With both Brendan and Gabriel gone, I had found my interest in the house and its contents waning. Besides, if today really was going to be my last day, then I didn't want to spend it on the couch. So, I had left them a note, and decided to go for a walk.
I really did like this city. Out of all of the places I'd lived in across the globe, there was something about Sydney that just felt right to me. Walking down Miller Street, I cut across Watt Park and ended up at Lavender Bay. Away on the left was Luna Park – Sydney's harbour-side amusement park – with the famous coat hanger bridge next to it. It was a perfect afternoon out on the harbour, and I stood for a moment, the wind blowing my long blonde hair everywhere, watching as the yachts and ferries cruised through the waters. Slowly, I headed towards the bridge, following a walkway that skirted around Luna Park, and then past the Olympic pool. Following the footpath underneath the bridge, I stood with my hands on the wrought iron fence, leaning out and closing my eyes against the cold salty air. In the distance I could see the Opera House, and the central Sydney city was like a glittering mass of towers. It really was an amazing sight.
On the other side of the bridge, an open park covered a small peninsular, and walking across it, I headed for the furthest point I could, before taking a seat on a bench. A low fence separated the park from the water's edge, but I had no interest in getting wet, so it didn't bother me. It was peaceful; just the sound of the water lapping at the coast, with the distant sound of traffic on the bridge little more than background noise.
I don't know how long I sat there for, watching the boats out on the harbour, with my mind flying free of my body. All I know is that the sun was getting low in the sky when I realised that I wasn't alone on the bench anymore.
"Hello Azaelee," a male voice said, and I gasped as I recognised it, jumping to my feet and making to run. Yet I'd hardly managed to take a single step before Gallen's large hand wrapped itself around my upper arm, pulling me back down towards him with such force that I stumbled and fell down onto the bench.
"Let go of me!" I yelled, pulling against him with everything that I had.
"I will, but not here," Gallen replied, and then Sydney disappeared. A dark room materialised around us, and once reality had solidified, Gallen finally let me go. Panicking, I scanned the walls for any sign of a door or windows, and my heart sank at the lack of the latter, and at the heavy bar that was across the former. Gallen had me trapped.
"You might as well sit, Azaelee. You're not going anywhere," Gallen said, sweeping a hand towards where a table sat with two chairs on either side of it. I had the fleeting thought of an interrogation room, but pushing that idea aside, I took in the rest of the room, concentrating on as many details as I could, hoping for something – anything – that I could use to escape.
I'd already noticed the lack of windows, but now I noticed the almost lack of furniture as well. Apart from the table and chairs, the only other furniture consisted of a single antique settee, and a sideboard cupboard of similar age. On top of the sideboard, some sort of incense was burning, and the smoke coming from it made my throat itch. As far as the walls were concerned, they were completely bare, save for a rather modern looking plastic clock that looked so out of place that I quirked an eyebrow at it. The tabletop was also mostly bare, expect for two glasses of a clear liquid that I guessed to be water. Ignoring them for now, I pulled out one of the chairs and took a seat opposite Gallen. Without my teleportation ability, there was no way that I was getting out of this room, so I might as well humour the crazy Irish Reaper who had made me three hundred and forty-four years ago.
"That's a good girl," Gallen said, and I scowled at him.
"Don't patronise me," I snapped, and then gave a slight cough, clearing my throat of the incense smoke. Whatever he was burning, it was very strong. "What do you want?"
Gallen chuckled. "You never were one to engage in small talk, were you, Azaelee?" he said, and my scowl only deepened as I coughed again. Damn that smoke.
"I don't go by that name anymore," I said, and Gallen sat back in his seat, studying me with a curious little grin. Even though I hated him so much now, it was easy for me to see the attractive charm that he had. He had died somewhere in his early thirties, and although he was Irish from the days of druid priests (and indeed, he'd been one of them), his over all build was very Nordic – strong bones, striking jaw line, and pale blonde hair that fell to his shoulders. His blue eyes were so pale that they were almost white, and they were watching me now with a look of amusement.
