Irridescent, soft beams of light flooded down through white-paned arched windows, catching in brief flashes on long metal knitting needles that were furious in their work.
At her feet lay several balls of string - too many in number to count - of varying colors, varying sizes, varying tales. The woven tapestry that stretched long over her knees and far down the stairs that lead to oblivion was bright in its diversity and silken in its touch. From somewhere, faint music could be heard. Waterlilies and ginger filled the air with burning incense or, perhaps, from some hidden place, a kitchen, or a garden. There were certainly enough flowers in bloom to warrant such an ideal. Which ones were gifts and which ones were her own, who could tell? Certainly not her. They all grew the same under her care, be it as it may distant and long-suffering - you don't get many breaks when you're responsible (more or less) for the fate of the universe, after all.
Who else would rig the lottery numbers?
A thread of woven blue and red was deftly tucked into a loop, the quiet clicking of her needles the only response to the introduction. It was intended to be short. A brief detour, a small story enough to be interesting but never intended to harm, she never thought that. Of course that wasn't up to her; not usually, that's not how fate worked, she simply had a stronger hand in the matter than most. But at the very least, she would know when this story came to its end. Scissors of celestial steel sat waiting up her sleeve and itched to snip it short, to see what other adventures her birds would accomplish so bravely. So very sweetly. Istus wondered if she would be invited to the wedding.
An interruption shattered her relative peace with a short burst of white smoke and the fluttering of pages; a letter, filled with looped script that demanded her attention with a broken black seal. It wasn't the first she'd ever received, nor would be the last. The Raven Queen did love her dramatics. Letters, parcels delivered by crows, reapers baring warm gifts. She did know they lived right next door to each other, right?
With hands working on automatic precision she read through the letter, at its words a glancing frown chiselling her features. Not from the Queen then, simply her domain. Why had this letter come to her? Yes, they were her emmisaries, but the content of the letter spoke more of concerns in regards to their own ladies domain, not her own. Though she certainly had her own undue influence in there, from time to time. More so on fridays when her tapestry was paused in favour of embarassing a certain someones favourite reaper. Kravitz really did need to work on his poker face.
A sudden pop and the letter in question was suddenly gone - vanished into the eather as if it had never been there in the first place. Istus blinked. Odd. Very odd indeed. Perhaps she would speak with Raven about this, it was certainly something so vaugely strange that she would be more upset if she hadnt brought it up than if she did than if it turned out to be nothing.
It was, in fact, not nothing. Probably.
"Oh, dear. That can't be good." She muttered, hands pausing for a moment - so quickly, just a second, for the first time in a hundred millenia - before continuing on. By now, the blue and red thread that was far too long for her liking and far too interwoven had far seeped into absolute, threaded black; creating a dark line that weaved throughout her story like a poisonous thorn. She had worked it too long. It had never meant to go like this. It had never meant to last this long.
This was not her favourite yarn.
Death...was a lot warmer than he remembered.
More accurately, death felt a lot more like a tight, velvety embrace, more lukewarm in temperature and supportive while his legs buckled beneath him and eyes blinked as they adjusted to the light. Death smelt like vanilla and ozone, too, which was weird. Actually, vanilla, ozone, and Kravitz . Which made a lot more sense because it wasn’t so much death itself, that smelt and hugged this way, but the physical embodiment of it.
“Hey.” He mumbled into Kravitz thick wool cloak, patting him on the back reassuringly as he felt fingers dig tighter into his hips.
“Hey.” Kravitz mumbled back, and pressed a kiss into the soft skin of his neck. “Just...just making sure you’re okay. Dying isn't fun.”
“This ain't permanent, bones, I promise.” Taako backed off just a little so they were still held in the embrace but he could reach up to cup his cheeks, shimmering, silvery soul-supported hands translucent and fizzy when pressed against skin. It was a nice moment; soft, warm, and it would have been nice to stay like this forever if there wasn’t a cough from beside them.
“Do I get a hug, too?”
“Can’t touch soul forms.” Kravitz said, still clutching to Taako like a lifeline. Damian rolled his eyes and from their shuffled position, Taako could see him holding their soul-strings between his fingers in the same way he had the last time they tried this.
“Thought we were past lying to each other, Krav, we went through so much together. Did this past week mean nothing to you?” He batted his eyelashes. Kravitz responded with nothing but a low growl, and it earnt him a pair of rolled eyes. “Jeez, okay. Can’t blame me for trying to get a little bit of a laugh before I, you know, go to eternal afterlife prison. And for also trying to lighten the mood before I do this.”
And in a singular motion, he snapped the strings in half.
