By some odd, quirky stroke of luck, Emilia had yet to encounter and deliver to her mother a dying person. Strange, when you consider she had spent several hours in one of the most crowded portions of the world with the sole purpose of finding people giving out their last breath. She'd flown hither and thither, but with no luck. They had all been people of conviction, or complete lack thereof, and thus irrelevant to Lady Death whose task was to divvy up those whose lives had borne too many ups and downs to judge and weigh at a glance.
Feeling defeated and rather down, Emilia had found a park with some faint familiarity and sat atop its jungle gym, her form hidden within the ever shifting folds of her Soul Cloak. It whipped and curled as though the wind were thrice as strong as its current. Though no average mortal could lay eyes upon her, those with a keen eye for the paranormal could only glimpse her eyes and that auburn hair billowing about her face. Normally it would have been a nuisance, but she was feeling so hopeless it wasn't even worth combating. She sat with her ankles crossed and chin set upon her knees, though this was not readily apparent; all was hidden beneath the wildly lifelike Cloak. "This sucks," she grumbled aloud, fearing no recourse; mortals that had not felt her mother's touch could no more hear her than the words of gods.
Had it not been for that exclamation, a certain young Caxton wouldn't even had noticed her.
The boy had been on his way home from school, deciding to take a detour through the park for its scenery. For the most part, he had been enjoying himself, drinking an auto-warming coffee, and being snuggly wrapped up in his scarf. There was a certain solace to thinking ones own thoughts in the tranquility of nature, even in winter, even when there were people around oneself. Yet, at that moment, Percival's inward attention had been pulled outward as he looked at the top of the park's play area, specifically the jungle gym.
For some reason, that voice forced a chill colder than the air up his spine, but it didn't deter his curiosity.
"Mm...?" hummed the boy curiously, staring up at the willowing figure and the pair of eyes. He looked around at the other people going by, and then looked at her, a cold sweat breaking onto his neck as he considered the implications of something clearly magical sitting out into the open. So, cautiously, he approached the jungle gym, and cleared his throat, loudly.
Hazel eyes stared with ironic lifelessness at the dirt for some time, occasionally glancing at the flickering tail of the Cloak. It mesmerized one's eyes like a tongue of black flame or the tail of a comet. She started at a foreign sound, but did not jump; rather she tensed and slowly drew her eyes to the source. Who she saw was quite simply... uncanny. It made Emilia smile for a reason she did not know. She sat up a little straighter, freeing her face from the confines of the Cloak and quickly tossed her hair over the opposite shoulder to clearly gaze at Percival Caxton.
"You!... You're the boy that nearly died!"
Percival dropped his coffee.
"Y-you! Y-you're that person posturing as death!" Percy exclaimed in a hushed tone, trying not to draw any more attention to the clear breach of mystic exposition to non-mags. Yet, the traumatic realization was almost enough to make him forget himself, and lose his beret. He 'did', however, give off the look of someone closer to death. As of recent, his eyes had appeared a little more tired, and dark, as if deprived of a natural rest.
Her smile drooped into an angry frown. Incited by his insult, she slid from the plastic roofing of the playground and floated to the mulch below. Despite the breeze her Cloak never unfurled, and her neck and face continued to be all that was exposed. That is, until, she withdrew a fist which became an accusatory point. The skin was bare despite the cold weather. "I am not posturing! My mum is Lady Death, I'll have you know!" She sighed vehemently, trying to calm down. In a much softer tone she added, "And besides, it's not like you died, so I don't see what the problem is. But maybe..." She looked around shiftily. "We shouldn't talk here?" There were few souls about, but she seemed uneasy now that she'd been drawn into an engagement.
"Agreed," affirmed Percival, that cold, professional look taking him over like all the other times where he felt entitled handle a breach in the official codes of conduct concerning mystic affairs! The boy grabbed the girl's hand, and turned off, pulling her after him toward a small array of trees off the path. "I know a small clearing people don't frequent, we'll talk there."