"How strange, that after all of this time, you would go back to using your human name," he said, and I continued to scowl at him. Really, I couldn't do much more in my current predicament.
"Despite what I have become, I am still fundamentally human," I pointed out. "Besides, haven't you heard? I'm not a Reaper anymore."
"Oh yes, of course I know about that," Gallen said, before he leant forward onto the table. "I'm the one who made you that way," he said, and although a part of my brain had already worked out as much, the part that was still catching up felt like it had just been slapped.
"Why?" I finally managed to ask, before any further talk was cut off by a coughing fit. The incense smoke was really starting to get to me, making it hard for me to breathe properly. Without even thinking about it, I reached for the glass of water and downed most of it, hoping to ease the burning in my throat.
"You betrayed me, Azaelee," Gallen said, taking a sip of his own water.
"What?" I wheezed, and Gallen's pale eyes turned hard.
"You deliberately disobeyed me, after everything I've done for you," Gallen started, and I clenched my teeth, knowing the start of a tirade when I heard one. "I saved you from death, I gave you a home, and I showed you the world! I treated you like my own daughter, and you repaid me by turning your back on me!"
"You asked me to kill someone!" I snapped, only coughing slightly on the last word.
"We are Grim Reapers-"
"But we are not killers!" I interrupted, and the words were harder to say than they should have been. "Admit it – you just can't handle the fact that I grew up and found my own path in life, away from you," I said with bitter hatred. "Just like Gabriel did," I added, and Gallen stood up, slapping both hands down onto the table top in obvious anger.
"Asher was a mistake! I never should have made him one of us!" he yelled, and I would have stood up and yelled back, but my legs felt oddly numb. "If I had what I needed to do it, I would have cursed him too. But I guess I'll just have to settle with making him responsible for cutting your soul free from your lifeless corpse," he finished, and my head was spinning.
"What have you done?" I asked, and Gallen smirked at me.
"I already had a possession of yours that I could use, and last year I managed to acquire your blood," he said, and I unconsciously reached a heavy hand to where he had sliced my left arm open during his attack on Brendan. I knew enough about him to know what this information meant – he'd used my own essence against me in some kind of old druid spell.
"Wh- why now?" I stammered, trying to make my tongue form the words. My whole body felt like it weighed a tonne, my throat and mouth were tingling, a dull pain was forming in the pit of my stomach, and it was getting harder for me to breath. Gallen took another sip of his water, and shrugged.
"I was hoping to acquire a piece of Asher to use as well, but he guards his possessions too closely. In the end, I had to settle for pulling a few strings, and forcing your name to appear on his card. Now he will be the one by your side when you die, and that will haunt him for the rest of his days," Gallen finished, before the dull pain in my stomach suddenly turned sharp, and with a wince I doubled over.
"Oh yes, I should probably have mentioned that you've been dying since the moment you entered this room," Gallen said conversationally, and I managed to lift my heavy green eyes up to glare at him. "That's not incense, it's Oleander, which, in case you don't know, is just as poisonous when being burnt. It causes a horrible reaction in the lungs, and enough of it will kill you. And in the water that you drank was a mixture of Hemlock for the stomach pains and paralysis, and Monkshood for death by asphyxiation," he explained as if he were conducting a botany class, not watching me die from the plants he was lecturing about. Unbelievable!
"You … bastard," I managed to spit out, fighting with my lips just to form the words.
"I wonder how much time you have left, Azaelee?" Gallen asked, coming around the table to stand over me.
"Bren-dan … Gab-ri-el," I stammered, having to break the names up into their syllables just to get them out.
"Ahh yes, those two have been poking around quite a bit lately," he said. "I should probably drop in on them and see what they're up to," he added, before he scooped me up in his arms and carried me over to the settee. I couldn't even move to fight him, and he laid me down in such a way that I could just see the wall clock as it ticked away the time.
"You've been a Reaper long enough to know when Death is coming, so I can trust that you will be able to sense when the end is near," Gallen said, before he turned his back on me. "Goodbye, Sarah Whitefield."
