A piece written using the prompt "Write a world where Death is the Patron of Children."
I decided Death was a non-binary entity who was unerringly a protector and someone with infinite softness. Enjoy.
Home is a place of black, white and grey, streaked with the vivid color of vermillion: the only color seeable to Ver.
It is the color that Ve dressed Verself in when the children came to The Nursery: the color of active motion, of the blood of every sapient on This World. Ve didn't concern Verself with the color of another world: here, in this world, Vermillion was action, and action is tied to those in Ver care. Ve draped it in the form of sweeping robes, shadowing the bones that made up This World's Death.
Today was another day at The Nursery: another day of vermillion souls, sprinting around with glee. Their sharp cries pierced the thick silence that often stuffed its way into Ver ears, cotton thick until there was nothing but the pervasive mist of The Nursery, the sucking of the mud from always rainy days. It was always raining in the Fells: the grass was grey from it, more mud than living shoots.
Ve watched as children dashed about, blissfully unaware of their Beginnings, Middles, and Ends. None of them knew that when they came here knew where there were in life: all came during naps in Their Worlds, during long nights of coughing sickness, in the moment when tragedy ended a life, and bore no mark of such.
Ve walked among them and the children reacted kindly, tugging at the billowing robes before running off again, brown bodies dashing around splashes of vermillion and everlasting greys in Ver vision.
Two children stood out from the rest, two who had learned how to become statue still: Sytria and Arleen Battle, with their midnight cheeks and viridian eyes, the four color belonging to this realm. They were still like that right now, mirrors of each other standing beautiful silent, soft, chubby limbs extended out with open palms, lips lifted in kind smiles. They looked like the welcoming side of This Place: Peace, Protection, Pleasantry.
As Ve looked upon them, their heads came together in swift, smooth movement black beaded dreadlocks twining around each other like snakes as they whispered, then parted. Arleen threw a smirk in Ver direction, and with a gust of mist, they were gone, swept from The Nursery.
Sytria and Arleen were Ver favorites: they'd been children for eons, had chosen, in their blooming wisdom, to stay. At times, Ve wondered if it was a bit unnerving to look just on the cusp of Adolescence but bear the mind of the stars: infinite, unending, stretching across millennia of Knowing.
They'd forever be Twelve Years, Eleven Months, and Twenty Nine Days Old. Ve wasn't sure Ve'd want to be like that for a true forever. The Battle Twins, however, had been willing to dedicate themselves to such a venture: when Ve prepared the flesh of a mermaid for them to dine on, they'd eaten with relish, thanking Ver with Ver true name, and pledging themselves to all the children that came before, current, and after.
Ve had enough of looking suddenly: Life, like Children, was too quick, and in Ver Oldest Age, had made Ver feel infinitely tired. It was a simple matter of thinking, and Ve was back at Haven, away from The Nursery. It would tend itself, keeping the children who needed safe haven protected. Ve could just be, back in Ver world of monochrome and red, dashed with Viridian. They could all be, a Shield and its two blades, gently cutting away the ill of the world.
A wave of mist and Ve was gone, back to the soft chair spirited from that place called Earth: an overstuffed beast of cracked leather and Arleen's countless doilies made from spider thread and silverbane. Ve stuck a bony finger into the center of one, winding it through. It was soft, still felt new: Arleen must have whipped it up one recent morning.
There was a clatter from one of the rooms: the kitchen had two occupants, both smelling of clove and quick waters lush with moss. The Battle Twins, naturally: no one else could wind down the muddy paths to This Place.
Today, Sytria attended Ver, bringing a tray laden with a mismatched tea set and sandwiches: fennel, peppered pork, and goat cheese from Old Lady on her hills by the shores children came up from. The smell was intoxicating: Ve couldn't resist descending on a sandwich, and then another. Puffs of smoke came from beneath the robe as Ver soulfire gobbled the meat and herbs down. A crackle sounded and lifting became easier as muscles bloomed, moist from flowing blood.