Emilia gasped at the contact and glared, but Percival was already dashing into the woods as if this were perfectly normal. With her free hand, she threw up her hood, and in that instant Percival's grasp was empty. Behind him, Emilia followed of her own accord, but hidden entirely now by the Cloak's power. To him she was nothing more than a translucent spirit in the wind, and to other mortals she continued to not exist within their realm of perception. Once in the clearing, she doffed the hood and became personable once more.
"It's rude, you know," she scolded, as if Percival ought to know immediately to what she referred. The boy turned over his shoulder at that, giving her a questioning look.
"What's rude?" asked the unaware Percival.
"Touching people all the time. It's weird and rude." Under the Cloak there was the slightest ruffle as she, unbeknownst to Percy, folded her arms over her chest. Emilia was accustomed to a treatment akin to royalty: she was not touched, spoken to, or otherwise engaged unless she chose to allow it. There were excpetions, primarily the other Immortals, but they were few in the vast Underworld's population.
For a few seconds, Percival simply stared at Emilia.
Then, suddenly, he gripped her shoulders and began shaking her like a welsh nanny, much like how his nanny used to shake him. The young man appeared to lack the patience with someone who tried to drag him off near-death. Though, that might have been because he didn't believe her, "Bad children who do not respect the Shadowing Policies of Magic aren't afforded respect."
"I don't..." Know is the word she should have said. Little Venezia didn't know about the Shadowing Policies of Magic yet, because to this day none of her little ventures among the mortals had been sanctioned by her mother- who knew full well the Policies and their intent, as well as how they applied to the Ladies Death. "Um... I'm sorry, but I didn't know." Her gaze fell earthward, and her shoulders hunched, uncomfortable in his grip, but no longer feeling superior in the light of her ignorance.
"Ignorance of the most basic laws in our society is not excusable for violating them," scolded the older boy, putting his hands on his hips as he looked down his nose at the younger child. "The same goes for impersonating a major magical entity, and especially[/i] when you impersonate a [b]Celestial Officer, much more when it is the Office of Death."
Emilia's hazel eyes were alight with an inner blaze once more, and met his with fury. "I am NOT impersonating ANYONE, I am trying to help my mother so she can see how good I am at it! So she doesn't worry!" She 'hmphed' and sighed again. "Because it will be just me some day and then..." Emilia sniffled and turned away as though something in the trees had caught her attention. Really she was just fighting off tears from the frustration of the day and her anger at this mortal who called her ignorant but didn't even know who she was!
"My father has encountered Death many times in the exchange of souls and matters of Necromancy to utmost extremes," answered Percival, treating Emilia like a sixth grader, "He knows for fact that Death isn't the kind of person to mother a child, especially considering the fact that she's Death, it's not even supposed to be possible."
Emilia bore down on Percival with glistening eyes and a face full of rage. "Enough of your arrogant, high-and-mighty preaching!" Her arm swept out from the Cloak with an awful ringing sound. Held in her hand was a Scythe, the staff obsidian, the curved blade a mirrorshine. She spun it once above her head, then cut down through the air, slicing open the wall between two realms with an ugly ripping sound. "Gelato!" she barked, "Come!"
Her Cloak billowed dramatically. Emilia maintained the pose. Gelato did not come. The portal sealed itself shut after a few seconds. Emilia dropped to her knees with a big sob, but did not break into tears- refused to cry in front of a mortal. The scythe was her sole support and she gripped it tightly with two hands. "Stupid Gelato," she cursed. She tried to ignore her humiliation and turned what anger remained to Percy. "I am her daughter! Just you wait! You'll die some day and then you'll have to see!"
Instead of more scoffing and scolding, Emilia was this time met with a degree of shock. He had scored a 98 in Mystic Artifacts 102. In fact, he was the only freshman in that college course. The teacher had been a necromancer who worshipped Death and kept a replica of the scythe. The man spoke constantly of seeing it in action, of how only it carved dimensional rips to that deathly world. Its image was carved, forcefully, into his mind, and the fact that he had encountered so much of the undead himself, familiarized him with the ambient forces that billowed off the entrances and denizens of the underworld.