It was the same body-wrenching, soul-tearing sensation as before; Taakos vision fizzled out as he clamped down a scream, having expected it this time, though that didn’t make the pain any lesser. His stomach – did his ethereal body even have one? – twisted itself in agony and his eyelids burned, and Taako could do nothing but dry heave as his legs gave out beneath him. For a horrifyingly long moment, Taako thought that maybe this time, he really had died, and that his life would end in a blinding flash of pain-wrecked sobbing.
But Kravitz’s arms were holding him tight; pressing him into velvet cloak of his uniform and grounding him, pulling him out of the agony-induced haze and soaking up the involuntary tears flooding down his cheeks. His comforting, familiar scent invaded his senses and helped to calm his brain down. Home and safety and love were being broadcasted through and helping to combat his flickering soul, and briefly, Taako wondered if this is what it was like when Fischer sent out his message across the world.
Behind them, Damian writhed on the ground, but neither Kravitz nor Taako really cared.
“You okay?” His murmured words were soft in Taakos hair but he couldn’t do anything but nod and give an undignified grunt, feeling as Kravitz stood them up and helped to support his weight on still weak legs. After a few more moments his vision lost its fuzzy tint and he blinked, righting himself, breathing in deep with a shaky sigh and turning to look at their Tiefling friend.
“You gonna finish this anytime soon, or?”
“Give me a fucking moment.” Damian snapped, on his hands and knees as he tried to steady his breathing. “Not all of us have celestial boyfriends who can help us through tearing our fucking souls out, dumbass.”
“And whose fault is that?” He quipped back, earning a glare in return.
After a few more heaving moments he stood, holding the strings in his hands and delicately moving them to the same fragile position he had held them in last time. A slight of hesitation from his end made Taakos already tense shoulders seize, and he huffed, rolling out of Kravitz’s grip to tilt his hips and look at him expectantly. “My dude, how fucking hard can it be? You've already done it once.”
Damian's hands were still shaking slightly and he closed his eyes, breathing in a sigh and strings achingly close but not touching. His face was uncomfortably blank and, in the weird, ambient black light of the astral plane, the horns that curled around the sides of his head shone in a foreboding inky color that caught slight flashes of light from the portals window and became eerily reminiscent of the hungers touch. He was still knelt on the ground wearing the fashionable yet still hobo-esque clothes Taako had strung together from nothing but three gold pieces, and he flashed a grin and looked up at the two.
“You know,” he paused, worryingly, and beside Taao Kravitz’s grip on his scythe tightened, “this spell was never perfect. There were always a lot of variables. Gaps. Plot holes, if you will.”
He recognized this tone, Taako recognized this tone; this snobbish, sly confidence, this obtuse arrogance that slimed his words and smoothed his cadence. This was his ‘I've got you right where I want you’ voice. The voice he used when he had just stolen his body, the voice when he had nearly escaped. It raised hairs on the back of his neck and sent an unnatural chill down his spine as his body begged for flight recognizing what was becoming an uncontrolled situation.
“So you’re not a perfect necromancer, shocking news. Nobody was expecting you to be the next Bluejeans.” Taako scoffed instead to hide the growing panic and touched Kravitz elbow in an unspoken question. “You’re looking for pity points from the wrong person, buddy.”
The chuckle, dark and warning, was loud enough to echo throughout the empty space, bouncing off of non-existent walls. “Oh, no, I would never. Pity isn't exactly my forte , as I'm sure you're well aware.” He finally stood, rolling and cracking his neck as he did so, gaze focused on them rather than the precariously held strings in his hands. “It's just my severe lack of control over this spell lead to some, well, opportunities I don’t really think we ever explored. So many things could have gone wrong here, you know, so many...possibilities.”
His threat was clear intended but cloaked in a layer of malice and hidden actions, sharp to match the glinting determination that fed the fire of fury in his eyes. A split-second warning in the way of a glance that was too late to act on but early enough to strike a panicked realization in his chest.
“Like, say,” Damian said as Taako scrambled to move, fumbling and clumsy, “what would happen if I did this?”
Hands don’t need to be still to let go. As the strings fell – rather gracefully, beautifully, even, not so much falling as a slow feather-like descent that matched nothing if the petals from a flowering tree – sound zeroed out and color leeched from the room until the only thing of note was the soft and entrancing glow from his broken lifeline. After what felt like forever but was probably only a second of watching his link back home disappear there was a sudden, overwhelming flash of white, soft and warm but unwelcoming and surprising, and in what was now becoming a familiar sensation the world warped around him and the surroundings around him had changed. Somehow, for the worst.
