It was an unnatural fog, the type a soul wouldn't wish to be caught in. It crept along the quiet streets of this small village like a veiled assassin waiting to strike. The silence was almost suffocating- The occasional crow squaking shattering the quiet like a stone through a window pane. There wasn't a soul out and about this time of evening, and most rightly so. Had there been superstitions this village seemed to be the type that would cower in fear in cause of it.
I had been traveling for centuries, from village to city to so many numerous countries I couldn't even remember the names any longer. Over those centuries I had taken hundreds, if not thousands of lives.
Under normal circumstances I would have been considered a murderer. Someone that would have been strung up and executed for such crimes committed. But there was little people knew about me, for you see- While to the untrained eye I appeared to be a normal woman instead I was something far more dangerous.
I was a Reaper.
Let us forget the images depicted in history books and frightening stories of a cloaked figure clad in darkness and shadow. A creature with no facial features that floats about like a cloud or ghost and sucks the life out of their victims. No, I did not carry a scythe, no I wasn't a disgusting wraith of a being that would frighten the lives out of children or common folk. No, I was once a very normal girl, with a normal life and everyday hardships.
But that was a very long time ago. Eon's ago it seemed. It had been so long since I had been a normal human girl that my family had long sense passed on. There was no one left alive any longer that would be able to identify me.
Had I known so long ago when I accepted this offer the hardships and misery it would bring I would have just accepted death. But I didn't. Because like so many others faced with a life or death decision they chose the only option that would see to it that they lived to see another dawn.
I was his replacement. The Reaper before me who had granted upon me this horrible curse. He gave me the option of dying, it was my time. I had been struck with the plague that had spread throughout the country. I was two seconds away from my heart stopping and the sickness finishing me off when he appeared before me.
A normal looking man, I thought at the time. A normal man who came and gave me the strangest of offers.
"Lilly Cullem." He hissed at me. "Should you choose to live you will take my hand now, or death will take you."
I was afraid, I didn't want to die. I had a family that needed me. A younger sister and aging Mother. There was no way that I could leave them behind.
I so foolishly took hold of his hand, instantly feeling my life being restored. The plague began to vanish. The smell of putrid death fading almost instantly. Had I known what I was getting myself into, the horrible existence that would be placed before me from them on, I would have rather suffered the plague and the agonizing death that came from it.
From then on I was called Ambrosine. My Reapers name. One that eventually grew to take over my mind, forcing out the girl I used to be so many centuries ago, I couldn't remember the exact number any longer. But, it was of no matter now. I had made it to my next desitnation. This tiny fog covered village where several glows from homes and other buildings eminated.
It was a sign of death. The way a Reaper would know when a humans time was up. There was always a bright blue glow which surrounded that poor man or woman, or sometimes... Children.
This village must have suffered some hardships, for there were nearly a dozen glows that I could clearly see almost as if there were no buildings surrounding these folks at all. Perhaps another plague or sickness was ailing them, and I was here to relieve them of their pain.
But it would have to wait until later on, for I had been traveling for hours without stop and was now in need of sleep. Yes, Reapers sleep. Reapers eat, and they feel pain just as normal humans would. The only exception is that we can not die, at least not by human hands. There is but one way to take down a Reaper, and that is if one should decide they wish to relinquish their title. The only way to accomplish that is to find another soul to take your place.
I had been searching for my replacement for the last one hundred years, unsuccessfully. I didn't know it would be so difficult to spot a strong and gifted individual that could handle such a horrible task. But it was. So I had no choice but to carry on and continue on in my duties.
The fog continued to thicken, to the point I could cut it with a knife I imagined. The chill was shrill and damp, forcing my cloak to stick to the open areas of skin on my body. By the looks of it a deluge of rain would be opening up and gracing me with its presence at any second. I would have to get out of the elements before that time came. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck out in a rainstorm.
By the looks of this village there couldn't have been an inn. So the only sort of sanctuary I could hope to find would be a pub or someones hayloft.
I stopped in the middle of the street and listened intently, voiding out the silence even to find a trace of voices or any other signs of life. A gift granted to me by accepting the offer to become a Reaper, which was excellent hearing. I could hear a whisper from one hundred miles away if I concentrated hard enough.
Finally amidst the fog and drops of rain that were beginning to fall I heard the usual bouts of drunken conversations, singing and music playing. Indeed there was a pub in this village. My feet started in the direction of the voices.
