He was dissolving. He was balanced an edge so thin he could not sense it, just know it was there. To one side, he knew was something, old and familiar, but to the other was something new and different. He longed to fall into the old something, but couldn’t make himself tip that way. Nor could he make himself tip into the new something. Neither somethings scared him. They were utterly unalike, but neither was…wrong. This balancing though, this hovering between the two with no sense of sight nor sound nor taste nor touch nor smell nor self, just knowing, this was wrong. This was a frightening wait.
He should have been able to step into the new, he knew this, but something kept him from it. What kept him from falling back into the old was simple. He wasn’t supposed to. Though he wanted to, he was meant to go forward, not back, and wouldn’t. But he had hovered too long. The void around him plucked at him, the undecided, peeling away bits and pieces, dissolving him.
Hath ni gway necro thanos zo qui. Resp fuir wer, goruin thanos. Thanos atui. Thanos viveira.
The words thrummed like a plucked string, vibrating on a level he couldn’t understand, deep inside him, in his…bones? Yes, because he’d had bones. He could sense those bones now, almost feel them nestled in decaying flesh. Light flashed before him. Light? No light should be here. He existed away from all that…but he could see nonetheless, see symbols and sigils glowing before him. Not with the eyes he could almost feel resting in the distance body, but with his selfness. He was becoming a self again.
The longer the words thrummed in the background, the brighter the sigils glowed, the more he felt his self, his body, felt the firmness of the old something solidifying around him, tugging him backward, a string on his ribs pulling, pulling, pulling. He was heavy, aware he was heavy, aware of his weight, aware he had weight. And then at once he fell into the old something and was encapsulated into a body. With that came sensation, then pain, deep fierce pain radiating through every nerve coming back into being, as if each one were being stabbed again and again and again with a needle of fire. But it was the tightening in his chest that burned the most, everything was focusing there, shrinking in without losing mass. Then his chest broke open.
Mangler gasped, air pouring down his throat and into his lungs. His eyes slapped open and he fumbled with limbs weakened from entropy and decay until he’d sat up. Someone was screaming. He was screaming. And the human to the side.
Where was Death?
Mangler frowned, panting heavily, scanning the—what was this, a cave—for anything familiar to his former rebirths. It was not Deathly’s lab with the vials and chemicals and Deathly’s mask leaning over him, waiting to coax away the terror all the Immortals felt upon reviving. This was, this was some human man screaming in the corner and a human woman lying beside him, dead? He bent over her.
“Don’t touch her!”
Mangler lifted his head to see the man reaching out for him, screeching ended, fear and fury mixed on his face like two different colors of paint. Almost immediately, Mangler disregarded him. The man was on the verge of death. He was harmless.
Unless he was responsible for Mangler’s resurrection.
Mangler turned his attention back to the man. “Where is Deathly?”
“D-Death? What?” The man shook his head. “Leave her alone. Get away from her. You-you’re supposed to be dead. She was just putting you to rest. Masuta have mercy.”
Mangler’s pupils shrank and he shifted to his feet in a smooth motion, body remembering how to be alive, though it was more disjointed than usual.
“Masuta shows no mercy,” he snarled, stalking toward the man. “Do not pray to Masuta.”
The man recoiled, dragging his injured body backward. “Oh gods. Oh all the gods. Death, take this wraith!”
Mangler paused. Wraith. This man thought he was a wraith? “I am not a wraith.”
“You were dead though. Now you’re not. What sort of thing does that, but a wraith?”
“I do,” Mangler said. “It’s something of a curse, though not one many are able to evoke. Who brought me back? You?”
The man shook his head. “Zofi. She’s an undertaker. Sh-she thought she was putting you to rest. You were dead.”
“Yes, you’ve said.” Mangler circled the woman, examining her red hair, her injuries, then abruptly, he looked up again. “You.”
The man shuddered. “Wh-what about me?”
“You were killed.”
“No. I was not. Attempted killing, yes, but I am very much alive.”
“Irrevocable Death, I can smell it. Which was it? Who inflicted it? And how has it not killed you?”
The man touched his side, wide-eyed look fading to deep apprehension. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Mangler snorted, raising an eyebrow, but just knelt by the woman. If the man wasn’t dead now, he wasn’t going to be in the next few minutes. Mangler felt for a pulse and was surprised to find one.
“Well now. Undertaker, are you? Somehow I don’t think so.” He straightened. “So then. Who are you?” he asked the man.
“You are a very unique man, Alfons. Which of the Immortals was so insulted by you as to kill you?”
Alfons licked his lips. “The Murderous One.”
Mangler’s forehead clumped. “What? But he shouldn’t be…of course. Death brought him back. He would have had no choice.” Though it did beg the question…what had happened to Mangler in the meantime to end up here? “We seem to have a fair number of puzzles, Alfons, but none that are safe to discuss here. We need to move.”
“Move? Why? Where?”
“Anywhere. My resurrection will have been noticed. And that puts us all in danger.”
“But how are we supposed to go anywhere?” Alfons asked. “I’m not…capable of much.”
“Leave that to me.”