This was a very surprising notion, considering he had just come from the astral plane that was holding a man who tried to destroy him and, before that, a cult room dedicated to a bloody ritual. But Gods help him he’d take red-lit candle walls, cut-open sacrifices or the chilled air of the undead realm over this horrifically beige office room.
Really? Beige ? Had he skipped over the formalities of death and been skipped straight to a personalized hell room tucked deep away into the Eternal Stockade?
“You know, I kind of pictured a more fire-and-pitchforks kind of vibe. This has far exceeded my expectations.”
Taako whipped around to face the frustratingly familiar voice next to him, Damian sitting at his side with a faintly amused but mostly curious look on his face. Behind his arrogant smirk, of course. The one thing he noticed before launching himself at the Tiefling was that he, and himself, were full bodied and flushed with color; no longer residing in their soul forms but at the very least recreations of their living selves. This, hopefully, meant his punches would land hard.
Before his primed fist could connect to soft, very punch-able cheek tissue, however, a large and calloused hand was wrapped around his neck and lifted him up by the scruff. He was pulled away from Damian and into the air like a cat caught in the cream. His hiss of anger probably suited the scene too nicely if Damián's snicker was anything to go by, and he flailed his arms as whoever was holding him like he weighed nothing more than peanuts refused to put him down.
“Piss off!” He tried to pull out of the grip and failed, miserably, falling limp with a huff. Damian was watching the scene with a shit-eating grin and Taako flipped him both birds. His heeled boots were barely grazing the ground from this height but his legs were long and gangly, and with a swift and sudden kick Damian earned a bloody nose. He was rewarded with being dumped, unceremoniously, on the ground, dulled pain of falling two feet and landing on his ass forgotten at the sight of Damian clutching his face.
“Hey, watch it, you two.” Whoever had dumped him was now speaking and he turned to face them, glare settling into place ready for a long-haul stay. She was a woman, tall and broad with bundles of curls falling in waves down to her chest, chestnut and frizzled and smelling like pine. Her freckled face was soft in an amused but condescending frown and her hands, ringed on one finger but bared and worn on the others, were curled on her hips as she arched a brow and looked down at Taako. He felt like if there was a sun, here, she would have overshadowed it, bolder in her warmth and radiance.
Also, if the suns had fists, she could probably take it in a fight.
“He- he killed me!” He protested, struggling to his feet and gesturing to a placatory and waving Damian. “I have every goddamn right to magic missile the fuck out of his ass!”
The bold accusation earned nothing from the woman but an offered hand to help him stand, retreated when he pridefully refused and instead tucked into the pocket of her pants. “I'm sure you can try, but I don’t think that’s gonna get you anywhere. Keep the fistfights to the stockade, alright?”
It didn’t take a genius wizard like Taako to figure out that yes, he was dead, and a bit more permanently than his previous flirts with the concept at that – but the S tockade ? Damian sure as hell deserved to be here – dude was practically bleeding necromantic energy and probably jacked it to well-designed bloody sigils – but as far as he knew Taako Taaco , you know, savior of the realms, one of the seven birds, fiancé and brother to three different reapers, had been pardoned of whatever life-and-death fuckery he had gotten tangled up with over the years. At the very most he deserved a stern pat on the back and maybe a harsh word or two from the Queen herself. He was about to take his chances and demand his lawyer be present for any further discussion when a third, previously unnoticed party in the room spoke up.
“Oh, Taako darlin, I can see those lil’ gears working hard as heaven up in that pretty head of yours, why don’t you take a seat for me and we can sort through this nasty little situation we got ourselves into?”
The sickly, over honeyed voice that dripped with a patronizing, southern lilt. A platinum dyed bob that bounced when she tiled her sharp-chinned, red-smiled head to the side. Chunky fake-gems for jewelry. She reeked of brand perfume and bake-sale brownies, long, acrylic claws drowned in gauzy blood-colored nail polish running a tapped beat alongside her polished desk.
The bane of Taakos existence. The office queen of management and fundraisers. First title bitch , second title in charge.
She was sitting prim and proper behind her white-oak desk, manicured hands resting even and waiting atop a fresh white pad of paper she had set before her. He recognized the blouse. Last time he had seen it, the hideous thing had been soaked in red wine. Since when had the astral plane had dry cleaning?
With a deft wave she gestured towards a door, smile wide and hideously genuine. “Thank you so much, Julia, you’ve been a sweetheart. I’ll see you for Fridays potluck?”