"Gallen has several homes within the country, depending on what state or territory he's based in at the time," Gabriel said as we marched up the stairs of a rather large North Shore home. It backed onto the harbour, and no doubt had its own private boat jetty. It was the perfect retreat for a high-end Reaper, and I only prayed that we found him this time. We'd been to seven such houses all over the country already, following the feel of Gallen's power, and just missing him every time.
"How much time have we got left?" I asked, acutely aware that twilight had well and truly set in. Gabriel pulled his reaper card out of his back jeans pocket, and I saw him stare down at the list. He didn't say anything for a long time. "Gabriel?" I prompted, and he finally turned to face me.
"Less than thirty minutes," he said, and all of the colour seemed to have drained from his face.
"What? I thought we had longer than that!" I cried, marching over to get a look at the card for myself. I concentrated on willing the piece of otherworldly cardboard into focus, and saw that Sarah Whitefield was at the top of the list, with twenty eight minutes and forty-two seconds remaining until her timer reached zero. I couldn't believe it.
"Death can be sped up, Brendan," Gabriel said, before he let fly with a string of what I guessed to be French curses. "I'm going to kill him," he finally added in English, before marching towards the front door of the mansion. Without even knocking, he put his boot to the door and kicked it open with a crack, and then disappeared inside. Taking a deep breath, I concentrated on my own magic before I stepped inside. With how strong a Reaper Gallen was, I didn't exactly want to be noticed just yet.
Standing in the entryway, I couldn't help but notice the lack of life in the house. There wasn't even a houseplant. It was just dark shadows and musty old furniture. It didn't look like anyone had lived here in years.
"Are you sure he's here?" I asked, following Gabriel into the front sitting room.
"Positive. I can sense him like a foul smell, and it's stronger than any of the other places that we've been to today. Now keep quiet," he snapped, and I did my best to stay silent and unobtrusive. Our plan was a simple one – have Gallen fixated on Gabriel so that he would hopefully ignore me. Now what could go wrong with that?
"Shit!" I cursed as I caught my toe underneath a rug and stumbled into a wall, knocking into a coat rack in the process. Gabriel shot me a greeny-yellow eyed stare of warning, and I gulped. I never was very good at stealth.
Drawing on more of my magic, I followed Gabriel into what would have been a billiards room on the original house plans, but was now nothing more than a vast open space. And standing at the very centre of this room was a man who made an involuntary shiver run up my spine. You never forget the faces of people who have tried to kill you, and Gallen's face was etched into my memory like a chisel etches away at stone.
"Well, I was wondering how long it would take you to pin me down, Asher," Gallen said as I stood silently by the wall. Gallen's pale blue eyes were fixed only on the Frenchmen, and I did my best to perfect my statue imitation.
"Did you honestly think that I wouldn't find out what you have done?" Gabriel asked, squaring off against the other Reaper. Without a word of warning, Gabriel called upon his sword, and it materialised into his right hand like smoke suddenly taking on a solid, sword shape. Gallen did the same, and a moment later Gabriel rushed towards him. I heard the clash of steal as the pair started fighting, and I'd never seen Gabriel use his sword before. I didn't know much about sword fighting, but I could tell that Gabriel was quite good at it.
Gallen chuckled as he parried Gabriel's attacks. "Do you really care that much about Azaelee? Even after all of the years of hatred that have passed between you?"
"And who's fault was that?" Gabriel spat back. "She only hated me because you brainwashed her into believing everything that you told her!"
"So what is your excuse for hating her back for the better part of two centuries?" Gallen asked as the pair took a step back from each other for a moment. So intrigued was I in this exchange of words that I'd almost forgotten what my role in this situation was.
"I have no excuse," Gabriel replied. "I hated her for listening to you, but unlike you, I know how to forgive someone," he spat, leaping back into action. Gallen only just blocked in time, sending his coat flying out around him, and giving me a view of his waistline. And there it was, stuffed in between his pants and skin, held in tight by his belt – a tiny little straw figure.
Gallen laughed. "You think that I am an unforgiving monster?"
