Athena stared. One moment, she was fighting for her life. The next moment, he had bowed to her.
“I, uh..” she didn’t know where to put her hands, but as the Guardian made no indication of resuming their battle, she tucked them to her sides. “That’s it? The tome’s mine??” Her query elicited a firm nod.
“With your power, you’ll be able to master the spells in this tome and continue his lifelong research into the secrets of the Untamed arts.”
Athena shrugged. “I don’t plan to master anything. I only want to learn the elemental spells to protect myself and Curtis.” It was the first time she acknowledged him aloud. Her face turned bright pink.
“Perhaps you’ll change your mind.”
“No way! Learning Untamed magic requires sacrifice. I could lose my mind like how Morgyn did! I’ll only learn to control the elements, nothing else.”
“I can help you with that.” he replied. She eyed him suspiciously.
“My purpose is to mentor the Fourth Sage. You’ll master Inferniate, Zipzap and Chillio immediately under my guidance. They’re but low ranked spells for your powers.”
“I can learn them in my own time. I shouldn’t stay any longer.”
“Whoever sent you might be waiting now that you’ve completed their errand. You possess great power, but lack the knowledge to harness it. What if you were ambushed?” His words struck a chord with her.
“You’re right. This book can’t fall into the wrong hands too,” she said thoughtfully. “What about the sacrifices I have to make?”
“By your bloodline, you needn’t sacrifice much since it has already been done.” The Guardian began flipping through the pages of the tome. He rests a finger at the bottom of the page. “If you learn on your own, these are the sacrifices.”
Athena read the list, then gulped. “These are horrible!!”
“A small sacrifice for mastery of the elements,” came his reply. Athena wrinkled her nose at him. “Riiight, so what will I trade if I choose to learn with you?”
The guardian took a moment to assess her.
“You need only trade one thing – your most precious possession.”
Athena mulled over his words. “My possession? I don’t own a lot of things. I’ve nothing precious… Do you mean my wand? It’s a family heirloom. Mom will kill me if I traded that!”
“It isn’t your wand. It hasn’t been long since you acquired it, fairly recent I believe. It makes you happy and keeps you company.”
“Oh!” Athena said, eyeing her familiar. “Batty? But.. he’s my first familiar. I really like Batty..”
“Your trade is not exclusive to this world, you will have more of it in the future.”
“But Batty is my first pet! The sentiment itself is exclusive…” her heart tore in two directions, for though she didn’t want to lose him, it sounded like the better trade compared to the sacrifices should she learn on her own. “What are you going to do to with him?”
“What you exchange will never be destroyed. In fact, you can trade for it again in the future.”
“Really!? Then.. Okay.. If only to make sure I leave the Realm safely. I’ll get you back Batty, promise!” The familiar nodded and returned to his orb. His trust made her even more determined to have him as her familiar once again.
For the next half hour, she learned so rapidly that she thought their minds melded together. Her brain felt like a sponge, absorbing and retaining everything he said as she practiced distorting water molecules, extracting electrons and summoned flames.
“It is done.” His voice boomed at the end of their training. “The exchange is complete.”
“This is fantastic, I can feel the difference! Finally, I can cast offensive spells to protect myself and…” she paused, confused. Was there ever a continuation to that sentence? A sly grin crept on the guardian’s face, only to vanish as soon as it appeared.
He interrupted her thoughts. “I shall return to its pages until you need me.”
“You are part of the tome?”
“I am to train you, Fourth Sage. I will always be here for you.” he replied reassuringly.
“Call me Athena,” she said, though ‘Fourth Sage’ had a nice ring to it. She liked the idea of having a powerful mentor at her beck and call too. “Goodbye, Guardian!” she said cheerily.
A portal appeared behind her as he vanished. While grabbing the tome, Athena noted how Batty’s orb remain unclaimed by the pedestal. She placed Batty in her inventory and exited the chamber.
“Lady Athena, You’ve returned!”
I watch the young mage emerge from the gate, a wide grin upon her face.
“Your prolonged absence concerned me greatly! I would’ve sought after you had I not been… indisposed.” I must take great care not to divulge her mother’s secret. The responsibility lies in the maid herself, which she had promised to do so.
“I’m sorry Grim! You won’t believe what happened! But first, I need to catch my breath…” Young Athena stretched her shoulders and ambled towards her bed. She plopped down gracelessly, as if she were a starfish. An uneasiness rose in me. There’s something strange about the girl…
“I sense a darkness about you, child,” I say as I peer at her. “What do you have in your possession?”
“Oh, this?” She lifts a- … Mercy of heavens! She holds-
“It’s the Tome of the Fourth Sage! It’s giving off dark vibes because Morgyn wrote it himself! Can you believe it?! Other than that, nothing’s wrong with it.”
I leapt to my feet. “The Fourth Sage’s tome is locked in the very heart of the Council Building! How did you manage to navigate through all its seals and barriers!?”
She frowned at me. “You knew about this? You told me Morgyn’s spells were lost to history!”
