “Who knows. Us gods can take whatever form we please, so maybe she wants to look like that.”

Why, though? That’s what I don’t get. She could’ve worn a cloak or something if she didn’t want anyone seeing her.”

He doesn’t have an answer, and he also doesn’t care. He’s not the purveyor of beauty (that’s Goneril), so things like that aren’t worth much to him.

The next time he visits the same territory for someone’s celebration of whatever, he stops by that bastard lord’s estate, and sets pests to destroy his grandiose garden he loves so much.

Edmund, goddess of animals, doesn’t like that he used her insects and rodents to cause havoc for something trivial like this, but… well, the guy had it coming to him.



 

 

 

iv.

 

Throughout the rest of the year, Riegan just happens to find Res now and again. No really, he does. Maybe it’s because he’s nature personified, and in nature, things die. So, obviously, he’s gonna see death.

He tries to chat her up, all smiles and friendly tones. In return, she always looks at him with blatant distrust, or sometimes outright contempt. Never says anything to him before she leaves. Just glares, really. But he doesn’t interrupt her moments with the departed. The moments where, he assumes, she’s consoling them to pass on to prevent them from becoming an Agarthan Beast. (Those bastards sure love to prey on everything the mortal world has to offer, huh?)

At around the 500th encounter or so, his luck changes.

It’s after the funeral of some village peasant. The soil here is bad, so his family couldn’t put any flowers over his plot. Riegan grows beautiful white ones all around the tombstone when no one is nearby to watch the supposedly miraculous growth.

Res appears then, staring him down.

“Oh, hey! You like ‘em? I thought these flowers would be fitting since they symbolize rebirth.”

She poofs up a hovering looking glass framed by shadows in front of her. The reflection shows the spot where the villager died, which now has a small cluster of flowers. She goes through many similar views into places where people have died outside of man-made structures. All of them are now patches of flowers and healthy grass. Even the ones where no one came to give them a proper burial. The flora just spawns within their exposed skeletons, moss covering the white of bone with tiny clovers huddled up where it meets the ground.

“Ah, that. Well, it’s a little gift from me to them. Kind of like a remembrance thing. Every time I see those patches, I’ll remember someone died there.”

The goddess of death continues to stare at him, her unasked ‘Why’ hanging in the air. Does she prefer not to talk? Or can she even speak at all?

“If you’re wondering why,” he guesses, “it’s because I felt like it. Give a little cheer to the place. A reminder that life goes on, even if one has passed. New beginnings and all of that.”

She’s silent (okay well she’s always like that every time they meet) at his response. Riegan grows a small white flower with five petals, the tapered points tinged a slight pink. The center of the flower turns into a gradient of a soft green, matching the color of the pistil.

He presents it to her with a dramatic flourish of his arm. She blinks at it before taking it in her hand. Well, it’s more like a stub than a hand. Hell, she doesn’t have toes, or even feet, really. He meant it when he told Gautier that her form is like that of a gingerbread man cookie. Wonder why that is?

Res stares at it for a long time, unmoving. Finally, she looks up at him, all irritation gone from her eyes.

“It’s a Remire Star,” he explains. “Symbolizes truth. Honesty. That’s what ‘death’ is, isn’t it? The end of life. A hard, honest truth for every mortal. While lots of cultures have different ways of approaching death, the culture we oversee is pretty simple, and not always in a good way. Must frustrate you a lot, huh?”

She still remains silent, staring back at the flower.

“You can keep it; it’s yours. Back on Zanado, I noticed there isn’t a shrine for you. Bartels has one though, like the rest of us gods have. There’s no shrine for you in Fódlan either. So consider this your first gift! From Nature himself,” he ends with a wink. “I know better than most how important death is. It’s why nature is allowed to cycle, because death is there to make sure it’s not overwhelmed. Wouldn’t you agree?”

When she only gives a single nod, Riegan smiles. “Glad we’re on the same page! But carrying that around might be bothersome. Here, let me see it.”

He takes it from her when she hands it back to him. He places it on her head, the stem disappearing into the shadows, and it surprisingly stays there. “Look at that! Now your hands are free. You’ll probably put it somewhere else when you get home, but at least for now you won’t drop it.”

Res touches it delicately with her stub-for-hand before looking down at the grass. Interestingly enough, if Riegan squints, he thinks he can vaguely see a pinkness where her cheeks would be.

And then she’s gone. Melted into the shadows.

“Well,” he huffs, “at least she didn’t flee as fast as before.”



 

 

 

v.

 

Next time he sees her, she doesn’t have the flower on her. But she shows him a looking glass image of a small gray vase where the flower is currently living. It makes him smile and laugh, and she glances at the ground as he does.

Time passes, and that’s sort of how things go. Res won’t push him away anymore, but she still doesn’t talk. For whatever reason, she always looks surprised to see him at funerals. A few times, he secretly witnesses her going to the spots where people and animals have died to look at the patches of flowers he leaves after their bodies have gone, in one way or another. She doesn’t do anything but stare at them until she fades back into the shadows. And later, Riegan invites her to the spots where she has helped living beings pass on to ask her what kind of flowers would look nice there.

She doesn’t have an opinion on it one way or another. Shrugs most of the time. But he notices she likes white flowers more than any other color.

One day, he invites her into one of his many villas. She’s hesitant at first, but he promises even if she kills something accidentally, he can restore it.

Every home of his is different. He has several in all territories of Fódlan, and at least one in every environment this land has to offer. “But my favorite places to put them are in forests,” he informs. “The highest amount of greenery there.”

The villa they’re currently in is located in a glade. Pristine white marble with gold accents make up the primary material of the architecture. Vines, moss, clovers, and other plants flourish along the walls and hang down from the open ceilings. There’s a pavilion on a large pond dotted with lotuses and lily pads. Frogs, turtles, and beautiful, colorful fish swim about. Butterflies, honey bees, and other cute little bugs roam about the greenery. Birds chirp in the trees—he makes it a point to have every abode of his idyllic.

“It’s nice, isn’t it?” he asks. Res nods. “I love lounging here. That’s why most of my ceilings are open. Oh, one day, I’ll have to take you to my villa in the meadow. Sunflowers as far as the eye can see. My favorite kind of flower, actually. Early in the dawn, you can see deer roaming about as well—my sacred animal, you know.”

She listens to him as he recounts tales of how he chose his living spaces, and which gods or goddesses he had to duel in order to claim the spots as eternally his. Res is a good listener. She nods, or shrugs. Tilts her head in thought. Looks down at her lap. Her eyes follow wherever he points.

As much as he loves sharing, she still hasn’t said a single word to him yet about herself since they met.

“Y’know,” he starts, changing the topic, “I’m familiar with every deity of the Fódlan pantheon. And I mean that in every sense of the word. Well, a lot of them I’m familiar with outside of conversation, if you catch my drift.”

He laughs, but all she does is stare. “Gotta say though, you’re the only one of our kin that I don’t know anything about. Only heard things from others. Which weren’t very flattering, in all honesty. And now that I’ve met you, I can see those were all lies. I mean, I knew they were, but I still wanted to see for myself.”

Res blinks at him, then stares down at her lap. Riegan watches her for a minute. She’s probably never gotten a smidge of a compliment in her long life, at least starting from the point when she became the goddess of death.

“Bartels highly respects you,” he starts. “Met him a few times. Not the friendliest guy in the least, but he only had positive things to say about Res, the death goddess. You must be an amazing boss. Queen of Abyss. Now that’s a mighty title!”

She continues to remain silent, so he offers, “How about I come and visit you sometime down at your place? I’ve never been to Abyss. Curious about the scenery.”

Almost immediately she shakes her head.

“Why not? Really, I do wanna see it.”

Res shakes her head again. She looks around and gets up to the nearest flowering bush. She stares at him, and then touches the thing.

The colors fade, the flowers wilt. The leaves start to fall off one by one until it’s barren and lifeless.

Riegan rubs at his chin, the coarse hair lining his jaw brushing against his fingers. “Are you telling me everything’s dull and dreary down there?”

She nods.

“Well I still want to see it anyway,” he says, hoisting himself forward and up from his ornate cushion. He places his hand on the bush, and almost immediately it sprouts back to life.

“We’re friends, right?” She stares wide-eyed at that, and he can’t help but grin. “Think it’s only fair I get to see your house too, regardless of what shape it takes.”

It takes a few more words of encouragement before she agrees. Res looks surprised again when he asks to go right now. But she guides him there anyway. Outside his villa, she kills a big tree to use it as a stairway.

The descent only takes a couple of minutes. There’s nothing to see during that time. Just gray stone stairs and darkened dirt walls. But once they get to the bottom, that’s when it opens up.

And it opens up to… nothing, actually.

For how many mortals and immortals talk unfavorably of Abyss, it’s not at all terrifying like they made it out to be (which he knew, again, but still). It just looks like an infinite cavern with an endless ceiling that fades into the darkness. Everything is in some shade of gray, with the slightest tinges of purples or deep blues. Sometimes black.

If he has to describe it, it’s honestly boring. A bit of a let-down, really.

They follow a dirt path. Along the way, he sees a sandy desert-like area full of wandering souls. This has to be the Infinite Sands. For those who were neither too good or too bad while alive. They don’t suffer in eternity, but it’s also no paradise.

Down a slope is an oasis of sorts brimming with light and vibrant colors. Like if the sun is permanently shining down on it from an unknown source. The Isles of Sothis, the paradise for souls monumentally comprised more of virtue than vice. To live out their eternity in peace, never wanting for anything. (He notices it’s much, much smaller than the Sands.)

Res leads them over an unpaved bridge made up of the cavern’s stone. Several rivers flow under it, but never join another. They snake into the far distance, too far for him to see if they ever end. Res points to them and shakes her head, possibly warning him to not touch those.

They take a detour up a rocky cliff. The further they climb, the hotter and brighter it gets. A searing red spans a good chunk of the nearest horizon. When they reach the top, Res looks down, leading Riegan to do so as well.

