He had a way to move that distinguished him from the rest of the world.
He had with him a kind of eerie elegancy that’s not easy to find. He walked haughtily, with his head held high. His way of moving was hypnotic, as if he owned the world and underworld; as if he was a god honoring the lower creatures with his presence alone, and he was.
The death’s soldiers kneeled on the sides of the soul’s river, within the dark and damp cave, while their god walked in the middle of the river without sinking, without soaking even. The black t-shirt and tight black pants clearly showed the strong and marked body of the god; the red cape seemed to fly behind him with each of his movements, the red of his cape combined with the luminous red of his eyes that see everything in the world of the dead, the black of his clothes contrasted with the white of his hair that covered a large part of his face.
He walked upstream, the river turned to the right and continued for a good stretch until he reached the end of it, where a mountain of skulls was illuminated by the fire of the torches. In the midst of the skulls, a black stone staircase led to the top of the mountain, where a huge, majestic black throne stood. He sat, crossing his legs and leaning his head on his hand, his gaze looking as dull as usual. In front of the throne, on the ground by the river, a death knight pulled out a long scroll and began to name the news of the underworld in the time he was away.
He couldn't care less, but he did his job diligently, this world wasn't going to rule itself, and to rule it properly, he had to be aware of everything that was going on, all the time. However, that wasn't enough to make him take off that face of total boredom.
It had been that way ever since he had been given - or, rather, imposed on him - the mission of being the king of death. It was something he would have rejected if he had had the chance, but the other option was worse, it seemed infinitely worse; although currently it already looked as something without relevance. However, he had always complied with a heavy hand, administering thousands of deaths a day, judging the actions of the deceased, for centuries. His, was probably the most vital job among the gods: that of ending life, without him, life would be eternal, there would be no cycles on earth, life condemned to endless suffering, especially for those suffering accidents or serious illness, without him, the world would have succumbed to overpopulation long ago; without him, life would not be feasible.
That didn’t stop it from being a boring job, though.
He leaned more on his hand to adjust his posture and make it more comfortable. The knight continued with the report, when a commotion was heard at the entrance of the cave. The god of death lifted his head from his hand, the knight hesitated for a moment whether to continue reading or if he should go to see what was the cause of the commotion.
“Why are you still here? Report to me at once what is going on, Yotsubashi.” He said with a cold tone, looking down at him.
“I’m on my way.” The man hurried to the cave entrance and returned a few minutes later, his gaze reflecting something akin to panic. “He's here, sir.” Those words caught the attention of the god of death, who straightened up in his seat.
“What does he want?”
“To talk to you.”
The god seemed to ponder for a moment and rose from his throne. Yotsubashi wanted to tell him that he should not go, every time that man came, he only caused trouble, but at the end of the day, he had no authority to tell the gloomy god what to do. The white-haired god stepped down from the mountain of skulls and walked downstream, where there was still commotion.
“Give me a damn vote!” Demanded a black-haired man, largely covered with burns, from the entrance of the cave. The knights of death, standing on the banks of the river, were trying to make the intruder leave.
“What are you doing here?” The raspy voice of the god of death stopped the shouting and the racket.
“Oh, mop head! Tell these guys to give me a vote so I can get around this damn river”
“What are you doing here?” He just repeated his question.
“Isn't it clear? I came to talk to you.” The god of death walked along the river until he came within a few meters of the intruder.
“I can't imagine what business you may have here”
“Do you like the gifts I send you every day? Many die daily by my hand, I'm sure it lightens your work.” The god made a bad face and cursed under his breath, it seemed that he was going to say something to him, but he ended up sighing tiredly.
“Come.” He moved his hand and it was evident that he had used his magic in some way, even if there were no physical or visual effects. The intruder took a firm step over the waters of the river and did not sink, so he walked towards the god, who simply turned around and went into the cave again, followed by the intruder. Many of the knights watched the scene in amazement, they had never seen anyone else be able to walk in the river, although, that was true for the youngest among the knights, but those who had been there for many decades had witnessed something similar about sixty years ago.
“Who is that man?” One of the knights murmured as he saw the black-haired man advancing along the river, with his hands in his pockets and smiling with a grimace that made you want to smash his face.
“Don't you know?” Said one of the elders and several young people came closer to hear the gossip. “Dabi is a deity of fire. And it is true that people die for him every day. It seems that he and our lord have known each other since they were humans.”
“Huh? The lord of death was human?” This revelation seemed to surprise everyone a lot.