"I know you are!" Gabriel yelled as I inched my way very carefully closer. "I'm just glad that Sarah isn't here to see just how much of a monster you really are!"
Gallen's laughter actually echoed throughout the room at this, so much so that it stopped us both in our tracks.
"You are so naive. Azaelee is already here, within this house, and dying as we speak. Did you honestly think that I would leave her death up to fate alone?" he said, and his words were like a shock wave through my body. Sarah was here? I glanced over at Gabriel, who looked like he had just been slapped. How could we have been so stupid? We should never have left her alone!
"You bastard!" Gabriel yelled, launching himself at the other Reaper with a renewed sense of hatred, and it took everything that I had not to join in on the attack. I had to stay focussed, even as I could feel my own rage building up within me. Sarah's life depended on me now. I couldn't afford to screw this up.
As the two Reapers engaged in heated swordplay, I carefully picked my way closer, waiting for just the right moment. I've mentioned before that Guardians can become invisible if needed, and it was this power that I was now relying on. Reapers could merely turn your eye away so that you don't see them, but I could actually make myself completely unnoticeable. At least, I hoped that I was unnoticeable to the powerful Reaper. If I wasn't, then we were all out of luck.
I had to be quick, as any opening wouldn't last long. And I had to be smart about it, as I wouldn't get a second chance. As Gabriel continued his dangerous dance with Gallen, I stalked around them like a waiting cat. Every now and then I would catch a glimpse of that tiny little voodoo doll, but the opening was never big enough for me to make a move.
"Just how long do you think we're going to dance for, Asher?" Gallen asked, jumping back from Gabriel in a flurry of coattails. It was now or never.
"Just long enough," Gabriel replied as I darted in underneath Gallen's coat and plucked the little doll from his side before he'd even noticed I was there. Yet as soon as I'd grabbed the doll he noticed me, and a split second after I'd thrown it towards Gabriel, Gallen's left elbow collided with the top of my head. I fell to the ground as stars swam across my vision, and only just rolled out of the way of a stomping foot.
"Guardian brat!" Gallen yelled in outrage, before his eyes snapped up towards Gabriel. "Asher-" he started, but the other Reaper was paying him no attention. Gabriel already had his fingers looped around what looked like a fine gold chain, and in the empty room the sound of it breaking was deafening.
One thing about being a Reaper – you have an acute sense of the exact moment when Death is going to strike, and, it would seem, that sense was the only one that hadn't deserted me after Gallen had cursed away my Reaper status. I could feel every second of my life counting down, made all the more obvious by the ticking clock that was hanging on the wall. That annoying clock didn't even match the rest of the antique decor, and I just bet that Gallen had hung it up especially for me in this moment of crisis. Every tick was like a physical blow, coupled with the agony that the various poisons were causing within my body. Three hundred and sixty-five years worth of life was flashing before my eyes, and as my tears fell, the image of Brendan Hieson rose to the surface of my mind. Smiling, alive, perfect. The man that I loved, and would never see again.
'This can't be happening,' I thought in disbelief as I lay on the settee in the dark. I could barely see the numbers on the clock, yet the ticking was the only other sound apart from my choked sobs. I could hardly breathe as it was, and the crying was making it even harder; yet I couldn't seem to stop. 'I don't want to die.'
Five days ago I had no clue that this was going to happen; no clue that I was going to be facing Death for a second time. How could I have known? It had all happened so fast, and now here I was, trapped, paralysed, in agony, and alone. No one knew where I was. No one knew that I was missing. No one was coming to save me. Not this time.
I only had a handful of seconds left; I could feel it like a looming spectre hanging over my soul. So I did the only thing that I could – I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable.
Isn't it funny how, when you're waiting so long for something to happen, and it doesn't, even if it was something bad, you feel just a little bit disappointed? I knew Death was hovering, just waiting for that final moment, and yet it never struck. Amazingly, I felt that horrible presence fade away, and not long after that my breathing became easier. The pains that had wracked my body dulled and faded, and I regained movement in my limbs. Confused, I sat up on the settee and looked around in the dark. I was still alone, and what was left of the Oleander was still smoking on the sideboard, and yet it wasn't affecting me anymore. Strange.