Magma flows at the very bottom. There are several large slabs of stone, each held up by a spire, over the boiling depths. It smells like brimstone here, or some kind of noxious gas, and is almost suffocating. Screams, moans, groans, wailing—none pleasant sounds. And he knows what this is. The last potential place a soul can go, but for the ones filled with malice, malevolence, no remorse, shameless villainy, and so on.

Aillel, the Valley of Eternal Torment.

Upon closer inspection, he sees each slab of stone is a catered punishment to match what a rotten soul did while they had a flesh vessel. To live it out over and over forevermore.

Wow, this place, at least, is probably what everyone up on the surface thinks Abyss is like.

“It’s uh… got a lot of residents, doesn’t it?” he asks. Res only nods solemnly. “Well, at least it’s smaller than the Infinite Sands. That has to be a good thing, right?” He gets a shrug at that, though she stares at the ground for a few seconds before leading him away.

He’s glad to get out of the morbid heat and back on the dirt path. There’s nothing to see again. Just plain hills of dead gray grass. Res stops them at an edge of the cavern—which he honestly thought would never have one. A stone staircase pops out of the earth and she ascends it with him following close behind.

At the end of it is a door of dead wood. Not shaped like anything. As if it was just ripped off a tree. She opens it and lets him pass through first.

The room is a small cave. A stone bed is carved out into the furthest wall. It’s lined with hay and a blanket over it. The pillow is stuffed with hay too. The counter that runs along the wall is even for the most part. Nothing on there except several large books, a scale, and a plain orb of some kind. (He wonders if that’s the Heart of Sothis, a special gem said to be used by Death to weigh it against souls in order to determine their eternal resting place.)

A rolled up quilt lays on the last empty spot of the counter. Different patches of cloth makes it somewhat colorful in mainly neutral tones, clearly not done going by the uneven length at the newest edge. And then there’s the vase with the Remire Star tucked away in a corner near the bed.

In the center of the room is a black cauldron. And some spaces behind it is a spindly tree with the Death Fruit hanging from it. Named so because of its shape. Bulbous on the top until it comes to an uneven taper, like a skull missing its mandible. A deep purple color with dark leaves that have serrated edges.

“Is this…,” he starts slowly, “your house?”

She nods.

Riegan huffs, eyebrows raised as he puts his hands on his hips. “Well, it’s not like mine, that’s for sure. And it’s certainly different than all the other abodes the gods live in. But it’s… homey, on some level.”

“You don’t need to lie.”

“Now now, you know that’s physically impossible for m—wait, hold on. You…”

“Can talk? Yes. I just choose not to.”

Her voice is… melodious. Smooth. Alluring, even. Makes him shiver in a good way.

“Why not?” He grins then, laughing slightly. “It’s nice hearing real words coming out of your mouth. Even if, well, I can’t see your mouth.”

“That’s my choice too, to look like this.” She gestures to herself. “I made it so my voice can only be heard by the departed. Better that I don’t talk when I’m in the mortal world.”

“And why’s that, if you don’t mind me asking?” When she falls silent again, he tries, “I think I deserve to be privy to at least that much, don’t I? Especially as associates working in tandem.”

Res huffs silently, and sits down on her bed. With nowhere else to take a seat, Riegan puffs up a cushion and sits on the nearest stone that juts out unevenly beside the bed.

“My voice,” she starts, “is an ill omen for whoever alive hears it. Will tempt them to… ‘reach for death’, as the humans say. My original appearance had the same effect. I dislike being directly responsible for mortals intentionally trying to seek my domain. That’s part of why my reputation is the way it is. Why I’m called the ‘Ashen Demon’ by them, and not the goddess of death. To be a goddess is to be revered. A demon is the opposite.”

He’s quiet for a minute. “You still could’ve chatted me up in my villa. All of them are pocket realms in the mortal one.”

“Precautionary measures.”

Riegan hums, nodding. “Same thing for your appearance then, correct?”

“Yes. I like my original look, but this one has grown comfortable over the years. Departed souls see me in whatever form they think death is. Gods, like you, see me like this.”

“Blaiddyd knows your true appearance, though.”

“Because he has Reto’s memories. And Eisner’s, my father.” Res stares down at her lap. “How… are they doing?”

“Your family? They’re good,” he says casually. “You should visit them.”

“No.”

Riegan lays back on his cushion, elbow propped up and a fist to his cheek when he’s reclined. “No?”

She stares at him, then looks out at nothing in the direction of the cauldron. “I get jealous,” she admits. “Envious, is the more appropriate word. Reto got… everything. And my father, while some may think blacksmithing nothing to praise, still has something much more positive. Tools to protect. To build. To sustain. It’s neither of their faults, but…”

“You still feel like you got the short end of the stick.”

Nodding, she replies, “Yes.”

Res gets up and goes to the spindly tree, plucking a Death Fruit from it. She tosses it into the cauldron as a purple fire springs to life underneath. It fills with some liquid that melts the fruit until it’s boiling a violet color.

“Anyway, this is my house. It’s not much, but I’m not very creative. That’s all there is to say about me.” She grabs a ladle and small bowl from the stone wall, as if it were made of clay. “I’m going to have dinner.”

“That a sign for kicking me out?” he jokes.

“Not kicking you out. More like saying, ‘thanks for visiting, but I want time to myself now’. Once you open the door, it’ll reveal a staircase back up to the surface.”

Riegan gets up and poofs the cushion away. As he walks past the cauldron, he asks, “This your entire dinner?”

“It’s the only thing that grows in Abyss—the only plant-life that exists here, actually. And it’s just this singular tree. Us gods don’t need to eat or anything, but,” she shrugs, “I do it just to do it, I guess.”

He watches her fill the bowl as he loiters by the door. Res sits down on the bed, watching the steam emit from the liquid, until she starts to slowly sip it from the bowl directly. When she notices him staring, she just waves.

Taking that second cue, he leaves, and as soon as the door closes, it disappears, leaving nothing but a wall of earth. And the higher up the staircase he goes, the more and more dirt clusters around, erasing the stone steps.

Once he’s out of the tree, the portal is gone for good. Riegan restores the thing until it stands tall and proud with a full head of leaves.

You’re a lonely one, aren’t you, Res?

 

 

 

 

 

vi.

 

He’s called to Zanado sometime later for an audience with Seiros. Riegan has a feeling he knows why. After all, the woodland spirits and other sentient phenomena lurking about in the land spread gossip fast.

“Good to see you again, Riegan,” she greets.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t feel the same. “Did you summon me here for a rundown of how this year’s harvest is going to go? Or to tell me that you’d like me to plan the next Millennium Festival again?”

“No, it is nothing about your talents, though they are related to what I wish to discuss.”

She leads them to the lush gardens, overflowing with water and greenery. Looks like a paradise, much like the Isles of Sothis. Probably where the inspiration came from.

They sit down in Seiros’s personal pavilion. It rests up on a modest hill with a small stream flowing down into a vast lake. Several more pavilions around are similar, connected by bridges or hopping stones.

This particular one has sheer white curtains, giving them some semblance of privacy. An air spirit brings a tray of tea with decadent snacks, each one prepared with immaculate detail of ingredients. Tarts, sweet buns, cuts of fish on baked breads, savory cheeses, and the like. All lined with ambrosia, the nectar of the gods. Only found in Zanado. Even then, they don’t eat this particular ingredient except for special occasions.

Or, if one intends to bribe another god to do something specific.

“I have heard through Cassagranda’s grapevine,” oh right, she’s also the goddess of wine and adjacent beverages, “that one of our kin rarely seen has been appearing more as of late.”

“You mean Res.”

“Goddess of death, yes.” Seiros sips her tea, and then eats a kind of crumbly cake. With a napkin, she daintily wipes away any excess speckles of it around her lips. “While it would please me to have our kin all get along, some of them are better left to their lonesome to do their jobs well. Res is one of them.”

“And why’s that?”

Seiros takes another quiet sip of her tea. Riegan has yet to touch anything on his plate. “Death is one of the most important aspects of existence, as you know. Delicate at times, even. She cannot be distracted from her work.”

“A thankless job, I’ve noticed.”

The matron goddess gives him a smile, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. “It is one she does remarkably well. Keeps her brother Life from being overwhelmed. I could not be more proud, and there is no one more fitting for the task than she.”

“One she didn’t get to choose.”

He’s treading a fine line here, and his frustration probably isn’t warranted. But gods are petty things. Fickle. Like children throwing tantrums, and it’s his turn to stomp around.

“No, she did not,” comes Seiros’s quiet reply. “But she and her brother have such important domains that it would not do well for them to get consumed by too much revelry.”

“Life, as much as I adore the guy, takes part in a lot of revelry. He’s a great multi-tasker, you know. Oversees most of us, considering his position, while also being entertained or even seduced, and loving every moment of it.” And Riegan knows that Seiros and Reto had in fact been in bed several times before. He’s her favorite out of the entire pantheon, after all.

The gentle breeze flutters the sheer curtains as Seiros closes her eyes to feel it brush against her skin. A true smile appears then, telling of how much she enjoys her own dominion.

“Reto is life itself,” she says, her eyes still closed. “It would be strange for him to not partake in the joys it has to offer. The same cannot be said for Res, however, as she is the antithesis.”

Looking at him now, Seiros goes on, “Nature is also of the utmost importance. The harvest, particularly. It is unwise for such a verdant aspect to be synonymous with death. I ask that you please remember this should you wish to continue associating with Res.”

He hears the thinly veiled threat between her sweet smile and the chirping of the birds as they fly by. Knows why Seiros is giving him a carefully worded warning.

Mortals cannot kill gods. The divine with lesser domains can be weakened, but never outright killed. And to attempt to kill the ones at the very top (Seiros, Cichol, Cethleann, Macuil, and Indech. Sky, sun, moon, earth, and sea) is nigh impossible. Many have attempted, even other immortals, and every single one of them have failed.

But the Progenitor, Sothis (truly the only one of their kind to have any sort of stable ‘moral’ core), who commands time and space itself, outside of even the realm of Zanado, had set just one single way to destroy any god should they fall disastrously out of line. Buried out of reach from all except one.

The goddess of death, Res. The only being capable of wielding whatever it is that can kill a god. (Or maybe it’s her herself.)

