“We’re going to become liches.”
He tries to pretend he doesnt notice his sister’s legs tremble beneath the table as she smiles at him. “Good thing I brought champagne.” Merag says, and pours them each a glass with hands that feign confidence better than the rest of her.
He covers her hand with his anyway. “If you don’t have a powerful emotional attachment, you can lose everything with this. You need… an anchor. Something to keep you grounded, focused. Emotions, committment. A reason to go on.” He pauses, looks at their nails, painted to match each other. “Vector and I hate each other more passionately than most people love each other. He’s given me a hundred million reasons. Today, you gave me the opposite. That balance is what’s going to keep me here, to fight for you. For our friends.” He thinks of Durbe, the way he relies on him wholly, without cause or reason, and of Alit and Gilag, of the years on this journey one of them lost the other and had attached barnacle-like to his side.
Ryoga drinks, and thinks of how he got there. Tries to understand how yet another fight with Vector had led to them making this decision together. This committment to haunt each other for eternity.
“What was your favourite death?”
“Oi, Vector. Cut the morbid shit.”
“Shut up. Answer the question.”
Ryoga closes his eyes and hisses in pain as Vector uses his spell to remove the dagger from his hip and staunch the bleeding before he dies. “Drowning.”
Vector snorts. “Nerd.”
“What’s yours, then?”
“Toss up. Poison, or fire.” They had never come to a decision on which had killed him first the year he was shot with a flaming, poisoned arrow. The toxin had spread quickly, the fire charmed so it would only travel along Vector’s skin, Ryoga had knelt at his side and clutched his hand, channeling water charms into him and wishing he had his sister’s gift instead. She’d died early on, that year, and missing her never got easier.
Mind lost at the will of the poison, Vector had talked his mouth off more than usual, describing in extreme detail the way it felt to be dying, the way the moisture turned boiling felt as it seared his flesh. He’d squeezed Ryoga’s hand and hissed that he should burn with him, that they could strip their clothes and press their skin together until the fire had nowhere else to go. Carve their bones into each other until their ashes fell and couldn’t be told apart anymore. He’d died in his arms. Ryoga hadn’t brought it up when he’d returned on the next cycle, unsure how much, if any, Vector remembered.
Vector shifts his knees off of Ryoga’s back. “That’s going to kill you.”
“How many days?”
“Three or four.” Vector was the most skilled healer any of them had ever encountered, he could stitch a body together from leaves and sand and channel a fading life into it with deft fingers you barely saw move. A healer, who almost exclusively played with the necromancers, forty years of study had only made him more powerful, and more jaded.
He was eons from the young man Ryoga had drunkenly fallen asleep while stargazing with the evening before they left on their journey. They’d both left behind the same person, on their home world; both stared from the deck of the ship as ‘home’ was consumed by the destruction. They’d wept in separate rooms for the boy whose smile made them want to be better, who would never smile again.
Nobody remembered Yuma but the two of them. They spent time together to make sure neither of them forgot.
“Can you be more specific?” He knows he can, but that doesn’t mean he will.
“Don’t feel like it.”
Ryoga sighs, and pushes him down, shuffling closer and pulling the blanket around himself.
“When we stop, we can’t die anymore. You know that, right?”
That was how this worked. If they ever chose to stay, found a way to remain in one place, things wouldn’t reset. The barians wouldn’t be stitched back together by the astrals when the left at the end of the year.
(They wouldn’t see Yuma’s smile, all teeth and wide eyes, in that brief moment before they died.)
“That should be a good thing.”
“All this dying can’t be good for us.”
“He wouldn’t want us to keep dying just to see his face.”
His head hits the ground before he can dodge Vector, as he tackles him. His fresh wound, though healed by the best, grinds painfully into the dirt. If he’s going to die anyway, he might as well give Vector the honors this time. He locks his arms and holds Vector off of him. “Tell me something?”
Vector’s tongue spits blood that he doesn’t know the source of.
“Is he the reason nobody can call you R anymore?” His ears swell up as he tries to say Vector’s real name. He’s laid some kind of a ward on the words, a magic Ryoga didn’t know existed. They’d been gifted their designations in the first year, some mythos about the stars, and Vector and Mizael had been the only ones to entirely adopt their titles.
Vectors eyes narrow into slits, he bears down upon him until his arms give out, his energy weakened by the fight they’d narrowly escaped. “Say it again. Say my name.”
Ryoga does as he’s told, repeats it again and again, feels his tongue numb and his brain fog at the magic trying to prohibit it, and watches Vector lean down and kiss the name from his lips. His eyes remain open as he watches him, eyes black holes he can’t escape, something there he’d never seen before.
Vector sits up and wipes his mouth, and Ryoga can’t taste the blood but he can see it. “Say it now.”
“Rei.” He frowns. “What did you do?”
“I said I liked dying of poison, figured I’d steal some of yours.”
Ryoga squints. “Gross. That lifts the ward?”
“Hurting me, lifts the ward. You bite when you kiss.”
Ryoga wonders when they’ve kissed before, wonders if it was before, at home, or just in an earlier cycle. Their memories couldn’t be trusted.
“Will I be able to say it forever, now?”
“We’ll be dead before the sun rises.”
Ryoga lies silently in the dirt. He can’t will himself to bother with clothing himself, knows the other emperors won’t find him out here anyway. Vector sits, crosslegged by his side.
“I’m quite partial to dying by your side. I ought to stop before I make a habit of it.”
“If you ever want me to guarantee that’ll happen, please, just ask.”
“Intimate. I like it.”
Ryoga closes his eyes, and feels Vector collect his hand, gathering his fingers. He can tell by the snapping and mumbling that he’s doing something he doesn’t want to see, can feel the warm essence of Vector’s magic as it manipulates him.
“What are you doing?”
“Breaking your fingers.”
He inhales as he hears another snap. So the spell was to remove the pain. “Why?”
“Experiment.” He decides to stop engaging. It’s not worth arguing on a night like this. He lies in relative silence for awhile, listening to the lilt Vector’s voice always takes on when he’s casting. Vector’s voice changes and he listens, they can at least talk to each other. “Do you know what a lich is?”
He stops breathing.
“That’s a yes then. You know, if we became liches, we wouldn’t have to stop killing each other.”
We might be able to remember his face all of the time if we’re undead.
“You want us to get necromarried?”
Seeing Yuma again would be worth it.
“Nasch, if I can haunt you for eternity, it won’t be long enough.”
He smirks. “Talk to me about it properly after we die.”
Vector sniggers. “Will do.”
“How’s the experiment?” He asks, and tries to wriggle his fingers, unable to tell if it works.
“Huh?” Vector pauses, then laughs. “Oh, there wasn’t one. I just wanted to see if you’d actually let me break your fingers for awhile.”