Inside: 1 nonbinary protagonist, 2 women protagonists, monsters, mermaids, ghosts, fantasy, polyamory
Warnings: Set in the afterlife
“You know,” said Corvid, “The only ones that truly know what the afterlife is like–“
“Are the ones living it,” finished Cichlid. “We know.” The air stirred about as ghostly figure swam about. The air was just like water in this new life. In fact, all matter was like water now. Corvid spoke of it like it was wind, though it was understandable since the other ghost was a tall bird-like creature.
Labrid tutted. “It’s rude to interrupt, you know.”
“Eh, it’s fine.” Corvid smoothed down some feathers. “It wasn’t that important.”
“Oh, don’t say that!” Cichlid sighed, swimming over to circle both the bird-ghost and the other mermaid-ghost. “You just tell us the same thing every year.”
Corvid cocked their head to the side, blinking a few times at Cichlid. “Do I really?”
With a small giggle, Labrid said, “Well. I suppose you do.”
A shake of their shoulders and a huff, Corvid looked up dramatically. “Then it must really be important. And you interrupted me.” With a sharp movement, they looked at Cichlid. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
Cichlid shrugged, smiling. “I say we prove you wrong.”
“Huh?” Corvid stood straighter. “Huh? Wrong? Me?”
The the brightly-coloured fish chuckled. “Yes. Let’s do it!”
With a loud swallow, Labrid drifted away a little. “Well, I don’t really think that’s a good idea.”
Corvid pointed at the less-bright Labrid, “See! I can’t be wrong if Labrid doesn’t want to try!”
“I never said I didn’t want to try.” Another timid swallow, and a frown. “Just that it’s a bad idea. Don’t put words in my mouth, Corvid, that’s rude!”
“I don’t know how I got sucked into this.”
Cichlid waved Labrid off, “You love to adventure.”
“Well, that was before I died.” Labrid sighed, turning to the last one in the line, Corvid. “And you just can’t be wrong for once, can you?”
With a shrug, Corvid opened their beak, which Labrid quickly grabbed with both hands to close. She shushed the bird-creature, who huffed and deflated when Labrid’s fingers smoothed down the feathers between their eyes.
Jealously, Cichlid called back to them, “Cut it out, lovebirds.”
“I’m a crow, not a lovebird,” protested Corvid.
“We weren’t– That’s not–!” Labrid struggled to find words of protest herself, but it didn’t matter. Both of their exclamations were ignored in favor of changing the subject.
“Look, there’s a thin spot right there. If you squint you can see it.”
The three of them fell silent. It seemed like this was what they had been looking for, a place that shimmered ever-so-slightly. They were places where the living could see the dead. Now they just had to figure out how to work it.
“So,” said Cichlid, “How do we do this?”
Corvid stepped forward, looking thoughtful. “It’s a veil, so, eh, maybe you could tear it?” Lifting a leg with a wicked claw tipping each toe, Corvid made a motion in the air. Usually, it would look intimidating, but knowing how much of a softie Corvid was it only made Labrid and Cichlid giggle – much to the bird-creature’s chagrin.
The two mermaids swam in the air around the huffy crow, cooing playfully at them until their feathers were puffed up happily. Corvid could never go very long without attention from either of them, and both at the same time pleased them best.
Content, they smiled the way only someone with a beak can smile, fluffed themself up, and gestured to the ripple in the air. “Let’s rip it.”
“We need something sharp!” Labrid smiled, showing off a row of razor-teeth.
“Let’s look. Labrid, you come with me.”
Labrid’s smile faded with a sigh as Cichlid gestured for her to follow. “Oh, alright,” she said moodily, trying to veil the delight at a moment alone with Cichlid.
Splitting off, Cichlid and Labrid went looking in the North from the thinly veiled spot. There wasn’t much that was sharp in the afterlife, so it was quite a search. Most sharp things were left to the world of the living, where accidents and not-so-accidents could push them into the realm of the dead.