Of course, Sothis set it up so only few are privy to it, and only find out once the position has been given to someone permanently. Res is surely aware of it, but to kill a god is more trouble than it’s worth. Depending on the dominion, other divinity might fight for the vacant role and cause needless strife for a long period of time, making them neglect the things they’re already in charge of.

Would cause a lot of work for Death. She’d then have to manage a large influx of mortal souls who would be collateral damage in the process. That’s probably why Seiros leaves her well enough alone, including other gods. Why she wants her to be left as such.

If Death has no allies, then there’s no manipulation. No favors to be owed. No doing things for another because they’re friends—or lovers. And while Riegan doubts Res is gullible at all, or even stupid, he can understand Seiros’s caution.

Doesn’t mean he has to like it, or agree with it.

Once upon a time, he might’ve fancied killing the sky goddess, along with some other pesky kin that rub him the wrong way. But then there’d be less mortals to celebrate him since they’d unwittingly die in the process of the conflict.

“My domain is important, yes,” he agrees. “That’s why I’m careful not to jeopardize it. So there’s no need to worry, Your Grace. I’m not concocting any schemes. Death is just a part of nature, much as it is a part of life. Makes sense we’d meet up often. Don’t you agree?”

When she doesn’t respond, but instead stares at him with a neutral expression, he gets up from his seat. “Anyway, I better go. The harvest will be upon the humans soon, and I need to make sure it goes well this year. Blaiddyd is in another one of his moods, and that means this winter won’t be a pretty one.”

Seiros doesn’t stop him, but he does feel her eyes on him as he walks away. And so he warps down to the mortal realm again, noticing the sky has gotten a little overcast. If she ends up creating a thunderstorm, he’ll probably just roll his eyes at her dramatics.

No matter what she says, that’s not going to stop him from having Res in his company.

 

 

 

 

 

vii.

 

The harvest is upon humankind. This year is especially plentiful, not just in preparation for the harsh winter that’s to come (Blaiddyd can’t help but dwell on those memories he controls, poor guy), but because Riegan was feeling particularly generous.

And it’s his good mood that prompts him to throw a celebration in his own honor. At his biggest villa with plenty of music and merriment to go around. Inviting the gods and goddesses he actually likes, has slept with before, or is at the very least, amused by them.

“I have a surprise for you,” he tells Reto, refilling his wine goblet and handing him a turkey leg.

“Oh, more surprises?” he asks with a smile, taking a huge bite out of the thing. The guy’s always been a big eater. Makes sense Life would need sustenance to continue. And why Res doesn’t eat at all, except that watery broth with only one ingredient.

“Yup. To show my appreciation to you as my direct boss. And also to your old man, for making the tools humans use to cultivate what I plant.”

He has father and son meet him outside his pocket realm. It’s evening, on the outskirts of some town. When the two gods ask him why he brought them here, he tells them to wait.

An angry drunk is having an argument with a woman, her child hiding behind her. This escalates, and the man takes out a dagger, threatening her. She backs away, but the child—having so much love for his mother—tries to push the man away when he grabs the woman’s hair to bring her closer.

Which results in the son being sliced in the neck, and the mother wailing. As she cries over her child, sobbing that the man will regret this, he kills her next via a stab to the chest. Then he stumbles away, apparently realizing what he did, and tosses the dagger in the nearby river.

The ghostly forms of the mother and child appear next to their corpses. The son doesn’t understand why his mother is holding him so close, and why she’s ‘glowing’ when her body is over there with his.

And then she appears.

Res refused Riegan’s invitation to his harvest celebration. (When she asked if others would be there, he couldn’t lie to her. Downside of being a truth god.) He had planned for her to meet her brother and father since they couldn’t go down to see her. But with that plan foiled, he had to improvise.

“Is that…,” Eisner whispers, unable to look away. Reto says nothing, transfixed on the shadowy figure talking with the spirits of mother and child.

“Yeah, it is.”

The mother wipes away her spectral tears, taking her son’s hand. Res pats her shoulder, then kneels down to eye-level with the child. She ruffles his hair and he smiles. She takes his other hand, and together they walk to a nearby tree. Res opens up a stairway and guards it as the spirits pass through, into the afterlife.

Once it closes, Reto all but runs up to her. “Res?”

She freezes, staring at him with wide eyes. Sees her father there, and Riegan. He half expects her to glare at him or disappear into the abundant shadows of the evening, but it’s like she’s paralyzed.

“It’s been so long,” Reto continues. “You… Riegan once told me this is… you now. I…”

There’s such a stark contrast between them that it almost hurts to look at. Even in the dark of the night, Reto glows with his vibrant robes and refreshing mint hair, eyes pools of cyan vitality. Res, however, almost blends into the background.

“Kid,” Eisner greets. Still looking bewildered himself. He swallows hard as he stares at his daughter. Perhaps at a loss for words. His wife Sitri—the twins’ mother—was lost to them long ago, to live in the stars. Maybe seeing his daughter like this, as dark as the night sky, makes him relive that pain.

When she still doesn’t move, Reto smiles genuinely. “It’s nice to see you, even if this is how you choose to… look. I’m still so glad that after all this time we can meet again.”

Res finally reacts, taking a deep breath. She glances at Riegan, almost glares considering the way her eyes are shaped now.

“You said they can’t come to you,” he explains, “so I decided this was a decent alternative. Have fun catching up. I gotta continue to be a good host.”

And so he leaves them, as much as he wishes to eavesdrop. Along the way back to his villa, he runs into Kirsten, god of family. The man’s smiling wide at him, and says, “I know what you did.”

“Uh-oh. Is that good or bad?”

“Good!” he replies, wrapping him up in a tight hug. Oh, yeah, he’s also the god of strength. Something about using it to protect loved ones. “Oh, I’m gonna go over there to make sure no one bothers ‘em.” Then he leaves, but not before taking a giant platter of food with him.

The night passes on well enough with gods and goddesses making their exit once things wind down. Goneril, the goddess of beauty, is draped over him as she watches their kin mingle in their drunken stupor or lazy haze. Reto and Eisner return sometime later. After saying goodbye to each other, the former disappears down the hall with Leclerc, god of mischief. Eisner chooses instead to leave with a large barrel of drink, and Riegan can’t blame him.

“Sooo,” Goneril drawls, as she feeds him cut fruits. Her laying on him stomach down, with her legs up, kicking back and forth idly. He only smirks, knowing what she’s about to ask as she pushes the next peach slice between his lips, “a little wood nymph told me you’ve got a new fancy.”

“Is that right?”

She hums, feeding herself a strawberry. “Though, it is a little odd you’re tickled by shadows, of all things.”

“They provide shade, and a place to hide.”

“Hmm.” She tilts her head to the side. “I would’ve thought the next apple of your eye would’ve been someone who actually has a face. Like me again, or Gautier. Arnault too, or sweet Edmund. You and Blaiddyd also have a history.”

“And you’re so invested in my love life because…?”

“I’m bored,” she says simply, shrugging. Goneril scoots up closer to him, stretching out like a languid cat on her back. Nuzzling her face near his neck. “Been a really long time since I’ve had to oversee any divine weddings, you know.”

Right, she’s also the goddess of matrimony. And all the drama that comes with it. “What, you’re not proud of your work with War and Plague?”

She rolls her eyes. “Ugh. The dreariest union I’ve had to oversee in thousands of years. She’s too stunning for him, honestly. But they make a good pair, so I couldn’t resist.”

Plague, as well as famine, is overseen by Hresvelg’s lapdog, Vestra. If angered, together they cause massive devastation upon the mortal realm. Maybe that’s why they married, so they wouldn’t be in opposition. Or maybe because war usually follows after famine, giving the people the urge to revolt for better conditions. But as the goddess to humanity as well, keeping plague at bay also works in her favor.

Riegan, understandably, hates her husband. Makes his job a lot harder when he has to restore the earth after every divine punishment from those two. The few times he can’t stand Reto, who is otherwise pleasant company. Being that he’s life, he knows these things happen, and lets them go through with it. The guy doesn’t play favorites, both inside and outside of his bedchambers. (Gave them both a lot of good, aggressive make-up sex afterward, though. Some of his steamiest memories to date.)

“Why don’t you play matchmaker with someone else? Like Gautier and… I dunno. Yourself?”

She laughs loudly. “As if. I’m not tying myself down with anyone just yet. Buuut, I’d be happy to eternally bind you to someone if you’d like. Would give you more dominion.”

And have Seiros breathe down his neck because how dare he try to take as much as Life gets? No thanks. “I’m good.”

Goneril shrugs. “Alright, suit yourself. Hmm…,” she taps her chin, lips puckered in thought, “I wonder what a wedding for death would be like?”

“Pretty sure she’s a lone wolf.”

“You’re right. After all, she’s not much to look at, is she?”

“No,” he admits carefully. “But gods have married over other things outside of whether or not someone is attractive.”

She agrees with him, but the truth of the matter is that their kin are some of the shallowest beings in existence. Most won’t settle for less, or will cheat around because marriage means little to them (much to Goneril’s dismay, he’s sure).

“Oh I know!” She pats his chest. “You should marry The Hunt, Macneary! She’s gorgeous, and absolutely your type.”

Riegan laughs, shaking his head. Besides, he’s pretty sure Arnault has her eyes on her, if rumor is to be believed.

“I don’t have one,” he says as he feeds his past lover strips of bread with slices of thin meat and herbs. “But, if I ever do decide to wed—which is extremely unlikely—then I’ll let you know.”

“You better,” she says, giving him a chaste kiss at the corner of his mouth.



 

 

 

viii.

 

Reto is in a good mood whenever Riegan visits him now. And Eisner doesn’t try to chase him out of his smithy either like he normally does. Even so, he hasn’t seen Res at all since then.

Not until she finds him standing in front of a small shrine he placed in one of his villas. One he asked Molinaro, god of architecture, to help him with. A part of him is a little worried she can just waltz right in so easily to his pocket realm, and the other half is endeared that she thinks she can.

She points to the shrine, nodding its way. Tapping on the symbol carved into it. Her symbol, an intricate entwining pattern that looks like a flame. But upside-down, the opposite to her brother’s which is right-side up.

