Wheels and Teeth.

Ouroboros Gluttoned.

Everyone looked at Galgalim at least once, but not everyone saw him.

Most people saw something. More often than not, it was an arrangement of bones, sometimes cloaked in black and wielding a harvesting sickle, standing at the height of a human.

He knew this, because when they went to intercept the humans at their time of death, Silas could see his master reflected in the shine of their eyes. He collected what they saw. He added it to his own repository.

He couldn’t pinpoint exactly how these conceptions of death were formed, but either the human’s drawings had taught them how to see him, or how they saw him inspired the etchings they made. Whatever the starting point, it was a cycle that got stronger with each reinforcement. The body of the beast was belly-deep down humanity’s throat and there was no hope of fisting it out again.

But then, there were the others who looked at Galgalim and saw an angel with burning flesh and penetrating blue eyes. Or as another human figure, so overwhelmingly unassuming that Silas could only imagine it was somebody from their own life. Some people just saw a beacon of light. Very few saw nothing at all. (That was more common with the nonhuman animals, but it still happened from time to time).

It didn’t matter who Galgalim was, not specifically; he wasn’t the only psychopomp at work.

He was one of a great many, actually. But he was the only one Silas knew to the core- perhaps to those very bones he was so frequently pictured to be.

So when he reached his master’s private quarters after the long walk down the second-wing hallway, the afternoon sun gleaming through the high windows and setting all the dust beams to dancing, he knew what he saw was not his master’s body.

He paused in the doorway, the tray balanced on his arm.

“You’re not supposed to be wearing that,” he interrupted, mouth dry.

Galgalim turned, sunlight illuminating his skin.

Skin.

In all the time that Silas knew him (which was the small demon’s entire fucking life), Galgalim had presented as an entity with a fluid form. He stood upright, a creature of old, with a body that merged the gap between a chrome-lilac cloud and an oil spill of black, bioluminescent tar. He was more presence than body. Silas didn’t dare claim this was what the psychopomp really was- but he had to believe it was damn close.

Today Galgalim was all body. He even had eyes.

….And Silas instantly realized how uncomfortable it made him to see them. He found something he’d never before detected, in less than one second staring at the harbinger across the room: sadness. Vulnerability. It was visible in the dark shadows beneath his bottom lids. It was present in the forgive-me way his mouth curled at Silas.

The discomfort medled into anger. He opened his mouth to reprimand Galgalim, but was cut down by the psychopomp’s languid voice.

“Silvanus,” his master rumbled, leaning against his desk. The territory he was responsible for was laid out on the surface like a map, covered in ever-changing marks that alerted him as to where he was needed next. Silas didn’t always come with him. Just when he was asked.

This time, Galgalim clearly hadn’t asked.

“What are you doing?” Silas finally managed, voice hard. The more he looked at the other, the more he could see his master’s true form swimming beneath the flesh.

“I am…” Galgalim traced the tips of his fingers over the map, feeling the raised bump of a black mark on the paper. “Experiencing. Tactile stimuli. Thoughts…. Lungs.”

His voice was labored, slow.

Lungs indeed.

He flowed like a stuttered being. And Silas supposed that right now, he was. He was in a pair of skin that belonged to something much more feeble than he, and he would pay the price of it until he slung the decaying flesh off his back.

Silas stepped into the room, heart thrumming. He’d grown comfortable in his life with Galgalim. He’d gotten accustomed to the idea of safety.

“Why is being human something you need to experience?” he broached after taking a moment to place the tray down carefully. The contents of the vial glimmered through the glass, foaming slightly near the top.

This bedroom had been constructed for a show of grandeur. It was a place for Galgalim to exist while he waited for new work to appear- it was not meant to act as a real living space. But when Silas glanced over at his master’s bed, the sheets were tangled. Like he’d been sleeping on it. A suffocating lump caught in his throat.

Galgalim walked forward and lifted the glass, tipping it back.

“Humans die only less frequently than wild animals,” he responded after swallowing the potion and replacing it. “More frequently than any of the other creatures I’m tasked with, in any case. I ought to appreciate how precious their life is, if I am to keep taking it.”

Silas shifted. He ought to take the tray and turn back.

Back down in the workrooms, there was plenty to do if he wasn't off gathering souls: there were other entities to monitor, guests to entertain, even dishes he could be washing. He didn't idle. He was given this life, so he used it.

Except he couldn’t turn from this. All of that the time he’d spent stuffing down his stubborn, hot-headed nature boiled over. It was enough to make the atmosphere in the room discharge. Galgalim looked suddenly curiously at him, cocking his head.

“Do you take issue with this, Silvanus?”

Rage boiled up under Silas’ skin.

“Of course I take issue with it, master,” he barked, humiliatingly aware of how his voice quivered under the weight of anger. “You were supposed to collect the soul. You didn’t. You’re fucking with the balance.”

Galgalim didn't look offended. Just intrigued.