"Meridian, The Children have gone for the night. It's a long weekend: three days!" Sytria said as she situated herself on the ground next to Meridian, tucking a cushion beneath herself. She set up tea -her own cup last, out of good manners- and took a sip once Meridian could hold the cup steady.
Quick as a whip Sytria stuck out her tongue, tea far too hot to drink. She blew in quick huffs, cupping the old, worn cup, bouncing it lightly between her hands, just so. No tea spilled from her steady fingers. "You can remember if you sip. Arleen mixed this up just for you."
"Can I Remember?" Ve asked, voice a low croak. Ve didn't have so much use for a voice, not when motions could do the same, and more.
"Of course you can, it's just been a while, hasn't it? You could when The Children are Here -well not Here, but There and here- but even I understand roles. Please do come back: Arleen wants to see you again too." Sytria raised her shoulder, nudging the cup up. Meridian shuddered beneath the billowing robes in recognition, drawing the cup up into the shadow of Ver hood.
It felt good to drink, to come from the coldness of Death and back to Between with each sip. Sytria always knew when Meridian needed to come back, to remember the feeling of also having skin and muscle and nerves, not just hollow bone and soulfire. As a form
"It's wonderful to see you, Meri," Arleen whispered, and she crawled up into Meridian's lap, not caring that she was twelve and a bit tall, or that Meridian's mug had fallen to the floor, black tea absorbed into even blacker carpet. Instead, Arleen tucked the crown of her head beneath Meridian, and embraced her guardian tightly, nuzzling Meridian's sharp collarbones. "We miss you and You all the time."
Meridian didn't know how to reply, only held Arleen closer and hummed love. All Meridian knew were songs to Call: Call Spirits, Call the Rain, bring the Mists Swirling In. Whatever Ve pieced together from that was enough though: soon, Arleen's low, cracking voice was joining in as they bonded, guardian and child upon that overstuffed old chair.
"Let's go toast some cheese under the stars," Sytria suggested after a while. "There's a shower tonight, and like I said, it's a long weekend. You can wear skin as much as you'd like for the next eighty-four hours and see the stars are we do." Sytria flashed a sharp-toothed smile, and jumped up, sweeping up the tea and crumbs back onto the tray. Minutes later she appeared back at the doorway in a loose yellow tunic and grey jeans: clothes that she'd snatched from another world for something casual to wear. Arleen extracted herself from Meridian's gentle, parental arms and followed suit, coming back down after three minutes in a long dress dyed in different shades of purple. Meridian could see it now, could see every color now with skin on.
"Let's go Meri!" Arleen said, and gone were the millennia. Arleen was just a child once more, midnight cheeks bright, viridian eyes flashed with pure glee. "Maybe we can ask one of the stars to take a name for us: do you think they would if we're polite?"
Meridian smiled and felt Ver soulfire bundle up tight into the shape of a heart as the twins came and tugged on Ver, yanking and coaxing. They did so until they were all squishing through The Fells, misted by rain that slid off their forms like they were wax paper. When they arrived at the cusp where the silverbane grew, the skies cleared and Sytria produced a blanket and old spyglass to see the stars.
"Are you comfortable, Meri?" Arleen asked. Meridian silently nodded -it was natural to be quiet, and just as communicative- and let the girls flop against Ver sides and legs, let them twitch and shift until they could see the perfect circle in the skies above, vermillion moon tucked behind the thick, black clouds.
"Let's name that one Meridian, Meri," Sytria said. "We'd like you to be up there too." Sytria looked uncharacteristically shy, and for all her eons of wisdom, looked away, aware of how gentle she'd been. It made Arleen laugh, great whooping giggles that filled the air like the popping flashings of shooting stars.
Now Ve could see why The Battle Twins stayed, as Ve always understood while wearing flesh: it was because of love for Ve and the children, because their purpose was unto Death in all its ways, here in the mud and mist.