“Why is this here?” he guesses aloud for her. “Good question! It’s here because I want it to be. You don’t have a shrine, so it’s my gift to you. Humans of Fódlan aren’t ready yet to honor Death, but that doesn’t mean gods have to be.”

He offers a bountiful platter of fruits and vegetables, tossing it into the divine fire. Res watches him as he goes along, humming to himself. “Consider it another gift from me to you. And if you’re wondering why, it’s because I want to.”

When he turns around, she’s right beside him, looking up. She reaches forward, then pulls her arm back. Opting to nod instead as a ‘thank you’.

“You’re very welcome! You can thank me by inviting me to your place again. Feel like it could use some sprucing up, and I’ve already got plenty of ideas.”

The goddess only agrees with another nod.

Despite his good deed, however, it causes a chain reaction he couldn’t have foreseen.

Apparently, gods don’t build shrines for other gods, unless they’re already married. They don’t even build them if they’re courting or involved in some way. To do so otherwise means they’ve won favor with that dominion. And while he may not be Life, he is still Nature, which might as well be the next best thing.

(Hey, how was he supposed to know this when he’s been a ward for a longer duration of his eternal life than he has been a deity?)

This causes several other gods, even ones he normally interacts with and likes, to act irrationally. (Or, in their case, is this just normal for how finicky their kind is?) And in retaliation for not having won favor with Nature, they make sure Death’s job is as difficult as can be.

Hresvelg and Blaiddyd start it—because of course they do. Always at each other’s throats for whatever reason. The winter that year is harsh, and a war rages from then all the way through the next five winters. Vestra is having a grand ol’ time, as well as the other gods who thrive on discord and suffering. To ‘balance’ the pleasantries of life.

Matters get worse when several gods vy for Pinelli’s help, goddess of victory. Whoever has her on their side is guaranteed to win. A lot of back and forth, because most gods are, in fact, easily bribed. Which, of course, only makes things absolutely chaotic.

Death count for mortals reaches an all-time high. And Riegan is so busy with Reto trying to restore the land that there’s no time for dalliance. Nature himself gets vindictive and causes destruction in revenge to foil the grander threats.

Seiros is not happy he calls upon hurricanes, tornados, and lightning storms. Or that he makes the heat unbearable during the summers, among other things. Eventually she calls him to an audience with the four other grand gods. All of them, except Cethleann who is mostly quiet, vehemently chastise him for trying to disrupt the balance by doing something so foolish.

But he gets off easy, because the mortals are desperate, and worship their gods even more ardently for the chaos to end. More offerings, more prayers, and so on and so forth. The misery does eventually cease, but not without its consequences.

He finds Res at the tail end of all that suffering, guiding a horde of souls into Abyss. When she sees him, she whisks the spirits to the afterlife with a wave of her arm.

Glaring his way, she all but commands him to follow her back into her domain. This time the staircase leads directly to her hovel of a cave.

“I can’t take it anymore!” she yells. “Destroy the shrine! I don’t want it! Look at what it caused! So many souls are down here now, more than I anticipated!”

“Shouldn’t you be happy?” he asks. “More power to you, right?”

Res stares wide-eyed at him, until she shakes her head. Wrath flickers within the blue orbs for eyes. Her invisible brow of shadow furrows, and her shoulders hike.

“You think I want people needlessly dying for the conflicts of the gods? I hate all this suffering. So many humans and wildlife are just gone now. Everyone thinks that I have your favor. Some even think that you have my favor. It started with spending so much time with me, and then treaded dangerous waters when you gave me that meeting with my brother and father.”

“Didn’t you like it?”

“For a while, and then it made me even more envious that I can’t have what they do! That I can’t be up there with them whenever I want! Makes me miss them so much more! It’s not fair in the least! But I didn’t tell you any of this before, because the gesture was genuine, and you thought nothing bad of it. But things have changed now.”

Res paces around the cauldron. “Hresvelg has been after me—my power—for so long. To gain my fancy, much like she tried with my brother. Because if she has the allegiance of Life or Death, then all the better for War and Humanity, I guess!”

She throws her arms up in the air. “And Blaiddyd believes if he has Death as his ally, then less will suffer come winter, or that I can ‘put to death’ memories that haunt him. I can’t! That’s not how my powers work!”

Giving a bitter laugh, she rolls her eyes. “And now Seiros and some of the more powerful gods continue their attempts to seduce me. To get me in their beds so they may gain my favor, when that’s never what I wanted! I know she loves my brother above all others. It’s no secret at this point in our long history as the divine. And I won’t be a substitution or used as some pawn for whatever schemes happen up in the realms I’m not welcome in!”

She hugs herself, staring at the floor. “What is it that you wanted from me, Riegan?” comes the question as she slowly lifts her head to meet his eyes.

Asking it, fully aware he can’t lie to her. She’s crafty. “To understand you, the goddess very few know anything about. If I have that knowledge, that puts me one step ahead over everyone else.” A brief flash of hurt passes in her expression, what he can observe of it anyway. “To see who Death really was. And while I knew everyone else was exaggerating, I was still surprised to see you’re not at all apocalyptic like everyone claimed.”

“How am I then?”

“Considerate,” he starts gently. “Empathetic. The slightest bit docile. I know you can destroy any single one of us without really trying, but you choose not to. The way you treat those who have passed on, it’s almost maternal. How highly you respect life, your brother. Even nature, and all its aspects. How you treat every element of existing in general. It’s… endearing.”

Res looks away, then goes to sit on her bed. “No one wants this job, including me. I still don’t want it, even after all this time. There’s no glamour to it. No glory. No reverence. You’re stigmatized. Forever. By humans, and by your own kin. But…”

She falls quiet, staring at her stubby hands on her lap. “No one else will care for the dead. They’re here for an eternity. And that’s a very long time to be neglected. So… it’s why I do my job well, because I’m the only one I can trust to make sure these souls don’t just evaporate into the void. They deserve better than to just disappear indefinitely.”

“Never thought about it like that,” he says after a pause.

“Of course you didn’t.” There’s a fire in her tone as she glowers at him. “I essentially pick up after all the other gods. Clean up their messes. No matter who it is—even the most benign of them all—will still cause trouble for me, and make Abyss just that much larger. Whether intentionally or unintentionally.”

Riegan watches as she gets up to grab the vase with the Remire Star. Res walks over to him, then hands it back. “I’ve learned my lesson,” she says softly, all ire gone from her tone. There’s just defeat. “I’ll never be welcome in any domain that isn’t mine. I just want all this chaos to stop, and that won’t happen until you destroy my shrine.”

“Yeah but—”

Please,” she lightly begs, “destroy it. I’m not going back up there ever again. I’ll have Bartels pick up the lingering spirits instead, like he normally does. I have about a hundred years’ worth of work to sort out these souls. Not fair of me to keep them waiting. Irresponsible too. Wouldn’t want them to waste away into Agarthan Beasts.”

Though he takes the flower back, he tries to protest, but Res shakes her head.

“Things were better for everyone when I was by my lonesome,” she notes quietly.

“Everyone, except for you,” he says, in his last act of defiance.

Res meets his eyes. “Good bye, Riegan. May we never meet again, for everyone’s sake. Please show yourself out.”

And he does. Only when he’s beyond the door does Res go back to her business. But he stays behind, peeking through the chipped wood, careful not to take the first step away.

He observes as she plucks a Death Fruit from the spindly tree. She sits on her bed, staring at the thing, completely still. The fruit shrivels in her lap for whatever reason. And if he hadn’t been paying attention, he never would’ve noticed it.

Angry tears drop onto the fruit, causing it to raisin. Res curses under her breath, gripping the thing tight. She tosses it in the cauldron, wiping at her eyes with her arm. Then she busies herself with setting up a work area for her scale and that strange round gem of hers. 

A cloud of light orbs hovers around her. When she plucks one from the air and places it on one side of the scale, and the gem on the other, he surmises those lights must belong to the newly deceased. She’s back at what she’s assigned to do, as if nothing changed from her normal routine. Any ounce of emotion is gone from what is visible of a face.

Riegan leaves to his villa. The sound of the earthen walls falling shut behind him, forever severing any passage back to Res, echoes in his mind as he approaches the shrine he built for her.

Destroying it makes him feel hollow. It’s nothing but broken pieces of gray stone now. Moss will surely grow over it and the mound will become a home for insects and rodents. At least it’ll still be used. And at least it’s a permanent marker to the end of this era’s horrid chaos.

It’s a waste of Molinaro’s efforts and vision, though. So in recompense, he has the fields of Duscur bloom with beautiful vibrant flowers. It’s always been that god’s favored place in Fódlan.

“Thank you for these,” he tells Riegan as they stand on a hill, overlooking the expansive valley cradled by mountains. In the far, far distance, children and their families are playing among the blooms. “It’s made them happy.”

“Hey, don’t mention it. I owed you.”

“Yes, that’s true. I’m glad you waited to repay me. It’s a wonderful sight to see after all the strife this continent endured.”

“Sure is.”

They’re silent as the spring breeze rustles the wildflowers. Swaying in the wind, rippling like a sea of green and speckled with all kinds of fragrant, colorful blooms. He’s good at his job. Loves it, really.

“It’s a shame the shrine had to be destroyed,” Molinaro says, looking out at the landscape. “It’s been one of my favorites to build so far.”

“I can tell. It was beautiful; almost delicate in appearance with all its fine detail. No expense wasted.”

“Work is only worth doing if you can put your heart into it. Otherwise, it’s dishonest.”

Riegan hums, nodding idly.

They’re quiet for a minute more, until the god beside him says, “Word has spread that Res will no longer come to the surface herself. Bartels is to appear, and while that will take him away from Martritz’s embrace more often, at least he’ll run into his beloved sister during his work here.”

He has nothing to say to that. Or anything to comment on when Molinaro adds that Res sent a missive to Seiros, ensuring no divine being has her favor, and she is not planning to usurp anyone or disrupt any order. She just wishes to do her job in silence and solitude for the rest of eternity.

