Wheels and Teeth.

Petrichor or Ozone.

Silas stood at the window, nervously wringing his hands behind his back.

The fourth floor hallway offered a view of the castle's main entrance, and was just high enough to afford its onlookers a sweeping panorama of the front garden. More importantly, he was able to see the front gates from here, a difficult task given that they were hundreds of paces down the walkway.

To his knowledge, it wasn’t difficult for outsiders to enter the psychopomps’ realm if they knew what they were doing. It helped that the kings typically employed somebody trained in spellcraft. That helped to ensure precision, and precision was integral.

Visitors could only come on foot, so arriving at the incorrect teleportation hub could be a great inconvenience, if not a disastrous event. However, the fixed access points meant that a visitor's arrival was never immediate, and that Silas had some time between when they appeared at the gates and when they made it to the door.

The sun was still harsh and high, but in the past years King Elod had been arriving earlier than expected. Every year, Silas had courteously pushed the dinner to yet an earlier hour. At this rate they would be feasting before sunrise.

At least now he knew to stand watch ahead of time. He’d checked in with Marta and found that the meal itself was ready to go, and was now just being warmed or cooled depending on the dish. The soldiers were dressed and flanking the building as well, with impressive spears and scimitars thrust into their hands. They would be some of the first faces that the king would see when he and his men traversed the long walkway.

Elod was not a foolish or petty man, but he favored a strong sense of structure. Silas understood that. Structure was incredibly important when it came to sociological integrity, be it a tithe-style reaping or one that involved a life.

It could yet be hours before they arrived, but Silas had no issue with patience. For him, duty had always been a quiet battle of endurance. Thus why he would never have made a good fighter. Heroic acts were only quantified by the weight of their legacies, and he knew that glory was a false measurement.

Silas' body went alert. If he had not been standing so still, he didn't know if he would have noticed it.

Below their golden rings his ears gave a twitch, the first indication that something was off. At first he thought he had perceived the lord’s arrival, but as the feeling grew, he realized that wasn’t it at all. There was somebody behind him.

He sensed its offensive stance, he knew it was going to grab him, but there still wasn’t enough time to run.

His feet left the ground. An arm grabbed him under the legs while a second slung beneath his torso, scooping him into the air. He flailed for escape, heart racing helplessly inside his ribs.

Then the creature pulled him against his chest, wrapping him in an embrace.

Galgalim,” he growled in incredulous relief, pulse still racing from the terrifying ambush.

He looked up to see the psychopomp gazing down at him. His master’s features had begun to whittle down somehow; his eyes were now deep and cavernous, all socket. His mouth was barely the suggestion of a curve on his lilac-blue skin. If he grinned, Silas was sure he’d see a barbed-wire piano of teeth split across his face.

But the psychopomp didn’t smile. He hung his head and buried his face into the demon’s chest.

“W- what the fuck?” he stuttered, drawing his hands up protectively.

Starving, Galgalim inhaled the essence of him. His mortal scent and his immortal one.

Silas’ soul smelled like a forest wet with rain.

Petrichor, or ozone.

“Tell me again what you see,” the his master entreated him. Though Silas could not discern a pupil or iris, Galgalim’s sockets folded softly, speaking of vulnerability. “Tell me what I look like to you.”

Heart still thrumming in his mouth, Silas squirmed against the male’s arms until he was released. His knees quaked slightly even after finding footing, though he didn’t know why. Galgalim took a guilty step back, looking self-conscious.

"I didn't meant to frighten you," he realized, rubbing his hands together. "I wasn't thinking."

Silas let a deep breath out through his nose and shook his head, accepting the apology.

"Answer my question, Silvanus," Galgalim ordered more firmly when his assistant offered nothing more.

“I- why?” he wondered, voice faltering.

Galgalim's eyes were contorted in thought. “Because that night, when it happened, I think something changed. I think I changed.”

Silas stuttered to speak again. “Which one- which night?” he asked.

“You know what I refer to, Silas,” Galgalim rumbled protectively. “Don't ask me to repeat it. It will just harm you."

Silas put an agitated hand to his neck, screwing up his face. There had been upwards of one and a half centuries of comfortable repetition, and now things indeed had changed. Their relationship had changed. As though a magnet were moving them around, they’d both shifted individually, and had inevitably shifted in proportion to one another.

He tried to clear his head and word this right, so that Galgalim would not have to ask again.

“I used to see you as this thing,” he murmured tensely, snaking his hand around to rub the back of his neck. “Some kind of formless cloud. Sometimes I couldn’t even see you, but I knew when you were there." He glanced over. "And now… now I suppose you look kind of like some kind of man.”