This girl wasn't posturing at all, yet what was she doing with Death's scythe? He had to take a few moments to stare in silence, before he could truly pick up his words.
"Then... what are you doing..." Percival decided to play along, even if he wasn't completely sure, "What're you doing with your mother's scythe?"
Emilia blinked a few times, pushing away the tears to see him properly. "I... No, this is mine." Her eyes traced the length of the scythe. "I'm not really supposed to use it, but... It's mine." She regained her feet, still staring at Death's iconic tool. "I only really know how to open a rift. I haven't even tried a Reaping yet." She attempted to discreetly rub the wetness from her face.
Percy's face went gaunt at that, You're telling me that she didn't even know what she was doing when she tried to reap me!?
"I..." The boy looked like he was about to keel over right there, "Perhaps you aren't supposed to do it until your mother shows you?"
"Yeah, but!..." Now she was flustered. "She's so busy, and I thought I could help, but..." Another dejected sigh. "You're probably right." It wouldn't help Emilia's case if she admitted to never having asked for such a lesson; she had always assumed it would just come to her, or that her mother would come to her one day and say, "Today you learn your birthright," or something just as awesome and cool.
"Have you ever considered just waiting at a hospital for someone to die, and watch your mother reap?" asked Percival, just throwing that one out there into this mildly uncomfortable conversation.
"I, well, I, um..." she stammered, trying to decide whether or not to tell the truth. She'd never lied before though, and it would feel weird to start now, and her mom had always said truth was essential to being Lady Death, so, "She doesn't know I'm here... and she doesn't like me going with her."
Percival shoved his face into his palm, I knew there had to be something to this.
"So... how do you expect to... gain experience... if your mother is there to reap the soul? You can't be seen, so you can't actually approach anyone who is dead or dying," explained the overly logical boy, gesturing with his hands as he spoke, "And wouldn't you be exposing yourself if you did reap a soul you weren't supposed to?"
"I, well... They don't have to see me to be reaped, but..." Emilia had little else to argue. Perhaps it would be best if she just asked. Venezia put it at the top of her list of things to do when she returned to Underworld: Sampson the satyr could wait.
"Have you ever just tried reaping a lesser soul? I know necromatic basics are practiced on squirrels." suggested Percival, feeling somewhat guilty that he was being so hard on the real deal.
"But, well... No. Mom doesn't do that stuff, so why would I?"
"Like I said, Necromancy 12 uses squirrels to practice beginner spells of raising. Think of yourself as a student, rather than an actual reaper, learning to reap small souls before you hit the big ones." The boy held up a finger, beginning to sound much more like an educator, as his father did when he was teaching class.
Lady Death's daughter didn't much like the idea of going beneath what she believed herself to already be- though, she admitted, the mortal had delivered numerous fair points so far. He might be right again. Her only answer to the suggestion was, "Maybe." It was difficult to swallow her pride, even though it had very nearly been beaten out of her by his prior verbal barrage.
"We'll give it a try," encouraged Percival, half-believing he was actually going through with this. He turned his attention towards the trees, trying to find a small animal gallavanting about. The more difficult problem with this was that it was winter already, and most animals had gone into hiding. He turned towards the tree before him, and saw a bird nestling itself on one of the branches. "Hm... How about that bird up there?" He asked, pointing up at the dark-feathered creature simply minding its own.
"I don't know..." The idea of reaping some small creature seemed unreal. Her mother never spoke of it, and to do it just didn't feel right. "...Maybe I should just wait." It stung a little to admit she was not ready for Reaping, but Emilia had come this far already in admitting her shortcomings. The more she pondered it, the better she felt about speaking to her mother than going off and slaughtering small woodland critters to 'try it out.'
"Hm," Percival put his hands on his hips as he watched Emilia become somewhat cautious to the fact of reaping a small animal, "It's important for someone, even Death, to know their limits, and to where they're stepping into a realm where they aren't truly aware of. Magic, even magic that is innate, is only as powerful as the knowledge behind it. Learning about your limits is the first step to extending them, as my father would say."