“However,” he looks up at the sky, and then back down to the fields, “Res warned that if there is another wave of mass destruction upon the mortal realm ever again because of her kin’s petty squabbles, she will personally ‘clean house’, including those that live on Zanado.”

That has Riegan staring at him with wide eyes. Molinaro looks his way. “By now, it’s safe to assume she wanted everyone of our kind to know she can and will kill us, if we’re so reckless with mortal life on such a grand scale a second time.”

Seiros’s worst fear has materialized. But ironically, it’s kind of her own fault. Everyone’s fault, really, even his own. And yet it makes him laugh, because Res is finally standing up for herself. Taking advantage of the power she so easily keeps at bay. Maybe the only truly responsible of all the current gods, because she knows the heavy weight her position carries.

(Perhaps Sothis knew all along what she was doing, being the all-seeing of divinity and everything.)

And a couple of centuries later, when he thinks upon that blatant threat Res made toward all godkind in Fódlan, it makes him realize he’s in love with her.

The only being that can destroy him indefinitely, and he’s absolutely smitten. Who would’ve thought?

 

 

 

 

 

ix.

 

Res doesn’t answer him when he calls out to her in the middle of the forest. Or the desert. Or the shore. Nowhere, really. Keeping good on her promise to never venture back up here.

So he pays a trip to Nuvelle, goddess of magic, sorcery, the mystic arts—whatever one wishes to call it. He hopes he’ll be met with her cheerful face and not her melancholic one. It’s hard to get anything done or keep up a conversation of substance when it’s that one he’s faced with.

“Ah, Riegan!” she greets. Good. It’s the cheerful side, but that might not last long so he’ll have to be quick. “It has been some time since we have seen one another. Not since your last feast!” she notes as they sit in her hosting room.

“Yeah, it has, hasn’t it?”

Her place is a villa upon a hill, overlooking a lake. The interior is cluttered with extravagant furniture and decorations. Contraptions, vials, jars of ingredients, strange plants, and the like leave almost no visible wall space or the surfaces on which these objects are placed.

“To what do I owe this visit?” she asks.

“I’ll be straight with you: I want passage into Abyss.”

Nuvelle puts a hand to her chest, leaning far back in the armchair. “Why would you ever wish to venture to such a dreary land?!”

“Some private, personal business.”

“You are not courting Death herself, are you?”

No, but you’re on the right track. “Just tying up loose ends. Let’s leave it at that. If you do this for me, I promise to grow that Beasts’ Bane that you love so much. A whole field’s worth. One full harvest, just for you.”

She stares at him, eyes narrowed. “It’s true that I am running low on my stores of this difficult to find ingredient. Even if I do this for you, both of us will run the risk of Death’s ire, and I do not wish to be smote!”

“I’ll see to it that I take full responsibility.” When she remains silent, Riegan adds, “You’re the only one with the skill and capability of locating an entrance to Abyss when there aren’t any to find.”

While true, he did attempt to bribe Bartels a few times first, but was only met with aggression and violence. He was absolute in not bothering his mistress with something so trivial, wanting to respect her adamant decision to live in isolation.

The goddess huffs. “Oh, very well. I will do this for you, but not out of charity. You will grow that Beasts’ Bane for me, and likewise, throw a grand celebration in my honor come my next worshipping day. Otherwise, there will be consequences.”

She’ll probably turn him into some kind of animal. Like she did with Gautier after they laid together and he likened her to a sea maiden. Offended that she’d be compared to a pungent fish with arms whose only purpose was to kill sailors. Gautier got turned into a pig for about a year, and only narrowly escaped death (or ‘reconstruction’ in a god’s case) several times because of Edmund’s never-ending love for all animals—even if they’re punished gods.

Nuvelle crafts him a rod made out of wyvern’s bone and beast’s blood, along with a few other occult ingredients that have far too complicated names and specific uses for him to care about. She places a spell on it, and then hands it over.

“It has but a single use,” she informs. “This will conjure up a portal to Abyss, and then the rod will disappear. As for how to get out once your business is finished, that will be your task, not mine. I am not liable for what happens to you down there. Is that clear?”

“As a crystal.”

She shakes her head and then shoos him away. Says she’s expecting Timotheos, goddess of monsters and creatures, very soon. Having others like him around will only be a handful. She’ll already have a lot to deal with once Albrecht, god of chance, accompanies the other deity. Always at the heels of Timotheos, much like an obedient dog—and that’s because he lost a wager and was turned into a lycanthrope. Constantly hungry and itching to fight as a result.

Riegan warps away, far away that he won’t open up a portal close to any god’s mortal dwelling, lest they snitch to Seiros or one of the other four. He goes to the very bottom of a canyon where a measly shallow river flows. The rod is placed in the stone wall and it creates an alcove that descends with a flight of stairs. The rod bursts into nothingness, and he follows the staircase quickly, as it doesn’t stay open for very long.

He’s back in Abyss, and it looks the same as before. Remembering his way around, he follows the dirt path to Res’s abode. He sees the door up on the cliffside, but no stairway.

What are you doing here?” comes her voice from behind him.

When he faces her, she’s glaring at him. Still in her shadowy form. Riegan only grins at her. “I wanted to see you again.”

“You have the gal to return after I said not to? You dare disrespect my wishes? Do you want to be eliminated that much?”

He laughs, crossing his arms. “I came here to help you. You’re the only god I haven’t helped with my powers. I want to change that.”

“Why?” she asks carefully, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

Riegan shrugs. With his arms, he gestures out to the empty valley. “Look at this place. So much space unused. I bet it would look real nice with a bit of landscaping, don’t you?”

“I don’t have time to enjoy things like that. I’m always busy.”

“But it’s been over one-hundred years. Haven’t you finished sorting the souls you talked about from the last time we met?”

She grows quiet, staring at the ground. Riegan smiles. “Let me landscape for you. As an apology. The gods can’t get angry with me at that since I did the same for all of them, now can they?”

With a light huff, Res replies, “Nothing grows here. Even if you are the god of nature, such a thing doesn’t work the same as it does in the mortal realm. There’s no ecosystem here. Besides, powers of growth, or revitalization, and basically anything that is the opposite of ‘dead’ can’t happen unless you’re a resident of Abyss.”

“Then I’ll just become one.”

She looks at him as if he grew three heads and a prehensile tail. “I don’t even know if your powers would still work if you died to remain here. Either that, or…”

Get married, is what she doesn’t say. Falls silent again, avoiding his eyes. Riegan doesn’t move from where he stands before her. Simply regards her with a smile. Waiting for her to either kick him out, or somehow agree to his proposal.

“You’d be wasting your time,” she finally says, turning around to walk away. Yeah, okay, he should’ve expected that answer. “Please leave.”

“And if I were to say I fell in love with you?”

That stops her immediately, frozen in her walking stance. She shakes her head, not turning around. “A trick was placed on you, probably.”

“I can’t lie. You know that.” When he’s met with silence, he says, “Do you know when I realized it? After you essentially threatened the whole pantheon with annihilation should we be so reckless and careless with mortal life again. You’re a real force of nature, quite literally, and it only took me a few hundred years to realize my own feelings. Maybe that’s why I’m so attracted to you.”

“Even though I look like this?” she asks quietly. “Nondescript?”

Riegan hums. “Even so.”

Gods are usually attracted to what their domain is. Whether it be a mortal who is in alignment with such things, or another god with an adjacent domain. But it’s no secret that to be beautiful is also a huge factor, though not always.

In this case, while he would absolutely love to see the real Res, it’s the aspect of death being a part of nature that is so alluring. The power she holds, perhaps even over her brother Life, and of course, Riegan himself. That such a thing would cause mass devastation were it in the hands of anyone but her.

Perhaps a lifetime of loneliness and solitude leaves a lot of time to reflect and hone that power until it’s sharpened and easy to wield like a well-made sword. And Res has seen more death than anyone else combined. She wouldn’t want that to continue, if she can prevent it.

An otherworldly respect for nature, for life. For existence itself. He can’t help but be enthralled.

“Seiros won’t be pleased,” she says. Not an outright rejection. “I wager none of the gods would.”

“I know a few who’d be the contrary,” he replies with a wide grin. “The ceremony can be just you and me. Bartels if he wants to be here too. Although I’d have to ask you give safe passage to—”

“The goddess of beauty and matrimony, Goneril. The only way a union of the divine can be official.”

Res finally turns around, looking the slightest bit bashful as she hesitantly approaches him. Riegan smiles again, saying, “Of course. But if the feeling isn’t mutual, then there’s no point to bringing her down here, right?”

“…I never said it wasn’t.” And that makes him feel light on his feet. “It’s just… this is an eternal bind. Are you sure you want to have it with me? You cannot sleep around like you’re so used to—like all of them up there are used to. I don’t mind promiscuity in the least, or one having a lot of lovers. But marriage, at least to me, it’s…”

He laughs, shaking his head. “I know, and that’s fine. But that means you’ll have me all to yourself now, and I promise to shake the very ground for you,” he ends with a wink.

That has her looking away, shadowy cheeks growing the slightest hue of pink. “Then… we can get married. If you want….”

She gasps when he hugs her tight, her body quickly going from frigid to almost unbearable heat. But Riegan only laughs, and says, “Then let’s get started.”

 

 

 

 

 

x.

 

Goneril is given safe passage to Abyss. There’s no end to her comments on how empty and boring the place looks: “Not at all like the doom and gloom everyone said it was.”

Res’s appearance also shocks her, though thankfully, with Goneril being what she is, manages to find beauty in even the most morbid of things. Calls her ‘cute’, like a stuffed doll.

Even so, trying to convince Res to reveal her descriptive form is a lost cause. The most she gets out of her is to make a plain shadowy dress that trails behind her, but that’s it. Goneril crafts the bouquet with help from Riegan, mainly consisting of white flowers for purity. In the center of the mass of white are flecks of tiny flowers that look more like stems, personally handpicked from up on the surface: red for love and passion, orange for vitality, yellow for happiness, green for new beginnings, and blue for peace.

She has a tiara made for her out of these same small flowers, but in purple. “For royalty,” she notes, placing it on her hairless head, “because you are the Queen of Abyss, and you gotta own it.”