Galgalim watched him intently. “Go on,” he urged.

“Um.” Silas swallowed. “I think you would measure over six feet tall. Your skin is this beautiful, pale, shimmering pallor of blues and lavenders.” He trailed his eyes up. “Sometimes I can see your eyes, but right now they look like caverns. I don’t know why. But I can tell you can still see me.”

The intensity didn’t dim from Galgalim now that he’d gotten the explanation he desired. If anything, it sharpened.

“What else?”

“Well,” he mulled, isolating the other characteristics. “Long fingers. Long nails. Like claws. Sharp teeth.”

“I sound like a predator,” he considered, absorbing this information. "Is that what I remind you of? A hungry monster?"

“Sometimes I believe you might be,” Silas admitted lightly, then immediately regretted it. “When there’s a soul nearby, your energy changes,” he elaborated more seriously. “The webs in the air pull tighter around you. It’s a wavelength but it makes a dissonant sound.”

Like music running slowly through a violin string as it’s stretched so thin that it snaps.

Galglaim seemed to chew over this information until he said something wholly unexpected.

“Do you want me to tell you what you look like, Silas?”

The demon’s heart stopped short. “What?” he managed.

“Why are you hiding your wings beneath that fabric?”

“Oh- I don’t know.” Silas considered the best way to respond. “They just make a big deal about themselves.” They didn’t even feel that bad in his dinner outfit. The black silk flowed down to his sandaled feet and ended in a skirt. The sleeves were wide and baggy enough for the summer air to breeze through them, and the lofty circulation was soothing to his skin. Thin, golden accents lined the seams of his dress, for nothing other than to bring out the glow in his complexion. It made him ache for the home among the wood elves he might have had.

“Your soul has wings,” Galgalim informed him.

“What?” he repeated weakly, afraid his poor mind was going to get whiplash.

“Your soul. I can see it. It has wings.”

His attention was caught.

“Are they-” he hesitated, “Are they long? Are they pretty?”

“They are very pretty,” Galgalim acceded. “They look exactly like the ones you have now.”

Something unpleasant hit Silas in the core. The idea that his deformity was still there, rooted as deeply as his soul, was almost too difficult to accept.

“But your soul is much calmer than you are, Silas. It has a relaxed glow that I wish you could find.”

“Is it…” He tried to form the words properly, but they broke off in his mouth as hoarse whispers. “Is it not ruined?”

Galgalim approached him. Put two hands on his neck and pressed a thumb against the demon’s pulse to gauge his anxiety.

“No,” he answered. “I have seen ruined souls and they are black, like a fleshy substance burned, and they smell like sulfur. You smell like the cycle of the earth. You taste clean and pure.”

This time, Silas was truly stunned. He stood frozen, unsure if he was terrified or grateful or an overwhelming combination of both. Then he heard the voices float up from down in the courtyard.

“Oh, fuck, Galgalim,” he gritted out, pushing the entity away. He whipped around and saw Elod conversing with Wyatt below, the young boy giving a hearty laugh. Silas wasn’t there to greet them as he should have been. He had been distracted and now he was too late.

Stepping forward into the light, Galgalim loomed over the window. Though Elod continued his conversation down below, the psychopomp caught his attention and they locked eyes for half a second before the king laughed and looked away, pretending it hadn’t happened.

“What do you think he sees, when he sees me?” Galgalim mused, eyes narrowed.

Silas brushed him off, turning around to hurry down the stairwell.

“That’s not necessary,” Galgalim stopped him, restraining him by the shoulder. “I’ll take you.”

Then he got down to his knees in front of Silas and lent his head in offering.

The demon sighed. Then he climbed up onto his shoulders, holding onto the creature's neck for support. He wobbled slightly as Galgalim stood with ease, lifting him to a height that completely altered how he saw the world. In truth, he was happiest when the psychopomp carried him like this.

It was as if his thoughts had been heard.

“The only thing different about your soul is that it is much taller, you tiny thing,” death told him affectionately. “Although I prefer your body as it is, as long as we are on this side of the veil together.”

Silas might have pinkened at the words if given the chance, but they were off in a streak of mist before he could, dancing through air.

-


Greeting the king, though delayed as it was, was not a disaster.

Elod was unusually large for a human-elf hybrid, with skin only a shade lighter than Silas’, and a bush of cottony hair. They met for a brief welcome in the garden, where Silas had an opportunity to let the sun to beat delightfully down on him. Galgalim had simply dumped him onto his feet and left, disappearing before the king could even glimpse his shadow.