“The balance?” he murmured thoughtfully, eyes cutting into Silas. It was terrible, seeing him with eyes. “One soul hanging between worlds while I stretch out his hide for a few more hours... is enough to disrupt the balance?”

“You know it does,” Silas hissed.

Galgalim paused again, looking at him with deeper intrigue. The entity was more than twice the head of Silas- tall and slender, graceful and lawful. He was not the round, short creature who just barely brushed the belly of five feet. His skin was not dark as coal, embedded with gleaming flakes of healthy purple, and topped with a quaff of wavy hair. His ears did not point upwards in sharp tips, giving away the elven half of his parentage. His pupils were not demon-dark and shaped like diamonds, exposing the race of his mother.

But all the same, there was a sudden depth to Galgalim now that Silas could look him in the eye. It unnerved him to his core. It frightened him.

It… made his heart flutter.

He looked away, scowling to hide the blush of red on his face.

“Are we talking about you?” Galgalim finally voiced. “Are we talking about when you were so small I had just to cup my hands to hold you?”

Silas tore his eyes sharply across the room. Angels were not supposed to interbreed with other species. The products were imperfect. His wings came out too small, too stunted. He had demonic eyes that would never be able to spot beauty or virtue. He was born the size of a fist, and promptly thrown out of the sky to fall to earth and freeze. It was probably as easy and weightless as tossing a coin into a fountain. It was probably the luckiest thing his parents could have done for themselves.

“Silas,” Galgalim rumbled, his voice like steady vibrations rolling over marble, “I don’t want this life. I don’t want to meet people just to say goodbye to them. I want to know who they are. What they’re like. What they love.” He quieted for a moment. “The same way I came to know you.”

The day he was born, Galgalim had come to him. The demon's bones were broken, his body mangled by birth. He had been so young and so small that he couldn’t even take the psychopomp’s hand and walk with him.

Galgalim had cupped him in his palms to carry him across the veil- and instead, had held him close and breathed the life back into him. He brought him home, and Silas had stayed here ever since.

He did not know why. And he didn't even think it had been the right thing for his master to do.

“You can’t, Galgalim,” he stated, finally dragging his eyes back up to meet his master, shaking. “You’re a guide. Your job is to lead the souls when it’s their time to go, not prolong their life because you have a superficial fascination with them.”

All at once, there was enough anger in Galgalim’s face to shake the entire estate down. Silas met his challenging stare with a cautious firmness.

“That’s what you think?” Galgalim demanded, raking a set of fingers up his elbow. “That my interest is fickle and careless?”

“With humans, what else could it be?” Silas snapped. “You blink and they’re gone. Even their insects have more complex lives than they do.”

“I was not tasked with destroying the souls of their insects,” he spat dryly.

Destroying?” Silas asked, exasperated. “You are transferring-”

“Do you think I don’t know what I do?” Galgalim demanded, curling his knuckles around his arm. “You think you know my job better than I do?”

“Master,” Silas pleaded, opening his palms, “You’ve been in that human’s thoughts for too long. You’re letting it interfere with how you think.”

“I knew you were special,” Galgalim said unpromptedly, and though the words rang like praise, there was wrathful fire in his voice. “Precious, even. I could not let you be churned to nothing. I would not be the one to lead you into nothingness.”

His heart threatened to soften. Silas felt his fangs bare.

“If I am so pathetic that I make humans appeal to you, then I regret you ever picking me off-”

Silas was thrown back in a fit of his master’s fury. Galgalim’s bedroom door slammed in his face. He fell to the ground, with only his staggering disbelief to cushion the shame of the fall.

His heart rolled afterall, though in which direction, he didn't know.

Seeing his master filled with these emotions, it was…

Wrong. Unnatural.

And too much for him to ever let himself hope for.

-


At dinner, Galgalim wasn't wearing the skin anymore. The sound of the soul it was attached to was quiet now. Silas knew that the psychopomp had led him across.

He poured another vial of liquid extracted from the souls and placed it in front of the entity. Galgalim needed death to keep himself alive. It was all part of the balance. Even putting off that single soul for a few hours had done damage to his health.

Silas finished serving dinner to all the housemates. Here, the servants and staff were treated like guests every night. Tonight, they all even got the best cuts of the meat, because there were no outside visitors to entertain.

Galgalim didn’t need to eat, but if he was unoccupied by business, he sat at the head of the table twice a day anyhow.

Silvanus sat at his place setting and arranged his cutlery, signing to Galgalim that he was ready for them to begin. He looked over at his master as the psychopomp cleared his throat to grant them permission.

He heart stopped.

The human skin had been shed, but the form in which Silas saw him had been forever altered.

The reaper had human-like limbs, long and slender, and his skin looked warm to the touch. Silas could just about feel the thrum of a pulse from across the long wooden table; he could see the course of blood beneath his master’s skin.

And he had eyes.

Deep, vulnerable eyes that turned him into a sentient being instead of a faceless entity. They locked with Silas' own when Galgalim raised his vial to prompt them to eat. They connected with his soul, then left him frozen with loss, when they looked down sadly at the empty plate in front of them.