At the end of it all, she looks like a full spectrum of light against all the black that is her form. Riegan stands out beside her, robed in more golden accents and vibrant colors. Looking the picture of health and verdancy.

Goneril holds the ceremony, which is short but sweet. (Bartels only attends out of respect for Res, and as a formality—leaves as soon as it’s over.) The goddess of matrimony gives the bride and groom both a kiss on the cheek, blessing their union before she has to return to the mortal realm. Riegan will have to make sure the next several hundred weddings she oversees among humans will be extra festive.

“Can you believe it?” he says, smiling wide. “Husband and wife. Nature and Death.” He brings Res into his arms, hyper aware of how much smaller she is compared to him. “What would you like to do first, my night blossom?”

She ducks her head, suddenly shy, and he laughs. “You’re gonna have to get used to my sickly sweet nicknames! Forever and ever.”

Res is quiet for a minute, completely still in his embrace. “Maybe… we can make a garden. So we can stroll through it.”

“Great idea! And I know just where to start. You still have that spindly tree?”

They begin with the Death Fruit tree, planting it on a hill. Riegan tends to the soil, and the plant grows, taller and taller. Fuller. Until it towers over them, sprouting several fruits all around.

He takes Res on a walk through the valley, asking her what she’d like. Flowers and odd plants bloom from the ground underneath his feet, meeting his wife’s every whim. Most of them are black or gray with white petals. Some translucent, and others iridescent. And then there are some plants that are bioluminescent, making the whites and blacks of the garden awash with patches of color and glittering curiosity.

She also requests for there to be a pavilion so they may rest among everything they’ve built together, much like how Riegan would host her back in his own gardens.

And by the time they reach the edge of the valley, it’s covered in flora and foliage, from end to end of the cliffside wall where her little cave is. They decide to call it the Garden of Union. To symbolize the way nature and death work simultaneously.

“But it’d be a shame if we couldn’t overlook this valley from somewhere nice, right? How about we fix up your little cave?”

Res walks them up the staircase to her homey alcove. “I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Like I said, I’m not very creative.”

“You deserve a nice villa, at the very least. I take it you wouldn’t want something extravagant like a titanic castle.”

She smiles at him or he thinks she does judging by how her eyes crinkle. “You’re right. I don’t like things like that. But a villa would be nice. Will you help me design it?”

And so they take their time to construct their new home. Even change the staircase too. Black marble and onyx makes up most of the architecture’s material with dashes of white and gold. The ceilings are made of sparkling gems and precious stones found within the earth. To mimic the brilliancy of the night sky.

Plenty of rooms for different things. One of them to use for when she’s hard at work weighing the souls. Another for their personal bathing quarters. A record room filled with tomes and scrolls for all the lives who take up residence here, sorted by the year that they died, then by name, and finally by where they ended up in their eternal resting place.

There’s also a room just for the quilt—which he later finds is made out of a single patch of clothing from every soul who is currently down here. (It’s Res’s modest offering to herself, he knows.) Many more rooms fill their new abode, some for leisure—like a grand dining room—and others for more specific death-related functions. (They do give Bartels his own living quarters though, for whenever he wishes to use it.)

Riegan also makes a garden adjacent to their villa to grow crops for their meals. “I plan to show you what exactly a feast entails, my star!” The things here will be delicious and hearty, but only consumable to those in Abyss, unless non-residents wish to become permanent denizens here. (But he’ll look into somehow getting crops from the mortal realm to also thrive down here. His pet project.)

They end their work in their bedchambers. Riegan plops down on the large canopy bed, and Res joins him. “We did so much! How long do you think we’ve been working at this?”

“Who knows for sure? Time is different in this realm.” She runs her hand stub over his front, tracing the patterns of the gold trimming on his robes. Admiring the fruits and vegetables embroidered onto his sleeves.

“Something the matter, my night blossom?” he asks.

“I still can’t believe this is real. That I’d… find affection—love, really, especially from someone whose domain is in the land of the living.”

Riegan turns on his side to face her, bringing her closer with an arm. “No one said the ever after had to be dreary, right?”

“…Right.”

He kisses her forehead. “And no one said death has to be lonely either, right? Specifically the goddess herself.”

Res hums, staring at his chest. Seemingly lost in thought. “Did you also do this because… I envy my brother more than all the rest?” When he doesn’t reply, she continues, “Reto is beloved by all. He’s had many admirers and lovers; that includes you. I guess… there are so many other exciting gods you could’ve chosen to tie yourself to. And even though we’re married, I’m… still in disbelief that you fell for me, of all beings.”

She grows silent, then continues, “I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I fell for you pretty quickly. I just never said anything because my feelings were… irrelevant, all things considered. I can see why so many adore you. But in contrast, to feel the same toward me… I just don’t get why it would happen at all. With you especially.”

Gently taking her face in his hands, he replies, “Because you are alluring in so many ways. Powerful. Considerate. Respectful. Wise. Value life, in specific ways your brother is incapable of doing, through no fault of his own. Because you know what awaits the mortals once they no longer breathe. A respect for my domain, too, made me fancy you. But even then, I can’t truly come to a concrete conclusion why I love you. I just know that I do, and it’s all the reasoning I need.”

“Riegan…,” her voice is soft, wet with emotion, “I…”

A knock at their door has Res getting up to answer it. Bartels is there, and looking over to them both, he says, “My Lady Death, and her husband Nature… you have a visitor.”

They go to the audience chamber that’s furnished for all kinds of pleasantries and has a small flowing fountain in the center. There, wandering around and taking a gander at the room, is the messenger god, Keeper. Charged with flitting to-and-fro between Zanado and the mortal realm to deliver messages, announcements, and sometimes gifts to all the gods in the pantheon.

“Ah!” He spots them and bows. “Greetings, Lord Riegan! And… um,” he stares, mouth agape, at the death goddess. He’s never seen her in his long life, and he must not be sure how to approach such an elusive divine, “Lady Res, I believe? Ah yeah, it has to be you. Why would anyone else—um, well, anyway, I have something to report.”

“And what would that be?” the Abyss queen asks.

“That Lady Seiros wishes for Lord Riegan to return back up to the surface. Your… um, sudden marriage took us all by surprise! It’s been a few months since he’s been down here, and there’s but a meager harvest for mortals. This winter is going to be a harsh one again, and there’s hardly any food!”

Riegan rubs at his chin, and then shakes his head. “I like being down here with my wife.”

Keeper sputters, shifting his feet and rubbing the back of his neck. “B-But my lord, the spring season was much too wet, and the summer dried up everything. Without you there, the warmer months weren’t all that great. Life did his best to keep things sustained, but… w-well I don’t mean to speak out of line at all or ill of anyone. It’s just, um, you are the god of nature, and things go much more smoothly with you cultivating the land for the autumn harvest.”

Makes sense. Life’s full of ups and downs, but Riegan’s more consistent. More in tune with the tedious work that it takes to nurture the land.

But he’s feeling petty. Because even though the entire pantheon knew he married Res, none sent their congratulations except for Goneril. (It was Seiros’s idea, most likely.) And there was no shrine or even a pyre that appeared in Abyss to symbolize Res was now truly recognized and celebrated as a goddess. Meaning that a place of offering for her still doesn’t exist in Zanado.

“Nah.” Riegan shakes his head. He sits on the nearest chaise longue, stretching his full body. “I’ll go back once my wife Res, the goddess of death, gets her shrine in Zanado. Until then,” he folds his arms behind his head, “I’m staying here. Life is all-encompassing, and powerful in general. He’ll handle things fine.”

“Uh…,” Keeper mumbles to himself, little worried sounds squeaking out of him as he paces around the room, “w-well…,” he sighs, shoulders slumped, “I will… deliver the message. Thank you for your time.” He bows, and then poofs away.

“Are you sure that was wise?” Res asks, once he beckons her over to sit beside him.

He runs his hand along her shadowy thigh, staring up at her as he does so. “You’ve been neglected for far too long. Life and Death are siblings. You can’t have one without the other. And it’s time everyone recognized that.” Riegan sighs. “I know mortals will suffer, but I’ll help you manage them once they inevitably end up down here. And take whatever punishment if it means you will finally be honored as an important aspect of existence.”

Besides, Seiros can’t kill him. She can take away his powers, and that would… suck. But, at least he’ll still be married to his wife.

“I’m sorry,” he apologizes. “I know you didn’t want more suffering for mortals.”

“I don’t,” she agrees, nodding her head, “but… I’ll take care of them when they get here. And while I don’t… mind too much anymore whether or not I’ll ever be acknowledged,” she leans down to kiss his nose, “it’s sweet that you wish for me to get the same revere as our other kin.”

Riegan smiles. “What is a husband but a mouthpiece to brag about how he has the most fantastic wife out of everyone? And will not stand for outright lies and slander against her?”

He just about soars when she actually giggles.

 

 

 

 

 

xi.

 

More souls do end up becoming permanent residents of Abyss. For five years Riegan refused to surface, but Res finally convinced him after the 1,000th visit from Keeper who begged on his knees for him to come back. 

Yes, a shrine has been made in her honor back in Zanado, as it appeared in their home one day. So, on some level, she’s officially recognized as Fódlan divinity.

But he’s not stupid, and knows that Seiros and others might try to keep him caged in the mortal realm to do his job so he can’t come back here. (It would anger Goneril, as her ceremonies for the divine are always binding, but she is a lesser goddess in the pantheon, unfortunately, and drawing her rage wouldn’t be detrimental.)

He eats six fruits from the Death Tree. One for every month that he doesn’t oversee. By tethering himself to his wife’s home, no one will be able to stop him from leaving once the warm moons fade into the cold ones, and Blaiddyd assumes control.

“I promise I’ll return to you in six months’ time,” he tells her. “Meanwhile, I’ll do my best to maintain my domain so you’re not so overworked.”

“I’ll be waiting for you.”

And so he gives her a kiss before he leaves to do his job.

He gets escorted to Zanado almost immediately after he returns to the mortal plane. Seiros’s sky guards, Charon (goddess of thunder) and Nevrand (goddess of wind), aren’t much for talking even as he tries to chat them up. Nevrand because she’s just like that, and Charon because of how upset she is that Riegan would dare to go behind Seiros’s back.

