Kiara looked forward to her next life. Able to place her dreams towards another day after the present. After all, she was the phoenix - ambassador of immortality and life.
But she knew the moment she awoke from the sparks of ashes weeks ago, time stopped favoring the beloved flame. Her stretch of blistering wings eclipsing over the ocean's surge where she had choked within the murky waves was met with aged strain. And she found herself lying upon the numbing sand in her human state, blankly reaching for the stars just out of sight overcast the sea of clouds.
It was her final life. How ironic, it seemed even the cryptid mortal time traveler had outlived her. The final Atlantean princess she had met earlier that dragged her below the abyss must be rolling in joy in her underwater grave, to be the final (and only winning) opponent of life itself.
So Kiara laughed and laughed, lying ashore on the grating, crisp sand, and salty foam.
Kiara found Calliope on the peak of Everest’s hillside, resting oh - so calmly as if she wasn’t the progenitor of death herself, face blissful and unaware of life’s presence beside her. And Kiara allows herself to be amused as she usually does when she meets her beside their corner of the afterlife, even if just for a final time, she’d see her.
Calliope, who must be stumped with more burden than Kiara could ever fathom, the burden of reaping nothing but gore and misery, the burden of her dreaded story told upon generations upon generations of ignorant individuals who feared her reverence. Every one of those stains upon her existence, an invisible contract she had signed at the beginning of life’s conception to an unknown god, a duty she must oblige with the existence of death.
Calliope, who repents for those she cannot control the demise to, who feels the remorsing regret with every swing of her scythe, every life she takes albeit the stubbornness of those inching within death’s door, every time the contract she signed consumed her in an eternal finality she’ll never escape from.
Calliope, who’s heart was purer than Kiara would ever imagine upon their meetings in the blank space between limbo. Whose only purpose was to serve the world, the existence of life itself, and some stupid, stupid phoenix sitting beside her who bothered her to no end. For she knew no better - knew of no other way to truly live her eternal burden other than between her reaping and the calm of her resting.
Now, she'll set her free of one. Throat ached thickening through the grief she won’t even experience herself.
“Hey Calli, you know your god has given you a gift recently.” Kiara tells Calliope with a smug smile one day upon Everest after she had yet once again failed the temptation of seeing her, when she had willed her brazen wings flame in agony and swooped through the oppressive snowstorms. “That gift is, well, more time to rest. And yet you stay next to my house everyday.” She turned her head, a small cave filled with the possessions of the phoenix piled up in a small messy mountain of riches and memories. A large nest in the middle stuck weirdly in the middle of it all, odd branches sticking out from the fine-tuning.
Calliope’s scythe sat neatly polished in the reaper’s lap beneath the weathered tree as if it wasn’t a literal cause of mass death. Kiara noticed many lifetimes ago, the blunt edges of the blade lit a pretty pastel pink through the darkest of perilous fog. Where even the truest, brightest torches of war couldn’t crack through, and where you could see nothing and only feel the liquid ire of crimson licking the soles of poor iron shoes. The reaper blinked, and Kiara could see the way she was slowly awkward from her hidden slumber from rigid shoulders relaxing upon hearing her voice. “My contract… is to look after you.” Calliope breathed deeply as, lifting an arm to hide or wipe off whatever landed suddenly on her face. “But you know that already, Kus- Kiara.”
And as much as Kiara desired more, so so much more, she stopped herself from saying anything stupid. Even after lifetimes of time, they were just acquaintances, confidants… friends at best.
Yet when Kiara stepped over through the crunch of heavy snowfall and cupped the reaper’s hands within hers, Calliope didn’t move away. The phoenix catches the shock, large crimson eyes lit abright in the sunrise coating them in gold and surprised. Yet, she allows Kiara to remain, pressing their hands together and linking Kiara’s warm finger within her deathly cold.
“What in the world would it take for you to finally be relaxed, to have a piece of mind if anything?” Kiara asks her.
Calliope blinks owlishly again and quickly faces the frigid ground. “I’m a reaper above all, Kiara. I can’t see a time where matters such as peace can really happen... I have to do my duty, just like you - to live.” She squeezes their grasp, gently seeking the heat.
And whilst it should’ve been a startling statement, something built of nothing but self-deprecation and a sense of utter obligation should be concerning at a therapeutic standpoint. Yet, the way she had said it, so bluntly and carelessly, made it clear that she had said it thousands of times before, in a thousand different ways and places. Maybe this conversation had already occurred in the lifetimes Kiara couldn’t remember with the creeping amnesia that ate away at her with every reincarnation.
Kiara smiled softly, silent. She hoped her distant gaze of regret didn’t meet Calli’s. But she pulled their small embrace to her heart in a sense of comfort. If the phoenix looked up, she’d see the rising shock gleaming with the hesitance written on her face before closing her eyes, carefully caressing with the tip of her thumb across their interlaced fingers.
And neither of them wanted to say anymore.
Kiara starts folding.
What binds immortality to the world was like an anchor slowly rusting under the ocean. It took a very, very long time, but it’ll begin disintegrating piece by piece with the saline and life that had made it their home in vivid coral and flora. At one point, the anchor becomes weaker, the boat it held slowly drifting further from the shoreline with each development that covers its timeless corrosion. Chipping away piece by piece, completely blind to those above the shore. The erosion of metal akin to memories slipping, its only proof of existence in the pages of history books.
Life herself grows weaker with every trail. Calliope knows it, and Kiara knows it too. And it is with great certainty that they both know that one day, she’d no longer roam above the world with the great chivalrous bloom of her fiery wings.