Normally I wasn't accepted so openly in pubs or other businesses I happened upon during my travels. While I appeared to be normal in appearance, there was also a suspicious aura about me. Something that told whomever I came in contact with that I was shady, and perhaps dangerous. Needless to say that I hadn't any friends or close confidants. It was probably better that way. Because it was only a matter of time before those so called friends times would be up, and I would be forced to end their lives. I had been alone for centuries now, never taking the time to get to know even a victims name before I lied my hand upon them and their heart stopped. I very seldomly had conversations since normal people seemed to fear me so openly.
But, it was better that way.
The pub was rowdy and lively, full to the brim with drunks and whores. No doubts a strange traveler such as myself would cause attention. But I hadn't a choice but to enter. The rain was pouring down around me now, and I did so loathe the cold and dampness.
I took my first step inside its doors, pulling the hood from my head. For a moment I relished the warmth from a roaring fire blaring from a rustic stone fireplace in the corner. So far no one had noticed my presence, so I successfully slipped my way past drunks and whores to a far end table secluded by shadow.
There were several people inside the pub which held blue glows. Five to be exact. Some were elderly, barely looking strong enough to lift their pint of ale to their lips. Others were young and robust.
Every soul has a way to die, whether it be by illness or accident. I just so happened to be the one that would choose their fates.
The old man I knew instantly I would force illness upon. No one would have suspected anything from such a death. He was old and frail, and seemed to have drank one too many pints in his lifetime. Sickness of the liver would be the best option for that old man.
The younger ones would prove to be more difficult a challenge. One man couldn't have been over thirty but looked to have had a hard life. I figured him to be a farmer, someone that would tend the fields and work his fingers to the bone. He would benefit from a most unfortunate farming accident. Perhaps a horse kick to the head. The others I would figure out during my stay in this village.
Naturally the deaths couldn't all occur in one day. I would have to spread them out through several. Dozens of deaths in one day would obviously cause unwanted attention, and of course everyones eyes would fall directly onto the new and strange traveler. Which was me. Even if they had come to discover me, it wouldn't have mattered much. There wasn't anything they could do to stop me. While I was ordered to only take the lives of those whose time was up, if the time came where I could potentially be discovered then I would have to be sure I stopped word from spreading. Which of course meant taking the lives of certain individuals whose times weren't quite up.
I hadn't had to do that in decades, and was going to be sure that I wouldn't have to do it again. The truth of the matter is, is that I hated taking lives. I hated being responsible for ending someones existence. Knowing that I was causing their loved ones pain. No, no one would enjoy such a task.
Which is why I was getting desperate for a replacement. Someone that I could train to take over this curse so that I might be able to die finally. So that I might be the one to rest in peace.
After what seemed like an eternity a barmaid finally approached my table, took a good long look at me and after crinkling up her stubby nose asked.
"What can I get ye?"
I eyed her carefully, reading her inner most thoughts. She was forty five, and had two illegitimate children, no doubts having not a clue at who the Father's might have been to each bastard. She was exhausted and suffered from a bone and joint ailment which caused her discomfort on a daily basis. And while she held no glow to her, I almost had the urge to put her out of her misery.
"Bring me whatever it is you serve to patrons that could be considered food." I finally answered.
She turned on her heels and stomped off in a huff. Yes, she had sensed my aura already and instantly felt disdain. That wasn't uncommon, most people did hate me.
She returned a few short minutes later and lied a bowl of murky brown soup before me, along with a plate of bread.
"Anything else?" She barked out with an accent that made my ears ring.
"Perhaps a pint." I answered.
"Money first." She held her palm out. "Ain't to be servin no travelers without money first."
"I haven't any money." I replied, sitting up straight and tall staring her in the eyes. "You won't ask me for money again."
My voice reverberated inside her head, bouncing about like an echo. For a moment she tried to remember what it was she had just asked me, but like a wisp of smoke in the wind it evaporated and was gone. For the rest of the night she wouldn't ask me of payment, and neither would anyone else. In her mind, and to anyone else that might have inquired of it, I would have already paid my tab.
Yet again another useful gift I was blessed with when I became a Reaper. It was simple to manipulate the minds of those stupid and daft, or- Even if they weren't stupid at all.
She left me a second time, a confused look about her ugly face as I finally dug into my meal.
It was disgusting as I already knew it would be. Most pub food wasn't fit for pigs or dogs to eat, but at least it was something. I hadn't eaten a bite in three weeks and was starting to feel the pangs from such a long time going without.