Even so, when he’s in an audience with the sky goddess herself, he’s not given some terrible punishment like he expected. She planned to prevent him from going down to Abyss again, but after finding out that he ate six of the fruits from there, she begrudgingly has to allow him to go to his second home during the cooler half of the year.

“But under any circumstance are you to return there for the other six moons. Not even to celebrate your honor day with your wife. Likewise, she cannot venture up to this mortal plane except for dire circumstances. Do I make myself clear?”

Fine. Whatever. He agrees to it without much fuss, and Seiros looks slightly surprised before dismissing him. Res’s honor day is in the autumn anyway. He’ll make up for lost time. Still, it’s a shame he can’t ever spend beautiful summers with her by the sea, or bountiful springs in the wildflower meadows.

Even though she has a shrine now in Zanado, it’s still measly when contrasted to all the others when he enters the Hall of Offerings. The smallest shrine so far, especially compared to the divine height all his kin take when they’re up here. It’s even smaller than his human height. Not even half. Maybe a third.

It’s tucked away in a corner behind a pillar, far away from the other shrines honoring each god of the Fódlan pantheon—and far from his own too. Shrouded in shadow where the light from the sconces doesn’t reach. Crafted of simple, uncut stone. Undecorated. Looks as if it had been constructed during humankind’s first understanding of tools.

(Which is on purpose, he’s sure.)

But he doesn’t complain, because Res won’t make a big fuss about it, so he won’t either. He just wants to get back to his wife once his six months are over.

Everything is normal during his time back here. The land flourishes and Reto thanks him for returning to assume his domain. Compliments him on how much of a good job he does compared to himself. Riegan cheers him up by saying he did the best he could with what he had.

“Also,” Reto says, as he watches him repair a burnt patch of forest, “thanks for… marrying my sister.”

Riegan gives him a glance, raising an eyebrow at him. “Why would you thank me for that?”

“Because, when I last saw her… she told my father and I why she doesn’t come up here. She’s envious, and while I had a suspicion, it’s different hearing it as truth.”

“Well,” he sighs silently, “you won’t have to worry anymore since she’s not allowed to ever come up here again. She likes that you’re adored, revered, and all that good stuff. But it still hurts she won’t get that kind of love from humankind. And if she does, it’ll never be on the same level as you.”

People only call out to her in acts of vengeance or petty grief. Death summoned mainly in bad faith. When was the last time someone said, ‘I hate you so much that I wish you were alive!’? No one has ever said that. And no one ever will. Death is a negative connotation, while life is almost always a positive one. Res will never be celebrated as a stage in life. A permanent one, sure, but still a stage all the same.

“I can’t say I understand what she’s feeling,” Reto admits, adjusting the modest jeweled circlet around his head, “but I do respect her reasoning. And I also can’t say I’d feel any different, if I was in her place.”

Riegan clasps a hand on his shoulder. “Then live it up for you both. I’m sure she’d appreciate it.”

That year’s spring and summer is greener than it ever had been before. Otherwise, his time in the mortal realm is how it usually is. Full of revelry and such. Except other gods and goddesses don’t try to seduce him now, which is good. (Or maybe they don’t want to be on Res’s bad side.) He actually gets a lot more work done with little distraction, so everyone wins.

And so after he oversees preparations for the autumn harvest, he returns to Abyss to be with his beloved. Everything is still as he left it, including Bartels who is as unsociable as ever.

“We have another guest here,” he informs with that dreary drawl of his. “She had heard how ‘empty’ this place was, so Lady Res gave her a room. Not like there aren’t any to spare. You will find the new goddess in the quarters overlooking the southern part of the Garden of Union.”

Huh, a visitor. Or an honored guest. He was sure nobody would dare come here if he’s not present since Res doesn’t have any allies or friends. Curiosity guides him to the appointed room and he knocks, which earns him a squeak.

“Just wanna say hi to our new guest,” he says. “Might I know who has decided to lodge with us?”

Slowly the door opens just a crack, a gray eye peeking through. “Ah, um, y-you’re back. H-Hello. I’m… um… Varley, goddess of isolation and… other things.”

This meek goddess explains the mortal realm was too tumultuous, and up on Zanado it’s too lively with several divine and divine-aligned coming and going. But Abyss is quiet, and strangely serene. Surprisingly beautiful too, at least the grounds surrounding the villa.

“Res is… also nice. When others said she was just a shadowy figure—like a gingerbread person—I was kinda scared. But that was just talk. She’s… really gorgeous.”

He hums in agreement. “Yeah, her nondescript shadowy appearance does have a certain charm to it, huh? Cute in a way.”

And despite how much he assured his wife he loves that form over the years since they’ve been married, she still didn’t want to lay with him. Which he respected. He’s dropped that topic since. Maybe one day she’ll be comfortable. It’s still a form she chooses to align with who she is, so he’ll be happy to be with her any way she wishes.

Varley shakes her head. “Oh, n-no that’s not what I… well, you should visit her. Um, I think I heard her say she was going to be in the pavilion in the garden. Go see her. Uh, bye!” and then she shuts the door, a muffled, “Thanks for letting me stay here,” an added note.

Riegan walks through the gardens and reaches the pavilion that rests on a modest hill with water from the Memoir River streaming down into the large pond. He pulls aside the translucent gray curtains. Res’s back is to him as she reclines on several blankets and cushions laid out on top of the shallowly raised platform. She’s wearing a dark cloak with a hood. That’s new.

“My love,” he chimes, “I have returned! And a plum little birdy told me you’d be here. I missed you sooo much. All I could think about was the moment I’d get to return to you.”

His wife stands, the garment still on her. She faces him, “Welcome back, my heart,” and pulls down her hood. “I missed you as well.”

And he just… stares. At a face he had never seen before. Skin kissed by moonlight. Dark, teal hair, and eyes like sapphires. Full pink lips and the cutest nose. Rosy cheeks as she smiles at him.

“You look surprised,” she observes, amusement in her tone.

“I… um…,” he walks forward, “just that I never…”

Now he understands perfectly why she had to hide herself away in the shadows. He has never seen a more beautiful face during of all the centuries he has lived, both as a ward and as a god. And were he mortal, he’d absolutely follow her into Abyss without a second thought.

Res makes a small light sound, almost a chuckle. “Like I said, I shrouded myself on purpose. Recently I got a missive saying I’m no longer allowed up on the surface, so, why hide my original form? Do I look much like Reto?”

He takes a minute to find his tongue, and blinks away his astonishment. “You… maybe around the jaw, but otherwise you don’t even look like your father.”

“Makes sense. Back then, when my brother and I were the twin gods of wanderlust, the consensus was that I took more after my mother, Sitri, goddess of the stars. But even then, my father said I still looked like my own person.”

Riegan hugs her tight, and she gives the tiniest yelp of surprise before she’s embracing him. “You’re still my beloved, regardless of what form you choose. That isn’t why I married you. And I will accept whatever state you wish to be in.”

She leans away and kisses his cheek. “Thank you. Well, I choose to be in this form going forward. Unless I have to be up on the surface.” She traces his jaw where hair grows, and he just about purrs when she scratches him there. “Dear husband, I’ve missed you terribly while you were gone.”

Res steps away from his embrace. To stand out of arm’s reach. Fingers slip the strings out of the cloak’s clasp. “I was wondering if you could aid me.” She lets it part, over her shoulders and down her form to pool at her feet.

His breath is stolen as he gazes upon his wife, completely nude before him, a slight tilt of her wide hips as she stands. Supple thighs and full ample breasts, his mind can’t find words, mouth dry like a desert.

“Please, will you help me get rid of this ache of longing?” she asks with a smile, delicate fingers trailing from her hip to her inner thigh, closer and closer to the apex of—

—and he nearly pounces on her, laying her atop the cushions as he matches her state of undress. Kissing her fervently as her fingers thread through his hair. Humming as her hands explore every expanse of his skin and hard muscle. His own hands kneading soft flesh, no matter where it is on her body.

The sounds she makes the first time he takes her will forever be something he keeps close to his heart. And there in the pavilion, he makes love to her over and over, neither of them ever quite satiated. A tangle of limbs as they try different things, revel in the other’s body, with their quiet laughs and lasting smiles.

In the afterglow, they lay on the plush cushions and blankets, embraced by each other’s warmth. Stealing soft kisses. Lazy kisses. Chaste ones, and fleeting ones. Upon the lips, nose, cheeks, forehead. She along his jaw. He upon her wrist and the palm of her hand as she caresses his face with her other one.

“I’m never going to want to leave now,” he says, unable to help his grin when she laughs. “Not after that experience.”

“I’ll still have work to do, love,” she reminds. “We can’t pleasure each other all the time.”

“Unfortunately that’s true. And I can’t always be here either. But,” he smirks, and she teases it’s a wicked one as he gathers her in his arms, kissing her cheek to the shell of her ear, whispering, “since no one lives with us, we can always roam around exactly like this.” He revels in her squeal as he squeezes her plump rear with his hand. “The temptation would be unbearable, but oh so worth it once we have a moment to ourselves, hmm?”

He grins wider when she shivers. “As much as I’d love that, you’re forgetting Bartels. And Varley. What if Keeper also stops by? I would hate to embarrass him to death.”

Riegan laughs loudly at that, kissing Res’s lips and congratulating her for taking the chance to make her horrible pun. “Oh then he can announce to all of our kin how absolutely, positively divine your beauty is.”

“Then that would embarrass me!” she replies, playfully slapping his shoulder.

“Why? I’m quite literally the epitome of male beauty, after all. It only makes sense I’d be your husband to match your ethereal gorgeousness.”

Res shakes her head with a chuckle. “That’s a lie. You are not the god of that.”

“Not a lie, technically, since I personally believe it.”

His wife laughs at him as he rolls onto his back and she on top of him. Brings his face into her hands as she kisses him. Slowly. Tasting him. Savoring. And he returns it, cupping the back of her head, threading his fingers into her long, soft locks as he glides a hand down her smooth back.