The same realm that Labrid, Cichlid and Corvid lived in and loved.
“Today is an adventure,” said Cichlid wistfully, dancing in the water-air and through what should have been solid objects. “I hope we rip the veil.”
“Because it would be fun, of course!”
Labrid sighed, twirling around the shadow of a tree to hide a fond smile. “Can I ask a question?”
“You’re always asking questions,” Chided Cichlid. She stopped, though, and turned large fishy eyes on her comrade. “What is it?”
Another sigh, and Labrid swam circles lazily around Cichlid. It took them a moment to formulate the words, and another moment to work up to saying them – all the while Cichlid waited patiently. Sometimes Labrid took her time, and she was fine with waiting for her.
“Well,” she started, “I have a dilemma.” Her fins undulated in the air and she came to a slow stop. “I like two people.” Labrid hesitated.
“I don’t know who to chose.”
“Which do you like better?” Cichlid began to circle Labrid, rippling the not-air about her. “Just pick that one.”
“I can’t,” sighed Labrid, looking distressed. The look faded a little when Cichlid brushed claw-tipped fingers gently through the other ghost’s hair. “I like them both the same. Just for different reasons.”
“That’s a dilemma for sure.”
“I don’t know what to do, Cichlid.”
“Neither do I. I have the same problem, so right now I’m picking neither.”
Labrid frowned, cocking her head to the side curiously. “I didn’t know. Who are they?”
Cichlid giggled and made a shushing motion before flitting off playfully. Labrid gave chase, and soon the two of them had forgotten their task, swimming and dancing around each other until they had gone around in circles so many times they couldn’t tell up from down.
Their shenanigans were interrupted by Corvid, soaring through the water-air with their large wings. Soundless, like most of everything in the clutches of death, their wing-beats looked effortless. Which was probably the case. Death took away frivolous things like exhaustion and exertion.
“Eh, what’s this,” asked the bird. “What happened to finding sharp things?”
Labrid blushed and Cichlid grinned. Being the more mischievous of the two, Cichlid got an idea. “We couldn’t find anything. Maybe you and Labrid would have better luck together.”
“I found plenty.” Corvid looked proud, flying circles around the two ghostly mermaids. “I have a pile.”
Looking disappointed, Labrid said, “Oh. Well, I suppose you don’t need my help then.”
Corvid stalled in the air, coming to a quick halt and floating back upwards when they dropped a few feet into the nearest tree. A perk to being dead was that you didn’t technically need to use your wings or tail to fly or swim. Surprised, Corvid said, “Eh! I never said that! Come back with me, I can show you.”
They circled the mermaid of muted colours as she sighed. Finally, Labrid conceded, saying, “Well, I suppose.”
Corvid cooed happily, fluttering close to give a blushing Labrid a birds’ kiss. “Follow, it’s this way!”
Slowly at first, a glance sent to Cichlid before she followed, Labrid swam after Corvid. The blush took a while to subside, not hastened by Corvid inquiring about it during the flight – or rather, swim. Labrid made an excuse that the bird took with a hum, and then they fell silent. It was a comfortable silence.
Until Labrid broke it.
“How far did you say it was?” Her voice traveled easily in the not-air, no wind or water to carry her voice away with it.
“Not far,” replied the crow-creature.
After another pause, Labrid asked, “Can I ask you something, Corvid? Something personal?” Before they could answer, they added, “Something deeply personal?”
“Of course!” They shot a smile over their shoulder that made Labrid swallow nervously.
“Do you like anyone?”
“Eh,” they said, “I like lots of people.”
“Oh, that’s not what I mean,” sighed Labrid. “Well, I mean, are you in love?”
A pause. Then, “I meant it that way.”
Labrid looked surprised, and stopped halfway in a tree when Corvid tilted their wings and made a tight circle back. She swallowed, asking, “You did?”
“Of course. I love you. And I love Cichlid, too. That’s a lot of people to love.” They puffed up, looking proud. “But that’s because I love like a bird.”