Perhaps it’s due to this knowledge, even when Kiara had no more time to prove her worth to Calliope, whether it be as the hero of legend or herself - she still treats her carefully albeit her clear aversion from the phoenix in their earlier meetings through the afterlife and beyond. Never quite sure if she would ever see the phoenix again that she is dearly, or undearly obliged to forever look after. As if she isn’t quite sure that a simple touch with her frozen touch would shatter her like glass.
And Kiara wonders how painful it must be, having to care for her barely considered immortal life for a so-called eternity. Only for her to leave the reaper after she had been abandoned by those closest to her, those who cannot surpass the sheer limit of mortality like the phoenix could.
A thousand paper cranes.
Maybe it’s a pointless, idiodic endeavour that stemmed from a children’s tale that she herself had watched written on old parchment. Foolish and irrational, absolutely useless in the long run. Probably something the cryptid time traveler would mock and joke upon leaving for her next time adventure. However, she continues.
Kiara continues holding as it was her lifeline, with drips of her own life seeping within the paper with every crease. The motion mechanically began engraving in her bones, rehearsed and assured. She does it again and again, continues folding as if it was the only thing holding the anchor on the ocean floor, continues folding as if Calliope would leave her if she stopped.
“That’s a whole lotta’ chickens,” Amelia says one day, the mythical stopwatch usually strapped around her waist instead, a screw tinkering away at some informality. “what are you wishing for, forever bird?”
The horizon had deepened, heavy gloomy clouds covering the full moon past the closed window. Amelia’s nice little suburban house the owner herself barely visited alone once again save for the repeating, trained crinkle of bent papers.
Kiara stares off on the clock above the wall, her hands tired as she repeats the same motions over and over again, absolutely determined to keep folding until she falls. She remains silent for a moment, watching another bird in her grasp come to life, eyes closing exhausted as the paper flits tiny shadows under the orange candlelight she lit aflame earlier with the final shreds of her heritage. She throws it into the cardboard box on her bedside table and responds. “It’s a wish for our darling reaper, my dear detective.”
Amelia’s sunset eyes are questioning, yet knowing. Kiara hears the rustle of background noise as Amelia lifts the bright sheets of the bed over her, before taking a seat across her beyond the bed. She sighs with a tilted cheshire smile, shrugging. “With what I got outta’ that, you're saying she is plagued by more than she already knows?”
Kiara’s too tired to indulge her for once. “Mhm.”
Amelia blinks out of existence for a moment and returns the next, a stack of small squares in her hands. Probably stolen out of some poor party shop as a dose of her own kind of assistance. “So you gonna tell her or no?”
Kiara laughs and her face lights up out of her control, a revealing pink tint rides over her cheeks lovingly and fondly whenever Calliope is brought up. “Do you think she’d be willing to even hear stuff like that?”
“...Yeah, you're right.” Amelia lifts the stack of squares to Kiara. Sometimes, Kiara knows inside of her the time-traveler was probably closer than her, to be able to transcend time itself and to see the occurrence of each and every moment in history. The way Amelia has never physically aged within the centuries Kiara had met her.
But she is set in her decision, she won’t change it now. There was no better option.
“Ah, but you know, you can’t really hide from her forever no matter if you want it or not. She’ll one day find out if a wish such as that is made.”
Kiara laughs with closed lips jarringly, hears the dull rustling clump of another crane as she drops another into the box. “Then, I guess it’s good that I won’t be around to see her angry. “
The phoenix’s proclamation hangs in the air heavily.
“It’s your last life.” Amelia says blankly, almost insensitive, were it not the closeness they had. A shocked exhale of shallow breath rushed over Kiara in a clear breeze, the rush of adrenaline swirling, finally releasing her final ticking clock to someone.
The phoenix nods, “Uh huh.”
Then silence eats away the time on the clock above them, the stopwatch shaking in Amelia’s grip. Their banter doesn't return.
And when Amelia leaves for her usual stroll around the world that night, she leaves with a mumbled “see you,” so silent Kiara didn’t hear it through the motion of the time-traveler's mouth. It’s a silent voice that trembles and shakes wobbly with each step she takes through the door. Whether it be from the reveal that her phoenix- phoenix friend, were to be lost to the constant cycle of time or the cold winter chill. She does not ask.
So Kiara keeps folding.
Her embers dampen, her body weakens, and yet she doesn't stop folding. When she stops leaving to find Amelia, confined to the small home, nothing overlaps the prevalent shuffle of paper, the quiet whispering shifts of gravity as she drops them in the mounting boxes.
Amelia stays around at the same time for once, supplying her more and more paper she presumably stole, aiding her endeavors when her body’s too weak to do nothing but fold, fold, and fold even when she's too tired to lift her arms, unable to rise, unable to look after herself.
Nights pass and Kiara wonders then, if the time-traveler had spilled the secret to Calliope, if just possibly, she’d show up to the door, might be able to give her a final chance to confess- to say goodbye.
Amelia asks her this, calmly and concerned. But even to her end, she is too proud to admit that she’d not have the confidence for either.
She folds until her time is up, folds until her vision blurs and fades, until she couldn’t feel no hear Amelia’s panicked shouting, the detective's tight ghostly hand desperately trying to shake her awake. Until she feels the thin smooth sheet of paper slipping from her hands as she feels the scorching of her core disintegrating into millions and billions of dead ash, breathes shallower, slower, and resignation in her mind as she stares at death in her tired, tired crimson eyes.
And for the first time, Calliope walks past Kiara without sparing a glance, unaware.
Maybe now, she’ll finally have a piece of mind.