“I’ll miss you again when you go back up there,” she whispers against his lips. “Love. It’s… wonderful to experience. But almost… suffocating at times.”

“I know,” he whispers back. “I won’t be able to stop thinking about you.”

He opens his eyes to meet hers, sparkling with emotion. She rubs her thumb along his eyebrow, idly. “There’s… a way for us to hold dear parts of the other while we’re separated.”

“Oh? I’m listening.”

Res sits up on his abdomen, and he relishes in the view of her bare form so close. She takes his hand, guiding it along her knee and thigh, until she rests it at her stomach. His smile falls in mild surprise as he stares, and then meets her soft gaze.

“If you want to, that is,” she tells him.

Not many gods have children with each other. With mortals? And even non-human creatures? Sure, that happens a lot. But with each other? It’s not rare, but it’s uncommon. There’s no telling what domain the child will oversee. It could be something good, or something very bad.

But he wants to keep Res close to his heart, always. And he doesn’t want their separation to cause her pain at any point. The child will be born of gods from both realms, so they’ll be allowed to come and go as they please.

Riegan sits up, keeping her in his lap. His arms encircle her waist as he leans in to kiss her. She hums, setting her hands on his shoulders.

“Yes,” he says gently. “I want to.” He rests his forehead against her own. “Oh Res, I absolutely do.”

“Then…,” she slips out of his hold and lays back on the cushions. Looks up at him with a half-lidded gaze. Beckons him with a wide spread of her legs, tracing the swell of a breast with her finger, a finger he wants to replace with his mouth instead, “we better get started before you have to leave again.”

A grin creeps up on his face as he hovers over her.

“Yes, my queen.”



 

 

 

xii.

 

He loses count how many times they make love to conceive. Not that either of them complain. Poor Varley though later admits that she (unintentionally) got a full view of their passionate, amorous activities because of where her quarters overlooks the garden. Riegan teases her, saying it’s called the Garden of Union for a reason, which makes her turn beet red and retreat into her room for a month afterward.

But their indiscernible amount of attempts indeed bears fruit. Res is soon pregnant, abdomen quite round and heavy. And Riegan stays by her side until she gives birth to twin goddesses—thankful that pregnancy for the divine is much faster than those for mortals.

They send Keeper to bring forth the goddess of oracles, Ordelia, to reveal to them what their daughters have dominion over. She casts her enchantment over the infants upon the altar. Ordelia’s eyes glow as she does so, and in a flash, it’s over.

“Goddess of spring, Eranthe,” she announces, pointing to the eldest twin, “and goddess of rebirth, Amaryllis,” she points to the youngest twin. “You two got lucky it wasn’t anything bad, but something beautiful. While both will be able to traverse Abyss and the mortal realm, Spring will be more inclined to above, and Rebirth more incentivized by the dwelling here.”

She leaves shortly after to announce it to Seiros and the rest of Zanado. Meanwhile, Varley gives each of the girls a gift. An elaborate sash to be worn for protection with one long thread of silver for their mother, and one long thread of gold for their father. When Riegan compliments her on the fine needlework, Varley timidly reminds him she’s also the goddess of craftwork so it wasn’t at all a bother to make.

The girls grow quickly. So quick, in fact, that they’re both old enough to return with him to the mortal realm. But Amaryllis stays behind with her mother to discuss a proposal for allowing good souls to be reborn—something they’d have to take up with Seiros once it’s agreed upon.

Riegan leaves with Eranthe to show her his work so she may understand how to do it. Tend to the forests and how to keep the purity of the non-sea waters on the earth. What she’ll have to do to till the soil for the harvest that comes every autumn. She’s a quick learner, and assures that she’ll make both him and Res proud.

When Seiros requests for there to be a celebration on Zanado in honor of the new goddesses, Riegan makes it a condition that Res be present as well. It’s a reluctant affirmative, but one all the same.

At first, Res chooses to be in her nondescript form, which draws a lot of curiosity from the others. Maybe it’s because this is a new generation of gods that they’re not so quick to dismiss her because of her domain. But their insistence to see her descriptive alternative appearance irritates her, so she shows them, just to get them off her back.

The looks upon his kin’s faces when they see Res in this way has him swell with pride. She’s clothed the simplest among them all. Just black robes that reveal the shoulders, with the tail of the fabric dragging behind her. Shadows whisk at the edges of the garment. An intricate silver embroidered pattern trims the edge of her long sleeves, the design actually the repeated number of how many souls are currently in Abyss.

How quickly everyone is to compliment her, even some of the older gods who had before shunned her. There is even hunger in the eyes of Seiros, but Res has bound herself to Riegan for eternity, which makes Goneril all the more amused.

Reto and Eisner are beyond elated to see her, and the newest additions to their family, spending a good chunk of the celebrations together. It pleases Kirsten to no end, which causes him to bring the five into a huge hug. (Riegan thinks they’d be even happier with Sitri there, but she is lost among the stars, and no one has yet to figure out how to return her corporeal form back to Zanado.)

Throughout the festivities, Res is conversed with as a formality, but also for a chance for others to be within her presence. She doesn’t have much to say, as to speak of death doesn’t brighten a room, so she mainly listens instead.

Martritz speaks with her the most, being one of the more compassionate gods. She’s grateful to Res for giving her brother Bartels a place to stay. And Dominic, goddess of the hearth, is kind to everyone, so she’s quick to invite her into the fold. Likewise, Victor, god of the arts and creativity, asks if he may use her nondescript form as inspiration for his latest fresco, which surprises her, but ultimately gives him permission. And Cethleann, goddess of the moon and chastity—another empathetic deity, beams at her, saying she’d like to visit Abyss sometime, curious on how she goes about judging the souls.

She’s also asked by Herving, god of slumber and dreams, if he can take up residence in her Abyss villa. He heard from Varley it’s quiet and peaceful. Once more she’s surprised, but agrees to his request before he falls asleep again, face-first onto his platter of food.

Riegan can see she’s becoming fond of them, with the way they regard her as if she were just another companion. And he thinks he ought to quickly learn how to grow mortal-realm food in Abyss, as the scene before him is already giving him ideas to throw feasts down there in their large dining room so other gods can grow more comfortable around Res.

As hard as some other gods attempt to seduce her in their subtle and cunning ways, she brushes them off easily with a thinly veiled threat to not touch her—or her daughters, unless they want to see how disastrous the ire would be from a goddess of death.

Riegan has his work cut out for him, trying to protect his daughters from hungrier gods. To the point where he only ever truly feels relieved when his family is safely tucked away in Abyss. (Leclerc has a fun time pretending to be one of the twins to mess with gods or goddesses who cross him. It doesn’t always end well for him, but it’s still entertaining.)

Though, he fears the day one of his kin will successfully charm either of his girls into being their wife, or trick them—or worst of all, force them into a union that’s sure to be unhappy on their end. And it’s because he knows gods have a different set of guiding principles than humans, that he’s surprised at how bothered he is by it. Perhaps spending so much time with Res and all the human souls has him closer to the mortals than he ever thought possible.

It’s an inevitable day that will come, but he hopes it isn’t for a long, long time. Or if he’s lucky, it won’t ever be a reality.

 

 

 

 

 

xiii.

 

The first account of Res getting honored by humans happens in the Duscur region of Fódlan. Her shrine is an elaborate pyre, lit up every time there’s a funeral. But once the mourning stops, the celebrations begin. People wish the deceased a safe journey to Abyss, and hope they don’t suffer an eternity. Pray to Res that she be merciful. Or thank her that someone has passed on who was only suffering in life.

It’s this loophole in Seiros’s terms that allows Res to come up to the surface to celebrate among those who honor her. Surprising still is that she chooses her descriptive form to mark the occasion. She’s smiling so much as she walks among the humans who can’t see her. Eating the food they offer as payment for their prayers to be heard.

“I’ve always liked the Duscur people,” Molinaro says to Riegan as they overlook the scene.

“They worship you the most here, right?” he asks.

“Yes. They have other gods, but sometimes ours mingle with theirs.” He smiles, a rare thing to see from the normally stoic man. “Your wife looks happy. Especially with her daughters near, and her brother.”

Reto has been attending more and more funerals in hopes he’ll see his sister again. Maybe it’s a twin thing, or maybe it’s the balance that they bring into each other’s domain.

“But she laughs when she’s with you the most,” Molinaro adds. “For a goddess of death, there’s a life to her eyes when she gazes upon you. A sign of a good husband.”

He actually feels embarrassed, cheeks warming just a little. “I mean, I like to think I’m a good husband. But a lot of things were Res’s decisions. I just supported her.”

“As I said, a good husband.”

Riegan smiles. “My wife deserves only the best, wouldn’t you agree?”

Molinaro hums and nods before he joins Res and her family with Riegan close behind.

He thinks she looks lovely among the wildflowers, underneath the afternoon sun. So in control of her domain that she doesn’t wither them away no matter where she steps. Lets the breeze flow through her hair and brush her cheeks as she gazes upon the vast lake near the settlement, a mountain as the backdrop. An idyllic memory she probably never got to have as the death goddess until this point.

When her eyes are closed, Riegan crafts her a crown of white flowers (the Remire Star among them) with small pink ones nestled within. He places it on her head and she opens her eyes, looking up at him with mild surprise.

“A queen deserves a crown,” he says with a charming smile.

“What do these mean in this instance?” she asks.

“Lots of things, for cultures outside of Fódlan. But for within…,” he taps each different flower as he goes along, listing the symbolic nature of them, “understanding. Humility. Affection. Harmony. Inner peace. Kindness. I could go on.”

“You really think that highly of me, don’t you?” she asks quietly.

Riegan brings her close, his arms wrapped around her middle. “I do,” he says honestly. “As I said before, I’m absolutely and utterly smitten with you, my night blossom. And I will continue to be forevermore.”

She smiles at him, “I love you so much,” and loops her arms around his neck.

He returns her joy with a grin, “And I love you equally as well,” leaning down to kiss her in the summer breeze and among the colorful wildflowers.

Death is but a fact of Nature, and until Time and Space herself decides to end existence, divine husband and wife will be in union forever, and nothing will do them part.