“It was a long time ago, longer than any of us will live.”
The god of death sat down on his throne and reluctantly invited his visitor to take a seat in front of him, on the skulls he usually used to rest his feet.
“You could at least offer me a real seat.” The jet-haired one complained, before sitting far below the other one.
“There's none for you.” He snorted and rested his head on his hand, looking at the horizon of the river of souls, resolutely avoiding the other's blue gaze.
“Come on, are you still upset about that time?”
“No.” He answered sharply.
“Tomura.” Dabi arched his eyebrow, trying to get the other to look at him. “Are you serious, freak? I already apologized! It wasn't my intention to miss when you invited me, nor did I forget the thousandth anniversary of you becoming god. It's just that I've been busy.”
“Busy.” The other one repeated. “Busy being an idiot.”
“Busy maybe I'd believe it if you'd come a day or two later. Not sixty fucking years, Dabi!”
“Listen, I was looking for the perfect gift for you.”
“For sixty years?” He arched an eyebrow and looked at him incredulously. The other rose from the skulls and slipped into the other's throne, sitting next to him, resting his long legs on the other's strong legs, while the god of death tried to push him off his throne, without success.
“Yes, for sixty years. I know how picky you can be about gifts.”
“Bullshit, Dabi, just tell me what you want and get the hell out of here.”
“You won't even let me rest? I've come a long way here, at least let me stay one night.”
“Why should I put up with you for one night?” He asked reluctantly, having given up on pushing the other out of his seat, looking in the opposite direction.
“Because deep down we both know that you wouldn't be so bad as to make me leave just like that now that I've finally come to see you.” The god of death raised his eyebrow.
“Come on, let me rest tonight, I'll give you your gift in the morning, and if you're still upset, I promise to leave and never come back.” The god's heart pounded, did he really intend for this to be his last visit after all the time he made him wait?
“All right.” He grudgingly mused. “You can stay for tonight.”
“Excellent!” He smiled and turned his gaze to Yotsubashi, who was in his usual spot, a few feet away, on the ground beside the river, below the throne. “Hmm, you still have that weird baldy here.”
“That weird baldy is what makes this shitty place work.”
“Hmm.” He seemed to ponder this for a moment before raising his voice. “Hey you, I'm hungry, prepare a banquet. A banquet to welcome the most powerful fire deity of all, Dabi!” The knight, surprised, just looked at his god, looking for a sign of approval or prohibition. A vein popped out of the god of death's forehead.
“What do you think you are doing?” Finally, he turned to look at him.
“I'm throwing a party for our reunion, of course. I'm sure all your minions would rather have a big banquet in my honor, than do the boring work they always do, whatever it is they do.” The red-eyed man sighed.
“Dabi, we are in the world of death, there is not enough food here to have a banquet.”
“How do you live then?” He looked at him with surprise.
“The gods of life send provisions for my knights. I don't need to eat, for I am a god.”
“If they send you provisions, it means you have resources stored up, right?” Tomura rolled his eyes.
“You're not giving up, are you?”
“I'm glad you understand.” He grimaced triumphantly and the other rolled his eyes again, but after a few moments, he turned his heavy gaze to his right-hand man, Yotsubashi.
“Let them prepare a banquet. We have a guest who invited himself.” He ordered.
“Right away.” The knight gave a quick bow and left his sight.
The banquet was something new to most of those present, as was all the light in the cave, provided by a large blue fireball that Dabi created and hovered in the middle of the cave, above the throne. Everyone was eating and drinking while chatting happily, it was the most relaxed Tomura had seen his subordinates in ages. He merely observed everything from his throne, sipping a cup of alcohol that Dabi forced him to accept. Apparently, the man of fire, was better at interacting with others than he was, for he watched him for a while talking to his minions, though he had no idea what they were talking about. But it was evident that it was easier for him to mingle with others now; the god of death remembered that when they were both human children, it was almost impossible for them to talk to other people and therefore make friends, until they met.
Finishing his drink, he decided to retire to his room. A dark room that was entered by moving a heavy cave wall. Although it was a spacious room, with a bed worthy of a god, there was nothing else besides the bed, and it was really dark, but it didn't matter, he had been used to being in the gloom for many years.
It wasn't surprising for him, that soon after Dabi entered the room, as if it belonged to him, he was lying on his bed when the other created a small blue flame that he left floating near the bed.
“Are you done with your party?”