It still felt rude to Silas, but his master was not a party attendant. He was more like a gift to be unwrapped, an elusive figure only seen when the occasion called for it.

It was a farce, just part of this strange political dance they were all doing. But on the days of these dinners, it made him seem like the unreachable harbinger of death he was, and parts of Silas flushed with pride. He was on the other side of that curtain with Galgalim.

By contrast, a stark majority of the psychopomp's own housestaff barely even knew him beyond his name and role. All they knew was King Elod had recruited them to serve his kingdom in this fashion, leaving the manor’s supply of elven and human staff at no shortage.

The man could not relate directly to Silas, though he was a half-breed himself, but Silas still took comfort in their shared appearance.

“How is your life here, Silvanus?” the king asked in his deep voice, ice clinking in the glass that the assistant had had served him.

It was always strange to hear this near-stranger using his full name. He’d heard that that was the respectful way of addressing somebody on earth, but here, only those who knew him intimately called him by his true name.

Silas looked over the rows of bushes in the front garden. Their small, bulbous green heads were trimmed into perfect shapes. Beads of dew and healing rainwater glistened on the foliage, nourishing the insects and flora of this realm. They needed it on a day hot as this.

“It is a good life,” he responded, offering the king a seat on a marble bench. “I continue to be grateful that you allow me to stay.”

Wind rolled through the courtyard, filling his clothing. He shivered pleasantly.

Elod cleared his throat. “I am not timid in the face of the unorthodox. If I see a demon performing a role more astutely than another could in his place, I do not question him on the grounds of his parentage.”

That wasn’t exactly what Silas had been getting at. His thoughts ran the tracks of how his life had not been reaped when it should have been… and yet he could somehow sense that Elod was not shaken by that, either.

“Why other kings do not urge their reapers to take assistants, I don’t know,” Elod went on regardless, “Your record keeping is impervious. They have brought closure to many families who, without your diligence, would have never even been issued death records.”

Silas did not know why this praise didn't charm him. It just didn’t.

“Are you unsatisfied with any of our dealings?” he queried, just to avoid having to voice his thanks. “Are there any grievances I can address?”

The man smiled. Then he rested a hand on Silas’ head.

It was perhaps an ordinary gesture for a man of power to bestow upon his citizens, but to Silas, it instantly soured his mood. All of a sudden he felt little more than a child being patted, like the king was entertaining his position only for the cuteness of it.

“You are very observant,” the royalty praised, though it sounded hollow to his pointed ears. “Yes. There is something I wish to address, but it must wait until I have your master’s attention. Will you call on him?”

A feeble swell of power filled Silas’ chest. “Galgalim will only discuss business before dinner, in the company of his household. Those guidelines are the groundwork of our annual meetings.”

The king pursed his lips in thought. “Yes, I suppose they are,” he murmured. “Though I am interested in why he allows his demon pet to summon him, yet not his king and employer.”

The words demon pet were not spoken with any obvious condescension, but Silas still felt himself bristle with ignominy. He tried to focus on the warm glow of the stone beneath him, or the way grass poked through the walkway and tickled his feet.

Too long in the sun and his dark skin would deepen until he was black as night. He rose.

“Shall I take you around the castle to see the new faces?” he proposed airly, swallowing down his disdain. “You’ve already seen Wyatt rise to his new position, I believe.”

The king laughed.

“I admit it was jarring, watching a soccer player become a legionnaire in the realm of death.”

“This isn’t the realm of death,” Silas corrected, feeling no need to lick any boots in apology. “We do not know what the afterlife is. Galgalim only takes them there.”

“Yes,” Elod agreed, face suddenly serious. “Precisely, Silvanus.”

Silas felt a wave of discomfort penetrate him. He’d always felt a sort of kinship with this man who looked a bit like he did, and had therefore felt a readiness to serve by proxy. But now his body was vibrating with a tone of distrust.

He did not want to lead this man into their manor, but he had to.

Psychopomps were created in perfect numbers. If Elod was unhappy with Galgalim, they could put him up for questioning. And after a long period of review, if they wanted to destroy him and make a new psychopomp out of his flesh and earth and light, they could.

It was extremely rare. It was also an extremely bloody ritual. Silas had never see it happen in his lifetime.

But it was possible, and as long as he lived, he would live in fear of it.

For where did death go when he died?

There were no psychopomps to lead other psychopomps.

He would simply be gone.
♠ ♠ ♠
galagalim and silas are just guys being bros, don't worry about it.