As I ate my dinner I read the minds of several patrons, along with the bartender who was a young man of at least nineteen-surprised to notice that eating away at his insides was some sort of a tumor which was growing massive in size. It was slowly spreading to dozens of internal organs letting me know that it wouldn't be a month and the boy would be dead. But for some strange reason, the young man held no glow.
For a moment that confused me, if he was stricken with such a deadly and sure to be painful disease then my presence was most definitely needed. There should have been a glow surrounding him. I could even smell the cancer as I sat across the room. How he was still standing was a miracle all in itself. He should have been bedridden and not up and about still strapping and strong.
I raised a brow at that. This was most unusual. Such a disease couldn't possibly be cured by any known physician or medical man. There wouldn't be a tonic or medicine in creation that would stop that tumor from growing. He had a death sentence, that was most certain. And yet, no glow. Not even a slight shimmer shone from him.
I sat back and pushed the remains of my dinner aside, perplexed. I hadn't encountered anyone in my centuries of being a reaper with such a strange condition. Death was eminent, I knew that. Perhaps it was one of the times I would be forced to preform a mercy killing. It wouldn't be long before the young man would be doubled over in immense pain, or becoming bedridden. In order to spare him the agony of such an ailment I would have to put him down. Stop the disease before it grew strong enough to cause such pain.
Normally I wouldn't bother with such a thing. It was only a matter of time before another reaper would find himself in this village and do the deed for me, but... I was already here. And even though I had been taking lives for centuries, there was still a part of me that felt human. I still felt pity for those who were in pain.
I finally stood from my table, making my way slowly across the room, just barely grazing my fingertips over the men and woman who held glows. Their deaths were set in motion now. In a few days time the old man would grow ill as his liver failed, and die within a few hours. The farmer would be next, three days after that. A horse would kick him in the head, killing him instantly. A teenage barmaid would trip and tumble down the stairs a week after the farmer would die. Another man would have an allergic reaction to something he ate, killing him instantly. Yes, every death would be instant and painless. The final man would hang himself in his barn, his neck would snap in half a seconds time three weeks after the mans allergic reaction.
And last but not least was the bartender, who held no glow. I wasn't sure what to do with him. He was young and strong and it would be such a waste to see the poor boy die, but... Whether it was me or the tumor that was eating away at his insides, his death was definitely coming.
I sat down at the bar, inspecting him from head to toe. Could it have been that I was wrong? That he really didn't have such a horrible disease spreading through him? Could I have mistook him for another patron? No, that wasn't possible. I was always accurate. I could practically identify each disease by smell alone, not to mention that I could see inside each person and pick out what was ailing them. There was no mistake, the young man was dying.
Sensing my aura, several drunks decided to leave the sanctuary of the bar and instead take seats at random tables, leaving me the only one on a bar stool.
The young man didn't take long to notice me seated there, and rushed over.
"Can I get you something, Miss?"
I eyed him yet again, staring into his deep blue eyes in curiosity. He looked just as lively as a perfectly healthy man. No doubts he could run laps around this entire village and not tire out. How in blazes was that possible?
"An ale." I answered, watching him as he was quick to serve it to me. "What is your name?"
He sat my pint before me, looking surprised that I had actually asked him that.
"Gavin, Miss." He replied. "Gavin Parker."
"How old are you?" I asked now, inspecting his form.
He was strong, far too strong in my opinion for just being a bartender. His white tunic was slim fitting along his biceps and chest. His skin was darkened no doubts from working in the hot sun, and his hands were callused.
"I'm twenty, tomorrow." He scratched the back of his head, obviously uncomfortable with our strange conversation.
"You aren't normally a bartender, are you?"
I was making him nervous. I had that effect on people. It was only a matter of time before he turned around and refused to speak to me.
"What gave it away?" He asked, grinning. "No, usually I help my Father. He's a smithie."
"And I take it you took a job here for extra funds?"
"That's right. Times are tough now a days, what with the war going on in the north. Not much business coming through. This pub is the only place that sees a coin anymore."
I swirled my ale inside my mug, carefully as to not spill the foam over the edge.
"How are you feeling? Any aches or pains?"
I didn't give him the chance to question me about that, for I entered his mind and forced out the answer.
"No, Miss. I feel perfectly healthy. As spry as a colt I imagine."
Taking a sip of my ale, I stared him in the eyes yet again and uttered.
"You will forget this conversation ever happened. Go about your work."
He blinked a few times before turning and serving more drunks, completely forgetting that we had even spoken at all.
I felt a jolt run through me, but knew that I couldn't get excited just yet. There was still another test to be done before I knew if he was the one. But as far as I was concerned, I had just found my replacement.