Julia? As in, Burnsides Julia? Ravens roost Julia? Could bench-press a bear with a smile Julia? The muscled arms covered in flannel and dog-paw earrings that rested too delicate in the mass curls of her mane helped click into place a character Taako never thought he’d see until his deathbed – which, he supposed, he had by now long surpassed. The realization that this woman, this strong, capable, sweet-eyed and soft-lipped woman was the Julia, that she was Magnus’s wife, made his brain fizzle out and struggle to splutter anything other than a drop of his jaw as he watched her beam a brilliant smile.
Because, of course , this was Julia. Of fucking course it was. She was perfect for that meathead.
“Corse, Suzy. Wouldn’t miss your lemon drop cake for the death of me.” The two women shared a laugh and before long the object of his best friends longing affections disappeared through the door and into whatever lay beyond.
With her gone Taakos attention was snapped back to a still-smiling Susan, that bitch Susan, who signed something quickly on a sheet to her side before placing the pen down. She remained silent, looking expectantly at Taako and nodding slightly to one of the chairs beside him, Damian sitting in the other with a shit-eating grin and raised eyebrows. He let the quiet continue for a second more before sighing and folded his arms, sitting heavily in the chair with an unintended pout. Susan's grin didn’t crack.
“Well now, darlin, you’ve got yourself messed up in a right ole pickle now, haven't you?” She said. With a dramatic – and definitely not needed – puff of white smoke a leather-bound book, heavy and worn, fell heavily into her hands, opening and flicking through pages of its own volition and resting somewhere in the middle. “Upwards of ten deaths not checked into the astral plane – pardoned, mind you, little rascal,” her teasing tone was like a fork to a chalkboard in his ears and he tried not to groan, “but one account of willing necromantic sacrifice! Taako, hun, what are you doin ?” It was a rhetorical question and she quickly turned her attention to Damian, who sat up with a start at her attention . “I don’t even wanna get started on you and your charges! Basic accounts of necromancy, necromantic spell tamperin’, necromantic sacrifices, rituals, soul tamperin’, my, you really went all out, huh? Taako why are you hangin’ out with these kinda people? You know those kind of influences ain’t good for you!”
The overzealous but clearly and disgustingly genuine concern in her voice was sticky in his ears and gummed up his mouth, making it difficult to rebut her accusations. “It wasn’t a willing sacrifice, Susan, darling , it was simply a matter of fixing rights that had been wronged.”
“No, no, I remember it being pretty willing.” Damian cut off her answer and Taakos hands curled into fists again, shaking in his lap. “I'm pretty sure you even cracked a rope kink joke or two.”
“If you weren't already dead, id threaten to kill you, but instead i swear to Pan ill find a way to do it again.” He hissed back, much to the Tieflings amusement. Susan had plonked her book down heavily on the desk facing the two by now to cut off any more sharp jabs.
“Taako, sweetheart, it says right here, look.” A sparkling claw pointed to the looping script, black-inked and indeed reading out his name and listed crimes. His deaths had been pardoned, and were crossed in golden ink, but the sacrifice charge was loud and clear. Damian’s list ran for a whole page. “The book don’t lie, Taako, and listen I know you wouldn’t wanna do somethin’ like this unless it was under some kinda cooky situation, so how ‘bout you two tell me what happened and we can sort it out. Easy as pie.” The book slammed shut with her offered deal and vanished, leaving only her shining smile to answer to. “Don't make me zone of truth yall now! You’re in my department.” With a shocking waste of a cantrip she gestured with a flourish and sparks spat from her fingertips, ‘ Department of extenuating circumstances’ lit up above her head in flashing pink lights.
Oh dear God. She even knew magic.
“You even seen Freaky Friday, Sus-bug?” Taako leant back against his chair with a faux-comfortable attitude, still highly tensed and ready to run at any second notice. Susan radiated French vanilla and report cards. “Basically that, but with a disappointing lack of Lindsey Lohan and my supporting actor fucking sucked. No personality at all. Barely sold the character.”
“Oh give me some fucking credit, will you?” Damian snapped, arms folded tightly over his chest and glare heated enough to light the decorative candle sitting on her desk. “I pulled that shit off for a week . The only reason it fell through is because you showed up and ruined everything.”
He barely dignified that with a snort. “Yeah, sure, whatever helps you sleep at night. At least you know that charms your only asset, considering your necromancy fucking blows.”
“I fucking tore your soul out from your body and replaced it with my own! How the hell is that not impressive?” He spluttered. “I spent weeks altering that spell! I did something literally nobody has ever done before!”
“You ever been to camp Goodfriend, my dude?”
“I - no, why would I-”
Taako examined his nails. “Better lawyer up else your ass gets sued for copyright claims. Art don't fuck around.”