“It's no fun if you're not there. The real party starts now.” He climbed onto the bed like a predator and straddled the other, taking his chin in his hand. Finally, the god acceded to hold his gaze, the red and blue glowing and illuminating the room more than the small flame floating around them. The uneven, burnt lips of one approached the dry, chapped lips of the other, not yet touching.
“Have you forgiven me yet?” He asked in a whisper.
“Where is my gift?” Replied the other, taking the black hair in his hand, tugging lightly at those soft hairs that were once red.
“Don't be impatient.”
“I've already waited sixty years.”
“Wait a little longer.” With this, he closed the gap between them, claiming the mouth that had waited for him for decades and still kissed him with the same intensity as it did over a thousand years ago, when they were young humans, before everything happened.
The black-haired one backed off a few inches and pushed aside with his hand the lock of white hair that covered a good part of the god's face and traced with his fingertip the deep scar the other had on his eye, followed by all the smaller scars and marks around his eyes and forehead and finally, the scar on his lips, treating each of these with vehemence. They locked eyes, not looking away for a second, their gazes intense and their breaths ragged; this time it was the god of death who initiated the kiss, pushing the back of the other's neck to guide him to it.
It had happened one thousand seventy-three years ago. Tenko and Touya met as children in the village, both were very bad at talking to strangers, Touya was always glued to his father and younger brother, while Tenko tried to stay as far away from his father as possible, while clinging to his older sister.
But one day they spoke to each other, by those fate-changing coincidences, and discovered, to their astonishment, that they could have a friend in the world outside their respective families.
They usually ran to the outskirts of the village, where a small clear stream of cold water ran. They used to play near it every afternoon, filling each other with happy memories. Time passed and the beautiful friendship turned into love, as if it was the most obvious and natural thing in the world. Everything was perfect.
Until that day.
One winter morning, Tenko got up to go to Touya's house, that day, they would try something new that everyone seemed to be doing in the village: sliding on the ice of the creek. He hurried, but as he got closer to his beloved's house, he noticed something wasn't right, as he got closer, there were more people crowded around watching some kind of show.
His loved one's family home was on fire with him inside. From outside, you could still hear the screams, so there must still be someone alive, but no one dared approach. No one besides him. Tenko didn't think twice and ran inside the burning house, even though some locals tried to stop him. He entered the suffocating place, trying to evade the flames. A metal support of the house fell on him, filling his face with cuts; he wiped the blood with his hand and kept moving forward. He reached the middle of what was once the living room, only to find a tall, imposing man dressed in black, with a face full of marks, eyeless.
Tenko trembled at the sight of this being that he could not define as human. The other guessed his presence and smilingly turned to him.
“Who are you, young man? You are not on the death list today.” Time seemed to stop, the flames, the burning wind, the crumbling house, everything stopped in that instant. Tenko felt terror, but he forced himself to open his mouth and say something.
“I-I came to save him.” That got the guy's attention.
“Touya,” He said in a barely audible voice. “Touya.” He repeated more confidently after clearing his throat. “He's the love of my life.”
“The love of your life, huh?” He clutched his chin thoughtfully. “But you know, he's already dead. Today he was destined to die, he didn't have any more time left.”
This revelation shocked Tenko to the depths of his soul. Dead? No, it couldn't be real. He couldn't live without him.
“Please, I'll do anything!” He began. “Take me instead.”
“It's impossible. His soul already sails in the river of the dead, and you have a lot time left yet. Besides, if you switched places with him, wouldn't he feel just as empty and desperate as you do?” The boy gulped.
“Then take me too.”
“I can't. It's not your time yet.” Tears of despair covered his face.
“I'll do anything! Let me be with him!”
“Anything?” The man pondered a little.
“In that case...” The being in front of him waved his hand and the space between them became a grayish, gloomy river. Tenko glanced around, only to discover dozens of souls with anguished expressions following the stream. The man reached into the water and a few seconds later, he pulled out a soul that the boy recognized at once as that of his beloved.
“Touya!” He wanted to run towards him, but the man gestured him not to come closer.
“Not so fast boy. This is not something that can just be done. It requires an equivalent payment.”
“What is that payment?” He asked seriously and the guy smiled mischievously. Tenko swallowed hard, but there was no way he was going to back down.
To be the new god of death, that was the payment. The man explained that he had been in that role for a long time and was frankly sick and tired of it. So, if he agreed to be his replacement for the rest of eternity, he would save the young man. He accepted without hesitation.