And then it all came flooding back; that constant sense of ticking lives that fills the head of any Reaper, and allows us to follow and pinpoint exactly which people we need to reap. Finally I realised – the Oleander wasn't affecting me anymore because such poisons can't harm a Reaper. My body was metabolising the poisons that were already in it, and pretty soon I'd be absolutely clean.
I was alive, and I was a Reaper again. Ironically, after my speeches to Brendan about the value of a mortal life, I found myself ever so relived to once again be amongst the ranks of the Grim Reaper society. It's amazing how perspective can change your view of things.
"I'm so out of here," I said, rejoicing in finally being able to teleport once more. Out of all of my Reaper abilities, that would have to be the only one that I had actually really missed. However, I didn't go far; just to the other side of the barred door. I still felt a little bit off, and I didn't want to risk ending up in Guam. Hey, it had happened before during a big night of alcohol in Germany sometime last century. Never teleport under the influence – you never know where you'll end up, and poison was a good enough influence not to be teleporting under.
The other side of the door led to a flight of stairs, and taking them two at a time, I bounded up the right angle-shaped staircase. Bursting out onto a landing, I discovered that I had two options. Option one was to take another flight of stairs up another level, and option two was to head out a door that was on this level and, through the frosted glass that it was made of, out into the evening night. I opted for the fresh air of the outdoors, and shoved the door aside with a crash.
Fresh air washed over me, and I drank it in greedily. I had probably only been in that basement room for no more than an hour, and yet it had felt like an eternity. And eternity had been spent locked away underground. The open sky and endless ocean were such gorgeous sights that I almost started crying again. Thankfully, I managed to rein in my emotions long enough to pick my way down the steep cliff path to the tiny boat jetty below. However, once seated on the salt-encrusted timber, with my feet dangling over the edge and brushing the surface of the water, a few tears did slide down my face. Yet they were tears of utter relief – relief at being alive, and still being able to continue on with my existence for an indeterminate amount of years to come.
"Sarah!" I heard a voice call out from above, and spinning around I saw the silhouette of a man standing at the top of the path that led down the cliff. I knew who it was, and my heart made a weird fluttering motion as I felt my face break into a huge grin. A moment later and the man had disappeared, only to reappear seconds later right in front of me. Brendan's arms wrapped around me in a crushing hug, and once again I found myself crying. Exactly when did I become so emotional?
"I'm okay," I said, hugging him back, before I gently pulled away. "Really," I assured him, and he cupped my face with one hand, stroking my cheek with his thumb.
"I thought I'd lost you," he said in a thick voice. "When Gallen told us that you were here, and that you were already dying, I thought Gabriel and I were too late to save you."
"How did you save me? What happened?" I asked, and Brendan opened his other hand, holding out a gold pendant and chain that I thought I would never see again.
"He was using this, along with your blood," he said. "I managed to get the voodoo doll focal point thingy away from Gallen, and when Gabriel broke the chain off of it, the spell broke as well," he explained as I picked up the chain, staring down at the tiny heart in disbelief. The last time I'd seen it, I'd still been mortal. For almost three and a half centuries, I'd thought that it had been lost forever.
"That bastard. He had this the whole time," I said, and Brendan quirked an eyebrow at me. Looking up into his piercing blue eyes, I filled him in on what he didn't know. "When I was a little girl, my father worked as a salesman, travelling all over England. He was gone for months at a time, and yet he always made sure that he was home for my birthday. When I turned eleven, he gave me this necklace," I said, gently rubbing my thumb across the solid little heart that dangled from the chain. In the top right of the heart was a tiny pinprick of a diamond, embedded into the gold. "Two days later, he was back on the road. And a week after that, we found out that he had been killed by thieves, only half a day's travel from home," I finished, and Brendan hugged me once again.
"I'm so sorry," he said, and I nodded against his chest.