“I don’t think– I mean. Well. Maybe a bird from where you’re from.” Labrid hugged herself, looking troubled. “Do you really love me?”
Corvid drifted closer, until they could touch their forhead against Labrid’s. “Yes. I love you.” They smiled like only a bird could, and Labrid shyly smiled back.
“And Cichlid too?”
“You don’t find that hard?”
Corvid tilted their head to one side. “No. Love isn’t a nonrenewable resource.”
Labrid opened her mouth to argue, but shut it quickly. She wasn’t sure she understood, but Corvid seemed sure of it. “Where do we go from here?”
“That way,” they nodded in the direction they had been traveling before, making Labrid laugh. “Eh? Did I say something funny?” They smiled, but there was genuine concern in their eyes.
Smoothing down the feathers between Corvid’s eyes, Labrid said between giggles, “No. No, you’ve said all the right things, Corvid.”
With a happy coo, Corvid’s eyes shut in contentment. “Good. I never want to say the wrong things. Not to you.”
“What about to me?” asked a voice from below them. Corvid smiled wider and Labrid jumped, looking down to see Cichlid circling below.
“To you too, of course!”
Labrid blushed deeply, moving away from Corvid – to their displeasure. “How much did you hear?” she stuttered, hugging herself.
“Enough to know Corvid loves both of us.” Cichlid giggled, swimming in wide circles upwards. Her scales seemed more vibrant, happier, than Labrid could remember.
Cichlid flitted over to give Corvid a kiss on a feathered cheek, then turned to do the same to Labrid, “And long enough to figure out who you like!”
“You do?” Labrid’s blush deepened, and she sunk into the leaves of the tree she was melding into. “How did you figure that out?”
“Oh, I just know.” Cichlid giggled, reaching down and hauling Labrid back up.
“So, eh, who does she like?” Corvid blinked at the two mermaids curiously. “Does she like me back? She never said so.”
“She does,” said Cichlid matter-of-factly. “And she likes me too.”
“What?” said Labrid softly, looking between the others frantically. “I never– I didn’t even– I haven’t said–!”
“You didn’t have to!”
“She didn’t?” Corvid cocked their head to the side. “But then, how do you know?”
Cichlid looked thoughtful for a moment, before shrugging. “A feeling. But she just admitted it, anyway.”
“I did not!” Labrid shrugged off Cichlid’s hold and turned away, hugging herself tightly. “I haven’t said anything.”
“You asked us both the same question, and you said it yourself – you like two people for different reasons. So it must be us!” Cichlid giggled, circling Labrid but being careful not to touch her. “But the way you’re acting…”
“Maybe it’s not us?” Supplied Corvid, looking hurt. When Cichlid shrugged, the crow sighed deeply. “Eh, I still love Labrid and Cichlid both anyway.”
Cichlid swam to Corvid’s side, eyeing Labrid. She seemed moody and withdrawn, and Cichlid knew she had a way of pushing things too far sometimes. “I love her, too. But maybe we should give her time.”
Nodding, Corvid made a hum of agreement. Just as they were spreading their wings to follow Cichlid, Labrid cleared her throat the way she did when she wanted attention. And draw attention it did.
“You both love me?” Her voice was small, and she looked unsure when she turned back towards the two of them. “Really?”
Both gave a nod, and Cichlid was uncharacteristically serious for once as she said, “Of course. I’ve loved you for a long time.”
A silence passed between the three before Labrid asked, sounding more sure, “And you love Corvid, too?” When Cichlid nodded, Labrid looked at Corvid.
They didn’t need to be asked, supplying, “I love Cichlid too.”
“Then…” Labrid looked uneasy for a moment before she shook herself off. “Then we all love each other?”
“Yes,” answered Corvid and Cichlid in unison.
“And no one has qualms about each other?”
“No.” Another answer in unison.
There was a pregnant pause between them as the two waited for another question from Labrid. Finally, “Then, maybe we could,” she asked, “Well, love each other together?”
Corvid smiled and Cichlid grinned.