The next second, the man, Tenko and Touya, who had apparently been made aware of the situation through some kind of witchcraft, appeared in the world of the gods.
The man explained the situation to the other gods, who tried to convince Tenko that this was not a job worth doing in exchange for saving a soul, but he was adamant. That being the case, the gods relieved the man of his job and Tenko was forced to administer the world of the dead.
But Touya was already dead. He had no more time left to live, even if he was pulled from the river of death.
In order to honor the deal made with Tenko, it was necessary to turn Touya into a spirit. A spirit of fire that roamed the world. Touya accepted immediately because he could not despise the sacrifice that his beloved was making for him.
The fire deity could visit the world of the dead whenever he wanted, to see his beloved, as long as his visits did not distract the god of death from his duties, and as long as he did not stay there for more than a week, because his soul would return to death, where it belonged.
Besides, they were no longer human and had to leave behind everything they knew. The gods baptized them with new names. Tenko was called Tomura and his hair turned white. Touya was called Dabi and his hair turned black. The burns on his body did not disappear, nor did Tomura's wounds from trying to save him.
Thus, with a new name, and his body trembling with fear of what lay ahead, Tomura said goodbye forever to the sun and headed for the world of death.
He understood at once that it was a hopeless place and that he had to be fair but tough in order to maintain the balance of the world; leading millions to the fate he had saved Dabi from.
He became a sober, imposing god who knows his place and wields magic like no one else. The knights of death have followed him devotedly for centuries, for generations, guided by the god who does his work diligently, with a heavy hand, but without cruelty.
Dabi visited him frequently at first and always stayed five to six days, reaching the limit of what he could endure without returning to death, before saying goodbye to his love. But the world kept changing, becoming more difficult, more overcrowded, more full of work for both of them, and, inevitably, the visits became less frequent. Tomura reached a thousand years as a god of death. It was Yotsubashi's idea to celebrate the occasion. Tomura did not object because a thousand years is a long time, making a commemoration of it did not sound bad. He sent a formal invitation to the other gods, to some deities and fairies, and, of course, to Dabi.
But Dabi did not show up. It had been sixty years since then and almost seventy since he had last seen him.
He spent a long time trying to convince himself that there was a good reason for his long absence and his long silence. But Dabi still did not come, and little by little, his hopes were fading, as well as his spirits and his heart.
When he woke up, Dabi was hugging him from behind and had his nose buried in his white hair. He snuggled more into his chest and caressed the arms that held him Where were you? he asked in his mind, closing his eyes to sleep again.
He climbed up to his throne that afternoon, only to find all the death knights lined up in front of it. He didn't remember calling them, but they were all there, with impeccable discipline, looking up at their lord. What does this mean? he thought.
“Thank you all for being here.” Dabi appeared behind him, climbing up the mountain of skulls and stood beside him. “I thank you all for your cooperation despite the short notice.”
“What are you talking about?” Tomura looked at him warily, he didn't know what idiocy Dabi had done this time, but the whole situation gave him a bad feeling. Yotsubashi from below, looked at him with tears in his eyes. Since Dabi didn't seem to explain anything, he turned his right hand.
“Yotsubashi, what does this mean?”
“We are here to see you off, sir.”
“See me off?” He turned to look at Dabi, asking for an answer with his eyes. The man gave him a small smile and took a step towards him, hugging him from behind, placing his head on the god's shoulder.
“It is your gift.” He brought his lips close to the other's ear. “You will no longer be a god. As a gift, I have brought you your freedom.” Tomura felt the blood leave his body.
“What? But- but this was for all eternity.”
“Why do you think it took me so long to come? It's not easy to convince the gods, and it's even harder to find a good substitute for the god of death.”
“Dabi... if this is one of your jokes, I swear that-“
“It isn't.” He intertwined his fingers with the god's. “It's not. We are free now.”
“Free?” Tears began to stream down his face, what was this, was it real?
“At last we can die. In recognition of all your years of service, we can go straight to paradise, without passing through the river of souls.”
“Are you- are you serious?” His brain had stopped working, it was hard to process those words, death, freedom, paradise, and having Dabi with him, all the time, no restrictions?
“I’m serious. We're leaving.” He kissed his cheek and smiled. All the death knights began to shout good wishes and to say goodbye to their lord, who could not stop crying for the next twenty minutes.
“Listen well, all of you.” He said with his usual imposing tone from the top of his throne. “You are free to go now.”
Having said that, he let Dabi take him by the hand, and lead him out of the cave.