“And don’t you dare blame Marcos for my death,” Mariana went on. “And don’t let him blame himself. None of this is his fault.”
Emiliana frowned. “It’s not yours, either, Mama...”
Mariana blinked at her. She exhaled a curt breath and took Emiliana’s face in both hands in order to kiss her on the forehead, just above the horns. Then she knelt down and hugged Ramira more tightly than she’d ever hugged her before.
Mariana released her. “I’m sorry, mijara.”
Time was running short, she knew. Mariana composed herself and considered what else she needed to say. She eyed the two reapers present. “Listen to Shenado and Chergoa,” she told her girls. “They are both wiser than I could ever be. They will guide you well.”
“What if they don’t agree with each other?” said Emiliana.
“Then listen to Shenado.”
‘Hey,’ Chergoa pouted.
Shenado smirked. ‘Seniority rules.’
‘Ugh, you sound like my brother.’
Everyone but Ramira looked at her.
Chergoa cocked an eyebrow. ‘What?’
“You said that as though your brother was still alive,” said Mariana.
‘He is. At least, the last time I checked, he was.’ She squinted. ‘It’s been a while, though. I suppose he could’ve gotten himself killed. Sounds like something he’d do.’
‘That is very rare,’ said Shenado. ‘You truly have a living sibling? Why did you never mention him before?’
Chergoa shrugged. ‘Didn’t think to. I have no clue where he is. Haven’t seen him in... a while, like I said. I did tell Axiolis about him, though.’
“Your brother is a reaper, too?” Emiliana asked.
‘Yeah, of course.’
‘What is his name?’ said Shenado.
‘Garovel. You know him?’
The reapers’ chatter lasted a bit longer, only continuing to lose poignancy and relevance as it dragged on. It seemed apparent to Mariana that they were just trying to delay the inevitable now. Oddly childish of them, she thought--but not altogether unexpected. In her experience, most reapers tended to hold onto that quality in some small way. She always figured it was just something they did to help keep themselves sane.