As the wraith leans over him, and his hands touch the place where its cheeks would be—should have been—might yet be, lingering somewhere beyond his trivial, infuriatingly weak human sight—Dref feels himself begin to twist. The fabric of him loosens, just a breath, as his life turns on an invisible axis counter to the direction in which it has been woven.
His fingers snake under the gray hood and brush raw power, still as a glassy sea and just as unfathomable. The cold in his abdomen pulses, hard, two voids in a call and response.
This, he knows, is how it goes. The misconceptions about death are legion, but perhaps the most prevalent—and least defensible—is that the undoing of a human life is somehow, against all evidence, linear. No life is made in a straight line, and there’s no reason for death to be so… rigidly clinical. The whole notion is vulgar.
So it is with some satisfaction that Dref, when he dies, comes apart everywhere at once.
He peels back, thread by component thread, even as he feels the last trickle of divine magic well within his gut. The outermost parts of him go first. The curve of his favorite needle, permanently bent from the time that fate interposed his surgical kit between his hip and a stray musket ball, pulls free from the core of him to dissolve into the ambient dark. The memory of his room at the university, with its mouse hole in the corner and faded yellow curtains that swelled in the breeze, follows, and is gone.
A warm, fresh breakfast in port after a long voyage; the smell of jasmine in his mother’s garden. One by one, sense memories—identities—come loose at the void’s tug.
There is an order to it, the mandala that his life forms as it is unmade. Dref finds that satisfying.
The liquid lightning of divine power saturates every remaining fiber as the core of him unspools. He feels, then loses, Tiberius’ gangly arms around him, squeezing him half to death when thunder cracks against the window of their nursery. His father’s voice bursts against him like a disdainful gunshot, then fades almost immediately to nothing more than ringing in his ears.
Closer to the center, exposed as layers of him dissolve into tangled pools, Dref finds fear—thickly corded but frayed, and already slack where it unravels behind his breastbone, as if it had been long since dislodged from its original place.
It blows away, and leaves in its wake the fading memory of Jonnit’s feet in too-big boots and the unselfconscious cascade of the boy’s laughter. The warmth of Gable’s hands enclosing Dref’s own, making him feel very small (and, in a way he had never felt while actually small, very safe); the shape of them leaping from their bird, shoulders held back in the muscle memory of wings. Travis’ hand at the nape of his neck, landing mid-monologue with an airy nonchalance, even as it kneads at the aches left by a night of reading notes by candle wick. The look in Travis’ eyes, framed by white feathers and animal panic, but shot through with something else that Dref could not name, and is wearily, selfishly grateful he will never have to.
Dref idly wishes, as he presses his fingers into the cold, still reality of death that leans before him, that he had the luxury of allowing the process to play out to its natural conclusion. Maybe there was something left to learn, some knowledge to be grasped when the last of him slips away, leaving whatever frayed knot sits at the heart of him.
But the light of creation is in his fingertips, and the shreds of who he was have been carried off by the wind.
As he is unmade, Dref thinks, for the first and last time, that he has learned enough.