and when we died, you died alone; any.

For I had believed what I was sold, I did all the things that I was told
But all that has changed, and now I'm bold.

The hardest part about seeing her son was that Aura couldn’t tell if something was off or not.

It felt like it, sometimes. She had to keep reminding herself that the happy toddler she raised had grown into a hormonal teenager, an inevitable consequence of which was an adjustment in personality. Some of those adjustments were easier to swallow than others. Thoth’s capacity to lecture her on just about any subject under the sun, and his verbose and methodical accounts of his intellectual pursuits, were a pleasing development of his early thirst for learning. He had three (fairy) friends, which was two more than he’d had when she’d left him. He’d graduated from the academy, got a job in the castle, found his familiar and his ren, mastered his magic. Any parent would be proud.

And yet… in the lulls between academic discussions, it was hard to strike up a conversation. Thoth didn’t seem to be talkative about anything except scholastic subjects; any attempt to subvert him from academia was met with non-committed shrugs and grunts. He never seemed as excited to see her as she thought (or hoped) he might be. More than once he’d asked or strongly implied that she leave him alone, citing business with work or projects. It was from others that Aura had had to learn about his nose for trouble, his regular run-ins with other children growing up, his downright reckless adventures on Apeliotes Island, and the contemplative anger which always seemed to be brewing beneath the surface.

It was hard to tell what was wrong, if anything, and harder to ask. Aura had realised, with an uneasy feeling, that talking to her son was harder than talking to her friends. Sometimes it was harder than talking to the dying.

One particularly pointless meet-up concluded with her leaning against the wall in the corridor outside his room, arms crossed, frowning at the floor. She might’ve over-analysed the meagre pickings of the conversation if her staff, which was leaning against the crook of her elbow, hadn’t chosen that moment to ping her an unfamiliar feeling. Usually, the staff only gave Aura a sense of when someone was about to die – but this was different. The sense was murky, uncertain, as though the staff was trying to gossip about an upcoming death instead of confirm it. Her frown deepening, Aura swung the scythe through the air and jumped through the subsequent hole, landing – of all places – on the castle roof. The little girl hanging from the crenulations by her fingertips saw her and screamed her head off.

How the hell a child could have worked her way onto the roof and then toppled over the side didn’t cross Aura’s mind. She reacted instinctively, crossing the gap between them and leaning over, but just as she was about to extend a hand to help she hesitated. Another feeling, stronger than before, seared through her.

Aura was pretty sure her magic scythe wasn’t sentient, but it definitely had a… a personality. It knew what it was doing even when she didn’t. When she’d first acquired it, she’d definitely had a sense that the staff wanted to be active, as though lying incumbent for so long had left it restless. Now, she got a sense like it was trying to tell her something else. The message was clear, even if it made her sick to the stomach: you can’t intervene to save a life.

From a cold, objective standpoint, it made sense. Aura had power over the dead and dying. If she intervened to save a life, what would prevent her from putting a stopper to all death – permanently? It was logical. It was sickening. It made every ounce of sense and no sense at all, and for the first time, Aura could see why Kelise – her predecessor as the Reaper – had been tempted to sway from the rules of their profession.

She withdrew her hand, curling her fingers into a frustrated fist, and sat on the side of the wall instead.

“Hang in there,” she told the girl grimly.

A u r a
They thought I was weak, but I am strong; they sold me the world but they were wrong
And now that I'm back, I still belong.

image by ankur sharma at flickr.com


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