Emilia listened, but not really. Her thoughts revolved around a tangential train of thought. Namely: "What's a daddy like? I don't have one." Her stare was intent and curious and no longer depressed. Her tone was not upset nor demanding; she seemed ignorant of the concept.
"A father?" Percival was caught off-guard at that, a tad surprised at her question. "A father is..." He began to explain reflexively, as his academic mind like to, but found that he had less of a grasp on the concept than he thought. "A father is... Well... That's hard to explain without a reference."
"Well... How do you know which one to listen to?" Emilia strained to conceive of a pair of people who agreed on most things- and found it impossible to imagine two people agreeing on everything. She knew of compromise only as a political maneuver, and pandering was something only lesser beings did to her mother. Two equals engaged in a nonpolitical relationship that could agree on things... It didn't seem in the realm of plausibility to her.
"Hm..." Percival chewed on that thought mentally, while side-lining the question of why they were even discussing this. He raised his hands, and opened his mouth, but then stopped. Then, he did it again, and spoke this time, "Imagine if 'we' had a child, together. If it were a boy, or a girl, it would go to the parent who had the most experience with it's own problem. If it's a matter of biology, or gender-centric problems, they'd go to their respect gender parents for their experience. If it was something like 'reaping' or the 'intricacies of the underworld', our child would go to you, if it were something like the 'mystic fundamentals' or 'whats Wales like?', they'd come to me." The boy grabbed his chin, while adjusting his beret, "Having two parents allows for a dynamic view on the world, because even if they're different, they learned more things that way, and can make their own opinion. Even if we were radically different, a child between the two of us would learn that much more on varying differences, and be more secure."
Emilia spent easily half the explanation with wide eyes, trying to get a grip on the concept of having her own child; by the time he was done, she had only just reconciled the concepts of mother and father with her self-image and what little she knew of Percival; She spent the next half minute replaying what he said. "Um... Okay! I think I get it."
Emilia did not get it at all, and was perfectly content with not understanding any of it. Her mom could probably explain it better anyways.
"See, it's not that hard to understand, it's just two people raising a child together. They play off each other's strengths to make for a better raising," explained Percival, finally getting something out, "A lot of it has to do with instinct, really, sometimes one parent feels more secure with the other, but for the most part it gives more experience."
Emilia just nodded at this point, having already resigned to the idea that he could not explain it to her, and that it was better to ask mom. They fell into an awkward silence, disrupted only by the sound of Death's daughter sweeping aside her Soul Cloak and tucking the scythe into its eternal depths. "So..."
Percival tugged at his coat, "I assume we're done, right? You haven't found me all that pleasant, thus far, and... well. My father tells me I should respect deities and progeny of deities." The boy put a professional tie on that, holding up one hand to show he was ready to go, "I won't bother you anymore, Lady Death."
Mortals were weird! They had these emotions and they were all like- Woah! Look at me! All over the place! Emilia was starting to think she might like the single-minded nature of the Underworld's general populace a little more. "I!..." She kicked at the frozen dirt bashfully. "It's Lady Venezia," she corrected sheepishly. "Lady Emilia Venezia. Can I ask you one more thing?"
Percival brought a fist to his mouth, coughing into the curled digits to clear his throat. Now knowing he was actually standing in front of mystic royalty, he did his best not to damage relations, despite how obviously ignorant she was. "Sure thing, ah... Lady Venezia."
"Don't die for awhile, kay? Cause I wanna be your Reaper! Kay?" She was smiling as she said it, still a long ways distant from comprehending just what a mortal had to fear of Death. In her eyes, it could be another bonding experience or... just like, another reason for friends to meet. Like weddings and graduations.
"W-wait... W-why?" stammered Percival awkwardly.
"I dunno. You seem nice, for a mortal," she teased. "And then we can talk about your life! You can tell me all your stories and it'll be great. You sound pretty smart, I bet I'll learn a lot!" Again that innocent smile.
A protesting hand rose at that, "C-couldn't we just do that, before I die? M-my kind don't just go peacefully, you know."