"I used to wear it every single day," I continued on once I'd pulled away. "I thought that, during the chaos of the plague, I'd somehow lost it, because when I awoke as a Reaper at Gallen's place, I didn't have it on. It never ever occurred to me that he had stolen it," I said, shaking my head in disbelief.
"Gallen said that he'd tried to find something of Gabriel's too, but all of his possessions were too closely guarded or hidden away, so he had to settled with making him your Reaper as punishment instead," Brendan explained, and I nodded in understanding.
"Gabriel has always kept an obnoxiously close eye on his stuff," I said with a slight laugh. "And he's never trusted Gallen, so I'm not surprised by that news. But speaking of which, where is Gabriel?"
Brendan shrugged. "I'm not completely sure. He took off when Gallen fled, so I can only assume that he's gone after him," he said, and I frowned.
"I hope he's careful," I said, and Brendan shrugged.
"I'm sure he'll be fine," he replied, before we sat in silence, staring out over the ocean for a long moment.
"You know, because of this little experience, I've been thinking a lot about death lately," I said, and Brendan turned towards me with a curious look.
"You sound like some little emo brat," he said light-heartedly.
"Yeah well, I am a Grim Reaper, so I'm allowed to be fixated with death," I countered, before turning serious once again. "But I've come to a conclusion – for a mortal person, death is a curse if you are young, and have your whole life ahead of you. But, if you're old, tired, and sick, then death is a great gift that sets you free from all of that. It all comes down to perspective," I explained, and Brendan thought about it for a moment.
"So then, what about if you look and feel young, yet have lived a long and arduous life?" he asked, and I sighed, because I had been thinking the exact same thing myself.
"That's the real question here, isn't it?" I said. "When you have a young body and mind, yet have lived through the hardships and trials of centuries, what does Death become to you?" I asked, and Brendan looked at me, waiting for an answer that I hadn't completely formulated yet. "I didn't want to die today," I started. "I didn't want to die three and a half centuries ago either, and I guess I've been, in a way, running from Death ever since. All Reapers do, and in fact, it's why we became Reapers in the first place – to escape Death's clutches. So I guess, when you look at it that way, Death is the ultimate curse that all immortals are trying to avoid," I finished, and Brendan sighed as he leant back on his hands, staring up at the night sky.
"Death is the immortal curse, huh?" he said, and I nodded.
"It doesn't really fit as a gift when you're talking about immortals. I know you Guardians are different, but for us Reapers, we became immortal so that we wouldn't permanently die. And the longer you live, the more you seem to want to hold onto that life, so much so that, even when you're tired and beaten down, you're still not willing to let it go. Dying can never be a gift when you ran from it in the first place," I said with bitterness in my voice. Brendan noticed, and laced his fingers through mine, giving my hand a gentle squeeze.
"I'm glad that you ran," he said, smiling at me. "And I'm glad that you didn't just give up this time as well. I don't know what I would have done if we'd been too late to save you today, and I don't really want to think about it. Gift or curse, it doesn't matter either way because, if Death had have taken you away from me, I would have hunted it down," he said with such passion that I didn't doubt him.
"So, do you really want to spend your life with a cursed immortal who is always running from Death?" I asked in a slightly mocking tone of voice, and feeling a smile tugging at my lips.
"Do you even have to ask?" Brendan replied, before he leant forward and met my lips with his own, answering my question. I knew that I didn't really have to ask, and yet, all the same, it was nice to know that, no matter what, I would always have him by my side, and Death be damned otherwise.
Author's Note – So there you have it, the end of this story. This was originally going to be called The Mortal Curse, but I changed it to Immortal for two reasons – 1, I wanted all three stories in this little trilogy to have Immortal in their titles, and 2, when I got towards the end, I realised that the curse for both would still be the same – death. So yeah, I hope that makes sense!
Also, my poison plant knowledge comes from Wiki. I know shit all about poisonous plants :P lol, so I hope you all enjoyed this story, and yes there is one more to come. It's called The Immortal Lie, and I have a summary for it up on my profile page if you want to see what it will be about. Thanks for the reviews, and I hope you liked this story!