A clap of hands cut off their bickering and with a start brought their attention back to Susan, who was clutching a blue gel pen in her hand and had apparently been writing down notes the entire time. “Well that’s all very helpful ‘n all, boys, but I think we got all that right sorted. You had to do another ritual to put your soul back in its original body, Taako? That what happened?”
“Well yeah I mean, I guess, if you wanna get into specifics.” He said, shrugging.
“Oh, well that’s easy peasy, then!” She folded up the piece of paper and vanished it into the ether, standing with a click of her heels. “That’ll only be five hundred years in the Stockade, visitation rights ‘n all included. I won't bother with you Mr naughty lil necromancer, I think we both know you ain’t getting out anytime fast.” Emerging from her desk as she spoke and ignorant of Taakos shocked noises of protests Susan poked Damian in the chest, pushing him back into his seat a little with a wink.
Five hundred – what? Five hundred years? For what?
“I believe that’s all, so it was nice to see you again Taako, I'll be seein’ you around in a few centuries! Oh, we’ll both laugh and laugh about this, wont we?” Susan tapped her papers together nearly on the desk and ignored his spluttering, mess of protests, unable to find coherent words in the blind panic state his head had dissolved into. “I'll pass on a word to Kravitz, don’t you worry about him. Ta!”
With a quick wave of her hand their surroundings suddenly vanished once again, the live, laugh, love inscription on the office wall dissipating into cold blocks of grey stone. With a rather inelegant thunk, having previously been sitting on a now dissolved chair, Taako slammed onto his ass and fell backwards onto the floor with a grunt of complaint and surprise. Metal bars stopped his head from hitting the ground but rung his ears and fuzzed his vision for a split second as skull met steel. Thank god, you can't get concussions when you're dead.
With the echoing silence reigned too much time to think, too many opportunities to panic, and so he busied himself with examining his surroundings; his cell was small, stone on three sides and metal bars the fourth in a makeshift gate that held no lock or chain. A square and barred off window faced the sea of souls that, from this angle and his cell, lapped so very far away at a black-grass beach. The sky was a desolate black and no stars winked back to him. Real comforting stuff.
Groaning, he turned, reaching out a tentative hand through the gaps between his door and seeing how far he could reach. He could poke his head out, his arms, too, if singular; but some kind of powerful magic was holding him back from escaping which he, really, should have expected. In reaching out though, with silvery see-through hands, that was one thing he noticed; he was no longer sparkly.
Which, first things first, that fucking sucked. He had been digging the Edward Cullen vampire-esque sparkly vibe that being in his soul form gave him – while not completely see through and entirely devoid of color except white, soul forms were shining and iridescent, and gave off a soft, warm, soothing glow that left light trails whenever he moved too quickly. It had been pretty dope.
Now, though, still white and translucent, he wasn’t given that privilege. His form was dulled and tinted in grey, making him more like a faded-out photograph than a soul still warped in the shape of his living body. He guessed it was something to do with his ties to the living world which, in turn, lead to a far more depressing conclusion – that he was, well and truly, gone.
Because yeah, fuck, Taako was dead . Took a while for that one to sink in, huh? Permanently, this time. All ending. The final train stop. Last call for wills and testimonies. All of those shitty, shitty metaphors about death and its finality and those depressing songs that Johann would write that he never paid attention to finally applied to him – he was, and to quote, nothing more than a sweet whisper on a reminiscent wind, now but a willowed memory.
A willowed memory. What the fuck did that even mean, Johann?
Taako supposed he should be used to this by now, death, the afterlife, though by technicality he had never truly experienced it. Had only ghosted past that fatal slip n’ slide, given it a cursory glance before deciding it wasn’t worth the rubber-rashes. Death before had been – well, it had been shitty, sure, but he had never really stuck around long enough to suffer through the boring parts of it. The boring parts of it like sitting in a jail cell opposite the man who had put you here, readying yourself for this view for the next five hundred years, trying to dream up ways to torture him more than an endless prison sentence would.
If there was one thing he could take comfort in, it was that this could not, statistically, get any worse. He was dead, in death prison, facing Faeruns number one asshole, and hadn’t even had a chance to smooch his beau – who would probably have to even guard him sometimes, and while Taako was down for the whole ‘guy in a uniform and nightstick’ kind of deal he never imagined it would be like this – goodbye. Hadn't even had a slim warning. So, yeah, it would be real fuckin’ hard to dig any deeper than this.
As it turns out, just because he couldn’t do that, doesn’t mean other people didn’t own shovels.
“Vell vell, now this is just vone juicy little pleasantry, iznt it! Oh train-boy, I do believe our bestest vizard friend has come to pay us a rather permanent visit!”