"But if we do it before, we're just going to meet again when you die. And besides, once I become Lady Death I think I'll be quite busy- no offense. So, when you die I can get all the stories at once; I'm going to write a book for the Celestials one day, filled with stories about mortals and Immortals and... well, all the good stories! I'm sure you'll have lots to add!" Emilia was trying really hard to pay him the compliment, but Percival seemed so intent on avoiding the whole dying conversation in its entirety- another thing that drove her mad about mortals. They were all going to die, but absolutely hated talking about it.
"Ah, ahem. Lady Venezia, you're missing out on one thing," struggled the boy, in the face of this already uncomfortable conversation. The young man pointed to his chest, "Fonts do not go to the underworld, and nor are their souls reaped by Death when they die."
Emilia gasped! "You're a Font!? That's... Wow." Her mouth twisted as she began to rethink her strategy. "Well then... Hm..." There had to be a way she could get his tale! "Then summon me before you die. You know my name, and I promise not to suck the life out of you when you do- that would be bad for the both of us." She gave a wry smile at her own dry humor. A Font! she thought to herself. Then it all sort of clicked. Oh. When most people died, dying wasn't really the end. For Percival, it would be. No Soul, not even a whisp of mana to mark him... It would be a real end. Venezia's expression softened with the sadness of understanding. "But... It's okay if you don't." She suddenly and forcefully smiled. "I'll understand. You have important things to do, Percival Caxton the Font!"
Having grasped the penultimate depressing end long before now, Percival was able to rebound much more quickly. He put his hands up, and proposed something different, "Lady Venezia, how about this," he spoke deliberatly, quickly thinking on a different topic to waylay onto, "Why don't we do as mortals do when they share experiences? I mean... Lady Death has been in her position for thousands of years, and if you wait that long, you won't even hear a single story by then. So... how about we just... 'hang-out'?"
Emilia was momentarily perplexed. "Like... Coffee shops and arcades and libraries? Like... teenagers at the mall and iceskating and... That?"
His facial expression said no, but his nodding head said yes.
"I... Well..." She got a little sheepish again. "I should ask permission... But I would like that, I think." She wasn't really sure she would, but Percy was right; she could start learning mortal stories now. There was no reason to wait.
"Who knows! You might... make some..." Percival's face did a half-turn, looking aside, before throwing out the last word, "Friends. Yeah. You'll meet people who you can get to know into death. So if you... ever have to... do something in the mortal world... you can have... people you can... rely on! Yes! You'll have friends you can rely on."
Emilia had heard more than her fair share of stammering minions to know he didn't believe in his own words, didn't feel any weight or truth to them. "What's the matter, Percival?" she asked, genuinely curious.
The young boy put a gloved hand to his head, feeling a chill of threads press on his head, "It's just... Mm." He went silent for a moment, rubbing his head, suddenly feeling confused in this hole he had dug himself into. "I'm just somewhat rattled, about... my end, but... Aw... Listen."
He put up his hands as he gave her a serious face, "How about we meet up in the coming week for coffee and whatnot? We can hang-out, might be some fun, and I've honestly never met anyone directly from the underworld, so... how about it?"
Emilia felt bad about discussing someone's death for the first time in her thirteen years and it showed. Even so, her answer rang true, "Yes, let's." Then, after a pause, "I'm sorry I brought it up. It's just... Well..." She giggled, but it sounded hollow. "My life is death, so..." Another awkward pause. "But I should go! And you... You're a mortal boy, you must be cold. Go get warm or you'll get sick!"
"Y-yeah!" Percival laughed, uncomfortably, "It'd sure be awkward if we met this evening because I died from a cold or something. Heh heh, eh heh... heh... Ahem... So... yeah."
By all accounts, the Door did not exist until that moment. It did not enter their perceptions with any indicator other than its sudden presence; there was no report of any sort. Emilia turned, clearly expecting it to be there, and strode through. Before disappearing entirely into the darkness beyond, she called out the most awkward goodbye she had ever mustered, "Stay well, Percival Caxton the Font!" Then the Door slammed shut.
A second later it did not exist.