Her accusation is just, but there isn’t a moment to spare – not when she held the most precarious tome in the entire realm!
“Lady Athena, do not stray the conversation! How did you manage to retrieve his tome!?”
She crossed her arms, upset that I chose not to address my fib. Nevertheless, she succumbed to reason. The young mage exhaled deeply as she answered.
“Someone controlled me. They tried to use me to get the tome for them but I escaped – along with the tome!” She said with a triumphant smile.
“How did they control you, child? It is not easy to control a mage of your calliber.”
“I… I traded my magic to get some Aelrs..” she admitted sheepishly, but swiftly defended herself. “I had to! I needed magic money to buy the ingredients.”
Her attempt at deception roused my annoyance. “Impudence! The Magic Realm is brimming with Valerian root and turquoise is found in the human world! You traded your magic for the familiar in your inventory! Foolish child! You endanger yourself and now you seek to veil my eyes!”
Her face turned red. “You have no right to raise your voice at me! You lied to me first! You knew I wanted to learn his spells since forever! I had to go through an intense battle to get it too! This is an accomplishment! You should be proud of me!”
“Proud?! This tome is deadly! The dark arts will deceive you! You must hand it to your mother immediately.”
“No! This tome is my prize – I could’ve lost my life there but I didn’t. This is the first time I protected myself successfully, on my own too! I just want to keep it.”
“You will NOT keep it! No mortal can resist the allure of the dark arts! You admitted to having almost lost your life too!! To think if you did, I- … Silly child! I would tear that book from your hands this instant if I were living! You cannot be trusted to think for your own safety. How helpless it is to be me – to watch mortals make foolish mistakes every time!”
“I’m glad you’re not living then!! You’d make a terrible human! Tearing the tome from my hand? You wouldn’t say something like that if I were a man! Resorting to physical means just because you know you have the upper-hand?! I can’t believe you, Grim! I thought you better than those…”
The young mage left her sentence unfinished as I stewed in hurt and anger. Her unfair condemnation of my character aggravated me. Is there a need for insults when I hold her best interests?
The young child gathered her thoughts before speaking, exerting her best manner as she tries to convince me. “Look, I know this book is full of dark magic, but I don’t plan to use his spells for harm. I’m a girl. I’m tiny and I’m not good at self-defense. I lose out physically but with his spells, I can make up for it! I can protect myself from bad people! That’s all I want to do!”
Her false justification left me speechless and thoroughly saddened. “You disappoint me, child. Your charade is convincing, were it not obvious that the true motive behind your efforts is to protect the Unclaimed Soul! He is not worthy of the sacrifices nor perils you face should you dabble in the dark arts. I am appalled at the fabrication of your victimhood to gain my sympathy for his sake! I implore you to see reason, child! He is not worth your disregard of morals and honor!”
But she wasn’t listening. Something of my speech beheld her attention.
Her eyes glistened with tears. She looked as if I had put a stake through her heart.
“Fabricated.. victimhood? You- you think I’m playing the victim card…?!”
Lady Athena burst into tears. She turned from me, her body swayed back and forth in attempt to control her turbulent emotions. “How can you say that!? I am the victim! I am pitful! Have you forgotten what happened to me!? What’s wrong with me trying to get stronger to protect myself!? I must be able to… No one will save me! Not even you because of your stupid code as a Reaper! I have to be able to rely on my own powers… I won’t let anyone hurt me like that again..”
“Lady Athena, you misconstrue my words! I did not mean to undermine your misfortune, I am merely disheartened that you would use it as a tool to claim favor for the Unclaimed soul–”
“Enough!!! What the heck is that!? Why do you keep saying that!? WHAT IS AN UNCLAIMED SOUL!?”
The pit of my stomach fell to the ground. I gaze upon her confused face and pieced together her outburst, her regressed fear and hurt, and the vile tome in her hands…
“Lady Athena.. do you not know who the Unclaimed Soul is?”
“NO! And I DON’T CARE!! I had enough of your accusing me and… belittling my.. experience.. I… I don’t wish to see you now, Grim! I really.. cant stand you.. or any guys around me now.. Go…! Just. go!”
“Child, did you trade with the guardian?”
“None of your business! Go away!”
She is at her limit, but I cannot leave. I must verify my suspicions. I must know what my dear friend has traded. I lifted a hand towards her. She recognised my actions. “How… how dare you!!” she cried hysterically. “You’re reading my memories without my consent!? You.. You have no right! You’re just the same as those men!!!”
Dread overcame me — Lady Athena possesses no memory of the Unclaimed Soul. Where he once stood, a void has taken his place. She has traded her memories of her love.
Tears fell freely down her cheeks. She looked at me with disgust, disbelief, disappointment and hurt. My final act – assessing her memories – was an act of betrayal. Her trust in me withered like a dying rose. The softness in her eyes were no more – they were fierce, cold, and hateful.
“I don’t… ever… want to see you again,” She said slowly, but surely. “Get. out.”