“How are you?”
Avery snapped out of her trance and looked over her shoulder. She gazed at the Reaper with listless eyes, then resumed her stare into the horizon.
“I expected to have a few months left. You’re too early.”
“I’m simply paying a social visit.” Grim explained quickly.
“Is that so? I’m afraid she’s not home. She stays out a lot nowadays.. You’ll have better chances of finding her anywhere else than here.”
“I’m here to visit you, Sorceress.”
An intrusive cough interrupted Avery’s words as she covered her mouth and turned away. Grim took the seat beside her.
“Well, at least there are no surprises this time,” she sighed wistfully once her cough subsided, wiping her hands on a napkin.
“Do the children know?”
A red-haired teen too tall for a boy of thirteen summers bumbled his way towards her. His disposition was the complete opposite of Avery’s. He had a spring in his step, spoke energetically and radiated a smile as bright as morning gold.
“William’s having his birthday at the Island Bluffs! Everyone’s going! There’ll be dancing, the usual stuff, and a bonfire too! The Wards and Bailey-Moons are making a surprise entrance!! Can I go? Pleaaase!!” He looked at her excitedly.
“As long as you keep to the rules we agreed on partying–“
“YEAH!!! Thanks mom! You’re the best!” The excited boy almost stumbled on his own feet as he rushed to return his friend’s phone call, but jerked to a stop. He popped his head through the door frame.
“Don’t worry, mom. William’s dad is an old dawg. There’ll be no juice and there’s a strict guest-pass. Said he’ll take us home at the end of the party too!” The redhead was gone in less than two minutes.
“Young Ares aged up well,” Grim remarked.
Avery chuckled. “He’s still very much a child, still an avid collector of voidcritters, still wants to be tucked in, still loves the monkey bars…” She sighed at the memories that came to her. “Though his new interests are replacing the old ones, as it should be. He’s happy and that’s all that matters.”
Grim sat quietly, not wanting to bring up the older sibling unless Avery willingly talked herself. Her eyes turned red. She was about to admit that her eldest daughter hasn’t forgiven her when another fit robbed her of her speech. It was much stronger this time and were she standing, she didn’t think she could’ve stayed on her feet.
“You need to tell them, Avery.”
“I will. I just need some time to gather my strength and courage…” Talking became impossible midway as she concentrated all her efforts to breathe.
As she regained her voice and wiped her eyes, Avery turned to him. “I know Ares will be fine. I especially traded for it but I’m told I had nothing else left for…” She choked back her tears. “Will you watch over her when I’m gone?”
Grim bowed his head apologetically. “I’m afraid I shall no longer be around. But I have appointed a.. someone to watch over her,” he said. “He will have a better position to do so than either of us.”
Avery smiled gratefully. She wanted to squeeze his hand, but she knew it wouldn’t make contact. She simply muttered a grateful thanks.
Once Avery retired to her room, Grim got up as if to leave. But instead of vanishing, he took a detour.
The layout was exactly as he last remembered, with rays of morning sun shining through the windows and curtains, casting squares on the wooden floor. He scanned Athena’s bedroom until he found her backpack lying unassumingly beside her dresser.
A figure materialised from it.
“Your most humble servant greets you….”
Anger rose in Grim’s chest.
“I am not your Master, vile servant of the Tome!” Grim retorted immediately and furiously. “You may have succeeded in taking Lady Athena’s memories and forced the Sorceress to sacrifice herself for her son, but that is as far as you go! Lady Athena is aware of the danger you possess and it is only a matter of time before you are locked away in the hidden chambers where you belong!”
“The Fourth Sage knows my value, my lord. She will not forsake me,” the guardian replied. “Things are going according to plan.”
“Do not associate me with that abhorrent madman! And listen here, foul spirit. Lady Athena shall not be alone,” Grim responded. “She shall have comrades, companions — friends. The boy knows of your existence and will lead her on the path of righteousness, away from your sordid influence!”
“I know of the comrade you speak of, my lord. I know what you’ve done,” he said. “It is exactly as you’ve predicted. You are the wisest being after all.”
Grim paused. He eyed the Guardian warily. “Explain yourself, vermin.”
“You foresaw that the righteous will always sacrifice themselves regardless of their title or position — kings, queens, mothers, fathers, even you.” He bowed his head quickly, as if guilty for speaking ill of his lord, but went on. “It was only a matter of time before the good in you find greater meaning than yourself. It has taken centuries but true enough, you have proven yourself right once again. You have grown to care for the girl’s wellbeing, enough to sacrifice your own.” Grim suppressed the image of her disappointment which crept in his mind after he read her memories.
“When you resurrected the boy, you lost your privileges as a Grim. Soon, you will be stripped of your status as a transcendent being. You were untouchable as a Reaper, but now… now you are a common soul. You are no longer beyond my reach.”
“For what purpose do you seek the soul of a Reaper who is no longer worthy!? We simply revert to what we once were — lowly tainted souls who have sinned dearly, doomed to roam SimEarth to witness and repent for the suffering we have caused unto others. What use do you have of me!?”
“I seek you for you are Morgyn Ember – the one True Sage!”
“….. In- .. Insolence!”
“I speak the truth, my lord.”
Grim raised a furious hand to strike, but he knew — he knew the dopple was right. During his last visit, Grim had tried to exterminate him, even set the tome ablaze with Reaper magic, but to no avail. The guardian remained in the same bow has he did now and reiterated the same tale about his identity, all the while exposing his neck as if to patronise him.
“My life is yours to take as always, but you cannot annihilate me. The Fourth Sage and I are immune to your scythe, for it is impossible to reap yourself, as you’ve learnt…” The guardian’s eyes bore into his, as if the veil of a reaper had no effect on him. “I will fulfil my duty and awaken her powers which lie dormant. We shall assemble the splinters of your soul and rally our supporters. Once she consumes your LifeBlood, the Aelrendths will answer to her call.”
“Forgive my incompetence for it may take a few years, but I swear upon my life that the Fourth Sage and I shall keep your soul safe and free the remainder of you. You shall arise once again as the one True Sage, as Morgyn Ember, and bring glory to us all!”
And Grim finally accepted the truth. There were too many coincidences — his reverence for knowledge which rivals that of the famed Sage, his birth as a reaper right after the Red Decades, how the Renterias could see him without any form of training, and finally, his morbid connection with the young spellcaster, enabling her to enter his portal and providing her immunity to death.
The Guardian gave a grand bow as Grim felled his arms. Helpless, he turned away and vanished in a cloud of black wisp.